Reed Byrum drives fast, both in his Porsche and his career. And as national president-elect of the PRSA, he plans to make increased diversity his number-one goal when he takes over next year.Currently, he is MD of public and analyst relations for Trilogy, a b-to-b software company in Austin, TX. Most who know him describe him as an organized, collaborative team builder, which is not to say that he's never attracted criticism. "I've had a controversial life in the profession and in the PRSA, and believe I have been like a lightning rod,
A native of Wheeling, WV, Byrum worked for four Gannett papers after college, and became city editor at Florida's Today. The paper, founded in 1966, and the first title Gannett started from the ground up, influenced USA Today's development. Byrum says his segue into PR came as Gannett worked to beef up its national image in preparation of USA Today's launch.
He was director of publications at the time.
Byrum was part of the team that suggested the format for USA Today's op-ed page and traveler-focused weather page. John Quinn, a founding editor, confirms that Byrum was part of a group of young editors who helped plan content early on. "Twenty years later, everyone had thought up USA Today,
Quinn quips. Byrum's former boss, Walter Wurfel, says his team was involved in tactical implementation of marketing strategies that preceded the launch.
His ex-wife, Deborah Nordstrom, took a job in Silicon Valley in the late 1980s, so Byrum worked for tech companies there before Cupertino, CA was cool. Byrum says he recognized the web's PR potential early, and claims to be "the first person in the Silicon Valley to create an integrated communications scheme based on a PR platform.
In 1994, he started his own firm, counseling companies on how to translate their corporate identities to the internet. "When I began, there were like 50 (web) pages on the internet,
His passion for the PRSA also surfaced then. Membership grew during his 1995 term as chapter president, says Bill Leonard, who now holds that position. In fact, Harry Pforzheimer, president of Edelman's Western region, credits him with reviving the chapter.
Byrum was job hunting while board members of then-beleaguered Dallas computer services company Electronic Data Systems (EDS) were searching for a new CEO and a new corporate communications leader. Byrum was less than thrilled with the job prospect. "I knew nothing about Texas,
he says. "I did know, whatever you do, don't go to a company that doesn't have a CEO. Communication will be based on the CEO.
Byrum says board members promised they would hire a highly communicative leader, and made good on their word by tapping Dick Brown, former head of the UK's Cable & Wireless.
"Dick's first audience was employees,
Byrum says. "I learned a lot about comms in the chief executive's chair."
Byrum's eventful stay at EDS included Brown's rebuilding and rebranding of the company, and the much-touted, but uneventful press party EDS threw on Y2K night for reporters wanting to monitor computer glitches as the millennium turned. "Reed elevated corporate communications to a higher, tier-one media level than we had seen previously,
says EDS' Americas communications director Nancy Voith.
Edelman president Richard Edelman got to know Byrum while helping promote EDS' "cat-herding
Super Bowl ad in 2000. "He brings creativity to the tech business,
A personal tragedy forced Byrum to put Dallas behind him. He had married Diane Coffman, a former EDS colleague and PR director for The Associates, in 2000. She died suddenly only a few weeks after their wedding. Well-meaning, but too-frequent condolences from colleagues kept the loss too fresh on his mind, Byrum says.
Trilogy created a job for Byrum in an e-business joint venture with Ford, called Drive, which soon crashed along with other Trilogy dot-com projects.
As Trilogy's staff and affiliates shrank almost 50%, Byrum assumed more responsibilities for the parent company.
Austin seems to suit Byrum. He debates Greek philosophy with his priest once a week, hones his driving skills at a local racetrack, and is on boards for the local ballet and a homeless alliance.
PRSA associates speak fondly of him, and immediate-past president Kathy Lewton says he helped improve its financial picture. He was elected treasurer soon after losses were reported in 2000. "We were able to build a new financial infrastructure mainly because of Reed's leadership,
Lewton says. "We ended the year several hundred thousand dollars in the black."
Money woes kept Lewton from attaining goals she had set for the PRSA, but Byrum hopes to carry out some of her plans during his term. His major emphasis is diversity. "I hope I'll be one of the last old white guys to run the PRSA,
he jokes. In addition to aligning the PRSA with groups like the Black PR Society, Byrum wants to create programs for those traditionally on the fringe, like entertainment publicists, and to expand participation geographically.
"I see the profession moving West,
says Byrum. He sees the next big communication trend being driven by the messenger, not the medium. "Journalism is at a turning point - it's underfunded, undervalued, and underappreciated,
he says. "I see news generation gradually moving closer to the source - companies, analysts, and organizations generating information to specific audiences and delivering this data directly."