Spring Training

While my Denver public relations colleagues were spending time at the PRSA Western District Conference last weekend, I spent a few days in Florida taking in some Spring Training games with two of my favorite cousins.

Spring Training is a time for hope. Everyone is in a good mood. Everyone gets a fresh start. Managers are smiling, players are signing autographs and obscure Minor Leaguers are convinced they have a shot at making a big impression. Even Yankee and Red Sox fans are nice to each other. It’s warm, you’re near the beach, and you’re on vacation. What’s not to like?

Seems like everyone deserves a little Spring Training. We all need a break from the bad news and a little dose of sunshine. But sometimes life gets in the way. Mets fans, for example, are not too excited about Spring Training. For them, Florida is an endless month of back pain, twisted ankles, sore shoulders and mysterious diseases nobody else seems to come down with.  There’s the daily drama of the players they can no longer afford and the team owners facing a massive Madoff lawsuit. As the Mets get ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary, they are preparing to field their worst team in 50 years.  

Communities can use some Spring Training too. Take Ybor City, for instance, a Tampa area historic district where you can find a mixture of Cuban and Italian culture, vintage cigar factories and a lot of New Orleans flavor. In Ybor City, everything is a blend of different flavors. Cigar bars. Coffee bars. Pizza joints serving Cuban sandwiches.

Unfortunately, Ybor City has seen better days. Empty storefronts, empty restaurants, and a pervasive sense of resignation tell a less than hopeful story about a once thriving business and tourist district. The city fathers could sure use some good PR. They might start with a nice little spot at the end of the block called The Bricks of Ybor, where you can find strong coffee, good music, a friendly staff and a great happy hour.

Bricks is Ybor City in a nutshell. It’s young, hip, quirky, laid back, a little wild but not too full of itself, and it already has a well-established sense of the importance of tradition. It’s solid, like its name. You can hang out and use the free WiFi or come back later for movie night. It’s just what the area needs to bring in new life and new energy to a long neglected business district.    

Bricks represents the breath of fresh air that we all need to find in our lives and our work. Sometimes we go looking for it and sometimes we just stumble upon it. We all need a spark, the sort of excitement and hope that Spring Training brings baseball fans each season. Where we find it and how long we can hold on to it is up to us. 


After an exhausting, year long effort that included canvassing every professional in every corner of the planet, PRSA finally came up with a new way to explain to all those skeptics what the heck PR people actually do for a living.

It’s the first update since 1982 to the generally accepted industry definition of public relations. A lot has changed in those 30 years but not our profession’s inability to do for us what every Denver public relations pro tries to do for our clients: come up with simple, clear, concise and consistent messages that communicate who we are, what we do and what we stand for. And why someone else should care.

Members of PRSA and other professional organizations were asked to submit their definitions. Out of 927 submissions, three finalists were selected:

“Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.”

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

“Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”

And the winner is, number 2. No one should be surprised that a profession that lives safely in the middle of the road chose the middle definition. It is, however, disappointing that PRSA picked such a textbook, bland and unexciting way to describe what we do.

When clients ask what PR is, I tell them public relations helps you uncover your story, decide who you want to tell it to, and figure out the best way to deliver your story to those audiences in a compelling way. If I have to explain to them that it’s a management function, I’m in trouble before I start. If I need to resort to industry jargon like calling an audience a public, I’m just not a very effective communicator.

I felt the same way about the social sciences when I majored in history. I felt that calling things like history and sociology a social science was phony nonsense from a discipline with a real inferiority complex. I didn’t want to be a scientist. That’s why I majored in history. Now I’m a communicator. I don’t want to be a bureaucrat. I just want to help my clients communicate.

So once again PRSA, you have failed to solve our biggest problem. It’s not about a definition. It’s about a brand. Maybe in another 30 years you’ll figure that out.

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