Qualifications for Public Relations Management

Pendleton Dudley established a PR agency in New York in 1909, reportedly after a suggestion by Ivy Lee who felt competition would be good for the fledgling industry. By the time of authoring the following chapter in Your Public Relations in 1948, his company was known as Dudley-Anderson-Yutzy (D-A-Y). When sold to Ogilvy Mather in 1983, D-A-Y was the world’s oldest continuously operating PR firm; the name disappearing in 1988.

Described by Scott Cutlip (in The Unseen Power) as never slacking in his desire to learn, the 72-year-old Pendleton Dudley provides an interesting chapter. Notably the editors (Glenn and Denny Griswold) have added a PR IQ test at the end of the chapter, which is replicated in full for those willing to take it.  To read other chapters in this series of posts, use this link to the Your Public Relations book contents page.

Qualifications for Public Relations Management by Pendleton Dudley, President, Dudley, Anderson & Yutzy (written in 1948)

The chapter starts with an introduction that discusses Ivy L. Lee and John D. Rockefeller Jr., leading to reflection that “Mr. Rockefeller had said that most men of extensive business interests usually experienced difficulty in keeping step with the people, and that one of his greatest needs was to have closely associated with him someone who by training and natural aptitude was not only sensitive to public reactions and attitudes but able to reflect them accurately to his principal.”

Top Management Chosen from Public Relations Ranks

Public relations is now recognized as an indispensable tool of management in production, distribution and finance. In the last few years top executives have been chosen largely, and sometimes exclusively, because of their understanding of and their competence to handle human problems. Public relations experts are being made members of boards of directors, presidents and chairmen, because their specialized skills are urgently needed today in executive management and policy making.

When A.W. Peake, who had international fame as an oil technician, was elected president of Standard Oil of Indiana, the traditionally conservative directors, in making the announcement, said that he was chosen primarily because of his skill and experience in handling human problems. [The chapter continues to list other examples of “men and women who, because of their experience and background in public relations, were chosen for top positions in management“.]

Today’s First Executive Responsibility

Wartime demonstration of the power and usefulness of public relations doubled and trebled management salaries in the field. It brought universal academic recognition, and resulted in vast expansion of the function in almost every field of human endeavor. All these developments have served to dramatize the obligation imposed on every executive, regardless of his function, to learn how to use public relations and how to choose and direct competent personnel to perform this function. The urgency of this need is implicit in the fact that the postwar period found us with blueprints for a fabulous expansion, every aspect of which called for public relations treatment. We are still woefully short of adequately trained personnel to perform the function and sufficiently experienced executives to manage it.

This chapter is intended to serve a dual need: (1) to assist management executives in the selection of public relations personnel, and (2) to help public relations men evaluate their own work.

There can of course be no hard and fast rule as to who should execute the public relations function, or how it should be done. Those decisions will depend upon the size and nature of the operations of the organization, the problems inherent in it, the speed with which those problems must be solved, and the experience and aptitude of management itself.

New Concept of the Function

You are the executive head, shall we say, of a manufacturing organization and are thinking of engaging a public relations director. In earlier times you doubtless would have thought of him as your press agent, or possibly as your publicity director. But because today we have a better understanding of the nature of this aspect of business operation, we have sought a more truly descriptive term for this function, and have found it in “public relations director.”

After discussing examples of businessmen who had won public acceptance, Dudley continued: Of course, the signal successes obtained in these instances may make it appear that some persons are born with a special public relations sense. In a measure this is doubtless true, but industrialists lacking that talent have succeeded equally well by hiring competent men and women to do the job.In some cases highly successful programs have been directed by the president, sometimes by a competent public relations director or by a vice president or other executive performing the function, and sometimes by good outside counsel. But in any event the man who has the direct responsibility for planning and executing a public relations program must have a rare combination of talent and experience.

Personal Qualifications

The directing head of any public relations effort use first have management ability. He must have the capacity to teach and to lead; he must be an extrovert in his thinking.

There are many reasons why management ability is essential. The small departments of today will grow and most of them will be the big departments of tomorrow. Since public relations is being tied into every operation of a corporation, an understanding of the management problems of every department is required. And since the function is new, policy decisions are required far more often in its operation than in any other aspect of organised effort.

The public relations executive must be a natural student. Philosophy and procedure shift rapidly and will require close and constant study. The ablest practitioner must learn as he goes. Fortunately, new sources of public relations information and clearing-houses for the exchange of methods and procedures are developing rapidly.

Perhaps the most important requirements are the gift of human sympathy and understanding, a rare mixture of integrity and courage, and a warm and genial personality which invites confidence while expressing conviction.

As to age, the ideal choice would be as young a person as possible who possesses intellectual maturity, sound judgment and the qualities of leadership.

An effective public relations man must be a prolific producer of new ideas, able to think and act in emergencies and agile in meeting shifting forces. The curse of corporate public relations has long been the sluggishness of policy-making management and the dilatory tactic of those who must make decisions. A public relations move may be worth a million dollars today and be altogether too little and too late tomorrow.

Academic Background

There are no dependable rules as to academic preparation. Many colleges are offering courses in public relations but few of these are comprehensive enough to give substantial preparation for executive responsibility in the field.

A college degree is not essential, but it or its equivalent would be helpful. On the other hand, no profession demands as broad a background of knowledge and culture as this one. A working knowledge of economics, psychology and political economy would be sound equipment. The public relations executive need not be an economist, but he must have an intimate acquaintance with the philosophy and economics of business. A student of the social sciences will find wide application of his findings in public relations work.

An analytical mind is a must. An able public relations practitioner will demand facts before making a decision. He will know where and how to find facts.

Training and Experience

Rules as to training and experience are equally flexible. It has been almost an unwritten law that a beginner in the profession must have been a newspaper reporter. While some of the best men in the business never saw the inside of a newspaper office, it is still true that no single professional experience gives sound preparation as rapidly as editorial work on a newspaper or business publication.

This is not because newspapers teach reporters public relations practice. It is because no reporter can long succeed without learning how to get along with people, how to inspire confidence, and how to interpret miscellaneous information. The reporter from his first day in the newsroom has drilled into him the importance of finding out what, how, when and why. Unconsciously the reporter is trained in the business of appealing to and convincing thousands or perhaps millions of people with every line he writes. The business paper editor has the added advantage of learning how to discover and interpret trust in the light of economic as well as social considerations. This is valuable training to bring to a career in public relations.

When the selection of a publicity or public relations director is indicated, the chances are very good that the choice will be a former newspaperman. Although the true figures are not available, it can be stated with assurance that a majority of the thousands of those now performing public relations functions were formerly newspaper reporters or persons who have worked in other capacities in the publishing field.

Pendleton Dudley next outlines the relationship between the press and business leaders as “another reason for the prevalence of former newspapermen in public relations” who “resigned from their newspaper jobs to become spokesmen for these businessmen – in effect, their public relations counsel” or to open “their own independent offices to serve more than a single client, somewhat as a lawyer does.”  He discusses the “great significance of this step in the development of mass communication” with the “private agency” set up as a “mediary between the newspaper and an important source of its news” becoming “a basic part of news gathering and dissemination.”  Whilst acknowledging “radio, the moving picture and other media” he argues “businessmen are still accustomed to look to the newspaper field and the press associations as being the best training schools for public relations management”.  He concludes:

But whether he has been exposed to journalism or not, the public relations executive must be able to write clearly, concisely and convincingly. The ability to talk on his feet and persuade more than one man at a time is a helpful attribute.

Other Helpful Experience

Experience in teaching, advertising, selling or promotion all add to a valuable background. Each is based on the art of persuasion, and that of course is the fundamental of all public relations.

Any experience in business is helpful, but the most direct road to the management of public relations operations is experience in public relations itself. This may be had in a public relations department, in the office of a public relations consultant or in the job of assistant to any executive who is charged with public relations responsibilities.

Regardless of how appropriate the natural instincts and academic background of any individual, proficiency is best gained through actual experience by the trial-and-error method.

Editors’ Note

This chapter concluded with further reflection from the book’s editors.  They argued:

A good rule in choosing the man who is to be head of the public relations operation of any important organization is to be sure he has the knowledge of human relations that he would need should he ever become the chief executive offer. There is a definite tendency to recognize that public relations is one of the most important if not the most important function of management and to choose managing executives from the public relations ranks.

Public relations, like medicine, is a profession of widely divergent areas and specializations. Probably no man is completely proficient in all aspects of the field. The small organization will have need of the equivalent of the general practitioner in medicine. The large organization will hire a competent executive director with general over-all knowledge and experience and he will choose a staff of specialists. If the staff numbers not more than half a dozen, it is possible – and it should be the earnest endeavor of management – to find among them men who have had special experience in the basic areas, such as relations with employees, communities, customers and prospects, stockholders, educational institutions, government, the various media of communication, and public opinion measurement.

Quality of Directing Head Most Important Factor

The first and all-important step is to find the executive who will be in charge of the whole operation. He must not be a yes man. He must be able to base his judgments on provable facts and have the courage and integrity to defend his judgments against the immature prejudices and opinions even of top management. On the other hand, he must have high qualities as a diplomat and the ability to recognize that he is a teacher rather than a crusader.

He must be innately a student and an analyst. If he comes to the job with all the answers, he was selected in error. The one indispensable qualification of such a man must be his affection for and his understanding of human beings and the ability to interpret every decision in terms of the natural human reaction to it.

It goes without saying that he must conspicuously stand for the highest standards of ethics and integrity. Business is always on trial before the court of public opinion. A public relations officer whose every act and attitude bespeaks an understanding of and a regard for public welfare is a priceless asset to any organization.

Women in Public Relations

The editors stated that “practically all that has been said would apply with equal force to women” who “might have more to offer than a man” in some organisations and regarding some PR problems. This referred to a belief they expressed that some organisations “have more dealings with women than with men and are concerned with the feminine than with the male attitude towards them”.  On the face of it, they are arguing that women are needed to build relations with women – but their conclusion is “many organizations have already proved that a woman, given the same experience and personal attributes as a man, can do an equally good job and is entitled to the same rank and pay.” They then list some of the women who are “examples of outstanding accomplishment… in the public relations field.”

Labelling the Job

In choosing the person to execute the public relations function, management nowadays is likely to be beset by doubts as to the best title for the office. Many management executives have long thought of public relations as being akin to press-agentry and so search for new titles. These doubts are so widespread that executives responsible for the function bear such labels as… the list of title contains many suggestions familiar to a 21st century PR practitioner, although surprisingly perhaps is Chairman of Agitation, Publication & Education, which is noted as a title used by the Communist Party.

Disparity of title leads only to confusion and does nothing to dispel the public misunderstandings which management fears and which for the most part do not exist. Able men in management as well as in public relations have done more to win public understanding and regard for public relations in the last three years than in the previous thirty. The most important contribution any organization can make towards improving the public attitude is to frankly label the executive in charge of the function, public relations director, and help him do a job that will encourage respect and confidence.

Any tabulation of the academic background, experience and characteristics desirable for a perfect public relations director is largely theoretical. Public Relations News has developed one which makes no claim to scientific accuracy but can be used as a yardstick in measuring qualifications for public relations management.

Public Relations I.Q.

The following test is used to “help select public relations personnel, or as a yardstick for determining your public relations strengths and weaknesses”.  Readers were advised to score 2 points for every “yes” in Columns I and III and ,1 point for every “yes” in Column II.  These are then totalled with a score of 66-70 rated as good, 71-75 as exceptional, 76-80 as phenomenal, 81-85 as practically impossible, 86 and over is “too good… better check again”, with 61-65 being fair, 36-60 showing “possibilities of development” and 35 and under “promises nothing… better give up the idea.

I – Personal Characteristics (score 2 for each of the qualities possessed):

Leadership | Interest in people | Moral courage | Studiousness | Intellectual honesty | Friendliness | Extrovert thinking | Inspire confidence | Emotional ability | Executive ability | Creative mind | Wide culture | Quick thinking | Sound Judgement | Intellectual maturity

II – Academic Background (score 1 point for each area where you have undertaken college (university) or equivalent study):

Public relations | Commercial law | Economics | Industrial relations | Journalism | History | Philosophy | Commercial geography | Public speaking | Semantics | Cultural studies | Business administration | Psychology | Graphic arts | Social science | Publicity | Political economy | Advertising | Research | Radio

III – Experience (score 2 points if you have had training and experience in the following fields):

PR agency | PR department | Reporting | Editing | Advertising | Selling | Teaching | Management | Social service | Promotion | Publicity | Radio | Television | Commercial art | Graphic arts | Commercial motion pictures | Research | Public opinion polling | Personnel | Politics


I think this is a fascinating chapter, with some aspects that appear dated, some of which have contemporary resonance and some that would be considered forward thinking today.  The standout for me relates to arguments for the senior public relations person to be viewed as requiring a broad education and background, and be capable of progressing to be managing director.  Consideration of generalist vs specialist knowledge and experience is something that I’ve been discussing just this week. As with earlier chapters, there is a clear appreciation that public relations is more than media relations – and I love the consideration of the qualities that journalists bring to PR as this highlights transferrable skills that are not simply being able to write and know a news story which we tend to hear today.  The PR IQ test seems a bit of fun – but the topic of PR skills, along with characteristics, academic curricula and practical experience, continue to be discussed and researched by practitioners, professional bodies and academics.

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