ANALYSIS: Profile - A fighter sure to shake things up at the PRSA - Joann Killeen takes over as chair of the PRSA in 2002 and has revealed plans to run the organization more like a business. She'll have her work cut out though, as Alvin M. Hattal

When Joann Killeen was 10 years old, she chased after three older boys who had kicked over her sandcastles and beat them up. More recently, she's taking on the men and she is the one starting the fights.

When Joann Killeen was 10 years old, she chased after three older boys who had kicked over her sandcastles and beat them up. More recently, she's taking on the men and she is the one starting the fights.

When Joann Killeen was 10 years old, she chased after three older boys who had kicked over her sandcastles and beat them up. More recently, she's taking on the men and she is the one starting the fights.

She successfully challenged nominee International Public Relations' Michael McDermott for the post of treasurer at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and won last year. Then in October she was elected chair of the PRSA, taking office in 2002.

She stood against Publicis Dialog's Art Stevens, who with the support of the nominating committee was expected to win. However Killeen had the backing of more than 40 PRSA assembly delegates, including five district chairs and nine members of the Society's national board - which is supposed to remain nonpartisan. As a result she won 62% of the votes cast.

Candidate courting controversy

Killeen, 45, is a controversial character, arousing strong opinions in some. Mitchell Kozikowski, a veteran agency executive and head of the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Public Affairs, thinks 'it was unprofessional' of Killeen to flout the PRSA's established election process, by seeking the support of individual delegates as opposed to each chapter. He also disagrees with her contention that, 'everything is bad about the society, it's somebody else's fault, and she's the savior.'

However, Richard Terrell says that she gained support, 'by standing up for women, but not in a strident way.' Terrell, managing associate of Casey & Sayre in Santa Monica says that her opponent McDermott, 'tried to make it sound as though a woman couldn't make the hard financial decisions.' At the time the PRSA's finances showed a dollars 400,000 deficit. However, 'Joann didn't take office until (PRSA's financial) damage was done,' says Terrell.

Killeen sees her selection as chair as a validation of her abilities.

She says: 'I was the best candidate for the job.' She intends to run the society more like a business than the non-profit organization that it is.

However she wants to keep the focus of the PRSA intact and has three initial aims: 'To get our financial house in order; get the chapter database software working and get the chapters' council and support system working better.' She continues: 'As a board, we've always been overly ambitious.

I'd rather see us do a few things exceptionally well and create euphoria rather than disappoint a lot of members.'

But not everyone feels the same way about Killeen. The PRSA election revealed strong opposition to her from many prominent and influential practitioners, including her own mentor Pat Jackson, senior counsel at Jackson, Jackson & Wagner, Exeter, NH.

Jackson fought her effort to win the post of treasurer last year. Although he now acknowledges that 'she did a helluva job and cleaned up the mess,' he was a member of the nominating committee that backed her opponent.

'I've always liked Joann because she's no-nonsense tough in a tactful way,' he says, adding 'but I didn't think Joann (as secretary in 1999) had stood up to the board.' During 1999, there were complaints that a small group on the executive committee were making decisions without consulting the rest of the board.

Jackson also contends that the PRSA has changed. 'PRSA over the past six or seven years has been dumbed down to deal with the more-junior-level practitioners. Going for numbers has changed it to a trade association instead of a professional society.'

Feeling for the grass roots

Despite the criticism, Killeen, he says, is 'great at the grass roots and the members will feel they have a voice in her in such problems as the computer foul-up.' In order to organize its database of members and chapters the PRSA had acquired new computer software. Unfortunately it does not work and has made their problems worse.

Another string to Killeen's bow is her knowledge of the profession, rooted in the extensive preparation she did for PRSA accreditation. Killeen says she, 'found and read every book on the list,' and as a result became 'comfortable about knowing why we do what we do. It's not just something intuitive; there's really a science to what we do.'

Killeen is a native Angelino and got her undergraduate degree at the California State University at Northridge, before moving to Boston, where she ran her own PR firm, Killeen Communications, for seven years.

In Boston she was The Weber Group's director of investor relations, after which she joined Waggener Edstrom, where she managed the dollars 1.8 million public relations account for Microsoft Windows NT and Security.

Partly because of her strength in hi-tech, she was recruited in 1997 to Portland, OR-based Infinite Pictures. That was the year she also developed daylong strategic PR planning workshops for the development of smaller PRSA chapters.

She took that show on the road to several chapters around the country.

In 1994, after a 26 year career in the profession that ranged from non-profit to corporate and investor relations; higher education; agency and solo counseling; she became the youngest PRSA Fellow at 43.

She and her husband returned last year to LA, where she now has a small practice which includes two start-ups in the Los Angeles area and a hi-tech software company Rainbow Technologies in Orange County. She also regularly consults on strategy with a financial services PR firm in Boston, where she earned her master's degree at Simmons College.

But it's clear that she has immersed herself in a lifelong love affair with her work, and friends have likened her to the Energizer bunny. On weekends, if she's not on a plane, she dons her roller blade outfit, complete with helmet and elbow shields, and heads for the beach or some flea market with Parker, her seven-month-old Airedale terrier. She loves to draw and work with fabrics and counts snorkeling at Grand Cayman among her hobbies.

And since she flies a lot, she reads voraciously, almost as fast she talks. She speaks eloquently both one-on-one and before large groups, such as the 175 who came to hear her discuss technology at the Orange County Software Council meeting last year. Up in the air, under water, on wheels wherever this self-styled 'tech diva' is, there is a dynamo who's always 'on'. Just stay away from her sandcastles.

Joann Killeen

president of Killeen Communications, Los Angeles

1974-1978 - Public Information Officer, Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Dept.

1982-1984 - Director of public relations, Holy Family Hospital, Spokane, WA

1993-1994 - Director of investor relations, The Weber Group, Boston

1996-1997 - Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft account supervisor

1997-1999 - VP corporate marketing, Infinite Pictures, Portland, OR

1999-present - President of Killeen Communications, Los Angeles.

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