MEET YOUR PROFESSOR – Bill Smullen
Bill Smullen is the director of the Maxwell School’s National Security Studies Program and an adjunct professor of public relations in Newhouse. Smullen received his Bachelor’s in economics from the University of Maine and his Master’s from the Newhouse school. Prior to his appointment at Syracuse University, he was the Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell beginning in January 2001. A veteran of 30 years in the U.S. Army, his last active duty assignment was Special Assistant to the 11th and 12th Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Q: What is your favorite course to teach in Newhouse?
A: I like teaching public relations management to public diplomacy students. I also enjoy teaching public relations internship practicum. I think that is a great course because wherever you go in life you need to have separators. In other words, something that can separate you from that maddening crowd that is trying to get where you want to go or do what you want to do. How do you get there before them? Put things on your resume that separate you from everyone else. One of the ways to do that is internships and meaningful, real-world experiences.
Q: Do you have any particular interest(s) within public relations?
A: I spent a lot of time working for senior leaders in the military while I was on active duty. One of the things I enjoy most is managing senior leaders. I have learned some important lessons on how to tell your story and maintain a relationship with stakeholders. I helped manage relationships and events that General Powell and others were associated with.
Q: What is your favorite part of working in public relations?
A: I can’t think of anything more exhilarating than dealing with fast-pace issues of high importance. Crisis is an opportunity to tell your story. You have to always keep your feet on the ground and don’t take missteps along the way. In the business of public relations you have to take risks. You have to be out and about looking at opportunities with and for your boss.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I consider this my season of giving back. I’ve had experiences, good and bad, that I can turn into lessons for my students. A sense of relevance motivates me, as well, such as when students ask for my advice.
Q: Did you always want to work in public relations and/or communications?
A: No. I didn’t even want to go into the army. I wanted to go into the corporate world. I fell in love with the army through a two-year ROTC obligation. That was a wonderful place to learn and grow, both individually and professionally.
Q: What has been your proudest moment in your communications career?
A: Managing General Powell’s book tour after the publication of the best-selling autobiography. It was the mother of all book tours, starting in September 1995. We spent five weeks on the road, all over the country. We went to London and Paris and hit virtually ever quadrant of America to sell the book. I helped manage that from the ground up.
Q: Do you have any fun fact(s) about yourself?
A: I love to read. I try to keep two books on my nightstand: a book for purpose and a book for pleasure.
Q: What is/are your favorite quote(s)?
A: I am a big fan of Winston Churchill. “To look backward is to see forward.” I also like the saying, “Don’t be afraid to take risks.”
Q: What qualities do you think make a student successful?
A: Having an insight earlier than later into where they want to go. I try to get students focused on where they want to go and what sector of public relations they want to be in. Good time-management and the ability to deal with the press are important, as well.
Q: What qualities do you think make a person successful?
A: Having a passion for what they want to do and having the commitment to do it. They also need to be able to continue to improve whatever it is they are doing along the way. Learn to prioritize and reprioritize. Try to be focused, try to accomplish as much as you can, and measure what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Evaluate what you do in life, personally and professionally. If you take time to do that, you’re going to be better the next day.
Q: Do you have a personal message for Newhouse students?
A: I find Newhouse students to be very serious and committed to their educational responsibilities. I urge them to gain the most from their education while they can get it. Newhouse is a stepping-stone to success. It may help you get to where you need to go, and once you get there, you need to be the best you can be and compete against yourself every single day.