PROFILE: Cripps, a born leader, vows to extend Council's reach -This past December, a huge void was left at The Council of PR Firms whenJack Bergen resigned the presidency. But in Kathy Cripps, a most worthysuccessor has been named. Jonah Bloom reports

When news reached industry leaders that Jack Bergen had resigned

the presidency of the Council of PR Firms, they were worried. The phrase

"very large shoes to fill" looked certain to be worn out with over-use

as people questioned whether the Council's executive board could find

anyone to match the standards set by such a high octane, super smart

leader. They could and, in Kathy Cripps, they have.

Cripps could hardly be more different to Bergen. He is a West Point


She has a degree in nutrition from Queens College. He is a rapid fire

thinker, talker and writer. She is more cautious, measuring her words,

and is described by her assistant, Edna Hedstrom, as "a great listener."

During his presidency, Bergen often seemed to have no office other than

his laptop. Contrarily, Cripps' current office is a home away from home,

adorned with a myriad of awards, paintings, photos and a colorful

collection of frogs.

Cripps sees the difference: "Jack is a whirling dervish. You only need

to look at the number of initiatives he started to see that he always

ran everywhere at 40 miles an hour. I can run at 25 miles an hour," she

adds. (She ought to know, being a veteran of several marathons.) "But my

real strength is that I have worked at agencies of all sizes and

understand the issues different agency leaders face."

John Graham, Fleishman-Hillard CEO and Council chairman, agrees that

this is one of her key assets: "Her outstanding record of achievements

in building a midsize firm and growing large agencies made her a

unanimous choice."

Ironically, given the impressive list of agencies on her resume, Cripps

didn't actually intend to work on this side of the business. She was

happy on the corporate side at Nestle and later Farberware. It was only

when Burson-Marsteller won GE's business, including its food divisions,

and decided it needed her nutrition expertise at 230 Park Avenue, that

she was persuaded to cross over. She thought a short spell at the

largest agency would be a good experience. "I was only going to stay for

a year before going back to the corporate side, but I loved it. I loved

the fact that your creativity is measured in the business you


As always in Cripps' career, her timing was impeccable. Burson was in

the process of creating one of the first formal healthcare practices,

and she was able to play a leading role in that, working under the woman

she describes as her mentor, Edna Kissman, "a terrific person and truly

strategic thinker."

After seven years she decided to take the experience garnered at Burson

and head up a healthcare practice of her own at a smaller agency,

Creamer Dickson Basford. "I learned to be more self-reliant. I had to

develop a network of outside contacts and support." She also learned how

to win new business, a skill that brought her to the attention of Nelson

Communications, a healthcare network that was looking to set up its

first PR shop. Cripps took the job as CEO of NCI PR and in 10 years

built it into an $8 million revenue practice. "It was tough

competing against established agencies," she says, showing the empathy

that will win her friends among the Council's smaller member firms, "but

healthcare was a growth market and we worked hard."

Her most recent agency move, from Nelson to head Hill & Knowlton's

healthcare practice, would have been her last, she feels, had the

Council role not become available. "The Council job had my name on it,"

she says.

"My tenure will be measured by members retained and attracted. We need

the commitment of all the large firms, and we need to keep moving

aggressively to attract new midsize and smaller members. It's a case of

letting people know what we're doing and what they can get from the

Council. Some amazing work has already been done, but it seems not

everyone knows about it. If we get the message out I feel sure we can

keep growing the Council."

Given Cripps' phenomenal service and achievement record at other

industry bodies, her friends expect her to succeed. Diane Jacobs, who

followed Cripps as president of WEPR, comments: "It's hard to know what

to say about Cathy without just stringing together superlatives, but one

word sums up her talents - leadership. She doubled donations to the WEPR

and motivated volunteers. She is focused, direct, and inclusive. She was

a tough act to follow." Carla Voth, current chair of the PRSA

Counselor's Academy, another post held by Cripps, says: "She achieved an

amazing amount for the PRSA. She's efficient, effectual and a great

people manager." These exact sentiments are echoed by Judith Sussman,

secretary of WEPR: "She's gracious, efficient, inclusive, and great at

focusing on the things that matter."

Cripps is not Jack Bergen, and will not try to be, but this is a

different time in the Council's development. Reaching out to broader

audiences and embracing as many firms as possible will be key. Surely no

one could be better suited for such a role than Kathy Cripps. Consider

the big shoes filled.


President, Council of PR Firms


Senior home economist, The Nestle Co.


Director, product info., Farberware


VP/client service mgr., Burson-Marsteller


VP/group mgr., Creamer Dickson Basford


President/COO, SCIENS Worldwide PR


Executive managing director, US director, healthcare, Hill & Knowlton


1998: President, Women Executives in PR

1999: Council of PR Firms, board; nominating committee chair; Healthcare

Businesswomen's Association, Board

2000: Counselors Academy Chair (PRSA); Treasurer and Chair-elect;

2002: Honors & Awards Committee Chair (PRSA); Silver Anvil Chair

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in