Public Reflections II: Definitions of the Past & Present

(Source: Max Borges Agency)

(Source: Max Borges Agency)

Looking back on my first blog post, I realize now that I may not have been entirely correct in my perception of PR.

As the overall definition of public relations has evolved, so has my own personal understanding of the field.

But first, a little history.

Public relations as a profession was born out of the need to manipulate public opinion. In the early days of public relations, various institutions that relied on public support- such as political forums and for-profit businesses- needed an advantage to compete for the limited favor of the general public.

The earliest PR practitioners may have been the Rhetoricians of Ancient Greece, whose job it was to “foster persuasive skills more than it was to determine if arguments and claims were true or false” (Lattimore et al, 2012).

Some time after the Greeks, the Roman Catholic Church created the Congregatio de Propaganda, or the Congregation for Propagating [the Faith], in the 17th century (Lattimore et al, 2012).

An important period in the development of the field of PR came about with the birth of America, founded on the cornerstone of the American Revolution. This makes sense… I mean, a new nation has a lot to prove. According to the fourth edition textbook of Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, “the ratification of the U.S. Constitution… has been called ‘history’s finest public relations job.'” President Andrew Jackson, not particularly known for his public speaking skills or ability to sway the public to see his side of things, effectively hired the first ever presidential press secretary.

A century later, circus magnate P.T. Barnum solidified the importance of the infant PR industry with the success of his “cold calling” campaigns to local newspapers prior to his attractions arrival to various towns; this could be considered the grandfather of modern-day press releases (Lattimore et al, 2012).

With the foundation of the professional organization of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 1947, the world became thirsty for a de facto definition: what, exactly, is public relations?

In 1982, the association adopted an “official” definition, that left much to be desired:

Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other (“PRSA’s Old Definition”).

In response to the call for a more updated definition, the PRSA opened the floor for debate in 2011; society executives asked the professionals and publics with vested interest to come up with and decide on a definition, to hopefully define public relations one and for all.

Over the course of a week, 927 potential definitions were submitted for consideration. This was narrowed down to 3 semi-finalists, which were discussed, commented, and expanded upon before voting finally commenced. The winner, with nearly 50 percent of the votes, was implemented as the current, official definition. According to the PRSA:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics (“What Is Public Relations?”).

Naturally, there were fans and critics on both sides of the fence concerning the new definition. PRSA defended the winning statement, claiming that defining public relations “is an ongoing process,” and that the new definition reflects that (Elliott, 2012).

I personally believe the definition is functional and sums up the field quite well; everything I’ve learned until his point substantiates it. We may never get even close to a universal definition for the elusive, mysterious, ever-changing enigma that is PR, but for now, it works if the majority agrees.



Lattimore, D., Baskin, O., Heiman, S., Toth, E., and Van Leuven, J. “The History of Public Relations.” Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice. 4th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill Education, 2012. 25-28. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. McGraw-Hill Education. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from

Elliott, Stuart. “Public Relations Defined, After an Energetic Public Discussion.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from

“PRSA’s Old Definition of Public Relations.” PRSA. Public Relations Society of America, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from

“What Is Public Relations? PRSA’s Widely Accepted Definition.” PRSA. Public Relations Society of America, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from


Career Aspirations Using PR

Public relations tactics are essential in today’s (business) job market.

You, yourself, are the product, the client, and the marketing firm all in one; landing that “dream job” after college nowadays requires more than just a resumé and a phone call. You must be marketable; you must have a gimmick.

Job-seeking college grads with a business or communications degree are bombarded nonstop with examples of what one article refers to as “Hire Me” Campaigns (Trikha, 2012).



(Photo source:


These are creative traditional or social media campaigns designed by job hunters to grab the attention of the employer that they seek to work for. Take, for example, the infamous Matt Epstein; his mustachio’d mug starred in a strangely entertaining (but informative) video resume hosted on GooglePleaseHire.Me (Trikha, 2012). Although he didn’t get the job, his efforts echoed the efforts of others jumping in on the “Hire Me Campaign” train.

Many APR students at Grand Valley State University may have already learned about Lindsay Blackwell from Professor Frank Blossom, who teaches Fundamentals of Advertising. Blackwell was a 22-year-old graduate who sought to fill the position of Social Media Director at the University of Michigan. Her campaign, titled, “Dear Lisa Rudgers,” went up and went viral over a single weekend; it successfully reached Lisa Rudgers, the hiring manager, solely through word of mouth. She was never contacted by Blackwell directly.

Just like Epstein, however, Blackwell did not receive the job, but both received much recognition and numerous job offers from other companies wanting their talents on the roster.

This is a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon. In such an advertising-heavy, message-cluttered, college-graduate-saturated society, those looking to get hired to need to come up with new and creative ways to break through. To be seen. This can be done through a “Hire Me Campaign,” resumé candy bar, or some idea so crazy that it hasn’t even come to fruition yet. For myself, I already have eye-catching business cards and a website set up and ready to go.

Although I don’t have any ideas for a revolutionary “get hired NOW” trick (yet), I’ve been doing enough networking these past couple years with the American Marketing Association of Grand Valley that I’ve woven myself a pretty sturdy safety net to fall back on, should an extravagant campaign fail. I’ve got contacts at Red Frog Events, Pandora Radio, even the marketing directors over at the Detroit Red Wings.


My business card.

One gimmick of mine already is that I’ve designed my own business cards and website. That’s a decent jump-off point, compared to most students. Maybe I’ll design a blazer jacket for myself with my contact information in big, bold letters on the back, and wear it to every career fair and networking event I attend. Seriously, for now I’m going to focus on my own personal branding until I come across that dream job opportunity that would require me to come up with a gimmick or a campaign to get myself noticed. After all, you can’t build a mansion without first finishing the foundation of a house.



Moran, L. (February 28, 2013). NY man is viral sensation after ‘candy bar’ resume appears on Reddit. NY Daily News. Retrieved from

Trikha, R. (July 16, 2012). Do creative ‘hire me’ campaigns work? Retrieved from

Tung, E. T. (2012). The Best Social Media Job Application EVER: How 22 Year-Old Lindsay Blackwell Applied for a $110K Job. Retrieved from

Public Reflections

“Public relations as a business is the art of cleaning up after or exploiting someone else’s mess for profit or gain (financial or otherwise).”

On a more serious note, I believe that public relations is simply the field of manipulative, strategic communication(s). As I sit here, listening to an old song I rediscovered on my old tumblr blog (circa 2011), I wonder what to type. What do I believe now about public relations? The study of it? The execution? What will I believe one week, one semester from now? What do I write here?

I’ve always seemed to solely experience PR in times of crisis. Microsoft drops the bomb on their next-gen console and pushes away a segment of their target market; Sony capitalizes on this by bringing that segment to their side with some clever statements and snide remarks. That’s PR. Someone hacks Target’s systems and steals crazy confidential credit card information. Target apologizes and rushes to recover; that’s PR. Some redneck from A&E spills the beans on his anti-marriage equality stance, and suddenly the network is scrambling to undo the “damage.” That’s PR. Two planes destroy the Twin Towers in NYC, and President Bush comes on the screen, telling me that we must declare war on terror… That’s PR.

Obviously, if I take the time to actually sit and ponder upon it, I would realize what PR actually is. Reactive press conferences just barely scratch the surface of the depths of what public relations truly is (are?). Promotional events: advertising, yes, but public relations more so. Then again, advertising and public relations must work hand-in-hand to achieve their common goal. So many of the communications between provider and consumer are the brainchild of an expert public relations team. It is often the advertising creatives that must put the concept to visuals and spread the word.

This semester I hope to expand upon my understanding of the field of public relations and the culture of the industry through both my classes and personal research. As an advertising major, it could do me a world of good to absorb the knowledge like a sponge.

The song, if anyone is curious, is Hiding Out by Sucré.