The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is celebrating their 75th anniversary throughout 2022. To commemorate this milestone, PRSA is publishing a limited-edition volume called, “75 Years of Impact and Influence: People, Places & Moments in Public Relations History.” Dr. Felicia Blow, APR, 2022 PRSA Chair, Associate Vice President for Development at Hampton University, and author of the volume’s forward joined us for a special bonus episode of PR Profiles. Speaking with host Richard Carufel, Felicia shared about the process behind “75 Years of Impact and Influence”.
The idea for the commemorative book came to her early in 2021 when Felicia was serving as PRSA Chair-Elect and thinking ahead to their 75th anniversary. At that time, Felicia went to her friend, Grace Leong, CEO of HUNTER, and said, “I just don’t want to do something that is going to be balloons and confetti and then we have a party and say goodbye. I want to do something that has resonance, has impact and looks at not just at the past, but pivots more to the future. What is our industry going to look like in 25, 50, 75 years?”
Felicia says she’ll never forget Grace’s words: “We already have so many good books on PR history, but we need to create the one book that highlights the people and pivotal moments that are not highlighted in every other book. There are so many compelling, meaningful and untold stories—let’s focus on those!” Felicia took the feedback and ran with it. “So, I start thinking about TIME magazine, its people of the year. And People magazine. The hundred most beautiful people. Not to say this is about beauty or anything like that, but it grounded the concepts around these folks who are hidden figures in PR.”
After getting approval from PRSA’s board for the project, Felicia quickly put her many strat-comm skills to work and applied the talents she’s been using as a “principal fundraiser” at Hampton University and in other organizations to raise the money for the book. “I fundraised in partnership with a couple other individuals, and raised every dime that was needed to publish this book,” says Felicia.
The moments and individuals included in the volume were curated by a 20+ person team of PR thought leaders, including Andy Polansky, Shelley Spector, and the former US Navy Chief of Information, Charles Brown, APR M. “To whittle down the contributions we used specialized rubrics based on whether the moments or people were remembered, remarkable, revealing, resonated across the ages, and/or resulted in change,” says Felicia of the team’s process. “We categorized them for business, government, social justice, and two other categories. But for me, one of the most important factors was the decision and process to separate the moments from the people. We used a deliberative approach that went on for multiple months. Do we include agency heads? Do we not? Do we only include deceased individuals? It was an arduous process.”
While there were many potential individuals to include, Felicia was adamant that the book pay homage to the hidden figures of PR. “People know who Cutlip and Broom are,” says Felicia. “You know who Ivy Lee is. You know Arthur Page. But what you don’t know are those hidden figures, women and minorities in particular.” Felicia referenced such individuals as Inez Kaiser, Carter Woodson, Doris Elsa Fleischman Bernays, and Donald Padilla. “These folks are momentous, but we don’t talk about them in the same way we talk about those others.”
Not only does the book commemorate the moments and individuals who shaped PR over the last 75 years, 50 percent of the proceeds goes toward PRSA membership scholarships. “Every book sold helps an individual that wants to be a member, someone who’s at a point in their life that they cannot afford the dues. Or maybe someone who is a career switcher who wants to enhance their abilities,” says Felicia. “This entire endeavor is a 75th anniversary initiative with purpose.”