John H. Yocom, Hons. BA, MA, PhD, MBA, APR, FCPRS
John H. Yocom, better known as Jack, was one of Canada’s great public relations professionals, not only because of his craftsmanship in the field but also because of his generosity in helping others achieve their goals. Jack died in February, 2003 and his public relations colleagues decided to undertake this profile collection project in his memory. Jack was a significant leader in the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), pushing for a professional accreditation process, serving as national president in 1965-66, becoming a life member in 1979 and entering the College of Fellows in 2000.
Katita Stark, APR, CPRS Fellow, said that Jack Yocom was an important mentor for her progression in the profession. She commented, "Jack Yocom was a tremendous leader and resource for me. He generously gave of his time and knowledge, from his work experience from both the client and agency side. Jack really knew the history of companies and the thinking of their executives. This certainly gave me and the agency an edge in dealing with our clients."
Yocom was part of a generation of professionals who contributed much to develop and maintain the high standards associated with public relations in Canada.
Yocom was born in Dunnville, Ontario in 1911. He obtained degrees at Toronto, Ottawa, and York universities. He joined the RCAF as a Flight Lieutenant during the Second World War (serving in British photo reconnaissance); and while there, he contributed to the Canadian Army newspaper overseas (The Maple Leaf
) in London, England. In the 1950s, he was managing editor of Saturday Night
magazine. In the 1960s, he became general manager of public affairs for British American Oil Company (now known as Gulf Oil Canada). Upon retirement, he worked with Vickers & Benson Advertising. He was the only Canadian to have received three Silver Anvils by the Public Relations Society of America for his premier work in corporate communications. This is considered one of the highest distinctions in the profession. He obtained an MBA at age 60, a remarkable achievement.
Professional and Community Life
Throughout his life, Yocom was involved extensively in professional and community service. He was President of The Canadian Club of Toronto (1976-77), Chairman of the Institute of Canadian American Studies (1975-1985), Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1969-1980), CPRS National President (1965-1966), Life Member, and Fellow (2000), President (1967-68) and Life Member of the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto, and an active board and committee member of numerous organizations including Ontario Chamber of Commerce, National Newspaper Awards, Governor General’s Awards, Canadian Paraplegic Association, and Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
The Canadian Public Relations Society benefited from Jack Yocom’s experience and generosity in ensuring that the next generation of public relations professionals achieved their goals and enhanced the reputation of public relations. In fact, Jack Yocom and David Scott Atkinson among others were driving forces behind the establishment of the CPRS in the 1950s. Yocom received the Lamp of Service in 1963 from CPRS for distinguished service to the profession.
Importance of Education to Public Relations Practice
Yocom placed a high value on education. He believed that public relations conferences tended to focus too much on crisis management rather than paying attention to the need for aspiring professionals to determine how to qualify in the profession.
He believed that there are three areas that challenge the public relations professional: 1- communication, 2- coordination, and 3- counselling. The challenge, he observed, was to know how to make them work together. The foundation is the attainment of a broad education, particularly a knowledge of business management policy, economics, social factors, and the environment. He recognized that a public relations course cannot cover these areas. But a candidate of the profession must seek this knowledge either through wide reading and disciplined self-study or academically, through an MBA. program.
In the 1960s, Yocom was the co-founder, along with Ruth Hammond and David Scott Atkinson, of the national accreditation examinations that provided a consistent benchmark of ability and advanced the standards of public relations across Canada. Yocom saw the need to examine other institutions to determine how to measure accreditation, how to devise an examination that would have the necessary content and ask the right questions. All of his work was accomplished before colleges and universities had formal public relations courses in place. Ruth Hammond, Hilda Wilson, Charles Tisdall, and John Yocom were among the first group of practitioners who were accredited.
Yocom was also a pioneer in developing public relations courses. He and David Scott-Atkinson approached Dr. Roby Kidd, Founding Chair of the Department of Adult Education (OISE), University of Toronto, on how to develop an adult education course focusing on public relations. Kidd gave them the necessary structure to develop a public relations program. And, Yocom along with others such as Ruth Hammond went on to develop courses using the model, and teach mature students about public relations at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University, and Humber College. One of Jack’s favourite questions was,
"How can you teach business without public relations?"
Jim Gillies, Founder and Dean of the Faculty of Administrative Studies at York University from 1965 to 1972, remembered Yocom as an extremely energetic and enthusiastic member of the student body. He played an active role in the alumni association and he was a great salesman for the association and the business school. Gillies observed, "Yocom brought a rich, practical experience to the classroom. Whatever he was doing, he did it extremely well and you couldn’t help but be drawn into the project."
For his dedication, Yocom was awarded York University’s Schulich School of Business Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995.
Strategic Communications Planning
Yocom was a great advocate for the RACE formula [research, analysis, communication, evaluation] as a guide to appropriate communications planning. There must be research and analysis before anyone can communicate properly. Then the professional has to evaluate the success or failure of the assignment in order to improve. Part of being successful, Yocom observed, is to pick out your audience and analyze them, to tailor your remarks to your audience. Traditionally, professionals have tended to write speeches based on what they wanted to hear themselves.
Yocom had a distinct advantage in the field of public relations through his extensive contacts in the media. As managing editor of Saturday Night
magazine in the 1950s, he developed key contacts in the newspaper business and networked with numerous professionals in business and industry. He knew how the media responded to news and he could anticipate how they would cover a news event.
An illustration of his experience was a time when John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister of Canada. Yocom devised an educational briefing for the U.S. media concerning Canadian business and politics. He flew the media across Canada to meet the provincial premiers, the Prime Minister and key business leaders so that their news reports about Canadian affairs would be completed accurately, with knowledge based on understanding.
Public Relations Management
In the early 1960s, Yocom left Saturday Night
to work for British American Oil Company (later known as Gulf Oil Canada) and soon established a public affairs department that was the envy of the business community. As director of the department, Yocom saw the value of advising the president about the key issues of the day on a daily basis. Every morning, he would arrange to meet with the president and brief him on any new developments. In turn, Yocom would keep abreast of any issues or information that the president wished to have presented on behalf of Gulf Oil. This was not the usual practice in those days when it was more the rule that public relations professionals did not meet with presidents and executives at higher echelons in many organizations.
Jack Yocom demonstrated an ability to encourage positive relations between Canada and the United States in the profession. He was able to bring Gulf Oil Canada to the negotiating table as a serious player in U.S.-Canada relations, even though it was considered a subsidiary of its larger American company.
Thirty years ago, before internet and e-mail, Yocom coordinated the opening of two large Gulf Oil plants in different parts of Canada, within a 48-hour time frame. This was a wonderful example of his ability to obtain results quickly and efficiently. As a highly visible and symbolic photo opportunity, he arranged for both plants to have a smoke stack flame appear in the shape of a Canadian maple leaf.
Public Relations Consulting
Yocom had a special ability to view a challenge and make recommendations that were specific to the organization. One example was his role as a consultant to CBC-TV. They had some problems with internal communications. Yocom was asked by Don McKibbin, APR and a past president of CPRS, then manager of CBC Ontario Regional Communications and, later on, director of public affairs with Pasteur Merieux Connaught Canada, to evaluate the situation and prepare a report with recommendations. At the time, CBC was quite apprehensive about anyone coming in from the outside to advise them. McKibbin advised the CBC executives to pay attention to Yocom’s work: "This is what we should do because Jack Yocom is one of the top public relations professionals."
Clearly, he was well respected, even during this difficult time.
Following a trip to Mexico City, Yocom was recovering from a serious illness. But he still insisted on continuing to interview CBC staff and completing the report. His recommendations were creative, incisive and very helpful. They demonstrated that Yocom reflected the thoughts and opinions of staff, as opposed to his own.
Advice and Counsel
Yocom was a constant source of guidance and inspiration in helping others achieve their career objectives. Everett McCrimmon, APR, employed for 17 years with Imperial Oil, wanted to change his employment and contacted various public relations professionals. It was Jack Yocom who used his connections to set up a meeting with an executive at the Bank of Nova Scotia who used to work for Gulf Oil Canada. Three weeks later, McCrimmon was hired in 1973 as supervisor of public relations.
McCrimmon was asked by Yocom to write a reference letter regarding his application for a fellowship with CPRS. Did he want to see the letter before it was delivered? "I trust you,"
was Yocom’s reply. McCrimmon recalled very little turnover in staff at Gulf Oil Canada because people were happy to be there. "The executives had great respect for Jack,"
he said. As an example, during those years, the President at Gulf Oil Canada was chairman of the fundraising committee at Pearson College, School of the Pacific, in British Columbia and sought Jack’s help in getting the job done. Jack’s success in raising funds for the College was recognized by the President who acknowledged his significant support and success in a most complimentary way.
Arts and Letters
Yocom was known for his proficiency in playing the piano. He could play and compose all kinds of repertoire, from classical to jazz to modern. At various conferences and with organizations such as the Arts and Letters Club, Yocom entertained his audiences with warmth and enthusiasm. One memorable CPRS conference in Quebec was rescued by the combined efforts of John Yocom and Charles Tisdall. The conference entertainment was performed in the French language, as were other parts of the program. This was a joint Canadian and United States conference. The American delegation was understandably, having trouble in relating to the content. Appreciating the problem, Yocom rushed to Toronto to retrieve musical scores and returned to the conference, ready to provide some entertainment and improvisation. Tisdall and Yocom did an impromptu performance that impressed the Americans and contributed to a positive ending.
Public Relations Accreditation
In 2001, Yocom responded enthusiastically to a CPRS Accreditation Survey evaluating the process. He identified four key benefits from accreditation to the Society:
- It is designed to signify a special distinction and special skills in broad-gauged public relations work;
- It should help offset some negative comments and perceptions about public relations professionals (for example, spin doctors);
- It demonstrates that CPRS aggressively aspires to excellence, has pride, and deserves positive recognition. The more accredited CPRS members, the better the recognition and the more people will know about the good work done by its membership;
- It is similar to a Certified Financial Planner (C.F.P.) or a Chartered Market Analyst (C.M.A.) but it is not at the C.A. (Chartered Accountant) level.
Yocom asked the question: "Where has the pride in APR gone?"
He was concerned that CPRS was not doing enough in promoting the advantages to being accredited. There were members who have questioned the advisability of taking the examination. If they failed, what would their company say? Yocom suggested that there should be a competitive spirit introduced among the provinces. Which province has the most accredited members? He congratulated the CPRS Task Force, Colleen Killingsworth, APR, Calgary, Chair, Mary Barker, APR, Halifax, Deanna Drendel, APR, Montreal, Don LaBelle, APR, CPRS Fellow, Edmonton, David Magil, APR, Toronto, Bart Mindszenthy, APR, CPRS Fellow, Toronto, and Nadine Walz, Calgary, for a "remarkable record of research, deliberation and findings to advance the Society."
At the same time, he cautioned the Task Force not to allow veteran CPRS members the advantage of being handed accreditation without having earned it.
Yocom had a particular strategy for engendering enlightened conversation. He would select a subject which would coincide with the important issue of the day. At one CPRS conference, he was moderator in a panel debate on the issue of foreign ownership in Canada when it was a major topic of discussion. He would ask certain questions to encourage lively, intelligent debate, such as, "What was the defining moment between the First and Second World War?"
Yocom usually had case histories on public relations assignments dating from years ago and he used these examples adeptly to prove a point relevant to the current state of affairs in the profession.
Jack Yocom contributed in many ways to the growth and future health of the Canadian Public Relations Society and the profession. One of his legacies is his work as the Corporations section editor of the textbook, Public Relations in Canada: Some Perspectives
. Yocom asked Alex Jupp, Vice-president, Public Affairs, Molson’s Brewery (Ontario) Ltd, a public relations colleague, to do a chapter called “Political Involvement, A New Public Relations Dimension”. He felt that the political system would provide the arena within which most vital issues would be dealt with—whether they be pollution, abortion, energy, inflation or teenage drinking. Yocom always believed that a public relations professional should spend sometime in the wider community of business and government. A sabbatical from public relations could widen the scope of knowledge and experience and the professional would return with renewed vigour and a fresh perspective.
There were a number of CPRS colleagues who offered memories about Jack’s involvement with CPRS. Frank Paznar, a former senior vice-president of MediaCom, CPRS National President, 1985-1986, and communications consultant, said: "We all respected Jack. He had a lot of wisdom. He was a gentle soul, the consummate pro. He was always there, always involved."
Paznar observed that professionals like Yocom often worked free of charge for the benefit of the community. They recognized the wider public good that is served by volunteering their expertise and time for the goodwill of society.
Yocom has left an enduring legacy of high standards and ethics for CPRS and the profession. The profile collection is produced in tribute to his outstanding lifetime career and will serve as an educational resource for aspiring public relations professionals and CPRS members.