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

How NPOs Measure (S)ROI

Although all functioning business machines are (and very well should be) concerned about Returns on Investment (ROI), nonprofit organizations in particular are slightly more concerned with SROI, or Social Returns on Investment.


A Social Return on Investment (SROI) is anything of value outside of the financials that is reflected in the actions, attitudes, and atmosphere of the various stakeholders- publics, donors, shareholders, etc.- and social environments of an organization. Widespread publicity, a positive shift in the perceptions of the publics, and increased pledged support from donors due to rejuvenated confidence in the organization are all examples of SROI.

According to a free report from Redbird Communications, titled, “10 Powerful Strategies to Help Non-Profits Demonstrate the ROI of Their Programs,” NPOs are being increasingly pressured by corporate donors “to act and report like businesses… corporate donors want to know the value of their support and the hard facts about what their sponsorship has ‘purchased’ in terms of social or public health improvement.” Some surmise this is because of the aura of uncertainty surrounding the current economic landscape (“Demonstrating the ROI”).

Concerning strictly financial ROI, a 2011 article by Shawn Kendrick on VolunteerHub recommends that NPOs should cut costs whenever possible, because more savings equal a better ROI, which in turn equals a better bottom line. According to Kendrick, “cutting costs” can be any tactic that reduces the waste of time, money, and resources. He also recommends that opportunity costs should be considered; for example, Kendrick warns that downsizing to cut costs may lead to staff members becoming a sort of “Jack of All Trades, Master of None,” and having each of their specialty roles wasted when spread too thin (Kendrick, 2011).

But how does this affect the SROI? And how can we measure it?

Typical ROIs can usually be accounted for: numbers and dollar amounts and other numerical statistics can be collected relatively easily. So how does a NPO “collect” attitudes and perceptions?

By measuring the ROI, and finding a correlation.

Economists Garth Heutel and Richard Zeckhauser suggest in their paper, “The Invest Returns of Nonprofit Organizations: Part I, Tales from 990 Forms,” that SROI may be determined by data retrieved from IRS forms filed by NPOs.

checkJed Emerson, Executive Director of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), published a comprehensive study on SROI measurement through the investment firm with Suzi Chun, a SROI Analyst, and Jay Wachowicz, a REDF Farber intern. The study provides not only a guide to drawing conclusions from ROI, but also processes to properly collect, measure, and analyze SROI, along with concepts for a database system for aggregating ROI and SROI data to find trends (Emerson, 2000).

Following the initiation or execution of a program, a NPO needs to “take the pulse;” that is, the organization should follow up on the attitudes of stakeholders both pre- and post-execution. This can be done through measuring the differences in donations both before and after the program (did monetary support increase or decrease? Why?), measuring the perceptions of stakeholders through primary research (focus groups, questionnaires, etc.), and finally measuring whether or not the perceived benefits of the program outweighed the costs (or vice versa). It’s all very mathematical, and quite frankly, it makes my brain hurt.

The most prominent piece of advice the REDF report offers is that every non-profit organization should invest in an information system “sophisticated enough to engage in the type of analysis presented in [the] paper.” It insists that, to properly track the long-term effects of a program, a complex data system must be established to continuously “feed” information to program managers, developers, and executives. This type of feedback-peddling system would help program managers more readily “quantify the economic value of nonprofit activities,” which can then be presented to satiate the thirst of corporate donors when they come a-knockin’, looking for facts (Emerson, 2000).




“Demonstrating the ROI of your non-profit program to donors.” (2014). Redbird Communications. Retrieved from

Emerson, J., Chun, S., and Wachowicz, J. (2000). The Roberts Foundation. Retrieved from

Heutel, G., Zeckhauser, R. (February 21, 2013). Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Retrieved from

Kendrick, S. (September 2, 2011). Volunteer Hub. Retrieved from

Diversity in PR- Or The Lack Thereof

When I think of the type of people who go into the public relations field, I think of one type and one type only. To be blunt, the image that comes to mind is: white girls. Lots and lots of white girls. White women, to be more politically correct. Caucasian women, to be the most PC here.

Are there white males? Sure, in the advertising department. Are there people of other races, ethnicities, cultures? I’m sure there are. But where are they?

My own public relations classes at GVSU usually consist of roughly 20 white girls [including myself], 5 or 6 men [usually 1 is African-American], and then maybe, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 girls of other races- Asian, Hispanic, Arabic, Black, Mixed Heritage, etc.

Being a “white girl” myself, maybe that’s what I tend to notice: the overwhelming amount of girls like me. A natural type of attraction or gravitation that human beings have to people of our same “type,” following the sense of comfort that comes from self-segregating as early as elementary school. Remember in high school when the black kids would sit on one side of the lunch room and the white kids on the other? Then they would self-segregate further; the cheerleaders together, the artsy kids together, the marching band members together… you remember? You may even notice it still on Grand Valley’s campus.


Photo courtesy of Grand Valley State University, Photographer: Mitch Ranger

In my preliminary research for writing this post, I found an overwhelming number of articles expressing discontent with the amount of racial diversity in the professional public relations field. Lee Hayes, Chief Client Officer at Lagrant Communications, blogged on The Holmes Report in February of 2013 that efforts to diversify his industry over the course of his 20-year career were severely underwhelming. In his own words, he admits that “white women and members of the LGBT community have risen to senior-level positions at some of the biggest and most prestigious advertising, marketing and PR agencies in the business. But the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of the communications industry continues to be our profession’s dirty little secret.”

A 2012 communications theses put forth by Amber H. Irizarry from Georgia State University compiled a number of statistics concerning racial and ethnic diversity in various professions. According to the BPRI Group, 79.5% of all public relations positions in the United States are held by Caucasians (p. 8). The study further purports that “minorities” [AN: I hate that word] represent a mere 3.9% of senior management positions and only 13% of non-management positions (p. 8), although according to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities make up 36.5% of the population as a whole (Hayes, 2013).

Why the disparity? There are many theories, the most prominent of which seems to consider a mix of discrimination and lack of [diversity] education within PR firms.

The Public Relations Society of America, the national professional organization for PR practitioners, has recognized the dire need for racial diversity and has implemented means to achieve it; they created a National Diversity Committee that doubled “diverse” membership from 7% to 14% between 2005 and 2010 (Irizarry, 2012, p. 8).

A study by Anne M. McMahon published in the 2010 Journal of Diversity Management (p. 37-48) found a positive correlation between racial diversity in the workforce and long-term firm performance. The same study also found that “women and non-whites have more positive UDO [Universal-Diverse Orientation] attitudes,” meaning that these groups of people are more open to incorporating persons of different races and ethnicities other than their own into the workplace (p. 40).

A field dominated by women with UDO attitudes is ripe for the diverse picking. I recommend that PR firms take advantage of the current socio-political state and work towards incorporating persons of varying genders, familial backgrounds, races, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, marital statuses, etcetera etcetera to benefit themselves in the long run.


Hayes, L. (2013). Lack of Diverrsity Is PR Industry’s Dirty Little Secret. The Holmes Report. Retrieved from

Irizarry, A. H. (2012). Understanding Diversity: Top Executives’Perceptions of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Public Relations. Retrieved from

McMahon, A. M. (2010). Does Workplace Diversity Matter? A Survey Of Empirical Studies On Diversity And Firm Performance, 2000-09. Journal of Diversity Management, 5.2, 37-48. Retrieved from