Public Relations Leader Shares Her Take on the Industry and Social Issues
The Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders gave Tina McCorkindale the insights to lead the 60-year-old Institute for Public Relations into the future.
The field of public relations has evolved, going beyond media relations and writing press releases to addressing important issues impacting business, society, and our lives. Social issues, in particular, have become more prevalent as businesses think about communications. Tina McCorkindale, a career PR professional, is among those leading the changes.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen a significant evolution in the field,” says Tina, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. “The communication and PR industry is more strategic, addressing a wide range of complex issues such as how businesses better integrate DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and deal with social issues including climate change. Plus, you have to stay on top of changing technologies such as artificial intelligence. Public relations has to be smart in so many different areas.”
Founded in 1956, the Institute is “dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations,” focusing on the importance of research. They offer educational programming, research reports, and industry events to help communicators improve their skills and stay ahead of trends.
Tina took the helm in 2015. With her background as an academic researcher and communications/journalism professor, she’d found a great fit in the nonprofit world. “Everything we do is research based and focused on how we can make our field smarter,” Tina says. “Stronger communicators are better equipped to help businesses, organizations, and society in general.”
Earlier in her career, Tina earned a PhD in Communication, Public Relations and an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR). More recently, she sought out additional education to gain the knowledge and insights to lead the over 60-year-old institute into the future.
“I really wanted something that would help me think in new ways about complex issues,” Tina says. “That’s what attracted me to the Stanford program.”
Discovering an Organization’s Potential
Tina attended the one-week, in-person Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders, which helps participants integrate organizational mission and strategy, while gaining new perspectives on their organization’s potential and impact.
“I wanted to avoid ‘Captain Obvious’ content such as ‘communication is important.’ We already know that,” Tina says. “I loved that the Executive Education program had Stanford faculty teach the classes and included research-generated insights to help us think differently and grow. I had fangirled over a faculty member before I came to Stanford and even cited their research.”
Tina found the program’s curriculum — including sessions on knowledge management — directly applied to keeping the institute’s role within the PR industry vital and their membership growing. “I had an aha moment about how sometimes, as organizations, we collect a lot of material that can create a knowing-doing gap,” she notes. “But how do we turn that into action to make a long-term impact?”
Sessions on the role of power within organizations also resonated with Tina, as she grows as a leader. “Power has a lot to do with inclusion and employee management,” Tina shares. “How does power play a role with our employees and their perceptions, but also with leaders in the industry?”
Learning with Other Nonprofit Leaders
Tina enjoyed learning about storytelling (a public relations staple) and business best practices — sharing experiences with other participants from the nonprofit world.
“What was really nice is even just at dinners, talking to people and learning about their organization,” says Tina, noting that participants were happy to share ideas and contacts with each other. “We stay in touch now with Zoom calls, LinkedIn, and a WhatsApp group,” Tina says.
Now, she is using what she learned in the program to draft her organization’s new strategic plan.
“Growing the organization while ensuring we offer an exceptional experience and thinking about new ways to further our mission can be challenging for a 60-year-old organization,” Tina says. “Our Trustees were very interested in the Stanford Executive Education program. Now, I can take some of those lessons learned to achieve our potential for growth.”
To other nonprofit professionals seeking to grow their organizations and careers, Tina offers this: “I was attracted to the program because Executive Education is connected to Stanford Graduate School of Business. I LOVED this program. The faculty offered me insights based on research and real-world experiences. Plus, you get great contacts you can stay in touch with,” she says. “The program exceeded my expectations.”