By Jack Wisniewski
For The Diamondback

Now more than ever, public relations is about maintaining relationships rather than trying to sell a product, social media expert Katie Paine told communications students Tuesday.

About 200 people gathered at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center on Tuesday for the ninth annual Grunig Gala, which aims to expose students to public relations in the real world.

Organized by the University of Maryland communications department, the event featured Paine as the keynote speaker. Known as the "measurement queen," Paine helped pioneer concepts of measurement in public relations, which companies use to make decisions based on data.

"There's a million people out there right now that think [public relations] is all about publicity," Paine said. "Public relations' job is to maintain and protect your reputation."

And the field is evolving, she said.

"Stuff that might have casually been said in the past will now get you fired," Paine said. "[Public relations] is about building relationships with your audience so that they will protect you when you get egg on your face because that's going to happen sooner or later."

Junior Matt Miller, a communication and music major, said Paine's lecture gave him a new perspective on relationships in public relations.

"I learned that it's important to measure quality of relationships rather than quantity," he said.

The department created the gala to honor retired university professors James and Larissa Grunig, who have made contributions in public relations, said communications department chairwoman Shawn Parry-Giles.

"You all are the ones who will ensure that the legacy of the Grunigs persists," Parry-Giles said. "That our students are producing cutting edge scholarship and advancing the ethical practices of public relations."

Students could also meet with 21 public relations professionals for roundtable discussions about careers in the field. Corporate executives from organizations such as the Baltimore Ravens, Under Armour and American Airlines attended the event.

First-time roundtable speaker Guy Rudiger, an account manager in the sports department at Maroon PR, said he related to the students at the gala.

"When the opportunity came to be one of the roundtable speakers I said, 'absolutely,'" said Rudiger, a 2014 university alumnus. "I attended this event for several years as an undergrad, and I 100 percent benefited from it."

Rudiger said he gave students tips on resume building and talked about his daily life in the work place.

"Just from hearing an agency perspective, I hope they got a better understanding of the ins-and-outs of a job in public relations from different ends of the spectrum," Rudiger said.

Senior communication major Nicole Joie said she learned about the ideal ways to structure resumes rather than figuring out what kind of job she wanted.

"I wasn't necessarily sure which area I'd want a job in," Joie said. "I got a lot of insight into what they're looking for in a resume and who they're going to hire."