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Ted Pincus, PR specialist, Sun-Times columnist, dies

Ted Pincus

Ted Pincus

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Updated: November 15, 2011 9:22AM

Ted Pincus knew a secret, and it put him squarely in the top echelons of Chicago business.

Mr. Pincus knew that corporate executives aren’t always the best communicators for their own cause. They might know their industry, but not how to tell their story to investors, regulators and the public.

So he set about reinventing the field of public relations, using his gift for words and eye for an anecdote. His advice made him a trusted counselor to numerous chief executives while his upbeat disposition and self-deprecating humor made him a welcome companion to many others.

Mr. Pincus died Friday at age 78 after a battle with cancer that he chronicled with his characteristic wit in the Chicago Sun-Times a year ago.

Mr. Pincus founded the Financial Relations Board, a firm that was among the largest public relations providers when he sold it in 2000. He also wrote a business column for the Sun-Times, was an adjunct finance professor at DePaul University and a consultant for political candidates ranging from Nelson Rockefeller in 1960 to Barack Obama in 2008.

Mr. Pincus suffered from multiple myeloma, which is cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow. He wrote about his diagnosis and treatment, which included a blood stem-cell transplant, describing his hospital unit as follows: “Welcome to Transylvania-west, where everyone is out for blood. Yours.”

The doctor in charge of the procedure, Mr. Pincus said, was his “Chemo Sabe.”

Mr. Pincus’ wife, Sherri, said he pursued the assignment with typical gusto. “He was running up and down the halls of the hospital while he was there, interviewing people about their stem-cell transplants,” she said. “It was something to see.”

She said her husband was always positive. “He kept his friends forever,” and one of his favorite down-time activities was a poker club that met for 40 years, she said.

Mr. Pincus graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism. He entered the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s and the brass let him promote the Thunderbird Aerial Demonstration Team.

He joked that they let him do that only because he may have been the worst trainee in the Air Force’s pilot training program.

Mr. Pincus was born in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and his family later moved to Highland Park, where he said in his own obituary that he was “the most disastrous quarterback in the history of American high school football.”

He had better luck with words in his life and had a love for books, which didn’t sit unread on a shelf. Dan Miller, former business editor of the Sun-Times, recalled seeing a vast library at Mr. Pincus’ Chicago home.

“None of the books had dust jackets on them. I asked him why and he said, ‘They just get in the way,’” Miller said.

He said Mr. Pincus helped corporations define their overriding goal of improving shareholder value and understood that business success leads to social good.

With a client roster of more than 1,000 that included McDonald’s, Alberto Culver and Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Enterprises, Mr. Pincus pushed the idea of “transparency” in corporate affairs long before it became a buzzword.

After selling the Financial Relations Board for $40 million, he declined to retire. Mr. Pincus became a managing partner at the consultancy Stevens Gould Pincus. He also was vice chairman at SMG public relations group and a consultant for Weber Shandwick Group.

His awards included being named PR Professional of the Year in 2002 by the Public Relations Society of America.

Among his civic activities were directorships at the Chicago Film Festival and Gateway House Foundation.

Besides his wife, survivors include a sister, Barbara Adler; son Mark, the billionaire founder of online gaming company Zynga Inc.; daughters Anne Zitron Casey, Laura Pincus Hartman, Jennifer Zitron Suomi and Susan Pincus Sherman; and 12 grandchildren.

A memorial service for Mr. Pincus will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W. Delaware Place. His family was planning a private graveside service.

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