Maria Russell Receives Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service to PRSA

On October 8, 2017, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) awarded Maria Russell, Fellow PRSA, and Plank Center board member, the Patrick Jackson Award for Distinguished Service. The award is named in honor of the late and legendary Patrick Jackson, APR, Fellow PRSA, a widely known and respected practitioner in the public relations profession. It is intended to recognize a PRSA member who has significantly contributed to advancing PRSA from the Chapter to National levels, as well as furthered the Society by inspiring fellow practitioners professionally and personally.

Maria Russell accepts the Patrick Jackson Award Oct. 8, 2017 in Boston. Photo credit: PRSA

Maria Russell accepts the Patrick Jackson Award.                  Photo credit: PRSA

MARIA RUSSELL: This is a great honor, especially as I look beyond these bright lights and appreciate how many others could easily be standing here to accept this award for leadership and service to PRSA. The fact that this award is in the name of Patrick Jackson is personally and professionally rewarding – Pat was a great friend and mentor to me, and to so many others.

I must thank the Honors and Awards Committee and those who wrote on my behalf, including the leaders of The PRSA College of Fellows. Three minutes’ time does not allow me to list all others who have mentored and pushed me and challenged me over many years, with their own good deeds. But I promise: cocktails are in your future!

I do thank PRSA, which has given me so many opportunities to learn, to lead and to serve with incredible students, peers, role models and thought leaders . . .

By the way, PRSA, Happy 70thAnniversary!

I’ve been teaching our Intro to Public Relations course for 30 years . . . and it is one of two favorites of mine because it gives me the opportunity to guide wide-eyed freshmen and sophomores from their early and vague concepts of Public Relations as “image building” or “damage control” or cool opportunities to hang out with celebrities. But that’s OK, as they start their education. They come to see Public Relations as a “management function” that builds and maintains relationships with the individuals and the groups that can bring an organization to success . . . or bring it to failure.

A few weeks into the semester, the schedule calls for “The Historical Evolution of Public Relations.” Predictably, eyes often glaze over and I know what some are thinking: “Why should I care about a bunch of ‘dead, white guys’?” It’s a good question, asked by many next-generations.

For current students – and even for many in this room — I suppose Pat Jackson, who passed away, much too early, in 2001, can be counted among those “dead white guys”.

But for me and many others here, Pat was the inspirational servant-leader who, like other Public Relations pioneers, helped in that evolution, raising our sights from publicists to professionals, from image-makers to counselors to top management, and from order-takers to change agents in, and for, society.

Pat, while not a university faculty member, was a true educator. Our 2018 National Chair, my Syracuse friend and colleague, Tony D’Angelo, once referred to Pat as “the Johnny Appleseed of Public Relations”.  And so he was. When Pat was president of PRSA, he gave 250 speeches in one year, visiting chapters, districts, sections and many national forums to advocate for Public Relations as an agent of behavior change.

This was new . . . this was transformative . . . this was evolutionary.

Pat also pushed this Society beyond a “bunch of white guys” and he was often a co-conspirator with our first national woman president, Betsy Ann Plank, to whom we owe PRSSA, The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at The University of Alabama, and so many other innovations.

And Pat, living and working not far from this historic city of Boston, had the revolutionary idea that great Public Relations counsel could happen anywhere, and that great PRSA leaders could be found anywhere, not just in the concrete canyons of New York.  He was an entrepreneur and he inspired others to build this business boldly, even if their first office was a kitchen table.

Our early pioneers – Ivy Ledbetter Lee, Edward L. Bernays, Arthur W.  Page, Clem Whittaker, Rex Harlow, Scott Cutlip, Harold Burson, Dan Edelman, Al Golin, Ofield Dukes and Pat Jackson, to name a very few . . . were not always right and did not claim to be, but they were bold enough in their times to take small, often experimental, steps, to move this profession down new paths.

Then came an incredible honor roll of thoughtful women and professionals of color who, in their own spirit of revolution, questioned, pushed for change and earned it, widening those early pathways and finding new ones.  Again, not always right, but always willing to experiment and learn.

And now, in our classrooms sit the future of this profession who are so bright and so earnest, who are asking the right questions about ethical practices, globalization, truth and accuracy, diversity and inclusiveness . . . embarking, I hope, on their own commitment to life-long learning.

So – I do not apologize for that lecture on “The Historical Evolution of Public Relations.” The old adage applies: those who do not study history are bound to repeat it.

Thank you, Pat Jackson. Thank you, PRSA.  Here’s to the next 70 years of revolution and evolution.


Maria P. Russell, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a professor of Public Relations at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she directs the School’s Office of Executive Education.  She can be reached at or 315.443.4066.

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