PR NEWS Names Three PR Professionals of the Year

It's a tradition that goes back more than 50 years, and every year the PR NEWS "PR Professional of the Year" award competition poses a challenge - not for the lack of candidates but for having to choose the standouts in a PR universe full of exceptional executives. Our choice in 2002 was particularly difficult. From the post-9/11 challenges and the skepticism of the media in the wake of widespread corporate scandal, to slashed budgets and skittish management, PR has never encountered more daunting obstacles - or more promising opportunities. And, as many of our readers can attest, just handling day-to-day PR - without a major crisis to speak of - has become more rigorous. This year we honor an Agency Professional, Corporate Professional and Nonprofit Professional. Each went above and beyond the call of duty, exceeding goals, developing innovative PR strategies and advocating the influence of communications internally and externally. Suffice it to say that there are dozens of deserving PR professionals who have served the industry in an exemplary fashion this year. We've chosen three who represent the industry leadership and will be well worth watching as we head into 2003. Agency PR Professional of the Year: Richard Levick, President, Levick Strategic Communications. Corporate PR Professional of the Year: Ken Capps, VP, Public Affairs, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Nonprofit PR Professional of the Year: Stuart Schear, Senior Communications Officer, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Richard Levick President Levick Strategic Communications To say 2002 was a good year for Richard Levick would be an understatement. In the fifth year since his agency's inception, he has built a reputation with the law firms he serves as an expert capable of handling even the most serious crises. He has represented parties in embarrassing Olympic situations, in the Jason Williams (former NBA star) case, and has even been called in to do emergency crisis management for the Catholic Church. PR NEWS: Tell us more about your work with the Roman Catholic Church in the midst of a truly historic crisis. You worked with a particular order of the Church as allegations of sexual misconduct were cropping up nationwide. R.L.: This is an extraordinary, history-making issue. I think it is as pressing on the Church as Martin Luther. Our call came from an order in Rome a week before the bishops were scheduled to have their meeting there. Half an hour into a call with the order's American schools, one of the priests said, "We cannot leave the seminary. It is surrounded by camera crews." One of the fathers on the phone from the United States [in Connecticut] said, "We have camera crews here, too, and we cannot leave." We had a crew in Connecticut within three hours and in Rome within 10 hours. The story, which should have been the global focus of news, virtually never appeared. There was a tiny bit on TV and one story in a little local paper, but the story died away, and a few weeks later, there was a favorable story about the order on a New York TV network. When dealing with clients in trouble, it is imperative to get all the information. You cannot filter out little bits of truth while negotiating over what the facts are. It took time to get the details from the Church, but we at least had enough to make a case that challenged the media's allegations brick-by-brick. One way we built trust with this client in order to get that information was to be there at 4 a.m. on Sunday to talk with them before they went into church. PR NEWS: You didn't have a relationship with the Church prior to getting this call, did you? R.L.: We had no relationship with them. We represent over a third of the largest law firms in the world and a third of the top litigation boutiques in the United States, so our relationships are with the lawyers. These top litigators say, "We have a crisis, who do we want to bring in?" PR NEWS: That focus on law firms is fairly unique. What was behind the decision to focus on PR for litigators? R.L.: [Working in PR and legal allows for] a love affair between the left and right brain where you get to do both the creative and the analytical. We get to work with some of the smartest people in the world. Journalists are a fourth column, and lawyers are a fifth column to history. We're talking about lawyers to presidents and religious figures, lawyers on the Florida election recount. PR NEWS: You are also able to counsel attorneys, who traditionally have eschewed communication in favor of the old favorite "no comment." They may have been protecting their clients, but they certainly weren't generating much publicity for themselves. R.L.: Lawyers used to say, "We can't comment on one of our cases." Years ago, we said, "Why don't you talk about somebody else's case?" Lawyers can moderate panels on a particular issue where the whole room is filled with clients and prospects, and the lawyer is clearly positioned as the thought leader. PR NEWS: What do you consider your biggest successes in 2002? R.L.: We have had an extraordinary year. We will probably exceed our formerly best year by between 35 percent and 40 percent this year. At the end of the day, it's great that we're highly regarded, but to have the kind of talented and remarkable people we have is the most important thing. Companies like ours can blossom or disappear depending on who you have. Stuart Schear Senior Communications Officer The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Most PR professionals would shy away from a hurdle even Hillary Clinton couldn't clear. But Stuart Schear has spent the past two years aggressively promoting healthcare reform and working to achieve healthcare coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Since its inception in 2000, Schear's "Covering Kids Communications Campaign" has helped decrease the number of children without health coverage from 11 million to 8 million. The campaign promotes the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid to parents who are unaware their kids are eligible for low-cost or even free coverage. The 2002 Back-to-School program alone generated TV coverage in at least 120 U.S. cities, radio stories in all the top 50 markets and 448 print stories. More than 1,200 events took place nationwide, and more than 200,000 calls rolled in to national and state hotlines, with an increase in calls in target markets averaging 439 percent. Schear's "Covering the Uninsured" campaign brings together bizarre bedfellows including the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The campaign now includes 17 national partner organizations and nearly 100 sponsors, and Schear is in the planning stages for "Covering the Uninsured Week," slated for March 2003. PR NEWS: Tell us more about the planning for your next major initiative, "Covering the Uninsured Week." S.S.: The planning is no different from the kind and scope of planning that goes into a major national political campaign. That makes sense because the 41 million uninsured constitute a national crisis and one that our elected officials have thus far failed to solve. What's different is that the effort is resolutely non-partisan and inclusive. All campaign messages are based on our commitment to extending coverage of the uninsured, but they are made more powerful and effective by basing them on extensive market research and conducting them with a bipartisan team. We will release several significant studies during the course of the week. Several TV shows, including "ER" and "Law & Order SVU" have agreed to include story lines about the uninsured during the course of the week, and there is more to come from Hollywood. PR NEWS: You spent many years on the other side of the pitch as a reporter and producer working on the health beat. How does that impact the work you do now? S.S.: I am an expert on national health policy issues as a result of my years of reporting. My training to see every side of an issue is crucial to this kind of effort that brings together diverse groups with very different interests and points of view. Last but not least, years of reporting on Americans who lacked health insurance persuaded me that I needed to move beyond reporting and invest my energies in solving this awful problem. It is simply inexcusable for a nation as great as ours to allow the problem of the uninsured to remain unresolved decade after decade. PR NEWS: Your campaigns include not just PR, but paid advertising and other tactics. What's the importance of a fully-integrated media campaign? S.S.: The power of our campaigns is that they fully integrate every element - paid ads, earned media, partnerships and more. These elements build on one another and deliver the same message. In our "Covering Kids" campaign, we get the message to low-income parents that their children are most likely eligible for low-cost or free healthcare, and we reach them by generating media coverage at the same time they are seeing or hearing paid ads. PR NEWS: What were the biggest challenges for you in '02? S.S.: Taking a very big idea - creating a week in 2003 dedicated to the uninsured - and making it a reality. We had a bold vision - presidential co-chairs [former Presidents Ford and Carter are co-chairing the week-long effort], the participation of the creative community in Hollywood, the support of hundreds of organizations and building a campaign staff that could create events in every major media market in the country. We have done all this and are looking forward to making the case that America must cover the uninsured. Ken Capps VP, Public Affairs Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Starting a new job on Sept. 11, 2001, would have been difficult for anyone. But starting a new job as vice president of public affairs for the world's third-busiest airport, on a day when airports suddenly became a terrifying place to be, sounds next to impossible. Nevertheless, Ken Capps handled that very situation with aplomb, and in the year following Sept. 11 has emerged as a communications leader in the industry. He has reassured passengers, pacified media and lobbied Congress, leading communications not only for his own organization, but for an alliance of more than 140 airports. "I work to be a voice of calm, concern and reason in very hectic and stressful situations," Capps says. PR NEWS: Conducting PR for an airport is probably one of the more difficult communications roles out there right now. How do you manage it? K.C.: I was a reporter for 15 years, and I have been a news junkie since I was a kid. This is like being a part of the news business all over again. I like being where the action is. If you're a communicator, there is no better job to have right now than in the airport business. Somebody told me a few months ago, "You guys shampoo the carpet at DFW, and it becomes a story." That's not far from the truth. I've been able to reduce the amount of anxiety- driven reporting. I have to make sure reporters' breaking news is in fact breaking news. For example, I've had to deal with several anthrax scares, and there's never been one grain of anthrax at DFW Airport. Somebody called in from a plane and thought they had found anthrax in a potato chip bag. The hazmat team arrived in their big suits, and the media got hold of it. Before the debriefing, I went on the plane [and got the facts]. I told the reporters, the fire chief has a technical term for what they found on the plane: potato chip crumbs. PR NEWS: The media aren't your only key constituency. Tell us about the work you've done with passengers and employees. K.C.: One thing communications has done is inform passengers about what's going on at the airports and make them feel comfortable to come back and fly. We came up with a "holiday helper" program which became a national model, with employees passing out goodies and helping passengers in the terminals. And I think one of the reasons DFW has had fewer security problems than other airports is that we've made passenger education a top priority, through the Internet and the media. The more we can prepare passengers to fly before they get to the airport, the less trouble we'll have. Most security breaches are not terrorists but people who make a mistake. In terms of employees, one of my big rules is always to communicate with them before the media does. We're planning [new employee communications initiatives] that will be very electronic and very interactive. PR NEWS: You are an advocate of accomplishing many communications functions electronically. How do you think this helps you to be more efficient? K.C.: We put our annual report on CD ROM, and we were the first airport to do that. We created a living document with video and great interactive features. An electronic document reaches a broader audience more quickly than mailing a static document, and it saves a ton of money. In our business, like any other, money is tight, and to me that's a no-brainer. I think the days of printing thousands of pages that most of the time sit in a dusty file are over. PR NEWS: You've been intimately involved in working with Congress on airport security deadlines as well, haven't you? K.C.: DFW has worked very closely to help organize airports and help communicate on bag screening. The [Transportation Safety Administration] is unable to meet the deadline Congress set at most of the airports around the country. We took the lead in organizing 143 airports and lobbying Congress to extend its deadline for the TSA. It's a very intricate educational process. It's not saying you're soft on security. It's saying you want the TSA to do the job right the first time so they're not wasting taxpayer dollars and causing huge unnecessary lines and raising another security risk. I really consider America's airports to be on the front line of the War on Terror.

Subscribe Now  |  Login

Comments Off

Deals of the Week

Get $200 Off PR News' Digital PR Conference

Join us June 1-3 where you'll hear from top brands such as Walmart, Miami Heat, Verizon and Ritz-Carlton on PR and communication best practices for the next wave of digital trends.

Use code “200off” at checkout to save $200 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Book of Employee Communications


In this 5th volume of PR News’ Book of Employee Communications, our authors cover more than 45 articles on crisis communications, social media policies, human resources collaboration, brand evangelism and more.

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription


Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.