Public Relations: A Misunderstood World

At the beginning of the fall semester, I was given the task of defining public relations in my own words. At the time, I had only known public relations to be a “behind the scenes” and “getting your hands dirty” type of field where people focus on the communication process (with the intended audience) with the opportunity to plan and coordinate events when asked. Having re-read this post here at the end of the semester, I can’t say that I was too far off–but boy was I wrong. To see exactly what I said, visit my blog post at:

Was I right to say that the majority of work done by public relations teams is done behind the scenes? Absolutely. Was I right to say that public relations teams get their hands dirty when they work? Of course. Was I right in describing some of the work that these teams do? HA! Boy, did I undersell it.

Depending on the exact project given to a public relations team, the workload can range anywhere from doing nearly nothing, to doing absolutely everything. For example, a PR team may do something as small as give a company some insight on what to do to gain attention or how they can do it; a PR team may do as much as give a company this information, generate a plan of attack that includes a schedule, and continue on to implement it in every facet and evaluate the results. Other work can fall anywhere between these points.

Playing football for ten years and continuing to follow the sport today, I feel as though a public relations team is very comparable to a team’s offensive lineman. For those unfamiliar with the analogy, an offensive line is responsible for knowing the play, knowing what their teammates are responsible for, knowing what the defense intends to do, and understanding (with all of that information) how to defend their team and drive them down the field. In the PR world, one must know the company or brand they are representing, what the overall goal is, why that goal is important and how it will benefit the brand or company, and of course how to reach that goal in the end. The two may not always get the credit that they deserve, but for those who know what they did, the gratitude is endless.

Stepping away from what we know public relations is, what public relations is not is obviously advertising and marketing; however, this is not to say that all three are not directly involved. Although public relations, advertising, and marketing have separate definitions, the three are still severely intertwined and work together well. Most commonly, it is up to the public relations team to use an advertisement, or for a public relations team to use a market or marketing strategy, and integrate them into their plans.

With this semester coming to a close, I believe myself to have a much tighter grasp on how difficult, frustrating, exciting, and intense the public relations world can be. With tasks and clients changing almost every day, public relations keeps you on your toes and forces you to focus on every detail to find success. Having a better understanding of what the public relations world and workload entails, I could very well see myself working in the PR field in the future–even as an advertising emphasis.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 11 December 2017


Evaluation and public relations: Getting it just right

There are many different processes to follow when conducting public relations work. With this, it is also important to keep in mind who your target audience is, and what field your are conducting your work in, seeing as how a public relations firm may be handling several clients at one time.

When given an assignment, a common approach to follow is working through the planning, the implementing, and the evaluating stages. Another approach is referred to as the, “three-step preparation, implementation, and impact model,” proposed in an article by Katie R. Place (2015). This model “offers a more nuanced evaluation guide” (Place, 2015).

In the evaluation phase, Place found that, “the role of ethics in evaluation is integral, centered on truth, [and] focused on briefing an organization’s publics” (2015). This role of ethics in public relations evaluation is interesting because it may often be overlooked. For example, if a group is to collect information from a survey, focus group, or firsthand data collection, any form of manipulation to the findings would be unethical and would incorrectly represent the truth.

“Scholars have criticized evaluation in public relations contexts for lacking precision and rigor, failing to measure what it intends to measure, or remaining underutilized. Evaluation can lack rigor due to deficiencies in practitioners’ learning and training, and practitioners’ assumption that public relations cannot be measured” (Place, 2015). With this, I believe Place is attempting to remind the public relations world that going back through your work and creating an understanding of why things happened the way that they did, how your work should be measured, and how it can be improved, are not steps that can be skipped and overlooked.

Building on this, G. Clayton Stoldt, Lori K. Miller, and Mark Vermillion note in an article that, “achieving some sort of outcome with an intended audience…was the most common goal. Respondents also indicated that there were linkages between public relations and organizational goals, although the nature of those linkages was not always specified.The most common method of evaluating public relations was tracking media coverage” (2009, Stoldt, Miller, and Vermillion). The most important piece from this take, I believe, is how well your understanding of your target audience is along with your goals before the implementation of your plan.

Another key factor in the evaluation phase of public relations is gathering as much information as you can when you are planning and evaluating, not just one or the other. In an article by Yorgo Pasadeos, Margot O. Lamme, Karla Gower, and Song Tian, the authors emphasize the importance of not limiting yourself when conducting research: the limited range of sources used to reference public relations history creates a potentially selfperpetuating limitation on the discipline’s development (2011).

When it comes to evaluation in public relations, the pieces to remember include: following a process of planning, implementing, and evaluating; maintaining honesty; utilizing resources and gathering information; and understanding your audience and your goals.


Pasadeos, Y., Lamme, M. O., Gower, K., & Tian, S. (2011). A methodological evaluation of public relations research. Public Relations Review, 37(2), 163-165.

Place, K. R. (2015). Exploring the role of ethics in public relations program evaluation.Journal of Public Relations Research, 27(2), 118.

Stoldt, G. C., Miller, L. K., & Vermillion, M. (2009). Public relations evaluation in sport: Views from the field. International Journal of Sport Communication, 2(2), 223-239.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 29 November 2017

Public relations needs social media and here is why

Social media has changed the landscape of public relations forever. Whether you prefer Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or another social media outlet, brands and businesses have found ways to implement new strategies to reach their target audiences in ways that were impossible not long ago.

“Before the mass-adoption of social media, such precise messaging was never possible to the degree that it is now. And it will get more precise in the future: a new wave of targeting options based upon your proximity to a particular business or location are on the horizon.”

This quote from Jim Dougherty (2014) proves my point. When talking about a platform like Facebook, as Dougherty was in the quote above, he goes on to mention that having this new level of precision in parameters like behavior, interests, education, and connections, “allows for more sophistication and efficiency in PR campaigns” (2014).

To build upon this, think about where you go when you are in need of information; better yet, think about where you already receive most of your information, on purpose or not.

“…Users of social networks stopped looking for ways to connect with brands and instead began seeing these sites as sources of information… In the beginning, they were a mashup of brand-driven advertising content, and now the networks have matured into places filled with breaking news and insight” (AdWeek, 2016).

In this story from a guest writer for AdWeek, the focus surrounds the idea of how well public relations and social media work together, and why it is important that the realization of this is now to avoid any tension in the future.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy when big time companies take the time to connect with their followers on social media. I believe that staying true to the brand while making that connection to the audience is a great way to build a following for business and general opinion. A great example of this comes from the Twitter account of the Portland Trail Blazers.


With a post like this, the Trail Blazers did a fine job of embracing one of their star players accomplishments by sharing it with their fan base, but also added a somewhat “unprofessional” or “unorthodox” twist on it by captioning it with a hashtag of, “#SexiestManAlive.”


In this post, the account continued spreading the love for their players and even showed them outside of work spending time together. With the simple caption used, it again shows a passion for the brand and the members of it in a light, entertaining, and safe manner.


Here, the Trail Blazers reached out to their opponent after falling to them in a close game, 101-97. Despite nothing spectacular standing out about this tweet, as a fan, I can tell you that it is always exciting to see two teams communicating through social media, competitively or not. In this case, the account simply shows quality sportsmanship in a situation that did not require such action. To the Portland Trail Blazers social media team, I would like to say hats off to you guys.

From the perspective of a company that does not share the same spotlight as an NBA team, though, it is important to understand what makes social media and public relations so powerful together. To a degree, the answer remains the same.

“With social media, you are developing relationships with huge numbers of people directly – often they feel that this relationship is one-on-one. It is a much quicker, more direct route of communication to a targeted audience who have chosen to engage with your brand on social media” (Pollard, 2017).

People like to feel important, and if a company has the opportunity to build that one-on-one relationship with their audience, it can often play a major factor in the success of a public relations campaign.

As we see it today, social media has become one of the most important staples in society and has shown no signs of slowing down. For public relations, this is important because of how well the two work together, and how bright of a future the two can have if they can be implemented effectively together.


AdWeek. (2016, June 15). Why social media is the perfect PR channel. Retrieved from,

Dougherty, J. (2014, Sep. 8). 6 ways social media has changed public relations. Cision. Retrieved from,

Pollard, C. (2017, Oct. 20). Why you should combine your social media and PR. Huffington Post. Retrieved from,

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 15 November 2017

Why do sports and public relations work together?

Sports are everywhere. Day in and day out, year after year, college and professional sports seem to dominate headlines and stir up just as much emotion as politics do–if not more. Whether you are rooting for the green team or the blue team and whether you are following football or badminton, it is nearly impossible to escape the world of sport.

Thanks to the evolution of mass media and public relations alike, it is now easier than ever to follow your favorite team or to keep tabs on the biggest game. In today’s world, public relations teams in sports are responsible for building, maintaining, and managing the reputation of sports organizations (PR Crossing). With this, however, it is important to keep in mind that this role can be filled in a number of sports’ worlds, including sports agencies, sports training institutions, and sports retailers (PR Crossing).

Another task of the sports PR team is to “build on the reputation of the sports agency or sports training institute or the products marketed by the retailer and its quality” (PR Crossing). If a PR team is able to complete all of these tasks and does their job well, the ultimate goal is to eventually influence the opinion and behavior of fans and consumers (PR Crossing).

With the idea of influencing opinions and behaviors, Daniel Serbanica and Mihaela Constantinescu describe the use of public relations in sports as a way “to ‘sell’ to the residents of the city as a healthy activity, or as a social event” (2016).
Serbanica and Constantinescu go on to mention how many politicians attend sporting events strictly because they know they will be seen on television, often times not even to watch the game (2016).
Another way public relations can be utilized to win over crowds is through social media. Taking something professional–like public relations–and combining it with something lighter and comical–social media–it is hard to believe that something could be done to successfully combine the two. Using Twitter as the primary example, it has become quite common now that, although a team’s account may primarily tweet about upcoming events, stories, stats, etc., the public relations social media team is often buying into the idea that comedy seems to sell. This can be seen by scrolling through posts from several professional sports teams’ accounts and seeing how often they tweet something just as a “regular” person or account may.
Despite these changes we see in public relations work though, the use of social media with public relations has no clear value or effectiveness (Vardeman-Winter & Place). This could be a result of these accounts not directly benefiting their profits, fan base, etc., but it is also important to note that something so different and “unprofessional” is not hurting them either.
Although public relations may not directly effect the success of a sports team, sports organization, or sports brand, the behind the scenes work conducted by these PR teams plays an important role in several aspects of these groups. From running social media, building and maintaining clientele and sponsors, influencing opinion and behavior and more, public relations and sports have worked well together to create a brighter today and tomorrow for both.


Serbanica, D., & Constantinescu, M. (2016 June). Using public relations in sport. ResearchGate.

PR Crossing (n.d.). Sports PR jobs description.

Vardeman-Winter, J., & Place, K. (2015). Public relations culture, social media, and regulation. Journal of Communication Management, 19(4), 335-353.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 1 November 2017

Prince, Twitter, and Cheerios: A recipe for disaster

In 2016, a music icon was lost when Prince passed away in late April. With hits like, “1999,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and “Purple Rain,” Prince’s impact on the music industry and on the world is one that will live on forever and will be cherished for years to come.

When the news of Prince’s passing came about, many fans, celebrities, and companies turned to social media to pay their respects by quoting lyrics, reflecting on memories, posting pictures, etc. Of all these posts though, one that mustered up a significant amount of controversy was–surprisingly–Cheerios.

Cheerios turned to Twitter in the mourning of Prince by posting a picture of the words, “Rest in peace.” Written in the classic Cheerios-font with a purple background, the controversy arose when the dot above the “i” was replaced with a Cheerio, just as the brand does with the “i” in their own name. This decision by the company may have seemed light at the time, but was taken as anything but when people came across the tweet just a few hours after Prince’s death had been confirmed (Roche).

Cheerios tweet Credit: Cheerios/Twitter

At the time of the posting, further knowledge of the deceased and of the brand would have gone a long way. For example, Cheerios was created in 1941 by food science innovator, Lester Borchardt, and was originally called, “Cheerioats” (Cheerios). Just seventeen years later in 1958, Prince Rogers Nelson was born (Biography). What do these two have in common? Their birth place. Both based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota (Biography) (Roche), one can already begin to understand where Cheerios was coming from in their attempts to mourn the loss of an icon; not just to our nation and the world, but to a home in which they share.

As a result of the negative feedback that Cheerios received, they were reluctant to rescind their post and issue an apology to their audience stating that they, “had only wanted to ‘acknowledge the loss of a musical legend in its hometown'” (Roche).

So with some more background information and knowledge of Cheerios’ intentions, it is fair to ask: where did Cheerios go wrong? For starters, Donovan Roche of Fast Company stated it perfectly when he said, “Attempting to capitalize on a high-profile celebrity’s death rarely puts a brand in a positive light–it’s usually deemed tasteless.” In this case, we are aware of the fact that Cheerios had only intended on acknowledging its connection to Prince, but had failed to realize that their audience may not be aware of either the brand’s origins or of Prince’s. This issue could have been resolved by adding more in their tweet other than simply, #prince; this was their second problem.

Although the picture attached to the tweet was meant to be the important part of the message, and using #prince as the actual tweet was used for people to find the content, a simple note of context like, “From our hometown and yours,” or “Minneapolis will miss you,” would have served as more context for the audience than what the original message had portrayed.

Roche goes on to mention in his article that, “a brand is better off either expressing sympathy without incorporating any kind of commercial message, or just avoiding it altogether.” Assuming this tactic is true, one can sympathize with Cheerios in the sense that this loss may have meant more to them than maybe Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms, giving reason for a post to be made. However, Cheerios could have made a strong message by leaving their post as is, only without the actual Cheerio. As it is stated earlier, the words, “Rest in peace,” are already typed in the Cheerios-font, a stamp in itself; the addition of the Cheerio above the “i” only served as a perceived marketing ploy that did not sit well with fans.

In an unfortunate misunderstanding, Cheerios painted themselves as an enemy to many by confusing marketing and mourning, and could have easily avoided any negative commotion by adjusting their message ever so slightly. In the future, this public relations crisis will serve as an excellent example of how not to incorporate the loss of an icon with any commonality with a brand.



Biography. (n.d.). Prince. Retrieved from,

Cheerios. (n.d.). What’s the story behind Cheerios? Retrieved from,

Roche, D. (2016, December 20). Lessons from three of 2016’s biggest PR fails. Fast Company. Retrieved from,

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 3 October 2017

Public Relations and How It Relates to Me

As a student studying advertising and public relations, it is important to not only enjoy the topics you are covering, but also to be aware of how these topics are defined and what they mean to the real world. In my new fundamentals of public relations course, I have been asked to define public relations in my own words. To go a step further, I will also explain what my preconceptions of public relations are before I have completed this course. My answer to these topics will cover what makes public relations special in my mind and why it is a useful construct.

To begin, I have defined public relations as: the coordinating or planning of events, or the aiding or creating of communication. To a degree, I partially relate my definition of public relations to how I would define a professional athlete’s manager or agent. For example, it is not entirely common that an athlete is the one to organize promotional events or talk to the media about a possible mistake that has been made (although they will have to answer some questions at some point). These tasks are typically completed by the agent or the manager, similar to how a public relations representative would handle a situation with one business and another.

Contrary to how I view public relations, my research has shown that there may not be one direct way to define what the job of public relations will indefinitely entail. According to an article by Cayce Myers, not only can it be difficult to define public relations, but it also requires context as to what legal ties the job has. In this piece, Myers discusses the Nike v. Kasky case from 2002-2003. For more on how Myers defines public relations and how it applies to the Nike v. Kasky case, you can read Myers’s story at S036381111530031X.

Another way to breakdown the work of public relations is to say that PR, “should function as a mediator, communicational unit providing mutual understanding and adaptation” (Kilic and Kalkan). With this definition, Kilic and Kalkan believe that public relations, “would be a strategic function and help organizations reach their ultimate goal.” I believe this to be similar to my definition of public relations in that communication is a primary factor in reaching a group’s goal, and that their job revolves around the coordination of events between two or more businesses or groups.

Finally, to tie in some of these definitions to a real world public relations crisis, I believe that the handling of concussions and their severity by the NFL has gone horribly wrong. Having played football for a decade and receiving three concussions in that span, as well as having a number of teammates that have received them too, I can confidently say that I have yet to notice any long-term ailments as a result of these concussions. Although I am still young and have not played at a level higher than high school, a concussion is still a concussion, and I personally believe that some of the findings and reactions to research have been slightly dramatic.

Bias aside, though, the NFL still has some work to do when handling the public relations end of the findings with player health. Gabe Zaldivar of Bleacher Report put it perfectly when he said that, “each report that comes out, including the startling revelation that former player Russell Allen once played after a stroke, forces people across the nation to wonder whether this sport is indeed too dangerous.” Again, having played the sport for a decade, I am a firm believer that football is not so dangerous that the sport should be discontinued, however, if the NFL continues to deny some of the findings by these research teams and fails to act accordingly to keep their players safe and in better health, fans will continue to turn away from watching the sport, and unfortunately, from playing it as well.

With the world of public relations–and the case with the NFL especially–I find PR to be special in that one right or wrong move can change the outlook of the public on something immensely. Having the power to make wonderful and terrible things happen in the world is an exciting and terrifying trait of an occupation, but someone has to do it.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 6 September 2017



Kilic, Tolga and Kalkan, Faruk (2017, June). The extreme-capitalist face of corporate social responsibility and the stakeholder theory. ProQuest. Retrieved from, http://

MyersCayce (2016, Dec. 1)What’s the legal definition of PR?: An analysis of commercial speech and public relations. Science Direct. Public relations review (0363-8111), 42 (5), p. 821. Retrieved from, S036381111530031X

Zaldivar, Gabe (2014, April 23). 15 sports PR disasters. Bleacher Report. Retrieved from,

Semester recap: What I learned in CAP 105

After a long and hard fought battle with this past semester, everything seems to be falling into place nicely. Between all the tests, papers, and projects, I have come a long way from where I started out this semester and have learned a lot. Most importantly, I enjoyed everything that I have learned and done not just in my CAP 105 class, but in all of my classes. Despite all the enjoyment I have had and learning that I have done, though, I am writing to reflect only on the things that I have learned from CAP 105; fortunately, there is plenty to report on.

From creating my very first blog, to conducting a sprint with some of my classmates, to working with Adobe apps like Photoshop, InDesign, and PremierePro, I have enjoyed everything that I participated in over the course of this semester.

Starting with this blog, I have enjoyed taking the time to jot down some of my thoughts on many interesting topics. Although some posts have had more of a specific focus than others, I have still enjoyed looking further into the important aspects of my career path and reflecting on my findings. Doing this has not only been eye opening, but has also taught me how I am fully capable of educating myself at times, and how much power I have over my knowledge. Taking the time to do research that is not only interesting but also plays in integral role in my future is empowering. Although this semester is coming to an end, that doesn’t mean I will lose the ability to further my education.

When working with classmates in a sprint, I have found that I can work very effectively with others, especially when I am placed in a role where I feel more comfortable. In my group, I was a co-leader with one of my classmates, as we worked together on leading our group to success. Although our group did not win the challenge, we still put up a good fight, and created a product worth being proud of.

As a co-leader, I found myself to be very comfortable leading my team in the right direction. Coming up with a blueprint or an outline of what we wanted our final product to look like was exciting and again, empowering. I enjoyed working with my team to create a product that we all believed in, and especially under my guidance. It helped too that my workplace-1245776_640teammates were so engaging in the process and worked well with my ideas; everything seemed to fall into place under my supervision.

Because this was a learning experience and I had never participated in such an activity, I am not ashamed of falling short of first place, although it would have been nice. As a learning experience, I found that I have a natural ability to talk with others rather than to others in an efficient and effective manner that bodes well in a team environment, especially under such time constraints. I am hoping to find myself in a similar role in the future.

Finally, working with some of the apps in the Adobe Suite, I found it to be refreshing, exciting, frustrating, and entertaining. Because I had used some of Adobe’s apps in the past, I had a somewhat smooth transition back into the creative world. I may have needed a slight refresher, but for the most part, I found myself using each app effectively.

In terms of my excitement and frustration, I came to enjoy using each application and was excited to get back into class and either try something new with it or build on what I had already been working on. I was proud of everything that I completed, but know that I could have done more with more time.

My frustrations came when something failed to go the way that I had hoped. Although I had a rather smooth transition back into the Adobe world, not everything came easily. I found myself struggling with a few minor things over the course of use app’s use, but always found a way to come around and make things come together the way I had hoped. That was what I found to be most entertaining: the struggles that I was able to persevere through.

Overall, I believe that CAP 105 helped me grow as a future advertising and public relations employee, and I am excited to expand on what I have learned here and eventually apply it to the real world and my career.

Matt Henkel | GVSU | 10 April 2017