The Patriarch of Florida’s Public Relations Profession

A Leader and Visionary…

Col. John DillinThe birth of the oldest public relations association in America took place in Tampa, Florida thanks to the vision, intellect, and discipline of one man: John W. Dillin.

He devoted his entire professional life to the Florida Public Relations Association, building it into on of the largest and most prestigious association of its kind in the country.

It all started in 1938 when John, then-director of public relations for the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, took things into his own hands, as it became apparent that Florida Chamber executives were not devoting enough attention to publicity and tourism. He turned to some of his friends and associates, pitching the idea of starting a separate organization.

A statewide meeting in the Tampa Terrace Hotel was held later that year. The 45 attendees voted to form FPRA (then known as the Florida Association of Publicity Directors). John was elected to serve as the first president.

From the beginning, he never missed a state convention  – except during the war. In World War II, John saw combat at Anzio Beachhead. Then, upon learning of his journalism and public relations background, top brass made him public relations officer, and intelligence officer, with the 57th Bomb Wing in Naples, Italy.

After the global conflict, he was public relations officer for the combined Florida Army and Air National Guard, helping build up the organization to 8,000 personnel. As a reservist, he was a liaison officer for 33 years.

World War II brought FPRA activities to a halt, but John pulled the association back together after carrying out multiple military duties with distinction.

He spread the word about our association and continued to promote the value of public relations. No one knows how many thousands of miles he traveled – at his own expense – visiting chapters, attending board meetings, conferences, seminars, workshops and most certainly, always promoting FPRA.

Col. Dillin was a reformer. Back in the days when few women were engaged in the practice of public relations, he urged support for a woman president of FPRA. (Though she lost the election, it was a significant step forward.)

Times grew difficult for FPRA in 1949. When only 15 people attended the biannual meeting that year, there was a motion to dissolve the association. John was the one who stood up, urging members to hang in. They did.

Col. Dillin had drive and his cleverness always showed. Once, in the mid-1950’s, out of a job, he walked into the Bob Hammond Advertising Agency in Orlando. Asking if they had a PR person, they said no.

“I’m your new one,” he replied.

Claiming they could not afford him, John retorted, “Who said anything about paying me” I’ll pay you!” At month’s end, he handed them a check. “It’s your commission,” he said. Years later, he recounted, “They gave me a desk, and address and a phone. That’s all I needed.”

Over the decades, his leadership skills to expand our association’s membership and increase the number of chapters throughout the state became obvious.

Among many other accomplishments, he helped create the Florida Public Relations Trust Fund to raise money for scholarships. He was the most visible member of our organization: each year he was, first to renew his membership and he always sat in the front row of every meeting or seminar.

The annual John Dillin Award began in 1987 – the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed by the association. By vote of the selection committee and without his knowledge, John became the award’s first recipient.

Anyone who attends FPRA annual conferences can attest to the mouth-watering Dillin desserts sponsored by the Dick Pope / Polk County Chapter!

A creative thinker, highly disciplined, and deeply interested in those seriously pursuing public relations, he was extremely devoted to the concept of “reputation over image.”

Not only was he proud to have served his country in the Air Force (beginning with the U.S. Army Corps), he also believed strongly in civic involvement at both the local and state levels. A mentor, especially to young practitioners, John considered FPRA members, “family.” Of course if you didn’t wear your nametag on the right side he would admonish his children while repositioning the tag!

FPRA honors the spirit and dedication of its first president and founder, Col. John W. Dillin. He devoted a career of service to and support for FPRA, an organization he cherished for more than six decades.

John is deeply missed. However, his legacy will live on, especially if we never forget his wonderful qualities and recall them to others who become members of the Florida Public Relations Association.

Courtesy of:
Tom Preston, APR, Fellow; and Pat Gill Preston Global