Dr. Kenneth Plowman is an associate professor of Public Relations, specializing in strategic management and conflict resolution.
Q: What was it about public relations that made you go into it as a career?
Well, I took a survey course here at BYU and I couldn’t decide on a major. I was a senior with credits mounting up and the description of public relations was combined parts of political science, sociology, psychology and business, or something like that, and I liked all those things. So I thought, “Oh! That sounds good.” Been stuck in it ever since. I just keep coming back to it.
Q: You spent part of your career in the Army Reserve and were even deployed. What did your work entail while stationed in Iraq?
I was a Public Affairs officer, the military’s euphemism for public relations, and we worked with soldiers. We did the work. We’re just like the active duty guys. It was primarily a media relations mission. My last job in Iraq was Chief of Public Affairs for Detainee Operations, in essence for the political prisoners. They had gotten up to 26,000 of them. The military didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute them, but they had enough evidence to detain them, that’s why we called them detainees. I was primarily in charge of working with the press. It was after the widely covered torture scandal in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. So, I was the mediator between the detainee operations and the press.
Q: In your biography it says you spent roughly half of your career on Capitol Hill. How did you move towards that path for your career?
I was thinking politics, political PR, because I was raised back there in Maryland. I always had an interest in politics, so I went back and got a master’s in public administration in D.C. While I was there I did four internships, and one of them was on Capitol Hill for Senator Hatch. I got the job there and so I spent eight years in four different congressional offices doing that. That was great.
Q: With this year being an election year, and with your expertise from D.C., how would you suggest students find good, balanced information on politics?
Pay attention to both sides. There is truth in both sides, so you have to be discerning — we teach in Comms 101 to critically analyze the media. There are some publications that are fairly non-partisan: “Congressional Quarterly” for national and then there is “Utah Policy.” It’s an online newsletter that gives you state and local races primarily. So between those you should get a pretty good picture. One of the axioms I learned a long time ago is to watch the debates, but turn off the sound. Watch their non-verbal keys. That almost gives you a truer picture. Afterwards, all the networks do their analysis, but that will be biased one way or the other. So you’ve got to listen to the debates yourself, sound on and off, and decide.
Q: Why did you choose to come and teach at BYU?
I had taught for eight years at San Jose State and wasn’t really looking to make a move to BYU. Normally, the Department of Communications doesn’t advertise in the Church News, but one day I opened up a Church News article and saw there was an opening for a PR professor and I just had kind of an epiphany then that I should apply. The rest, as they say is history, so here I am.