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Public Relations Thought Leader

Inside Atlanta PR

J.R. Hipple learned from the “father of PR” and helps counsel today’s CEOs

The last class J.R. Hipple took as a student at Miami of Ohio was public relations. He liked it so much, he decided to prusue a masters in the field. Providence led him to Boston University and to finding a mentor who happened to be the “father of modern PR,” Edward Bernays.

“That’s what changed my life, meeting Edward Bernays when he was 92,” J.R. told us Monday. “He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and, by his account, the first person to really bring psychological research to public relations.

J.R. Hipple

He was associated with BU and was on the board of a non-profit for which J.R. worked while he took his classes at night. “I talked to him every day for five years,” J.R. said. “I adopted him and we became fast friends. He was not searching for mentees, but I latched on to him and spent a lot of time talking with him in his Victorian house in Cambridge.”

After serving as the nonprofit’s PR person for three years and later as executive director for two years, J.R. moved to California to become the second PR person for an ad agency that was eventually bought by Foote, Cone & Belding. There were 12 employees when he joined and nearly a hundred when he left a few years later.

He then moved to Richmond, connected with the Martin brothers who founded the Martin Agency and set up their PR arm, Hawley Martin & Hipple. Their first account was Eskimo Pie. He later joined Earle Palmer Brown, as EVP of its Richmond office and then J.R. and some partners bought that office and created CRT. There were 18 employees when they set up shop and it grew to 70 employees when J.R. left in 2002 to move to Atlanta, starting Hipple & Co. Reputation Management.

Serving clients such as Georgia Power, the University of Virginia and the Richmond International Airport, J.R. has recently joined another new venture with former MSL Group VP Jason Anthoine. The two have officially become anthoine hipple + associates.

J.R. is past chair of PRSA’s Counselor’s Academy and as chair of the board of the governors of Center for Ethics and Corporation Responsibility at Georgia State – both industry groups for which he was able to use all that knowledge gleaned from Bernays.

“He was adamant about research and analysis at a time when PR people were called flacks,” he said. “He was the first to call himself a ‘counselor on PR.’ That way he felt he was on par with lawyers in his relationship with senior management, and he made more money, too. He elevated PR to be counseling senior management – that’s what I’ve been doing most of my career.

“CEOs are besieged right now … there has never seen so much pressure on the C-suite. I think change is occurring so fast and there is increasing scrutiny of the organizations insomuch that anyone with a computer can be reporting on those corporations. The change is profound. Many CEOs have had very little in training and experience that prepares them for the complex communications and PR requirements of their jobs today.

“They not only have to deal with an uncertain marketplace and economy, they have to be able to provide a vision and direction for managing relations with investors, regulators, employees and community groups.”

What does J.R. see coming around the corner for PR?

“A broader set of skills, far better financial and business knowledge than what the profession oftentimes has had. We really have to have an understanding of the issues facing the business today and tomorrow.”

– Chris Schroder


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