By: Andrew Harner, editor-in-chief

For those of you not fluent in journalistic terms, let me define public relations for you: a tactic used by companies to promote a brand, product or innovation to the public through the media without paying for advertising.

And right now, the PR battle that is being waged between Topps and Upper Deck is hot news in the collecting world.

It all began in late February of 2007 when it was discovered that Topps had superimposed images of President George W. Bush and Mickey Mantle onto Derek Jeter’s base card No. 40.

The flurry of media attention that followed was seemingly unprecedented in the sports card industry.

ABC, ESPN, Yahoo! and other news outlets listed the card in their top headlines, and eBay was flooded with thousands of the Jeter cards with the first ones selling for $300+. Retail boxes of 2007 Topps flew off of shelves at Wal-Mart, Target and Meijer until the demand slowed and the card dropped to prices of below $5.

The Jeter card was a PR stunt gone good.

“[The attention] is not a bad thing at all,” Topps spokesperson Clay Luraschi told ABC. “It’s going to bring baseball cards to the attention of people who might not collect.”

Not only did it bring baseball cards to people’s attention, it also ruffled some feathers at Upper Deck.

Perhaps sour at Topps’ use of their spokesperson, disappointed they were unable to acquire the Topps company or just jealous of Topps’ garnered attention, Upper Deck made a name for itself at the end of the collecting season.

Upper Deck’s first of four stunts came on Nov. 21 with a message to holiday shoppers: Upper Deck sports cards offer a proven safe gift-buying alternative this holiday season.

Upper Deck was quick to note after several toy recalls that the company has never had a recalled product and that all cards are produced in the United States.

A couple of weeks later, an interesting card was discovered in 2007 Sweet Spot Baseball and the previous message no longer held merit.

And whatever the reasoning behind the unannounced rookie card, Former Disney CEO and current owner of Topps Michael Eisner is certainly the target.

With his name changed to Michael Buysner, a Bazonka t-shirt and an eye-patch and backwards ball cap (signature of Topps icon Bazooka Joe), it is a good chance Upper Deck created the card with the intent of poking fun at Topps.

And I say created because Upper Deck later issued this statement after pressure from MLB and MLBPA, who has approval over what gets released:

“It has come to our attention that 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Baseball contains cards that should not have been included in the product release. Accordingly, the Upper Deck Company has sent notices to its customers requiring them to return any and all 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Baseball product that they have received and/or that they may receive in the coming days.”

So much for no recalled products.

Another Upper Deck product also generated headlines shortly after the Buysner incident.

Four variations of the 2007 SP Authentic Alex Rodriguez card were discovered in what appeared to be an attempt by Upper Deck to get the first card of Rodriguez with the logo of his new team.

However, Rodriguez decided to stay with the Yankees and the Ex-Rod cards with Mets, Angels, Dodgers and Red Sox logos now serve no purpose other then to generate publicity.

Most recently, a second Sweet Spot “error” card was discovered and created the same volume of controversy as Buysner did.

A Sweet Spot Signatures autograph was discovered with a single asterisk and the player name of 756. Any takers on what that is aimed at?

Sports card message boards filled with questions when the first of these were seen on eBay, and many collectors felt that the card was fake.

But on Tuesday, an anonymous Upper Deck source said, “It is legitimate, and it’s one of the scarcest cards people will see in a long time.”

Debate still exists over whether the card is a shot at Barry Bonds, MLB or Topps (Bonds is a Topps spokesperson).

Upper Deck’s timing on their PR was certainly better than Topps as people will be buying the newest cards for the holidays.

Upper Deck also used more expensive products to insert their “errors” into.

So kudos to Upper Deck on timing, but it will certainly be interesting to see if Topps comes up with anymore creative advances in it cards any time soon or if MLB or MLBPA will step in and stop the trickery.

But is it really that bad that card companies take friendly jabs at each other? There really isn’t any physical damage done, and it gets both company’s names out there every time this happens.

What do you think?