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October 2008

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Colorado Chapter of PRSA celebrates 50-year History

By Mary Pat Adams, APR

As the 500 members of the Colorado Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) celebrate their 50-year anniversary this year, we note both the significant milestones of the Chapter and its members, but also the role Colorado PRSA members have played in the development of the profession and the contributions the Colorado Chapter has made to the national organization.

Without the presence of national public relations firms in the state for most of its 50-year history, or perhaps because of it, Colorado PRSA members relied on the skills, professionalism and generosity of each other to advance themselves and the profession, to build career tracks in multiple business, government and nonprofit settings, and to establish one of the strongest chapters in the national organization.

To give you a bit of background, PRSA, based in New York City, is the world's largest organization for public relations professionals with nearly 32,000 professional and student members. PRSA is organized into more than 100 Chapters nationwide and 19 Professional Interest Sections and Affinity Groups -- which represent business and industry, counseling firms, independent practitioners, military, government, associations, hospitals, schools, professional services firms and nonprofit organizations. The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) has nearly 300 Chapters at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

The national organization was chartered in 1947, and its current objectives are to advance the standards of the public relations profession and to provide members with professional development opportunities through continuing education programs, information exchange forums, and research projects conducted on the national and local levels.

The foundations for a Colorado Chapter of PRSA were set by 13 men meeting at the Denver Press Club in September 1957, with a charter granted a few months later by the national organization. Those original members chose Richard K. Ayers, a counselor with his own firm, as the first Chapter president and Claude Ramsey, also the owner of a public relations firm, as the Chapter delegate to the national convention in Philadelphia. An early challenge, writes Ramsey in a 1997 Chapter history, was “to convert business executives to an understanding and appreciation of the role of public relations.” Ramsey reports the Chapter had stable growth through the oil boom decade of the 1960s, with a number of the original 13 taking a turn as Chapter president, including Ramsey, Harvey Sethmen and Wayne Welch.

In 1965, the Colorado Chapter hosted the national PRSA convention in August, attended by 1,350 practitioners, a new record for PRSA. That year, PRSA also launched its accreditation process, with New York City and Denver serving as sites for those first exams and drawing applicants from a number of surrounding states. The APR, or Accreditation in Public Relations process, which includes both written and oral exams, remains the leading source of professional development achievement for public relations practitioners. For many years, the Colorado Chapter has had one of the highest rates of members who have achieved accreditation.

Cal Pond, president in 1966, started an awards program that year, with then Columbia Savings & Loan Association President Dan Ritchie (now University of Denver Chancellor Emeritus) receiving the Gold Pick Award (only one was given). The annual Gold Pick Award event remains one of the Colorado Chapter's signature events each fall, with gold and silver pick awards in multiple categories and a Grand Gold Pick awarded for highest achievement.

Throughout its history, Colorado PRSA has been one of the larger chapters in terms of members, but it didn't have its first woman member until Gail Pitts, then with Colorado Savings and Loan Association, joined in the late 1960s. She served as Chapter vice president in 1971, then resigned and resumed her career as a newspaper reporter and editor.

While Zel Grebe served in 1975 as the first woman president of the Colorado Chapter, for much of the 1970s and '80s, PRSA membership was primarily male and dominated by corporate and agency executives. That shifted in the 1990s, as more and more women joined the ranks of public relations practitioners and also became PRSA members, Colorado Chapter committee chairs, board members and Chapter presidents. An interesting footnote in Colorado Chapter history is the service of three generations in one family as president: Richard Ayers as the first president in 1958, his son Rendall Ayers, APR, Fellow, in 1978, and Rendy's daughter, Sydney Ayers, APR, in 2002.

Employment also has shifted for Colorado Chapter members, with many still working in agency and corporate settings, but many more working in education, government and nonprofit offices. Today, an increasing number identify themselves as independent practitioners. PRSA members typically work in any of the following areas: community relations, consumer affairs/public affairs, employee relations, financial communications/investor relations, government relations, institutional/corporate advertising, marketing communications, media relations, public relations counseling, public relations management/administration, public relations teaching, research and special events.

Part of the growth of PRSA is attributed to the addition of public relations as an academic sequence within many university journalism or communication departments, and the recognition among Chapter members of the importance of training future professionals. At one time, the Colorado Chapter worked with PRSSA Chapters at Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and University of Denver, with PRSSA leaders from those schools -- including Su Hawk, Jane Dvorak, Gina Seamans, Scott Harris, Palmer Pekarek and Amy Sperber -- going on to serve as Colorado Chapter officers.

The Colorado Chapter continues to build on its early focus -- professional development for those working in public relations, service to the community and service to members. Amy Johnson, APR, Colorado Chapter PRSA president for 2008, said current initiatives include a member retreat in November with a number of workshops and presentations; the third annual “PR Boost: Giving Nonprofit PR a Leg Up,” for which Colorado Chapter members offer free consultation to nonprofits in need; and ongoing member benefits such as the job center and mentoring services.

Additionally, Colorado Chapter members continue to serve the national organization as board members and committee chairs, including Jane Dvorak, APR; Stephanie Hernandez; Jill Hollingsworth, APR; Thomas Hoog, APR, Fellow; Gwin Johnston, APR, Fellow; and Scott Shirai, APR, Fellow.

And for 2008, Jeff Julin, APR, president of MGA Communications, and a PRSA national board member since 2002, serves as the national PRSA chair and CEO and will preside at the national conference in Detroit in October.
For more information about the Colorado Chapter of PRSA, go online to www.prsacolorado.org.

Comments from former PRSA Colorado Presidents
Bob Schenkein, APR
Fellow, PRSA
Founder of Schenkein
President of Colorado Chapter PRSA in 1977
PRSA has played a vital role in serving as the catalyst for the evolution of the public relations profession. PRSA seminars, mentoring programs, speakers, and easy access to the best and brightest were critical to my personal growth as a practitioner. In more than 35 years as a public relations consultant, I have witnessed our profession change from being comprised of people who primarily write press releases and work with the media, to people who serve key roles as counselors to the most senior management because of their ability to think strategically.

Don Blake, APR
President of Colorado Chapter PRSA in 1981 and 1984 Chair of PRSA National Conference
The Colorado Chapter experienced a banner year in 1984 as Denver was the host city for the 37th Annual National Conference, held October 14-17 at the Denver Hilton. The conference theme was “Beyond 1984: Surviving or Thriving?” Keynote speakers and major session leaders included Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Remington Corp. CEO Victor Kiam, political writer and demographer Ben Wattenberg and journalist Martin Agronsky. More than 1,200 were in attendance as the Colorado Children's Chorale opened the conference with a rousing rendition of “The Colorado Song.” Sunday's arrivals were greeted by Colorado's characteristic blue skies and balmy October weather. Then, the skies fell in, literally. Overnight and throughout Monday, the metropolitan area received nearly two feet of snow and blizzard-like conditions. Sessions continued, sometimes with makeshift forums, as speakers and guests maintained their attempts to reach Denver. Visions of leisure moments on hotel patios and strolls between hotels and meeting sites turned into cloistered gatherings in cocktail lounges and coffee shops. Sports fans who stayed in their rooms viewed Monday Night Football, as the game went on at the old Mile Hi Stadium. The Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers in what is remembered as the “Snow Bowl of 1984.”

Jane Dvorak, APR
President of Colorado Chapter PRSA in 2003
President of Colorado State University Chapter of PRSSA in 1983
One PRSSA memory that has always stuck with me occurred when Jim Czupor, then president of the Colorado Chapter of PRSA, came to the PRSSA regional workshop we held for college students. His speech focused on perception and impressions. He had the room stand, listing off a variety of things - did you read your paper, who listened to the radio on the way in, did you brush your teeth and…did you shine your shoes? To each question a few more students sat down until, of course, he was the only one standing, because really…what student shines their shoes? But, to this day, I think of that. Have you taken the time to make the best impression? Are you really ready for you meeting? Do you have all your ducks in a row? It was powerful for me, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who took a lifetime of advice from that day.

About the Author
Mary Pat Adams was President of the Colorado Chapter PRSA in 1993, and is
Assistant Vice President, University Relations, at Regis University in Denver.



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