The Creative Destruction of Public Relations

IStock_000004493927XSmallI noted with interest that PR-Squared had been removed from the syllabus of the Public Relations course at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism.

According to the professor, Dr. Dawn Gilpin, “I took (PR-Squared off the list) because Todd Defren is one of those people who straddles the line between PR and marketing, and in my view often conflates the two.”

Dr. Gilpin is correct that I straddle that line. And you know what else?  She is correct in suggesting I confuse the two.  I have to.  Because that’s the way the world is headed.

The distinct discipline of Public Relations no longer exists.

With extraordinarily rare exceptions, the definition of PR was conflated with “Media Relations.”  And while Media Relations will ALWAYS be a critical component, its standing as a standalone practice is driving towards extinction.

Listen to PR industry veteran Aaron Kwittken describe why he sold his agency last week to MDC Partners, a marcomm holding company:

“Traditional PR agencies have five to 10 years left in the cycle before they get phased out. Everything is blurring together and traditional PR agencies need to think how they are going to add to their social and digital abilities and how to expand into other areas,” Kwittken said.

I surely understand that “Marketing” is the umbrella under which all other disciplines fall. The problem is that it’s ever harder to bucket this stuff.  PR is no longer JUST Media Relations.  Advertising is no longer JUST advertising.  Social Media Marketing is no longer JUST about Social Media.  Email and Direct Marketing don’t exist in a silo anymore, either.

If I confuse the definitions of PR and Marketing it’s cuz the Marketing world is itself confused.  To paraphrase my favorite poet, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the (marketing) world.”

In other words, if I offer up “marketing ideas” under the guise of “PR advice” (or vice versa), it may indeed be that I’ve confused the two.  But I’d urge you to forget the labels and take the advice.  Because the labels won’t matter for much longer.

Posted on: September 13, 2010 at 1:24 pm By Todd Defren
63 Responses to “The Creative Destruction of Public Relations”


  • cleester says:

    There is more and more of a mix between public relations and marketing. As that line gets closer and closer to not even existing at all, then they will eventually be the same thing. As I understand that a lot of professors won’t want to get their subjects mixed up with something else, then they might just have to accept the fact that a lot of people are considering public relations and marketing the same thing.

  • It seems to me that the heart of the issue is the strategic role of communication in business. To what end do our various disciplines work?

    The “integrated marketing communications” crew believes all our work is about Marketing — driving revenue & sales. That view tends to sublimate activities that don’t directly push those levers. It’s difficult to conduct reputation management activities in a marketing dominated organization — too soft, not as measurable as marcomm and product publicity. Employee communication focusing on improving metrics unrelated to sales also gets short shrift, even if financial performance overall were to be positively affected (for example, cost reduction, lower turnover, lower training costs, employee efficiency).

    The narrow definition of PR that some commenters here have offered is another issue: certainly PR includes media relations, and the news media is still an important part of the communication mix — third party endorsement from those presumed to be unbiased is still impactful, and there still are millions of North Americans who get their news from news organizations (including aggregators, which reuse news organization output.)

    Persuasive communications may work to build awareness and understanding, paving the way (greasing the skids – Beth Harte!) for marketing messages that otherwise would fail.

    Social media is still not studied in sufficient detail by objective researchers to determine its impact beyond anecdotally. Yes, there are 500 million Facebook pages, and brands with vast numbers of fans (likes), but there’s no evidence that this has significant impact on financial performance. (Yes, there are cases that suggest that it does, but no objective research that leads to the ability to extrapolate.)

    The communications functions have different objectives, different tactics and often different audiences — there are overlaps, and the perception of these audiences often doesn’t differentiate message paths, but we are not yet unified and may not be for some time.

    My students need to understand the different roles of the marketing and PR functions, the different theories that govern those activities and how to effectively measure both.


  • Todd touched a sensitive point: Silos that need to be broken down don’t just exist in our fast changing marketing world, they exist (thrive even) in academia where change is actually more difficult than in marketing departments (gasp). The idea of boundaries and lines are even harder to cross over, in an area where there’s a critical need for more inter-disciplinary and hybrid teaching.

    Teaching shouldn’t be clean; it should be messy. Just like business.

  • Shelly C. says:

    I think it’s important to distinguish between Dawn Gilpin’s position within the larger field of communications, and the ways she is teaching her class.

    Dr. Gilpin’s removal of this blog from her syllabus is not a condemnation of the blog. Nor is it indicative of a limited understanding of the dynamic nature of marketing, PR, and digital communications, which seems to be the dominant criticism here. Just a quick glance at the work she’s done in this area will tell you that. Todd seems to have interpreted this act as a statement of Gilpin’s approach to the field in general. But if you look at the body of Gilpin’s work, you’ll see that this is simply not true.

    Gilpin is aware of the complex dynamics in communications. In fact, she’s one of the dominant emerging voices in theories and methodologies in this field. From where I sit, the removal of this blog from the syllabus is nothing more or less than a pragmatic understanding of how students learn.

    We need to be able to actually define concepts before we can play around with those definitions. Having followed Gilpin’s emerging work with great interest, I can’t imagine that she could teach a course without introducing these dynamic processes. But it’s one thing to introduce students to a concept. It’s quite another to overwhelm them with tasks and assignments that they are, quite simply, unprepared to do at this stage of their education.

    • SARA NEEDHAM says:

      Shelly. Pardon my cliché, but I really think you hit the nail on the head here (not to mention saved me from crafting a longer comment.) Aiming to define basic concepts as building blocks for a PR education is simply a teaching tool. It certainly doesn’t have to indicate ignorance to the fact that the industry is melding and changing as it grows.

      Well said.

  • Jim Bowman says:

    Dawn makes a good point in wanting students to know where the lines were before the blurring began, but it seems students could keep that as a reference point while they study what’s going on outside the classroom today. Unfortunately, what’s going on in many leading PR firms does not account for the shift taking place.

    Many big PR agency leaders today remind me of railroad barons who thought they were in the railroad business instead of transportation. In discussions with a large international firm regarding training its staff in online techniques, the response, essentially, was, “When clients start asking for that maybe we will start to do it.”

    If I were teaching a PR class now, I would want students to hear that kind of talk, along with the ideas of more progressive thinkers. I would point out that old line PR professionals are bound to be the victims of change rather than its agents and that their firms may not be the best place to start a career. That may help change the mindset, Todd.

    Jim Bowman

  • Gina Kazimir says:

    The world has changed, and the practice of PR, marketing – really ANY kind of communication – must change with it.

    I stopped calling my agency a “PR firm” about five years ago already, even though its very name is PR Right Now ;-) . I used the term “strategic communications” for what we do. We discover our clients’ stories and then tell them, determining message, audience and the tools to use (both new and traditional) to achieve the desired result.

    That’s a far cry from putting together a press release, although we do still do that when it’s appropriate. But I don’t think it’s a far cry from what PR can and should be. And that is counseling our clients to develop the most effective message and determine the best way to deliver it. If that means we cross over into marketing, so be it.

    As I like to say around here, doing is one thing, being effective is another. I’m interested in being an effective advocate for my clients, not just a media list generator.

  • You have a point. And it gets worse. Much worse. Traditional PR agencies seem to fight the digital model. It is very hard for them to change, to embrace the change and to add those new dimensions to their work. Not in terms of investment and team building but in terms of thinking from a digital point of view in order to build strategies and tactics.

    • Todd Defren says:

      How do we change this mindset?

      • R Charles Edwards says:

        We can change the mindset by introducing a new title, rather than new rules.

        Online Public Marketing Relations (OPMR): When Public Relations and Marketing conflate in an online environment, promoting positive action through social media, website content and digital communication.

        I include forums, blogs, podcasts and newsletters as digital communications.

      • Can it really be changed? You need to bring digital innovation at the top as Edelman did bringing in David Armano (plus freedom to create and build the new rules of digital pr, over and over again).

  • I totally agree. As an adjunct PR instructor (trained in business world), I don’t even see enough of an emphasis on “all things digital” in college PR courses, but I wholeheartedly agree that all traditional agencies (PR and advertising) are on their way out if they stick to a single discipline and practice by the old rules. But please, oh please, don’t use Yeats to illustrate your point. When it comes to one of the greatest poems in the English language, I’m a purist.

  • Beth Harte says:

    As an adjunct marketing & PR prof (two separate departments within the university), I teach my PR students marketing and I teach my marketing students PR. Otherwise they would both be totally unprepared for business.

    Essentially, I teach integrated marketing communications (outside-in, data-driven PR and marketing). IMC, from a PR perspective, is hugely important because it helps both groups to understand how *customers* (or stakeholders, employees, etc.) want to receive messaging – whether it’s a news release or a direct mail piece. (Note: This doesn’t mean that I don’t teach PR or Marketing theory. You need to know the ‘rules’ before you can break them or change them or create new ones.)

    There are PR practitioners that are responsible for all sorts of communications…and often those communication tactics fall under the realm of marketing. Just like Heather Whaling explained in her above comment.

    John Bell (Ogilvy) has a great post on the skills PR practitioners need today:

    At the end of the day, PR pros are responsible for ‘greasing the skids’ to sales whether they like it or not (Sales, a dirty word in PR). Sure, stakeholders may NEVER buy a product or service, but they sure as heck can affect someone else’s ability to buy or brand perspective and that’s where PR comes in to play.

    While they are older books, I would highly suggest that PR professors read Thomas Harris’ books: “Value-Added PR” and “The Marketer’s Guide to Public Relations” to get an understanding of the convergence of the two.

    At the end of the day, customers/stakeholders are driving the convergence, we professors and professionals need to get on board.

    Beth Harte
    Serengeti Communications

  • david brain says:

    There are many academics I have come across, like Richard Bailey who comments above, who grasp that the the old ways of doing things and thinking about problems no longer apply. But so many do not. I have no idea whether Arizona and Dawn Gilpin do or not. But for some I have come across it’s like they got the old Burson Marsteller command and control playbook of the late 80′s, based their courses on that and are now stuck with lecture notes they do not have the energy to change. We get some pretty good people out of some of the UK and European institutions, but we spend a lot of time filtering out the ones who have had their heads filled with tosh (UK word….sorry). Just as there are good and bad agencies out there I guess there are also good and bad academic institutions.

  • Marilyn casey says:

    Most people think public relations IS just about media relations. No such thing. Unfortunately, PRSA has been trying for years to change that perception with little success. The problem is that the only people who know what public relations is are public relations professionals. A good PR professional will educate the client to the nuances of the profession. Once done, clients can’t get enough of that good stuff called public relations.

    • Claire Celsi says:

      Marilyn, I think PRSA’s inability to move the needle has to do with the fact that they only allow APR’s into their upper echelon of leadership. Almost none of those people have a credible social media presence.

      • Claire,

        I’m perplexed as to why you believe such an effort is the exclusive responsibility of PRSA. The Council of PR Firms, Arthur W. Page Society and others clearly share in such a responsibility. I’m not sure why you single out PRSA.

        I also don’t understand what bearing the APR credential has on your argument. Are you suggesting that professionals who hold the APR credential are somehow less able to bring about behavioral and attitudinal changes with regard to changing external perceptions of the public relations industry? Are you further suggesting that the only way to accomplish such change is through a credible social media presence which, by the way, a number of APRs have; Kami Watson-Huyse, Kevin Dugan, Lauren Vargas and Arik Hanson come immediately to mind.

        You may want to visit the PRSA website and learn more about our industry advocacy campaign, “The Business Case for Public Relations,” which is intended to help professionals in the field foster more accurate and better-informed perceptions surrounding the value and roles of public relations, including the misperception that public relations = publicity. You might also check out the latest issue of our publication, Public Relations Tactics, in which we take on the “reality” television shows that claim to depict the public relations profession.

        Frankly, it’s the responsibility of each and every public relations professional to help fight the negative stereotypes and perceptions of our industry. And with all due respect, I’d argue that blogs such as the “Public Relations Princess,” who goes about “creating buzz with a wave of my wand,” do more to contribute to these negative perceptions than solve them.

        Arthur Yann is VP, Public Relations, for PRSA.

  • Tracey says:

    Stunned by this professor’s action. It shows the gaping hole of academia when it comes to the real world. I’m a long time financial PR professional who also happens to have a Masters in Communications. One thing they never taught me was how the world of marketing and PR are interwoven like the two strands of DNA. I happened to have a great advisor who had a foot in each camp. Lucky me.
    I became an effective PR person because of some of the great marketing people I worked with. I never launched a campaign without involving the business/marketing teams and because of that the results were not only evident in great press, but great business results. I have no idea how someone who teaches my profession doesn’t get that. As for the silo approach to all the “different types” of PR or media relations…don’t me get started on that one.

  • sHELLEY mULLINS says:

    I have to agree with Stuart Bruce and Dr. Dawn Gilpin on this subject. As a PR professional now for many years, and a graduate of a PR program, I have never once considered my profession a mere disccipline under the greater umbrella of marketing. Public relations is not media relations, and I think that is where the confusion often lies in these conversations. For those of us who practice public relations, who believe in the value of all the facets of this profession (internal relations, community relations, investor relations etc.), it can be frustrating to have to explain what we do and how it differs from marketing.

    I will continue to believe in value of PR, continue to educate myself on new tactics and techniques, continue to incorporate social media into the PR toolbox, and continue to believe in the value of public relations. Like commenter Stan Devaughn, I, too have been around long enough to have heard the death knells before, but yet we’re still here, so maybe, just maybe, we’re here for the long run. Time will tell.

  • Kneale Mann says:

    We are seeing the merge around the world in many silos and many forms.
    PR agencies who do media relations are delving into social and digital solutions while ad agencies are embracing overall marketing strategies. News agencies are becoming book publishers while digital juggernauts are selling handheld devices.

    The merge is on as RiM buys apps companies and Google sells 200,000 phones a week. And just this week in Canada a phone company (Bell) bought control of a television network (CTV).

    The decision to expand or merge offerings can be profitable. The ability to deliver top notch service on those offerings is the acid test. AOL-TimeWarner comes to mind. I want my grocery store to concentrate on fresh produce, not trying to tell me a new golf shirt.

    SHIFT Communications is a wonderful example of how to do it right. You may have heard of them.

  • Ronit Levy says:

    In that case, I guess the bigger question is should the class be called Media Relations instead of Public Relations.

    Promotion to the Media is called Media Relations.
    Promotion to Investors is called Investor Relations.
    Promotion to Trade is called Trade Relations/Marketing.
    and on and on…….

    Each one of these disciplines have differing rules of engagement – but that is the only diffrence! Ultimately they all engage in self promotion, building relationships and marketing messaging.

    Todd is absolutely right. At the end of the day, you are promoting your organization and what they do. These days, everyone that is involved in promotion should be educated on the latest greatest in all aspects available to them and their constituants. With all due respect to the instructors out there, if the goal is to prepare our college students for a paying job, maybe its time to revisit the content of what we are teaching and change the terms we currently use to identify it.

  • You’re on my syllabus. I had just volunteered to contribute to a postgraduate marcoms class by initiating just this discussion about convergence of the two disciplines (and others, as you point out); then I read your blog post…

  • This has to do with the definition of PR, as opposed to PA (public affairs). I’ve been around long enough to have heard this “debate” before. My first job in “PR” was in the public affairs office of SRI-International (then Stanford Research Institute), a prestigious think tank. It was directed by a former A.P. reporter and U.S. government press attache. The Institute had a marketing department, too. But the line was clearly drawn between media-relations and “promotional publicity”. My point: large business entities, just like government, education, and non-profits, will always have need for a communications mechanism that should be publicly perceived as separate from its commercial transactions. The best practices within this mechanism should be informed more by the public interest and less by shareholder interest. Much corporate PR today is still overseen by corporate lawyers, not marketing people. For obvious reasons.

  • barbieprmom says:

    I completely agree with you Todd! The lines have been blurred for some time and PR professionals need to accept it and reinvent. I for one, think it’s exciting times in our field.

  • Scott Meis says:

    I think this is where we’re seeing a big movement right now toward agencies branding themselves as “strategic” or “integrated” communications firms. You make a valid point Stuart. Yes, traditionally, these were very defined lines but as Todd notes, when it comes to execution, our strategies and tactics crisscross to tailor as necessary.

    Any aspiring young gun needs to be prepared with a knowledge base, strategic skill set, passion and understanding for what it takes to pull off a successful “PR” campaign. Walk into an intern interview with only a basic communications skill set and you’ll be struggling to land the gig. Todd’s insight prompted me to look back on a post I did awhile back about skills students should be looking to develop –

    • Holly Olp says:

      Scott, Todd,
      I think you two both have a great point. Not only are the lines blurring for all communication pros, but as a recent grad and job seeker I am finding my skill set and experiences increasingly qualify me for positions across the board– from entry-level PR positions to social media and various marketing positions– the rules, the education and the job experiences I’ve had invite me to search beyond the rigid titles for opportunities that fit. I’m finding this is a situation not unique to myself but for many or most in the communications field. Those who refuse to deviate from the static lines will be eventually be left behind as strategic communication becomes increasingly fluid and companies search for the Jacks of all trades. Great point Todd, and thanks for the link Scott, it’s next on my reading list.

      • Scott meis says:

        Right on Holly. So the challenge then for any job seeker is really digging deep on the various ways agencies and companies market these positions. What will that “digital strategist” or purely “account executive” position really entail? Heck, we even have a slate of “content guerillas” at our agency. Every company details those positions differently but to your point Holly, you’re smartly arming yourself with skills across the board.

      • Shelly C. says:

        But Holly, you’re speaking from the perspective of someone who has already learned the differences between PR and marketing. Students need to be taught what these are, and how they’re defined, before they can be taught about the complexities of their interaction. The *fact* of their interaction can be alluded to, but the actual dynamics of that interaction won’t make sense unless students can first define what is actually interacting.

        I think that once you’ve learned the basics and move on to playing around with them, it’s easy to forget how you came to learn them in the first place. We often don’t recognize our learning as learning while we’re actually engaged in it. That happens later, when we reflect on what we’ve learned. And that reflection doesn’t usually follow a linear sequence, so we tend to forget about all the little steps that brought us to where we are.

        Go take a look at your intro lecture notes, and see how simplistic some of the concepts were, compared to what you know now. And then consider why Gilpin might think it wiser to slowly introduce her students to basic concepts before moving into the larger complexities.

  • This morning, I’ve helped a client with an eblast going out this week; sent website copy to a client; followed up with a reporter at a national publication who is interviewing a client; researched trends for a client pitch we’re working on; updated some social media sites for clients; checked Google Analytics to see how people are finding a client’s new website … and it’s not event 10 a.m. yet. Though I’m in PR, only a couple of those tasks would be fall under the traditional PR umbrella.

    I have an intern this fall. She’s a senior at a well-respected Ohio university. When she came to me, she had no idea how to use Google Analytics from a PR perspective, didn’t understand Twitter and has no idea about even the most basic HTML. These are all things that today’s PR pros and students need to understand. While some colleges have updated their curriculum, far too many are way behind the curve. Todd, this professor who took your blog off her curriculum is doing a disservice to her students. Today’s PR is not the same as it was even just a decade ago. If we’re not teaching our students how to survive (read: get results) in today’s world, what’s the point? Knowing how to write a press release will only get them so far …


  • Claire Celsi says:

    Dawn, I think you might want to rethink your removal of Todd’s blog from your class reading list. Here’s why.

    As Todd noted, there is NO SUCH THING as pure PR anymore, and hasn’t been for many years. And it is irrelevant that PR ever stood on it’s own, because that’s not the world these kids live in. Edward Bernays might have one of the first spin doctors, but he is a footnote, not even worthy of a test question.

    Todd’s background in PR is so important, because he uses his blog to explain how this big jumbled mess of social media, PR and advertising is applicable to a PR professional. I use it as my gut check on a number of issues and I’ve been in the profession for many years.

    Since you can’t untangle the PR thread from the blanket, your duty as a professor is to help your students understand the complexity of our profession, not try to boil it down to the basic elements. The kids are so smart, they will be able to figure it out.

    Once they get a job in the real world and are expected to know how to create a print ad, a video, a news release and a tweet, they will look back and remember that you taught them well. Todd is a fantastic resource for class and for their future reading.

    Claire Celsi
    Adjunct Professor/PR Writing
    Drake University, Des Moines Iowa

    • Ike says:


      Dawn didn’t pull PR^2 from any syllabus.

      It was her blogroll.

      Todd is getting spun up about a freakin’ BLOG ROLL.

      She had some students who wanted to use PR^2 for their class study and project, and Dr. Gilpin allowed it.

      But Todd is acting like he’s been crucified for being taken off a Blog Roll.

      Can we go back to having some sanity, please?

      (DISCLAIMER – I am one of the people who is still on Dr. Gilpin’s blog roll… and I really don’t know quite why. But if she were to remove me, I wouldn’t have a cow about it.)

      • Todd Defren says:

        Umm, I “noted with interest,” no bovines were harmed. It was simply a pivot point to discuss larger issues.

        And it was not just a blogroll. It was a recommended reading list, which students needed permission to stray from. That’s different…

      • dawn Gilpin says:

        There are limits to nesting layers, I guess, so this is really a reply to Todd, but I have to reply to Ike instead.

        Anyway. With regard to this point, “And it was not just a blogroll. It was a recommended reading list, which students needed permission to stray from. That’s different…”

        I suppose that’s technically true, but the only reason students need permission is so that I can verify that they are following a blog that is actually relevant to the class, and not, say, one about the music or entertainment industry, or sports (aspirational industries for many students) that won’t give them enough material to complete the assignment. Since they need to apply PR concepts learned in class to the content of the blogs, I just want to ensure that they’ll be able to do that.

        In fact there are three students in the class covering your blog, since I agreed that it qualified for the assignment.

        Students are free to read whatever they want on their own time, of course. But I do have a responsibility to help them choose material appropriate for the course.

  • Congrats on being de-listed, Todd. You’ve arrived! ;)

    When people ask me what I do, the answer is no longer simple. “Oh, you’re one of those social media guys, right?” Well, no. I blog and talk about social media, sure. And PR. And marketing. And advertising. And community building. And…

    Let’s just melt ‘em all together. No more PR agencies or marketing agencies or ad agencies or clients vs. agencies. Traditional buckets just don’t work anymore.

  • Skip Perham says:


    PRWeek may have called you a self promoter, but they turned me on to your blog, You can thank them for at least one follower.

    I agree with you 100 percent. For the last eight years I have been in what I used to call a hybrid role mixing PR and Marketing. I am now directing the entire marketing effort and for me it is all about communication.

    Whether you use PR tactics, grassroots, social media or advertising, the game is the same – more consumers.

  • stuart bruce says:

    Todd, I’m not entirely clear what you or some of the people in the comments are saying here. There seems to be a confusion over the tools/tactics/techniques and the management disciplines. You’ve always been able to use tools from one management discipline within another. For example 20 years ago as part of a global public relations campaign I used display advertising, but commissioned advertising experts to deliver that part of my PR strategy. The ads for that PR campaign ran alongside sales ads for products that were handled by the marcoms people, but we made sure we integrated the messaging, branding, media buying etc to make them work as a whole. Likewise certain elements of public relations have always been part of the marketing communications mix, most notably media relations.

    Public relations encompasses internal communications, community relations, government affairs, investor relations etc. None of which logically sit within marketing communications. Within marketing communications you’ve got advertising, direct mail, sales promotion etc. None of which sit logically within public relations, although you’d frequently use DM, advertising etc as part of your public relations toolkit.

    To me the main change is that the blurring that has always existed has been heightened. Frequently you find one of the main differences between public relations and marketing communications are the objectives. Marcoms is far more frequently just sales-focussed while public relations might be recruitment quality/quantity, share price, planning permission, legislation change ec as well as sales.

  • Sara Steffan says:

    I am a current student of Dr. Gilpin’s and I chose this blog to follow for her class, so I have to say when I came on here and saw this post about our class, I was a little shocked (in a good way, of course.) I really am interested in this debate about PR and marketing, but I have to agree with Todd in the fact that you just can’t define either as JUST one thing. It’s true; I’m in my first official ASU PR class, but I’ve interned and worked outside the classroom enough that I know what it entails. We need to know how to do pretty much everything.

    That said, there are students in my class that have had little to no experience at all with PR. They’re only going to learn the difference by getting out and experiencing it. Some of them may even end up getting their MBA in Marketing some day, so it couldn’t hurt now to combine the two while still teaching us the basics. I give the other students credit that DID pick this blog for going outside the blogroll and seeing more of PR, since there’s so much out there, we couldn’t cover it all in one semester.

    This will certainly be interesting to put in my blog report. Thanks, Todd.

  • Rob Longert says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Dawn. This banter makes me want to go back to PR class to see the approach from today’s students.

    I think your point about understanding where the lines were/are makes sense and scholars of new media must understand the traditional roots first (I fell like a sensei saying that).

    Here are six themes that do carry over from digital to traditional communications that may be interesting for your class to explore: transparency, engaging the right audience, relationship building with media and customers, quality not quantity and measurement.

    On a separate note, I believe that your students should continue to explore Todd’s blog is networking. Eight responses later, we are still chatting about this.

    Your former student Shanna has now interacted with Todd’s commenters and now has the opportunity to network with us further. With Todd’s reach and expertise, I think it should stay on the list if only for networking purposes, which is a large part of PR that many do not understand.

  • Amanda Guisbond says:

    Thanks for this post, Todd!

    I remember when I first started in PR and a colleague was helping me write my first pitch email. She advised that I introduce my client in the email by saying “I work for the communications firm that represents X.” I was a little surprised but warmed by the thought that yes, we are a COMMUNICATIONS firm, we do more than just engage with media, and therefore we shouldn’t be limited to the traditional notion that public relations is only media relations.

    Cheers to PR-marketing-communications-messengers-at-large!

  • Gina starr says:

    I completely agree with you, Todd! I graduated with a degree in PR and I have quickly become a marketing professional. The two are so similar and essentially need each other. I truly cannot believe that universities are still keeping everything separated. It puts students behind when they enter the real world.

  • Rob Longert says:

    Todd, the removal of your blog from Dr. Gilpin’s syllabus shows that there is some confusion in the “classroom” about the direction of PR.

    Instead of ignoring the cross-over between PR and marketing and drawing the line that you ‘straddle,” it seems like that would be a very important topic to address, especially in a 300 level journalism class.

    The blurry line that exists between marketing and PR should be something that PR classes address rather than ignore.

    I can’t say I know too much about Dr. Gillin’s class or program, but if I was walking into a PR classroom tomorrow as a professor, I think it would be a topic I would want to address and that I would want my students (possible future PR and marketing practitioners) to understand.

    • dawn Gilpin says:

      Rob, we do in fact address the crossover and distinctions between marketing and PR (and the role of social media), throughout the semester.

    • Shanna Wester says:

      The crossover between public relations and marketing is definitely a recurring theme in Dr. Gilpin’s PR class. I followed this blog for her class last semester and thought it helped see how the change is currently happening, but I can also see why she wouldn’t want to confuse students.

      Though it is a 300 level journalism class, it is ASU PR students’ first PR class. Clarifying what constitutes PR and what constitutes marketing is still a helpful concept to have in mind while also understanding the boundaries are constantly shifting and in the future, we may be expected to do both.

  • dawn Gilpin says:

    I definitely agree that PR is not just media relations–for me, it never has been even *mostly* about media relations. My career has played out in other areas. But I disagree that Marketing is the umbrella under which all other communication disciplines fall.

    Since this is an intro PR course, and most students coming into it are a little confused about what public relations actually entails, I tried clearing the decks a bit to avoid adding to the confusion. I’m all about blurring the lines between… well, just about everything. But first they need to understand where the lines are, or were, and why they existed in the first place. Since the world is changing so rapidly, I figure that they’ll probably have to draw (and redraw, again and again) their own lines over the course of their careers. I think a fundamental understanding of the basic distinctions can help them, later, decide which ones still exist and which ones need to be tossed out.

    • dawn Gilpin says:

      (Also: “The Second Coming” is one of my favorite poems, so huge points there. ;>)

    • Beth Harte says:

      Dawn, I agree. As professors (I am an adjunct in both undergrad and graduate PR programs), we must teach basic theory first. But by the end of the semester, there’s got to be an understanding of the blurring between marketing, PR and social media. Communications is the overarching umbrella, but more importantly, customers/stakeholders are in the drivers seat not the PR or marketing professionals. We need to adjust our teaching for that change.

      I hope you’ll reconsider adding PR-Squared back into your curriculum…at least for students who are beyond 101 courses. ;-)

      Beth Harte

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