Eight Questions With: Karen Miller Russell

UGA associate professor speaks of dream job as public relations instructor and using kindness to drive change in a culture of outrage

If you could teach a college class, what would it be called? And what would it cover?

Well, that’s what I do already. But if I could teach a class outside my job, it would be an English class on the mystery novel. I love the intellectual challenge of trying to solve the puzzle, and it’s nice to know the perpetrator will always be caught and punished. I love mysteries so much that I’ve been working on a paper about public relations professionals in crime fiction, whether they’re the detective, the criminal, or just a witness — you’d be surprised how many I’ve found. (Teaser: PR pros make good mystery characters because of their proximity to power.)

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Start with the business objective in mind. My students always want to start with the creative, and I get that, but a graduate student taught me the centrality of this advice. He guest lectured to my class and told a story about an amazing event his team held: attendance was huge, everyone had a wonderful time, but they didn’t sell a single product. “Try explaining *that* to your client,” he said, and I have never forgotten those words.

What is your favorite place in the world to visit?

My favorite place in the world is Oxford, England. I swear there’s a historically significant building or artifact on every block. I taught a study abroad class for UGA located in Trinity College, in a classroom decorated by two plates painted by Picasso. My sixth week there I finally ambled across the street from the college into the history of science museum where I saw, among many other things, the chalkboard with Einstein’s scribblings from when he lectured at Oxford to explain his new theory of relativity, covered with a plastic shield and stuck on the wall above a door. No big deal. Next to that building is the Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1600s. On the street there’s an X marking the spot where some Catholics burned some Protestants alive for the crime of heresy. This is literally a single block on Broad Street. I could go on for a long time.

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Being a single parent. It’s also the best thing I’ve ever done!

What is the smartest marketing, communications or PR thing you’ve ever done?

Getting a Ph.D. Teaching public relations at the University of Georgia is a dream job. Our students are amazing, I get to research subjects that interest me, and I’ve had so many great opportunities to interact with fantastic professionals, including the ones at Arketi.

What are you currently reading / watching?

I just submitted a book manuscript to my publisher on Monday. I spent the last year and a half reading about public relations history and the telephone industry, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to read or watch whatever I want. I started with Susan Orlean’s The Library Book (2018), which I recommend for anyone who loves the public library, books, and good writing; and the “Inspector George Gently” TV series, set in Northern England in the late 1960s.

Whom would most like to eat lunch with and where would you take them? OR Who is the person you most admire?

I would love to meet Anne Frank. She is one of the historical figures who got me interested in history overall, and in the Holocaust, particularly the propaganda that fed the hate. In a roundabout way, she led me to a lifelong desire to understand persuasive communication and how it developed.

What is your motto or favorite quote? Where is it from?

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” — Dalai Lama

Here’s the thing: in the age of social media, it is always possible and frequently rewarded to be sarcastic, angry, and just plain rude. It’s harder to be kind, but it’s the only way I can see to change the culture of outrage and hate we’ve somehow managed to create.


 

Eight questions with… is an occasional series where we ask marketers to share a little of their professional and personal insights. To suggest someone you’d like us to ask eight questions – or to answer them yourself! – go to https://arketi.com/8questions.

By Arketi – September 18, 2019

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