Kevin Waetke, APR, has been on PRSA’s national board since December 2016 when he stepped in to complete the term as the Midwest regional board representative. He was named to his first full two-year term at the 2017 assembly in Boston. His day job is Vice President of Strategic Communications at the National Pork Board where he leads internal and external communications initiatives on behalf of the U.S. pork industry. The National Pork Board represents America’s 60,000 pig farmers with a mission centered around swine science and consumer research of pigs and pork, as well as farmer education and marketing pork to international and U.S. consumers and through the retail and foodservice industries. Prior to joining the Pork Board, he spent 10 years leading communications in the financial services industry, having worked at U.K.-based life insurance and annuity leader Aviva plc, and, prior to that, as communications director for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Waetke has also led public relations for Maytag Corporation and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company. He is also a former TV news reporter and assignment editor.
What was your first PR job?
My first PR and marketing communications role was in health care, working as the media relations manager for Mercy Medical Center and Clinics in Des Moines, Iowa. It was interesting as I moved to the position having been a television news reporter. My initial interest was always to meet the needs of working journalists – being the eyes and ears inside a major healthcare corporation. It is here where I truly learned what it takes to tell a story, and the hospital public relations industry is full of them – from breakthrough technology to literally the heartfelt stories of life and death.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
It is cliché, but no day is the same – and that is energizing. I move from working directly with pig farmers helping to shape and share their personal stories from the farm, to understanding emerging technologies like gene editing and the impact it has on both pig farming and pork marketing. We are a small, quasi-governmental, not-for-profit organization funded by America’s pig farmers. However, our impact and influence is immense as we manage issues related to food safety and public health, animal care and the environment all balanced by the very fun aspect of working with pork. Food, as an industry, is fun and quite personal.
If you couldn’t be in communications what would you do?
After nearly 30 years in the industry, I can’t imagine what else I would do. I view myself as a communicator first and foremost, just give me an issue and an industry to represent. But if I had to choose, it would be something related to theater. I serve on the board of directors of the Des Moines Community Playhouse, and just wish I had more time to take part in a show, beyond assisting in meeting their PR and marketing needs.
Why did you choose to serve as a national leader?
We are all called to make a positive difference and to use our time and talents in areas that we find important. That’s what PRSA is to me. I have been a member for 26 years and joined just as soon as I attained a full-time PR position. I have never looked back. The value of the programs, professional development and a focus on ethics are important to all of us. I had contributed my time to the central Iowa chapter and just felt that I had the level of professional knowledge and life experiences to make a difference on a national level.
What is the most important quality of leadership?
Integrity is the single most important attribute that I aspire to demonstrate. Integrity aligns with so many other qualities – like courage, vision and articulating a path forward. Integrity takes opening up yourself to counsel (and criticism) and always understanding that any journey is centered on continuous improvement and relevancy. A single “right” answer seldom exists in public relations. The “right” answer is about defining a strategy that is based on your best judgment at the time; integrity means standing up for the decisions – good or bad – you make in that process.
What are your thoughts about the future of PR?
The future of our industry is bright and expansive. I have always thought there are two fundamental paths in business – one focused on science and math (i.e. research, financial analysis, project management) and a second path focused on the art of communications (i.e. public relations, human resources, marketing). Both paths are critical to success but only communications skills can be harnessed to shape the agenda and mold the dialogue. Every industry needs communications as it is at the essence of story-telling and building connections with people.