“What is…” Wednesday – What is Public Relations? Josh Weiss Take

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This week, we welcome Josh Weiss, Director of Communications and Public Information Officer for Southwest Ambulance & Rural/Metro, to HMATime as a guest blogger.

We ask him one question.

A question we have asked many.

What is public relations?

Take it away, Josh!

We’ve all sat around a room as 30 or more people introduce themselves and their professional titles one-by-one. Most people are comatose by the end, barely paying attention.

For fun, and to see who’s still awake, I occasionally introduce myself as a perception engineer.

After a long pregnant pause, a fellow PR flack in the room usually audibly chuckles or gives me a knowing glare.

Do you agree that the term perception engineer is an appropriate description of public relations? Ultimately, the goal in Public Relations is to influence what others think about a company, product, person or topic.

While the target audience may be unique, the overarching goal to influence what people think remains the same regardless of the tools we use (social media, pitching reporters, newsletters, etc.,). The effort to influence also remains the same regardless of the communication need (crisis, pro-active, reactive, internal, etc.).

Notice that I didn’t offer the term “influence peddler.” Being a perception engineer is significantly different. We engineer strategies and creatively implement how we will influence each target audience. Forget about thinking outside the box, we, as perception engineers, reshape the box. In contrast, an influence peddler simply pushes the same wallpaper messaging from the box to everyone in sight.

Perception engineers understand that there are 100 different ways to accomplish a PR goal, but that there are also a million ways to fail and hurt the intended beneficiary. It’s that personalization of the message and risk of failure that keeps public relations fun, challenging and vital.

All About Josh
The Cleveland native graduated from Kent State University and began his career as an assistant press secretary for the Illinois House of Representatives. Since moving to Arizona in late 2000, Josh worked at a couple of small public relations and political consulting firms before joining Southwest Ambulance in 2002. In 2007, he accepted a position leading the Communications and Public Affairs Department at American Traffic Solutions -- yes, the company that serves more than 200 communities across North America with red-light and speed camera programs. He returned to Southwest Ambulance in 2009.

A Scottsdale resident since 2001, he is active in several boards and organizations including the city of Scottsdale Transportation Commission (currently serving as the chair), the city of Scottsdale Trails Subcommittee (currently as chair), and the Scottsdale Railroad and Mechanical Society (which oversees the McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale). He is also a former board member and graduate of Scottsdale Leadership (class 18), Partners for Paiute Neighborhood Center, and the State Operations Council of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio


  1. Great post! I love it!

  2. David Landis says:

    OK, Josh, I absolutely love “perception engineer” and am definitely stealing it – but I’ll give you full credit every time. Great blog.

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