Barbara Sheffield, APR, FCPRS, LM
A distinguished career in the public relations field was almost a foregone conclusion for Barbara Sheffield. Her father was in the advertising/marketing business and her first job with the Travel Industry Association set the course for her career. Born in 1942, Barbara graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a BA in French language and literature, but found her interest in the social sciences, especially psychology and sociology, during her university studies.
"I remember going for the interview with the Travel Industry Association of Canada in 1965," said Barbara, "they were looking for an administrative assistant but the executive director looked at my CV and said we have a number of other areas that will be much more interesting for you and then outlined how I could manage two new projects-Keep Canada Beautiful and Explore Canada. He felt he could mentor me and thus began the first steps into what I soon learned was the public relations profession."
"He took the time to help me hone my skills in strategic thinking, problem solving, project management, writing, media relations, conference management, and government relations, among others. This was all around the time that community colleges and universities were establishing very early public relations training and education."
Barbara recognized, almost from the beginning, that there would be a need for education and training in the public relations field. "There were no degree programs available at that time," she said. "I have talked with many of my colleagues who entered the field around the same time and learning on the job was how we were able to enhance our skills."
She left the travel industry association in 1973 to return to Toronto to work for an arts and sports management consultant who handled the Festival Singers and the Canadian Brass, where she further honed her communication and public relations skills. It was during this time that she met Ruth Hammond, APR, FCPRS(H) who introduced her to Bart Mindszenthy, APR, FCPRS, and the rest is history.
Ruth was teaching public relations at York University and recruited Barbara to join the class, an important second step in entering this new profession. Now the puzzle pieces were coming together and she began to meet practitioners who were pioneers in this business like Charles Tisdall, Lou Cahill, Hilda Wilson and Jack Yocom. She began to hear about the Accreditation Program offered by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) and became a society member in 1975.
Bart Mindszenthy recruited her to work on a special client project involving a national media relations tour for Weight Watchers International, and from that she moved on in 1975 to science and technology communication with the Ontario Research Foundation. In that role, she was responsible for marketing communications, a 50th anniversary project and production of a film showcasing Canada's industrial strategy.
But, the folks at the Weight Watchers headquarters in New York City were so impressed with her work and human relations skills on the just completed national Weight Watchers media tour, that they asked her to handle a six-week media relations campaign to six countries in Europe. Barbara credited a very understanding Ontario Research CEO and Marketing Vice President, who allowed her to take time off from her new job to do the six-week European tour. Again, on the job training, working in a variety of languages, managing reputation and brand, problem solving, building media relationships - she was acquiring the knowledge and experience of what is now being formally taught in public relations education programs.
On returning to Canada, Barbara was now truly "hooked on PR" and following four years at Ontario Research, she moved on to manage the communications office at the Ontario Arts Council, where she developed a communications plan for the organization and established the office as an integral part of the overall organization with a reporting function to the CEO.
From there it was off to the Arthritis Society where she was appointed Vice President, National Communications, a position she held for seven years. It was there she was able to show the importance of public relations in the success of an organization. Among her many accomplishments with the Society were the implementation of a successful five-year strategic national communications plan which increased public awareness of the Society and its services, reinforced fund-raising recognition and improved educational opportunities for patient/consumers and physicians. She was also responsible for the development and introduction of a national spokesperson program.
In 1986, Barbara moved on to the world of consulting and health care public education when she established a company in medical education communications for an American physician. Health Care Communications offered clinical trials and patient education and Barbara built the Canadian company, hiring and training staff as well as taking on the business management. In 1991, she moved back into public relations with an international public relations firm to manage its health care practice and from there took on a contract with the Ontario Ministry of Health, where she worked on communications around health care policy while handling portfolios such as Hospital Reports and Health System Performance reports among others.
Involvement with CPRS
Barbara's major focus and commitment within CPRS was public relations education and training. She served on CPRS Toronto's education committee in 1979 and began to explore opportunities to develop curriculum that would benefit the growing profession. She was CPRS Toronto's chair of professional development from 1980-81.
She became accredited in 1980 as a way to measure how far she had come in her chosen profession. From 1981-85, she chaired the CPRS National Education Committee to facilitate the early work in establishing Recommended Standards in Public Relations Education developed with the help of Elizabeth Hirst, APR, FCPRS and Dr. Jon White of Mount Saint Vincent University.
By 1984-85, Barbara took the opportunity to teach part-time at Humber College's new Public Relations Diploma program. She was now instructing young people about the profession she loved so much from the experience she gained and from those who mentored her.
It was while she was with the Arthritis Society from 1986-1991, that she became the first woman to hold the CPRS National President position. According to Barbara, a few women had agreed to serve on the National Executive Committee, but none had ever made the commitment to serve as National President. "It was not an easy journey," Barbara said, "but with the support of Ruth Hammond and Charles Tisdall among others, it was an honour to be the first with the hope that other women, now coming into the profession with formal education, would soon take on this leadership role. I remember well, the group of women who came to Regina for my election, and to celebrate this historic moment for the Society."
It was in a speech she gave during her 1990-91 presidency that folks knew how much the public relations profession meant to her. Her address was titled "The Long Road to True Professionalism: Are We Willing to Meet the Challenge?" and in it, she pointed out that the challenge was indeed professionalism, but that was "Easy to say, a lot harder to accomplish." Part of that effort would be in the field of education and " we in CPRS have what I believe is an obligation to assist the educational process." -- something Barbara still feels is an important part of our Society.
She has always been concerned about maintaining professional competency and has encouraged the need for ongoing professional development. "This helps with understanding the world and the needs of our organization, and of our clients. It's recognizing the need to touch the heart and brain of the organization in order to understand its very soul. And this means spending time learning the business side of an organization. It means putting into proper context the role of communications."
Long before accepting the role as National President, Barbara had already established herself as a strong supporter of professionalism within CPRS. In addition to her role as Chair, of the National Education Committee from 1981-1985, she served as Chair, of the Mount Saint Vincent Program Advisory Committee in 1986. She followed up her national presidential term by serving as Presiding Officer, of the National Council on Accreditation, 1991-1997. She established task forces on Professionalism, Maintenance of Accreditation and the College of Fellows.
But it does not end there. Barbara became a member of the National Council on Education, 2009-2012 to work on the Pathways to the Profession document spearheaded by Colleen Killingsworth; she co-chaired the National Judicial and Ethics Committee, 2009-2011; and was Chair, of the Communications + Public Relations Foundation, 2001- 2010. Most recently, she served on the advisory committee to establish a four-year degree public relations program at Humber College. Today, she holds the position as part-time Executive Director, Communications + Public Relations Foundation, where she continues her commitment to public relations education and research.
A Life Member of the Toronto Society, Barbara was also recognized nationally in 2002 when she received the Philip A. Novikoff Award for advancing professionalism, and in the same year was admitted as a Fellow of the CPRS College of Fellows. In 2013, she was awarded the CPRS Lamp of Service.
Barbara explained that she "was part of the transition years. Those before me mostly came from journalism backgrounds, while people like me had some post-secondary education but not in public relations. We learned everything on the job and began to realize the importance of education and training in public relations, the role of research, how to apply the RACE formula, why accreditation was important, why we could not just be media people and had to acquire an expanded skill set. Ethics became important. So, did strategic thinking and planning."
"Media relations was key to practice during those early years and how you built those relationships made a difference to your success," she said. "But, gradually, there were more opportunities to specialize in sectors and the practice began to grow and change. We wrote and produced publications, newsletters, we gave advice, we managed crises, we managed special events, we needed to know a lot about consumers, government, health care, employee relations, investor relations, shareholders, stakeholders, among others."
"And then came the computer, the internet and social media, which has again changed the practice requiring an important focus in public relations education today. One could not imagine anyone practicing today who does not understand the role of social media in communications planning."
"Gone are the days of wining and dining media to get your story in the newspaper, and communications planning is front and centre in every successful practice," said Barbara.
Advice to those entering the profession
"The profession is very different today than when I began, but the principles of success do not change. Training and education are front and centre along with understanding the importance of professionalism and ethical practice. Networking and mentoring are keys to success. Joining a professional organization, volunteering and taking on leadership roles will make a difference to advancing in your career."
"I was blessed with knowing people like Ruth Hammond, Charles Tisdall, Lou Cahill, Mel James, Hilda Wilson, Luc Beauregard, Ed Murray and Jack Yocom who are all profiled in this Yocom Collection. Bart Mindszenthy has been a long-time colleague, and mentor early in my career. It is important to connect with people who can guide you and be there for the tough times when you need counsel and advice. But, most important has been my membership in the Canadian Public Relations Society."
"If you want to be a professional, you need to belong to a professional society, to demonstrate your commitment and to lead the next generation."
Future of the Profession
Barbara's hope is that our profession will be recognized as integral to corporate and organizational decision-making and that we will not become consumed by social media. She sees social media as a public relations tool, but it will not replace our contribution to policy development at senior levels. "Perhaps, we might even live to see the day when all practitioners will have Master degrees or MBAs with a concentration in communication, and that original communications and public relations research will be part of every PR budget," she continued. "I would like to see financial gifts to the Communications + Public Relations Foundation by all CPRS members, PR firms, corporations and organizations to support public relations research by graduate students. If we truly want to be a profession, let's do it through increased education, training, professional membership, professional development, and support of original research and commitment to our Code of Professional Standards."
Became a member in 1975
Member, Membership Committee, 1975-1977
Service on three national conference committees, 1979, 1987, 1994
Member, Education Committee, 1979-1985 (Chair, 1980-83)
Chair, Professional Development Committee, 1981-1982
Secretary, Vice-president and President, CPRS Toronto, 1980-84
Immediate Past President, 1984-85
Former Chair, Public Relations Advisory Committee, Humber College, Toronto
Chair, Judicial and Ethics Committee, 2004-05
Invigilated accreditation exams, 2007-09
Appointed a Life Member, 2006
Member, Bachelor of Public Relations Advisory Committee, Humber College, Toronto, 2010
Continues to mentor students and young practitioners
Chair, National Education Committee, 1981-1985
Board member, Communications + Public Relations Foundation, 1980s
Chair, Mount Saint Vincent Program Advisory Committee, 1986
Member, National Board of Directors, 1983-1984
National Secretary, national Vice-president and National President,1990/91
Presiding Officer, National Council on Accreditation, 1991-1997
Established Task Force on Professionalism, 1991
Established Task Force on Maintenance of Accreditation, 1995
Established Task Force on College of Fellows, 1997
Admitted as a Fellow of the CPRS College of Fellows, 2002 (later served on selection committees)
Member, National Council on Education, 2009-2012
Co-Chair, National Judicial and Ethics Committee, 2009-2011
Chair, Communications + Public Relations Foundation, 2001- 2010, Executive Director, 2010-ongoing
Member, Eculinks Etobicoke, Toronto
Member, Community Kitchen Advisory Committee, Stonegate Ministry, Toronto
Former Co-Chair, Social Justice at Kingsway-Lambton United Church, Toronto
Former Chair, ORIANA Women's Choir, Toronto
Former President, Choirs Ontario, Toronto
Former Chair, Arts Etobicoke
Former Chair, Community Arts Ontario
Former Vice-Chair, Etobicoke Centennial Choir, Toronto, and Canadian Centennial Choir, Ottawa
CPRS National Award of Merit for Service to PR Education in Canada, 1985
Philip A. Novikoff Award for advancing the public relations profession, 2002
CPRS Lamp of Service, 2013.