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Thinking of Starting a Chapter Awards Program?


December 4, 2013

The Greater Fort Worth Chapter of PRSA launched the “Worthy Awards” in 2012 to re-energize and grow the Chapter, and to enhance PR’s reputation in the region.

Fort Worth, Texas, has long-hustled as a trailblazer, from its beginnings as a cattle-trading center on the Chisholm Trail to its current status as the nation’s fasting-growing city, with more than 500,000 people.

The city’s competitive spirit has a new outlet in the 170-member PRSA Chapter’s new annual competition. On April 25, a crowd of about 140 people celebrated the second annual Worthy Awards at the Fort Worth Club. Honoring the best in strategic communications, we present the Worthy Awards to Fort Worth’s most inspiring, innovative and influential communicators.

Not only did this year’s contest make money — netting $8,320 — but it has also helped increase membership numbers in the Chapter and reinforced the importance of the four-step PR process (research, planning, execution and evaluation) in all of our work.

A follow-up survey revealed that eight people said they had joined or planned to join PRSA and our Chapter this year as a direct result of their participation in the Worthy Awards.

Before creating the program, we spent the first year on research. By surveying 58 Chapters with annual contests, 21 of which responded, we gained insights into what to expect if we were to start our own contest. The survey showed:

  • 85 percent of respondents said that revenue was a key benefit to operating a Chapter awards program.
  • 90 percent of respondents said that fewer than 50 percent of their Chapter’s members entered the contest.
  • Revenue (net) ranged from $0 (break even) to $20,000, depending on Chapter size, sponsor participation, number and cost of entries, donations for design, printing and other hard costs.

We also surveyed our members on a variety of topics, including their interest level in an awards ceremony. Of the 41 responses, 22 percent responded, “Yes, definitely,” when asked if they would enter a Chapter awards program. Forty-one percent said they would “likely” enter, and 15 percent said they probably would not enter.

Take a risk

 In October 2011, we reported the research findings and the pros and cons of operating our own awards program. I warned members that it would require a huge volunteer effort, and the anemic economy could stifle sponsorships and participation. I told them that we might not make money the first year; in fact, we might have to dip into our savings.

Board members raised concerns, such as: “It’ll be too much work  — we are already overwhelmed by volunteer work!” and “There are already so many other contests!”

But the Board voted to take a risk and start an annual contest, persuaded by the possible benefits, including:

  • Members would have an opportunity to showcase local projects and successes.
  • The Chapter could be a leading communications organization in the North Texas region.
  • The Chapter might gain a new revenue stream and attract more members.
  • The contest could energize the Chapter and cultivate new volunteers and leaders.

Board members urged us to start small. So we did. We recruited a committee with specific job responsibilities: logistics, budget/finance, gala/event and sponsorships. We also decided that the Chapter’s treasurer-elect would oversee the awards budget — and this has proved to be beneficial because it creates a “line of succession” and gives the treasurer-elect an early start on his/her Chapter responsibilities.

We modeled the Worthy Awards entry categories and rules after PRSA’s Silver and Bronze Anvil awards. And we created a “Communicator of the Year” honor to recognize an outstanding communicator outside the PR profession.

In addition, we set up an academic division to connect our Chapter more closely with the academic institutions in our area — namely TCU, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of North Texas, Tarrant County Community College and Abilene Christian University.

Promote excellence

In 2012, we held the inaugural contest, attracting 46 entries and generous in-kind sponsorships from a local design agency, a printer and an interactive/digital firm. We netted $4,260 during the first year and knew that we were on to something.

This year, the number of contest entries and the amount of money we raised nearly doubled, with 88 entries and more than $8,000. Chapter members participated heavily, submitting 94 percent of the entries. And Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, in her first term as mayor, joined us for this year’s awards gala, where we honored her as “Communicator of the Year.”

We expect this new revenue stream to cushion our Chapter from dues increases, strengthen our professional development offerings, and possibly fund pro-bono service projects.

Just as important, there’s something else happening in our Chapter that’s more difficult to quantify. I’ve overhead colleagues talking about current projects, saying they want to be sure that their work is worthy of a Worthy next year. We like to think that these comments reflect a growing commitment to best practices in our region’s PR community.

We wanted to promote excellence in our profession when we started the Worthy Awards, and it appears that we are succeeding beyond what we expected.

3 ‘Must-Haves’ Before Starting an Awards Program:

 

  1. Gain full support and leadership from the Chapter Board, especially the Chapter president. The Board should be visibly involved, should enter the contest and should assist with acquiring sponsors.
     
  2. Recruit a team of hardworking, reliable volunteers who are not already serving as Chapter leaders.
     
  3. Commit to finding sponsors — in-kind or cash — for printing and collateral, trophies, certificates and other outside costs.

To learn more about how the Greater Fort Worth PRSA Chapter created a professional PR contest, contact Margaret Ritsch, APR: m.c.ritsch@tcu.edu.

 

Margaret Ritsch, APR Margaret Ritsch, APR, is a full-time member of the TCU faculty in Fort Worth, Texas and a Board member in the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of PRSA. Follow her on Twitter: @ritschapr.
Email: m.c.ritsch at tcu.edu



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