PR News’ 2009 Hall of Fame Inductees

While this year’s crop of PR Hall of Fame inductees have faced disparate challenges and possess varying skill sets, they have one thing in common: All have a keen vision for the future of their profession. PR News is proud to honor them.

Don Bulmer, VP of Global Communications, Industry and Influencer Relations, SAP

Since accepting his very first job 16 years ago as an intern for the world’s smallest accredited zoo, Mickey Grove Zoo in Lodi, Calif., Don Bulmer has gone on to lead award-winning communication programs at organizations within the enterprise technology, Internet start-up and professional services sectors. Now the VP of global communications, industry and influencer relations at SAP, he designs strategies that advance the company’s reputation while accelerating sales and competitive strength.

Bulmer came to SAP in 2001 to lead what is now recognized as an industry-leading analyst relations program. His successes with the analyst relations program parlayed into his next venture at SAP: designing a new “Industry and Influencer” organization to help accelerate the company’s short- and long-term business goals by working with top business and IT experts.

A natural extension of this responsibility: various digital initiatives that have been introduced by Bulmer’s team to support streamlined collaboration and to support community feedback, including Team Wiki and, one of the industry’s first b2b social networking communities for small business owners.

Still, one of Bulmer’s personal career highlights remains the campaign he spearheaded to promote a law firm client as the foremost liability expert of the Y2K problem, which ultimately helped build an $80 million law practice in less than 18 months.

Peter Debreceny, Strategy Execution Consultant, Gagen MacDonald

Peter Debreceny’s role in the communications industry is best described as “visionary.” His career, which spans more than four decades, is defined by achievements and insights that were not only forward-thinking but, in some cases, were actually revolutionary. Among his first professional accomplishments: directly contributing to the change of his native New Zealand’s national government as a PR adviser to the Labour Party from 1970 to 1973. The Party regained power in the 1972 election after suffering three defeats.

From there, Debreceny continued to push boundaries; during a four-year stint as an EVP of an advertising agency, he created a model for real-time media analysis that could target specific demographics—a stunning development by any standard, but even more so considering it happened in the early 1980s. But that wouldn’t be the first time Debreceny’s foresight would spot a game-changing moment for PR long before it was actually realized: During a speech he delivered in the ’90s, he called on communicators to harness the power of the Web.

Even with all the progress the PR industry has seen during—and, in many ways, thanks to—his career, Debreceny still believes the best is yet to come. “This is probably the most exciting time to be in the public relations field,” he says, pointing to advances prompted by globalization and new technologies. “All of these changes play to our strengths. We can see the start of a merging of marketing and communications into a new discipline, one that will be defined by smartness of approach rather than size of budget.”

Presently a strategy execution consultant at Gagen MacDonald, Debreceny’s experiences on both the agency and corporate sides (with stints at Ketchum and Edelman, as well as Allstate) certainly put him in a good position to comment on the state of the industry, and to advise up-and-comers in the profession. In that vein, he reflects on the best career advice he ever received:

“‘Write it down. I used to think that I could keep everything in my head, and I was pretty good at juggling multiple balls at the same time,” he says. “However, my then boss insisted everything be written down—no matter how small. And he was right; it really taught me focus and disciplined process.”

Donna Imperato, CEO, Cohn & Wolfe

On July 2, 2008, two of PR’s leading agencies, Cohn & Wolfe and GCI Group, merged to become a dynamic new global name under the Cohn and Wolfe banner. That merger was, to date, the most significant achievment of Donna Imperato’s stellar 20-plus year career.

In spearheading the integration efforts, Imperato elevated Cohn & Wolfe to one of the industry’s leading global agencies. She now manages all operations through a network of 55 offices in most major markets worldwide.

Imperato joined Cohn & Wolfe in 1998 as its U.S. Healthcare Practice leader and quickly established it as a market and sector leader, executing many high-profile launches and campaigns. She then sucesssfully headed up the New York office, which made her a natural choice for CEO in 2003.

Imperato’s success as a leader is based on a deep belief that busineses are most successful when employees are empowered to use their talents to make a difference. This spirit has contributed to the agency’s reputation as one of the most creative in the word. Through her sound judgement, creativity and innovative thinking, Imperato has taken Cohn & Wolfe to the top of the mountain.

Michael Kempner, President & CEO, MWW Group

“Aim high. Deliver.” This mantra not only represents the mission of MWW Group, but also the personal philosophy of the man behind its incredible growth and success: Michael Kempner.

Prior to its sale to the Interpublic Group of Companies in 2000, Kempner took MWW Group from a start-up with one employee (him), one client and one office to the fourth-largest independent PR agency in the United States. Since then, he has remained president and CEO, continuing the firm’s growth to make it a leader in the modern communications environment.

Ever the entrepreneur, Kempner recognized the influence social media would have on PR early on, thus prompting him to establish DialogueMedia, MWW Group’s award-winning digital and emerging media practice. Since then, the firm’s digital practice has been built out to include D.Advocacy, the industry’s first social media platform specifically for public affairs and government relations.

In addition to leading the firm’s year-over-year consecutive growth, Kempner has applied the “Aim high. Deliver” way of life to the agency’s environmental commitment, leading the formalization of MWW Group Green and incorporating environmental responsibility into every aspect of the business. As a result, he marries good work and good results, fulfilling his belief that “if it’s a great idea but not strategic, then it’s not a great idea.”

Larry Parnell, Associate Professor and Program Director, George Washington University Master’s in Strategic PR

Larry Parnell’s career represents a communications trifecta, with his past and present roles spanning agency, corporate and academic sectors. Currently the program director of George Washington University’s Master’s in Strategic PR—a position he has held since June 2008—he brings his real-world experience to PR education, incorporating case studies, guest lecturers and mock presentations into the curriculum.

Making students’ experience in the classroom as realistic as possible is critical given the rapidly evolving nature of communications. “[In the span of my career,] we have gone from typewriters to distributing news via PDAs, from press conferences to Webcasts and tweets, from one-to-many communications to one-to-one,” Parnell says. “All that has really changed is the pace and means of distributing your message. What hasn’t changed is the importance of developing a strategic message, identifying your key audiences and getting your position across to protect or enhance your client/organization’s reputation.”

These lessons are ones he learned over time, drawing from his past experiences at everywhere from MS&L and Ketchum to Ernst & Young. Most rewarding, though, is his ability to give back to the industry by teaching the individuals who will ultimately shape its future.

“Communications will become even more dramatic, critical and strategic,” he says. “The key is to take advantage of the opportunity the market is giving us today, and to not overreach—to just deliver results.”

Marcia Silverman, Global CEO, Ogilvy PR

Marcia Silverman is a pioneer in the PR industry—a status she has achieved as a result of her contributions throughout her career, which culminated in her becoming one of the first women to serve as CEO of a global PR firm. That title is one she acquired in 2002, when she ascended from the role of Ogilvy PR’s first president of the Americas to become the agency’s chief officer.

Silverman’s strength comes from her vast experience at J. Walter Thompson, various associations and Ogilvy, where she has worked since 1981. But it’s her accomplishments in the last year, during a staggering economic collapse, that really solidified her leadership position. Rather than bracing for a backslide, Silverman pushed her staff to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs, thus enabling the agency to meet client needs, target areas of growth and remain viable.

Ultimately, though, Silverman’s laudable leadership of Ogilvy is demonstrated in the bottom line. In 2008 and the first half of 2009, she increased staff retention to 85% and gained recognition for Ogilvy as one of PINK Magazine’s 2008 Top Companies for Women. As CEO, she drove Ogilvy’s revenues from roughly $80 million in 2002 to more than $250 million in 2008. â–