Public relations academic program earns eight Public Relations Society of America professional awards

Marshall University’s public relations academic program earned eight awards—including top honors for campaigns—at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)-River Cities chapter’s Tribus Awards ceremony held Tuesday evening, May 19, via Zoom.

The student groups from two sections of JMC 439/539—Public Relations Campaign Management—at Marshall during the spring 2018 semester earned the professional honors thanks to their strategic communications work for three local nonprofit organizations—the Ronald McDonald House of Huntington, River Valley Child Development Services and the Public Relations Student Society of America chapter at Marshall University.

Dr. Terry L. Hapney Jr., professor of public relations at Marshall and instructor for the two classes, said the awards are indicative of the “high-quality work” his students completed that semester.

“Their efforts in researching, planning, implementing and evaluating strategic communications campaigns for three very worthy nonprofit organizations in our local community increased awareness and much-needed funding for the nonprofits,” Hapney said. “Now those efforts attained the icing on the cake through these awards that recognize excellence. I could not be any more proud of my former students than I am at this moment.”

The Houston, Texas, chapter of PRSA did the judging for this year’s second-annual PRSA-River Cities Tribus Awards program. The students, now Marshall alumni, and the awards they earned are:

  • Campaign for PRSSA-MU, conducted by Gretchen Kalar, Abbi Pritchard, Zach Stevens, Chelsey Stanley and Kyle Camacho:
    • Best of Campaigns Award, the top award among all campaigns in the entire awards program; and
    • First-Place Tribus Award for “Events and Observances Campaign—More Than Seven Days.”
  • Campaign for River Valley Child Development Services, conducted by Rebecca Turnbull, Noah Gillispie, Sadie Helmick, Franklin Norton and Krislyn Holden:
    • First-Place Tribus Award for “Integrated Communications Campaign”;
    • First-Place Tribus Award for “Tactics: Full-Length Video/Commercial”;
    • Honorable Mention for “Tactics: Poster”;
    • Honorable Mention for “Tactics: Radio News Release”; and
    • Honorable Mention for “Tactics: Social Media.”
  • Campaign for the Ronald McDonald House of Huntington, conducted by Ginny Blake, James Hoyle, Lillie Bodie, Rachel Riddle and Patrick O’Leary:
    • Honorable Mention for “Community Relations Campaign.”

Hapney said in the manner in which PRSA awards programs are organized, campaigns and tactics must reach a certain threshold, points-wise, to earn either an honorable mention or first-place award.

“During my long tenure as a member of PRSA, there have been instances—at the state, regional, and national levels—when there are no winners in certain categories because entries do not reach the honorable mention or first-place levels,” Hapney said. “In addition, PRSA is the premier, national, professional and scholarly organization for our discipline. Awards entries come from professionals working in corporate, nonprofit, and agency organizations throughout the region. Those factors make these awards that much more meaningful for my students and me.”

Students in Hapney’s campaign management capstone course research, plan, execute and evaluate campaigns to help local nonprofit organizations attain their goals through “time-based, measurable objectives,” he said. During the past 12 years, those efforts have raised “immense” awareness and more than $100,000 for nonprofit organizations in the Tri-State area.

Kalar, a 2018 alumna of the Marshall public relations academic program and currently the public information specialist for the Myrtle Beach Police Department, thanked the PRSA-River Cities chapter for recognizing her student team’s efforts to revitalize PRSSA-MU.

“I know our group, along with all others, worked tirelessly throughout the spring and fall semesters,” she said. “I am so proud of our group and all groups involved. I am so honored to accept this award along with my team members. I, along with others, am now working in our field and putting our skills to the test just as we did throughout our campaign.”

O’Leary, a 2018 Marshall sport management graduate and current sports information assistant with the Marshall sports information department, said he has “such fond memories” from that class. As a student with a PR minor, O’Leary was not required to take the course, but said he is “very thankful Dr. Hapney reached out and offered for me to take it.”

“I’m honored that our campaign group was recognized for the hard work we placed into assisting the Ronald McDonald House of Huntington,” he said. “It was an incredibly rewarding experience to have helped the organization, which truly makes such a positive difference in the lives of those who benefit from its incredible work. The long hours we spent executing the campaign, in addition to other courses at Marshall and extracurricular work, were worth it. While we did not do it for the recognition, I’m thankful for the honor.”

Turnbull, a 2018 alumna of the Marshall PR program and current law student at The Ohio State University, served as the student director for the River Valley Child Development Services campaign. She said these awards were the “peak of the PR work we had done to end our senior year at Marshall University.” She said PR professionals often operate in the shadows of important community events.

“So the PRSA-River Cities awards are a great way to bring that work to light,” Turnbull said. “For my campaign team, our goal was to engage with the most diverse range of PR opportunities as possible; we had a fantastic time serving a worthy cause. Behind it all stood the smiling, energetic children at River Valley’s afterschool program at Guyandotte Elementary for whom we were able to raise about $6,000. Receiving PRSA awards for our campaign absolutely reaffirmed the value of the tireless work we did for the children of RVCDS.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational outlook for public relations shows an 8 percent growth rate, which is faster than average. This means the industry will see jobs added through at least 2028—currently, the end of the government agency’s projection. The average pay for public relations and fundraising managers is $116,180 per year and $61,150 per year for public relations specialists. For more information about Marshall’s public relations academic program, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees, contact Hapney by phone at 304-696-2735 or by e-mail at