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Sills Professorship

Theodore R. and Annie Laurie Sills Professorship

The Theodore R. and Annie Laurie Sills Professorship was established by Ted and Annie Laurie Sills as an estate gift to Medill. 

Ted Sills (WCAS28) worked in newspapers for five years before co-founding Seaberg-Sills public relations firm in Chicago. In 1936, the agency changed its name to Theodore R. Sills Inc. Sills was supported by his wife, Annie Laurie Sills, who had been his secretary and who took on an important role in developing the company.

As a leader, Ted Sills was an early supporter of women in the workplace and regularly hired and promoted women at a time when this practice was not commonplace, said his cousin, Marcia Slater Johnston (BSJ64).

At its height, the Sills agency had offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Madrid and Toronto. The company had a wide variety of accounts, including Brunswick Billiards and Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, and specialized in food publicity with accounts such as Sunshine Biscuits and the National Pickle Packers Association. The Sills agency created National Pickle Week to celebrate the product.

The Sills moved to California in the mid-1950s. In 1970, Sills sold the firm to the Burson-Marsteller public relations firm, and he continued to operate the company as a subsidiary. At Burson-Marsteller, he met Richard Christian, who later joined the Medill faculty as an early leader in developing Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.

In addition to his work as an early public relations leader and innovator, Sills was co-author of “Public Relations: Principles and Procedures.” The book, first published in 1946, described the emerging field of public relations and its importance in business, government and international relations. “Public opinion is the greatest force in the world today, and the art of forming it is destined to become one of the most important human skills,” reads the concluding sentence of the book.

The Theodore R. and Annie Laurie Sills Professorship was established in 2001 through a charitable remainder trust formed in 1988 when the Sills family donated their Pacific Palisades, California, home to Northwestern. Annie Laurie Sills died in 1998, and Ted Sills died in 2000. An additional gift after his passing supports the endowed chair.

Professor Emeritus-in-Service Abe Peck held the professorship from 2001 to 2006, Professor Edward Malthouse held it from 2006-2018, and Associate Professor Ernest Duplessis held the professorship from 2018-2021. Associate Professor Nancy Hobor currently holds the professorship.