Nov 29th, 2013

A Change of Course — Reflections from Caitlin Puffenberger

Former PR & Marketing Intern, Caitlin Puffenberger, recently won a Public Relations Society of America scholarship for an essay she wrote on her work interning here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and how it has s influenced her career choice.  The Richmond Public Relations Foundation’s  Supporting PR Stars  program annually awards two $1,000 scholarships — the David P. Hurdle and William Dietrick Memorial Scholarships — to two rising seniors.  Here is her winning essay. 

Former Garden PR Intern Caitlin  Puffenberger & Director of Public Relations Beth Monroe

Former Garden PR Intern Caitlin Puffenberger & Director of Public Relations Beth Monroe. Photo by Mallory Benedict

by Caitlin Puffenberger, former PR & Marketing Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

There’s a stigma about public relations in the journalism world. For hardened journalists who have spent years trying to get a straight statement out of side-stepping media relations officials, PR often seems like a soft option. I’ve been steeped in journalism long enough to soak up quite a bit of that stigma; I thought that journalism was for people who wanted to change the world and public relations was for sell-outs. But this summer I got the chance to work with a group of people who showed me that public relations is about so much more than spin.

I applied to be a public relations and marketing intern at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden because I was desperate for experience of any kind, and because spending a few days a week in a garden would be a nice change of scenery. But when my three months at Lewis Ginter were up, I was devastated. Everyone that I met at Lewis Ginter was kind, helpful and, above all, passionate about what they did. Since the garden is a nonprofit, that’s not too surprising. But what did surprise me was the dedication with which my supervisors approached every task. The PR and marketing coordinators were just as passionate about the garden’s mission as the gardeners, butterfly curators and administrative board. Every blog post, email, tweet or Instagram photo was about promoting education and understanding. Often their posts tied back to a program or activity at the garden, but many of them were unrelated; they were simply providing their readers with information they’d want to know, whether gardening tips or butterfly photos or community events.

At Lewis Ginter, I fell in love with the idea of a future in public relations because I realized that it could be about so much more than promoting a brand. I discovered that, just as much as journalism, PR could be about providing people with information they need to make the best decisions. Even better, working for an organization I feel passionate about offers even greater opportunities to change the world than journalism does. So while I’ve learned and loved much about journalism in the last four years, I think my next step will be in a different direction.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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