Spotlight on a Super Star: An Interview with WVB Award Winner, Jonathan Kissell, APR

Congratulations again to Jonathan Kissell, APR, the 2018 Werner-VonderHaar-Bogart Award winner. Often considered a lifetime achievement award, the WVB Award is the highest honor offered by the Cincinnati Chapter of PRSA. Click here to read more about the award and Jonathan’s contributions to the community, profession, chapter and PRSA.

Jonathan is a busy guy: he’s leading digital communications efforts for Rumpke Waste & Recycling, teaches future practitioners at Miami University, runs the EB Hope Foundation, guides Cincinnati PRSA and its members on the ethical practice of public relations, and still has time to enjoy his young and growing family with his wife, Diane. He was also gracious enough to answer a few questions about his career for PR Visions. We sat down with this PR Super Star to learn more about his career, thoughts on the profession and advice for future award-winning pros.

 WVB winner Jonathan Kissell

WVB winner Jonathan Kissell

Walk us through your early career; how did you get your start in public relations?

I learned many valuable lessons during my college internships.

During the summer after freshman year at the University of Dayton, I worked at a now-defunct small agency, where I wrote ad copy and assisted with video shoots. Most importantly, I began to understand the importance of good leadership.

Between junior and senior year, I worked a few days a week at a regional airline at CVG in technical publications. As an unpaid intern, I looked for value in other ways, always mindful of how this experience would affect me down the road. I taught myself the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator – skills that proved useful in landing my job at Rumpke.

That same summer, I interned at a small engineering and architecture firm in Dayton. I then realized I wanted to go into corporate communications.

Possibly the most important lessons were from my summer with Duke Energy. They had a summer job program for employees’ kids. My dad was a long-time engineer at Duke, and I landed a gig as a general laborer in the parts room at Duke’s power plant in North Bend, Ohio. On the first day, my boss gave me some rags and told me to “dust” the shelves, which presumably hadn’t been touched since the previous summer helper. I finished quicker than he expected, and he soon “promoted” me to inventory and warehouse restoration. That summer reaffirmed the importance of hard work and that every person’s contributions make a team, a department or a company successful.

You’ve already accomplished a lot in what many would consider a relatively short career. What stands out as a highlight or two?

Easy: helping to establish Rumpke’s creative design team and co-founding the EB Hope Foundation with my family.

For a few years, I managed Rumpke’s communications internship program. One summer, a graphic design student (Maria Perkins) applied. At the time, we didn’t have a professional graphic designer on staff. I almost tossed the resume aside until I noticed her work samples. We needed to interview her. I ultimately hired her as an intern, and soon pitched a full-time designer for Rumpke. We brought Maria onto our team in an entry level role, and she has elevated Rumpke’s brand beyond imagination. I always take great pride in seeing Maria’s personal and professional growth, as she has earned several promotions and now manages that team.

My nephews Carson, 11, and Kolbe, 3, were born with a rare skin disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). They’re covered from head-to-toe in blisters. There’s no cure for EB. When Carson was born, our family rallied around my brother David and sister-in-law Kristy. We started the Walk for EB, a small community event to raise funds and awareness. A few years later, we formalized the EB Hope Foundation, an official 501(c)(3). It’s my tremendous honor to have served as president since its inception. We have raised more than $230,000, primarily through the Walk which occurs annually on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend.  

How do you stay passionate and up-to-date on the profession?

I’m fortunate to teach a capstone strategic communication course at Miami University. The students always have fresh perspectives and new ideas, and they help me stay on top of the latest trends.

I also love PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics. My co-workers joke with me because I bring copies on vacation. 

What impact has the Public Relations Society of America had on your career? And, on the other side of the coin, what kind of impact or legacy do you hope to leave on the Society, either locally or nationally?

PRSA has meant more for me and my career than I’ll ever realize.

In college, I served as president of UD’s PRSSA chapter and attended several national assemblies. This gave me an early glimpse into leadership and management.

I found my job at Rumpke on Cincinnati PRSA’s Job Bank as a senior at UD. On day one, my manager, Amanda Pratt, APR, told me to join PRSA and make the most of it.

It has truly been an honor to serve Cincinnati PRSA in many capacities, especially as chapter president in 2012. It’s helped me establish a strong network of colleagues and friends throughout the region and the country.

I have PRSA to thank for my role at Miami. In a random conversation a few years prior to getting an invitation to teach, I mentioned to Shara Clark, APR, how I admired her for working full-time and teaching. When an opportunity became available, she thought of me, and I now get to fulfill a lifelong dream of teaching at the university level.

There are so many wonderful stories about PRSA impacting lives. I hope students, new professionals and employers continue recognizing the value of membership and leadership involvement.

Obviously, PR has served you well! But what would you be doing if you weren’t in PR?

I would be an engineer. I love math.

What advice would you give to those professionals who are just getting their start?

Someone is always paying attention. Your response to tedious and menial tasks tells a lot about how you will handle greater responsibility. Also, look for ways to step-up into leadership roles, even if it doesn’t come with an official title. Finally, learn the financial side of business.

You’re a “lifetime achievement award winner” now. What’s next?

This award is only possible because of wonderful people in my life. My wife Diane has always supported my passions. My kids (Josie, Julia and Dominic) make me laugh and give me pure joy. My family at Rumpke inspires and challenges me every day. My colleagues at PRSA are some of the most dedicated and talented individuals in our industry. I’m fortunate to teach at a highly-regarded university and to foster the growth of a young nonprofit. I’m the luckiest person in the room, and I can only hope this is the beginning of future possibilities. Thank you for this honor.

 The Kissell File:

·       What’s your favorite book? How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen

·       What’s your go-to podcast? “HBR Ideacast” or “Intelligence for Your Life”

·       How do you take your coffee? From Starbucks, usually a blonde roast with almond milk or a mocha on special occasions.

·       What was your first job? Youth baseball umpire and teen dance club bouncer

·       Who do you look up to? My parents and my two older brothers.

·       What character are you from The Office at your office? Dwight

·       What are you binge watching? Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with my kids or Suits with Diane.

·       What were you like in high school? I was class president for three years and school president as a senior.