By Jennifer Schleman, MPS, APR
This month, the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) is celebrating its 65th anniversary. In these years, we’ve seen the public relations field grow from its infancy through the digital revolution. To mark the anniversary, I asked several past (and the current) presidents of the National Capital Chapter to share their fondest memories and/or what changes they’ve seen in the chapter over the years.
Current PRSA-NCC president Rebecca Andersen recalled why she joined the chapter. “I joined PRSA to get involved with my alma mater, American University, through the University Relations committee in 2007. I became instantly hooked to the energy of our Chapter. In that time, I changed jobs twice, started volunteering more and widened my professional network in the D.C. area. Being involved in NCC has helped with all these changes. The experience has been invaluable and the people in our Chapter are constantly helping me reach my goals, both professionally and personally. Thank you NCC and happy anniversary!”
Sandra Wills Hannon, Ph.D., APR, PRSA-NCC president in 2007, reflected, “I can’t believe that I’ve been a member of the chapter for 20 years. The thing that strikes me as almost a juxtaposition is how on the one hand, PRSA-NCC has consistently been the largest chapter in the country with hundreds of members and on the other hand, it can really feel like a family. It never ceases to amaze me as to what a caring community we are. I personally have seen members rally around other members in sickness and in tragedy. We have also cheered each other during the joyous times – promotions, new jobs, weddings and new life. Still, through it all, our chapter remains remarkably productive – professional development, lunches, networking, pro bono work – making it such an important entity in our industry. PRSA-NCC has enriched my life with support, great projects and wonderful friendships which leaves me grateful and an avid supporter and member, hopefully for another 20 years.”
Heathere Evans-Keenan, APR, president in 2008, finds inspiration from PRSA-NCC members as well. “One thing I’ve found remarkable over the years is, based on the energy and enthusiasm of different members, new committees and expanded activities can quickly come forward. I’ve seen members drive global pro bono activities in some years, witnessed the formation of new committees targeting specific membership needs that come and go as members’ needs change, and strategic chapter initiatives be born, shaped and honed by fresh perspectives from our leaders,” she said. “That diversity of inspiration provides a professional experience unmatched in most other chapters—and it means if you have an idea, by all means, bring it forward! It could be your year to make something amazing happen. Happy Anniversary NCC!”
Henry Chamberlain, APR, FASAE, CAE, president in 2001 also has “many great memories of NCC-PRSA and could not be more proud of the leaders, growth and impact of the chapter.”
He added, “Back then, we were approaching 600 members and had just begun allowing sponsors for our programs. NCC-PRSA is a much stronger, more influential group today and it is very impressive. Among my highlights were earning my APR in 1987, co-chairing the Thoth Awards for several years including an event at the Kennedy Center and of course having the honor of leading the group during a challenging 2001. I have been a proud dues-paying member throughout and wish everyone a happy 65th!”
Samantha Villegas, APR, president in 2013, recalled her most memorable event. “It was a Lunch with Legends event and we had a sit down lunch with a panel of some of the most accomplished PR people in the DC area,” she said. “Ofield Dukes was on the panel, Sunshine Overkamp and I think Bill Novelli, too. It was awesome. I had just started my job with a water utility and asked a question about how to handle a new employer, who doesn’t understand the value of PR. The panel’s response was unexpected. It blew me away and inspired me. They all said, what an incredible opportunity I had in front of me – to turn them around and make things exponentially better for them. I came away looking at the opportunity in a completely different light and I thought of that moment whenever things got hard. It made a real impression!”
Katherine R. Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, president in 1992 witnessed the genesis of the NCC PR Hall of Fame.
“I was co-chair of the 50th Anniversary with David Kinsman, APR. We worked closely with chapter president Mary Yerrick, APR, Amy Hurd, APR, who organized the anniversary gala, and a terrific committee of about 10 chapter leaders. One thing that we realized as we were planning the year-long celebration is that we were beginning to lose our history. Nothing had really been written down in a meaningful way. Most of the chapter’s founders had passed and many of the ‘old-timers’ were retiring or moving away. We brainstormed ways to recognize those early leaders and it didn’t take us long to come up with the idea for the National Capital PR Hall of Fame,” she said. “We decided that an awesome way to celebrate our 50th anniversary would be to induct the first 50 members, with the idea to later induct a new member each year. We had a beautiful and elegant gala at the Willard Hotel, and almost all of the living inductees were present, as well as family members of many who were inducted posthumously. We worked with The Washington Post on a special commemorative insert in the newspaper that day, with mini-bios of all 50 inductees (these now live on the chapter website). It was a truly special night and the beginning of a valuable and meaningful way to recognize the best of our colleagues and also preserve our history.”
Jeff Ghannam, president in 2010 recalled, “My favorite memory was the 2010 International Conference, the first in Washington, D.C. in more than 20 years. Specifically, the NCC reception that we hosted that year for about 200 PRSA leaders from around the country was in a private, rooftop dining on the GW campus that had stunning views of the Washington Monument at night. I’ll never forget the buzz in the room that evening as people realized that our chapter was in a league of its own when it comes to serving as the host chapter.”
Ghannam believes, “The biggest change the chapter has undergone is related to the number and diversity of its events. About 10 years ago, the chapter used to have maybe one or two events per month. As the chapter grew in membership from about 700 in 2004 to more than 1,500 in 2014, we know average about one event per week, each targeting a specific segment of the membership.”
Tracy Schario, APR and president in 2006 summed it up, “The chapter is much more than memories. It is relationships built on trust and friendship. Committee work last year, results in a coffee today and future phone calls or emails for advice, congratulations or information exchange.”
So what’s your favorite PRSA-NCC memory? I cherish the professional connections made though the chapter that have evolved into lifelong friendships. Happy 65th Anniversary PRSA-NCC!
Jennifer C. Schleman, MPS, APR, is a director on the PRSA-NCC Board.