Member Spotlight: Debra McClung

Debra McClung is the strategic communications bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Public Safety. She recently earned her APR, and has some words of encouragement and wisdom for those communications professionals who are currently working toward their designation.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a strategic communications professional with more than 30 years of experience. I’m a native of Knoxville, and earned my degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of Iowa. In July, I was named the Strategic Communications Bureau Chief for the Iowa Department of Public Safety—home to the Iowa State Patrol, Division of Criminal Investigation, Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Division of Intelligence and the State Fire Marshal. My husband Tim and I have two sons who are currently studying engineering and business analytics at the University of Iowa.

What has your career path looked like so far?
My career path started in broadcast journalism in Cedar Rapids. The journey has included Division I sports marketing at the University of Iowa Athletic Department and corporate public relations with Vermeer Manufacturing. As our sons grew, I transitioned to freelance writing and public relations consulting, and followed it with a role in B2B content strategy and content marketing on the Bobcat Company team at Two Rivers Marketing. Now I’m learning the world of law enforcement in strategic communications for the State of Iowa.

You recently earned your APR. Congratulations! What inspired you to pursue the certification?
I’ve wanted to pursue an APR for a long time. I reached a stage in my personal and professional life where I had more time to focus on reaching higher levels of understanding and practice in our profession. Early in my career I learned the public relations discipline on the job through osmosis, but I wanted to move my career forward and gain a formal foundation in all of the areas the APR covers. 

What surprised you about the process to earn it?
The biggest surprises were how comprehensive the APR process is—and it should be—and how much I value the relationships I’ve made through this process. The relationships you make in the course and study groups will last a lifetime. I realize now that there’s so much more to the profession than I ever imagined, and I have such a deeper respect for public relations principles and for my talented peers who practice the art and science of this craft every day.

How will what you learned and experienced in the course influence your work going forward?
Before pursuing my APR, I thought I had decent instincts for public relations, but now I have a much more solid understanding and global view of planning and problem solving. My goal is to keep growing my skill set to develop stronger strategic planning and executions, and to provide more informed counsel in my work. Earning my APR has significantly enhanced the way I work, and has provided me both a road map and a compass for any challenge I encounter. It helped me be an even more well-rounded professional and trusted advisor to senior leaders, as well as to students in my role as a liaison to the University of Iowa James F. Fox PRSSA chapter. 

What advice do you have for other PRSA members interested in APR?
My advice to anyone considering an APR is to evaluate your career goals, talk to APR peers in our community and never assume it’s too late. Although every one of us has a different journey, there are countless experiences that can help you shape how you might approach the program. This is an achievement I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m a better professional today because of my investment in time to make this commitment to my career growth.

What else do you want PRSA to know about you? This is your time to show off what you love.
In addition to earning my APR, I’m also pursuing a master’s of strategic communications from the University of Iowa, and hope to apply this knowledge and work experience in a teaching capacity someday. My volunteer activities include being the PRSSA liaison to the University of Iowa. I also recently joined the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communications Professional Advisory Board. In my community I serve on the Knoxville High School Athletic Hall of Fame. In my free time, I love being with family, discovering Des Moines, running, following Hawkeye athletics and traveling.


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