Karen L. Dalton APR, FCPRS(H), LM, CAE
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Karen Dalton’s career has spanned four decades as an editor, a businesswoman, an administrator, a public relations practitioner, and perhaps most notably to PR professionals in Canada, as the Executive Director of her professional association, the Canadian Public Relations Society.
Born in Toronto, she attended Galt Collegiate Institute and then received her Honours Journalism degree in 1976 from Western University. Her initial career was in professional business-to-business communications work for Southam Business Communications Group, where she honed her skills in editing and production as Assistant Editor of Canadian Consulting Engineer
. From early in her career, Karen was aware of the importance of being involved in professional groups and associations, and immediately joined the Business Press Editors Association Board. Her commitment and enthusiasm and leadership skills were recognized when she became President of that group within three years. As such, she was responsible for the Kenneth R. Wilson Memorial Awards, the top recognition for business writing in Canada.
In 1978 she joined Kerrwil Publications Limited as Senior Editor of Electrical Business
magazine, a national monthly business-oriented news publication for Canada's electrical industry. From 1989-2001, she contracted to edit and publish CAD SYSTEMS
magazine which was dedicated to the computer-aided design industry in Canada and launched www.cadsystems.com in 1996.
In was in 1982 that Karen transitioned from a career in print journalism to public relations when she joined Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada to manage the annual financial communications to clients and staff. She worked there for seven years rising to the position of Director Corporate Affairs reporting to the senior management team under the direction of the Chairman and the President. As a journalist, she understood the importance of clear, transparent and ethical communications. That foundation served her well as she took on the responsibilities of corporate communications.
It was not surprising that the first thing she did was join CPRS and enrol in a public relations course offered by CPRS-Toronto at the Ontario School for Continuing Education at the University of Toronto with Ruth Hammond, APR, FCPRS as the instructor. “It was Ruth who instilled in me the tenets of good public relations practice,” Karen recalled. “And many of the CPRS women who called Ruth a friend have influenced the career path that I took.”
In her position at Sun Life, 1982-1989, Karen operated in the Toronto corporate head office working directly with the Directors of Communications in each of the regional offices in Canada, UK, US, Hong Kong and Philippines. According to Senior Vice President Don Stewart, “Karen was responsible for the development and management of corporate communications policy and programs for both internal and external audiences, business reputation management process, donations policy and program and community relations with major clients. She demonstrated her exceptional communications skills working on policyholder communications and managing the company’s annual general meetings including content development for the annual report, presentation of results in slides and video and communicating the financial results to all 8,000 Sun Life staff worldwide in multiple languages.” Karen also planned and executed the Sun Life Centre official opening ceremonies with government officials and key dignitaries in 1984 and worked on the A Question of Ethics
campaign to introduce a Code of Business Conduct for employees in 1989. “I can attest to her qualities of planning and execution, ethical standards and demonstrating leadership in all aspects of her responsibilities,” he added.
Karen’s entrepreneurial spirit emerged in 1989 when she founded Dalton Communications Inc. (DCI), a business-to-business communications firm to provide communication services to corporations, government and not-for-profit institutions. DCI originally specialized in writing, designing and producing print publications including annual reports, reports to government, and facilitating corporate communications strategies and media relations for various organizations. For more than a decade, Karen provided many clients with communication services including audits, newsletters, event planning and execution, media relations and employee communications. Later, DCI evolved from a communications company to an association management company.
It was in 2001 that she first partnered with Phil Boyd & Associates and lent her communications expertise to some major clients. When that firm won the contract with CPRS for association management services the following year, Karen took the lead role as Executive Director. Thus began her strategic role of shepherding CPRS for the next 17 years, from 2002 to 2019.
CPRS Days and Contributions
In 2008, Karen’s firm (DCI) acquired the association management contract for CPRS. But that wasn’t the only organization she helped. With a staff of 10 employees, DCI offered its clients an array of services including administrative support, membership support, event management, communications, website management and marketing services. As Principal, Karen provided strategic planning and leadership, oversaw financial management of the associations, developed and implemented national sponsorship programs, increased membership and improved services, and pursued new benefits for clients. In addition to doing this for CPRS, her firm also provided these services to the Canadian Carwash Association (2008 to 2019), to the Canadian Decorators’ Association (2008 to 2014), and to Canadian Business Press (2008 to 2010).
One of the most significant contributions Karen made to CPRS was when, in 2006, she proposed to the CPRS Board of Directors that the CPRS National Office establish a new service for members that was being offered by a for-profit organization. CPRS was not receiving any revenues for the CPRS branded online Career File job posting service and she felt that CPRS should be offering the service itself. In 2007, CPRS approved the launch of the CPRS Career File service on a pilot project basis. The job posting service was established to offer the human resource community, employers and CPRS members the opportunity to connect senior to mid level public relations and communications professionals with highly targeted jobs. The result was an instant success with between 15 and 20 jobs posted each month generating a new non-dues revenue stream for CPRS.
Karen considers this a highlight of her contributions to CPRS as it was through her leadership that this service was added at the National level. It demonstrated her commitment to challenge the Board to take risks while at the same time retain good relationships with local Societies. Over the years, this new revenue source has contributed to the financial viability of the Society by generating significant revenues. The national Society has utilized the monies to fund, among other things, the Education Council’s Pathways to the Profession® program and the development of the Public Relations Knowledge (PRK)® exam. In addition, the awareness of CPRS has been enhanced through the exceptionally high number of visits to the Career File pages of the website. CPRS members and students have benefited from accessing new jobs every week that are specific to the public relations and communications industry.
Various CPRS Past Presidents and Chairs of committees have often commented on other contributions that Karen had achieved in her position as Executive Director. These include her knowledgeable support for the Governance Task Force that revised the board structure from every local Society president having a seat, to the model that stands today; her conduct as a consummate communications professional both with information and wise counsel even in difficult or delicate situations; her gift for forging relationships both internally and externally to advance the standing of our Society nationally and globally; her passion and dedication and mentorship in support of leaders and volunteers within our Society; and her leadership in helping to establish CPRS as the voice for ethical and professional public relations in Canada.
One of the highlights of her contributions was preparing and presenting the winning bid in Madrid, Spain to the Board of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management to bring the World Public Relations Forum (WPRF) to Toronto in 2016. The WPRF, which delivered an exceptional program and flawless execution, raised the profile of Canadian public relations professionals internationally.
In 2007, Karen undertook to advance her own credentials with professional development in association management, which she thought would increase her credibility as a competent and qualified association management executive with both the CPRS Board and others in the industry. She enrolled in the Certified Association Executive (CAE) program of study that covered five core competencies for managing associations. Each course required extensive online research and online group discussion of assignments and two research-based benchmarking studies. During her five years of study, she was able to use learned best practices for the betterment of CPRS in such areas as developing Board proposals for new member benefits, policies for performance evaluations, conducting social media benchmarking studies, and recommending a strategic Board governance model.
Karen received her CAE designation from CSAE in 2013. “I consider achieving the CAE designation as a significant career achievement because it challenged me to bring new thinking to my position, and to introduce best practices in all aspects of association management including communications,” she said. “Almost every course stressed the importance of communications with members, with regional chapters, and with volunteers including Board relations.”
In addition to using her newly acquired skills to help in her position, she also used her talents in spreading the word of professional public relations to students and in the community. She has often been called upon for speaking engagements to students in various PR programs in universities and colleges in Ontario, and she always promoted CPRS and the profession when doing so. She has mentored students and young practitioners and counseled many on best practices. Prior to becoming the CPRS Executive Director, Karen volunteered countless hours on the CPRS-Toronto Board.
In 2012, Karen was asked to participate in the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ exhaustive and inclusive process to review the vocational standards for Ontario College Public Relations Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Graduate Certificate programs. The process involved focus group sessions with deans, directors, program coordinators and faculty members; broad-based surveys of employers, advisory committee members, professional associations, and graduates; and consultation on the validity and appropriateness of the review process with College vice-presidents, academic.
The Ministry approved and published the updated curriculum program standards in February, 2014 and released them to the colleges for implementation in September, 2015. “I was gratified to note that when the government standards were published, they aligned with the outcomes-based approach pioneered by CPRS in the Pathways to the Profession
® (published March 2011),” she said. “The Ministry has implemented these public relations program standards and I’m pleased by the Ministry’s decision to recognize the indispensable elements of public relations education: maintaining ethical standards, serving the public interest, and realizing organizational goals which have long been recognized by CPRS to be key objectives of public relations practice.” Karen’s input in the process and feedback on the draft program standards undoubtedly impacted the final result.
After 30 years of running her own successful business, in 2019 she retired from her position as Executive Director of CPRS and transitioned her DCI clients and most of her staff to another association management company. At the CPRS national conference in Edmonton that year, Karen was recognized for her years of friendship, mentorship, leadership and commitment to the profession of public relations.
Advice to Those Entering the Profession
“Success is measured by your relationships with others. Acting in an ethical manner in every part of your life will mean that you will be trusted and respected by your peers and colleagues,” said Karen. “Always keep the public interest in mind in all your public relations activities.”
Canadian Public Relations Society
. Karen has been a member of the Toronto Society since 1982. She volunteered in many capacities including on the CPRS-Toronto Board and as serving on the organizing committee of the CPRS National Conference held in Toronto in 2002. She was awarded Life Membership in 2013.
Communications + Public Relations Foundation
. Karen joined the Foundation Board in 2001 and remained on the Board until 2014. She also managed the Ruth Hammond Scholarship Fund for CPRS Toronto from 1994 to 2001 including the application process and selection of the recipients.
Canadian Society of Association Executives
. She joined CSAE in 2007 with the aim to learn more about the professional management of associations and enrolled immediately into the Certified Association Executive program and received her CAE designation in 2013.
International Association of Business Communicators
. She was a member from 1983 to 1985.
Women’s Press Club of Toronto
–Karen was a member from 1976 to 1996 serving in various Board Executive positions over the 20 years.
Awards, Recognition, & Community Service:
Accredited in Public Relations 1991
Certified as an Association Management Executive 2013
Became an Honorary Fellow of the CPRS College of Fellows 2016
CPRS Lamp of Service Award
Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award
for Best Technical & Industrial Article 1995
Canadian Public Relations Society (Toronto) Inc
., Member 1982-2013; Life Member 2013-Present
Women's Press Club of Toronto
, Member and Executive Member
Communications and Public Relations Foundation
Canadian Business Press
, Judge, Kenneth R. Wilson Editorial Awards
, Marketing Communications Committee, Member
, Volunteer Recognition Committee Chair
Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association
, Member, Communicators Section
Junior Achievement of Metro Toronto
, Volunteer on Public Relations Committee
, Journalism Program Advisory Board
, Warden Campus, Journalism Program Advisory Board
Toronto General Hospital
, Public Relations Committee
Business Press Editor's Association
, Director and President
Safe Quiet Lakes,