Bill Adams, FIU's associate professor of advertising and PR, draws upon 25 years in corporate communications and an endless supply of Jolly Ranchers to stay atop the list of most-admired teachers in the industry. Robin Londner reports."Guiding people's lives is so different from thinking about the client and the bottom line,
says Bill Adams, associate professor of advertising and PR at Florida International University (FIU), as he digs into a bowl of Louisiana chowder. He should know. After 25 years of corporate work for oil giants such as Phillips Petroleum and Amoco, he left the daily grind in 1990 to teach at FIU.
The in-house mentoring to younger pros, he explains, was great, but not enough. While at Phillips, Adams created PREP (PR Education Program) through which members of the PR department would extend their business trips to speak at a local university. Thinking of how much he had enjoyed giving those one-shot lectures, Adams decided to try education, full-time.
His students, current and former, have nothing but praise for Adams' decision to enter academia.
"Just 22 months out of college and two promotions later, I sit in my fancy office with a view of Biscayne Bay, knowing I wouldn't be near here had it not been for the knowledge, support, and example of Bill Adams,
writes Nicole de Lara, marketing supervisor at Columbia TriStar International TV.
Gordon Connell, PR/events coordinator for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, is equally grateful. "I don't think (Adams) even knows how much he helped me make the decision to pursue PR as a career,
And Fraser Seitel, author of popular PR textbook Practice of Public Relations, adds, "What reassures me of PR's future is that Bill Adams is teaching the next generation of PR pros."
But when Adams is asked to explain one particular source of the fond, candied recollections of former students, he expresses both surprise and mock horror. "The Jolly Ranchers? Is that what they take away from my classes?"
Adams nicknames Jolly Ranchers "stress-busters,
and leaves a jar of them in the FIU writing lab so his students can suck on them while stressing over assignments. Prior to the final exam of his "Introduction to PR
course, he tosses "stress-busters
into the crowded auditorium to help the students relax.
Adams is also renowned at FIU for his holiday attire. "If it's not his Christmas tie, it's the Halloween socks,
jokes Sara Iglesias, former student and current PR Newswire account coordinator. He also has a propensity to reward the best work with only an A-, just so students will try even harder to get an A.
Adams' jazz collection is equally legendary. In his tiny office, stocked with books, family photos and a constantly percolating Mr. Coffee, Adams always has a jazz CD playing. He estimates he owns more than 10,000 albums. Charlie Parker is his all-time favorite artist.
But it's not all wacky socks, jazz, and candy. Adams' students have for the past eight years created Miami's annual hurricane preparation guide.
Using his corporate contacts, Adams secured initial funding and distribution from Amoco. His students, after receiving easy publicity the first year of the guide, have had to create new publicity angles each time - in addition to writing, laying out, printing, and delivering the book to Amoco distribution points. One year they created a Spanish version, another year an edition was printed in Creole. A Braille edition and guides specializing in preparation for kids and the elderly have also gotten ink in local media. But since British Petroleum bought Amoco last year, funding and sites for distribution have dried up. But Adams is fine with that - this year his students will be responsible for brainstorming and securing new corporate partners.
It's not the first time Adams has guided a project in crisis. While at Phillips, a platform collapsed in the North Sea while the company was fighting two back-to-back takeover attempts nicknamed "107 days of hell" by the PR staff. Those events occurred when Adams was a competitive runner who completed the Boston Marathon in three-and-a-half hours. Still an ardent jogger, Adams has more recently worked with the US Agency of International Development to train public information officers in El Salvador and Armenia.
He took a whole summer to teach 300 GM executives how to write, and he teaches a few days every year in a PR masters' program in Lagano, Switzerland.
When former student Jim McPherson was the Coast Guard spokesman in response to the crash of TWA flight 800 off New York, he sought Adams' advice before giving his first live, national interview.
Adams is mindful not only of the impression he makes, but also the impression his career change has had on him.
"In the past 12 years of teaching, I've learned more than I did in my 25 years in corporate,
he explains between the last few spoonfuls of his soup. "Those of us who do this after being in the profession are giving back. But we get so much out of it. The first time I spoke to a class it was 1972 at the University of Georgia and I did six classes in one day. Now, a day doesn't go by when I do not hear from a current or former student. I've learned that's what it's all about."