The warmth of the holiday season reminds us that for some PRSA leaders, public relations is a family affair. One such clan has PR experience that goes back generations in New York City, while another extends forward and covers the Midwest and East Coast.
For both Natan Edelsburg of New York City and the family of David L. Shank, APR, Fellow PRSA, of Indianapolis and Philadelphia, PRSA has been foremost in their commitment to the profession.
Edelsburg, chief operating officer of Muck Rack, a PR and communications-software company based in New York, is a third-generation PR professional. His grandfather, Elias “Buck” Buchwald, was among the first employees at Burson-Marsteller and worked closely with the firm’s co-founder Harold Burson, APR, Fellow PRSA. Buchwald spent his entire career with the company, and served as its vice chair.
“The old adage was that Harold would bring the client in, and Buck would make the experience successful,” Edelsburg says.
Burson’s daughter and Edelsburg’s mother, Monita Buchwald, went into finance but disliked it and soon transitioned into public relations, a move influenced by Elias’ background. Monita rose in health-care communications and became vice chair and worldwide director of strategic planning at Manning Selvage & Lee (now MSL, a division of Publicis), one of the world’s largest agencies. She is now in her second career, as a chef.
“Being raised by great communicators gave me a leg up and created a big impact on my career and education,” says Edelsburg, who studied at NYU’s Steinhardt School in the Media, Culture and Communication department, and helped start the university’s first PRSSA Chapter.
He interned at a company that builds technology applications for PR professionals, and enjoys showing colleagues how technology can help them accomplish their goals.
“In the future, PR professionals will not only have to be good communicators, but also designers, creating images and videos,” he says. “The profession needs to be more technology-focused, which will not happen overnight, nor will it outweigh essential communication and writing skills.”
Four of the six adults in the Shank family work in public relations.
“We joke that it’s genetic,” says Shank and his wife Marilyn Shank, APR, of Indianapolis, both of whom are members of the PRSA Hoosier Chapter. David is president and CEO of Shank Public Relations Counselors. Marilyn is integrated-communication coordinator at Eskenazi Health, a major Indianapolis hospital. Their oldest son Brendon was 2017 chair of the PRSA Health Academy, and is a sought-after consultant. Brendon’s wife, Bethanne Fox, is vice president for health and social policy at Burness, a Bethesda, Md.-based communications firm.
Even their younger son, Andy — a former law-enforcement officer who served with the FBI in white-collar crime prosecution — understands public relations. He is now assistant vice president and fraud-and-compliance manager for Elements Financial, an Indianapolis credit union.
“Our sons had no choice but to absorb public relations from their early childhood days,” David says, referring to when he and Marilyn opened their company about 30 years ago,
The family dinner table often turned into a production center. “Whether they were stuffing stress balls into 700 mailing tubes, serving as photo models or sporting mascot costumes, our sons fulfilled many roles, usually cheerfully,” Marilyn recalls.
Accredited since 1981, David was honored with the PRSA Presidential Citation in 1991 and inducted into the PRSA College of Fellows in 2005. He has held every office of the Hoosier Chapter, including two terms as president, and served on the Board for the PRSA East Central District three times, including as chair. In the mid-1980s he originated the QuickStart district-leadership training concept that is now used by many PRSA Districts. He was among the pioneer national PRSA Regional Representatives.
Marilyn earned her Accreditation in 1989. She was president of the PRSA Hoosier Chapter in 1997 and chair of the PRSA East Central District in 2006.
Perhaps surprising given their achievements in the field, David, Marilyn and Brendon did not plan on PR careers. David and Marilyn met at Indiana University in Bloomington over the UPI teletype machine in the newsroom of WFIU radio.
Their sons graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. — Brendon with dual degrees in political science and comparative religion, and Andy with a degree in justice. Brendon interned at the PR firm MSL Washington and later worked for eight years in Porter Novelli’s D.C. office. His communications career is now in its 20th year. In October, he participated in a PRSSA Twitter chat on career development and has helped coach upcoming graduates on finding work in public relations.
At PRSA conferences, Brendon sees that his parents have been valuable mentors to many in PRSA and the Indianapolis PR community. “I try to create that same value for others,” he says.