PR “storyteller” Art Stevens, APR, Fellow, PRSA added a new perspective to the employee/boss and service provider/client relationship at yesterday’s FPRA Southwest Florida chapter meeting held at the Broadway Palm in Fort Myers. His reference to building bridges is more than figurative. In his own career, the act of building a bridge literally built a bridge between him and his boss, skyrocketing his career at a young age.

Stevens has had a very successful career spanning over four decades in public relations, which he says came about, “by accident.” After majoring in English at City College of New York envisioning a career as a top-notch editor, his actual meager beginnings as an assistant textbook editor grew through building some very important bridges. After helping his friend write a successful job application dubbed “Ode to Personnel” for Prentice Hall, he was returned the favor when his friend helped him get a position as assistant to the Director of Public Relations.

The CEO of Prentice Hall at the time was John Powers, who had developed a great interest in Japanese art and culture. Powers was creating a beautiful park near the Prentice Hall offices in New Jersey, which was to include an authentic Japanese Benkei-bashi bridge. The construction of the bridge was a major project. The young PR assistant Stevens suggested a dedication ceremony and was given the go-ahead. He took the lead role on the project, contacting dignitaries and making plans for the event. One day when the CEO, John Powers was asking for a special update on the event, Stevens was called in to provide details. Powers took note of the talent and work done, and asked to be updated personally by Stevens throughout the planning and execution of the event. Following the successful bridge dedication, he summoned Stevens to his office.

Powers asked Stevens how he would handle the public relations efforts on behalf of Prentice Hall, if he were given the opportunity. Although weak-kneed and very nervous, Stevens responded quickly and adeptly with much of his response crafted from the Cutlip and Center textbook he had been studying. Powers must have liked what he heard, since his next act was to promote the 25-year old Stevens to Director of Public Relations and to reassign his (former) boss to another position in the company.  It was the beginning of an exciting career in public relations, which still continues today.

Stevens boils down his experiences in building bridges with bosses or clients into six lifelong lessons:

  1. Know thy boss or client. Be aware of their career path and interests.
  2. Volunteer. Don’t be passive in your job.
  3. Anticipate. Be aggressive, intuitive and ahead of the curve.
  4. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and tell it like it is. Be sure to know the whole picture and absorb all you can.
  5. Always approach your boss or client with well-thought-out new ideas.
  6. Always provide honest feedback on how things went – good or bad.

Thanks to Art Stevens for your enlightening discussion and also, thanks to Shell Point Retirement Community for sponsoring the luncheon meeting. 

Photo: Wendy Iverson, Jessica Clark, Rochelle Cherniawski, Kathleen Taylor, Art Stevens

Click here for another interesting article about Art Stevens being honored by PRSA with the Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service.