“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston S. Churchill
Bob Kornecki loves a good quote. The Chicago PR pro used many for his inspiring book, “How to Thrive in the Public Relations Business: 35 Practical Tips from a 35-Year Veteran.” The book grew out of his annual talk on ways to be successful for younger Edelman employees. Starting with 20, he added a life tip each year until he reached 35, when he retired from the PR agency business and began his second career as a fundraiser.
Bob made his living as a successful PR executive. But he’s made a life by what he has given back to DePaul University students, countless PR colleagues, and most recently the Midtown Educational Foundation.
Bob developed a soft spot in his heart for DePaul when his eighth grade basketball team was invited to play another grammar school on the university’s court during half-time. Though he didn’t attend DePaul, that first encounter made an impression. Later he taught PR at DePaul as well as at Loyola University Chicago, and his alma mater, Northern Illinois University.
In 2007, when DePaul’s College of Communication was elevated from a department to a full college, Bob was attracted by the new school’s PR sequence and “jumped at” the invitation to join the Dean’s Advisory Council. Members were encouraged to participate in the university-wide “Many Dreams One Mission” campaign in 2010, and tying his gift to the book, Bob saw a way to encourage professional development outside the classroom. He related the scholarship awards to his own college experience: as a senior he represented his PRSSA chapter at the national conference in Washington, D.C. It was his first professional conference, and his first plane ride. The trip so influenced his own professional development that he wanted to replicate it for others. And thus was born “The Reach for Excellence Award in Public Relations, funded by Robert A. Kornecki” for DePaul PRSSA students.
The award provides support to outstanding College of Communication sophomore, junior and senior public relations and advertising majors to explore professional development. Recipients receive financial support for all or part of registration fees, books, travel, and associated educational costs to attend conferences and professional development opportunities during the academic year. In the four years since the scholarship has been awarded, winning students have traveled all over the country and attended conferences on a variety of relevant topics including women in business, travel and tourism, healthcare, social media, and media relations.
One used it to participate in the college’s winter intersession trip to visit PR and ad agencies in New York City. “The New York Way was an incredible week where I visited some of the most incredible agencies and made life-long friends. It was one of the greatest highlights of my college career,” said Lauren Polito, class of 2018.
Recipient Jessica Kieta, ‘18, is interested in restaurant and hospitality PR and was “elated” to learn there was a conference that specifically addressed that sector. She chronicled her adventures at “Mod about PR” in Palm Springs in her blog post.
According to Shena Ramsay, assistant dean of the College of Communication, who administers the grant, “We are lucky to count Bob as a partner and friend the College of Communication and the PRAD program. Bob is a wonderful advocate for students; he is also a great teacher and mentor.”
Mentorship threads throughout much of Bob’s career. Looking back, he focuses not so much on clients or campaigns, nor products and placements, but on the people he worked with. He lists as his number one accomplishment mentoring “dozens of colleagues in effective leadership skills.”
After lengthy runs at world-class PR agencies Burson-Marsteller and Edelman, one of Bob’s fondest memories was his role in helping Bernie Marcus, founder of Home Depot, make a $250 million gift to the people of Georgia to build the Georgia Aquarium. “Being at the Georgia state capitol when he announced this huge grant was an extraordinary moment. It was an incredibly magnanimous gesture to the state which helped his business become a Fortune 500 company,” Kornecki remembers.
For the past 10 years he has devoted his time, energy and talents as director of individual giving at the Midtown Educational Foundation, (MEF) a Chicago-area nonprofit that guides low-income urban youth along pathways of success. Most recently he oversaw the development of the “PRep PRogram,” a day-long workshop at DePaul for Midtown boys and Metro Achievement Center for girls, introducing the high schoolers to careers in PR, funded by PRSA and The PRSA Foundation.
Prior to joining MEF as a staffer, Bob had served on the organization’s board. The nonprofit’s mission appealed to him because “the children we serve come from low-income, minority backgrounds.” He had known about Midtown since childhood because his dad grew up near the Center’s location. He feels very blessed to have had his own middle-class childhood and education. Comparing his experience to those of the Midtown/Metro students who don’t have the same advantages, he believes these organizations can really make a difference in the lives of their students. While still at Edelman, his volunteer involvement set a great example for many other colleagues who became tutors at both Midtown and Metro.
In tip #22 of his book Bob says, “Be selfless” and quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” Bob Kornecki walks the talk: a close look at his own life and career measures up nicely to Dr. King’s question of purpose.
Building Public Relationships: Tips for Life
After working for 45 years, Bob Kornecki retired in August 2017. He and his wife look forward to a new house and a new life in Orlando, Fla., where they figure if “they build it,” family will come. He generously offers a .pdf of his book How to Thrive in the Public Relations Business: 35 Practical Tips from a 35-Year Veteran
to anyone who contacts him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jill O’Mahony Stewart
is a professional lecturer at DePaul University’s College of Communication. For more than 20 years she ran Stewart Communications, Ltd., a boutique PR firm focused on “issues that matter.” She reported to Bob Kornecki while working together at Burson-Marsteller’s Chicago office in the 1980s, and has helped judge the Reach for Excellence awards since 2014.
This article originally appeared in CulpWrit Sept. 1, 2017.