PRSA Pinnacle Awards: A Celebration of Indiana and the Best of Hoosier Public Relations

On Wednesday, April 12, more than 100 Hoosier public relations, communications and marketing leaders and students gathered at the Historic Indiana Landmarks to celebrate the top PR accomplishments of 2015. As the PRSA Hoosier Chapter’s signature event, it didn’t disappoint.

Emcee Kevin Rader, WTHR’s Emmy Award-winning reporter, set the tone for the evening. With our state’s bicentennial just around the corner, Kevin reminded attendees how much we have to be proud of in our state. His weekly segment, “Only in Indiana,” showcases heart-felt stories of Hoosier Hospitality from Evansville to Gary, and Ft. Wayne to Jeffersonville. Rader shared his most recent story, “The Awakening,” a must-see.

The top awards of the evening went to two individuals, two companies, and Purdue’s student-run Boiler Communications firm.

Individual Winners

Bob Schultz, APR, senior vice president of marketing and events at Downtown Indy, took home the Hoosier PR Catalyst award, which recognizes a strong commitment to ethical, astute and creative public relations. Award criteria also included five years of experience and service on at least one Hoosier committee or board position.

The second individual award – Junior Pro of the Year – went to Jacqueline Cromleigh, communications manager and program associate at Indiana Humanities. The award recognizes a PR professional, under 30, who has demonstrated excellence in project management, work ethic, attitude and willingness to learn.

Best of Show – Project – Hirons & Company

Following the Pinnacle Awards, the two Best of Show winner – Hirons & Company and Kiwanis – sat down to discuss the hard work that went into the project and program for which they received top honors.

Hirons & Company won Best of Show in the Projects Category for “Sandra Eskenazi Center Scriptwriting.”

In 2015, Hirons partnered with Eskenazi Health to design and develop a public outreach campaign for the new Sandra Eskenazi Health Center for Brain Care Innovation. The campaign included a strategic communications plan that aligned key messages and communications goals, a gala, a robust advertising campaign, and a press conference. For the press conference, Hirons was tasked with producing an engaging 20-minute script for six speakers.

Research proved to be a cornerstone of their approach. They conducted more than 20 organic interviews with Eskanazi leadership, physicians, experts, stakeholders, patients and family members. They set about learning the major communications challenges and preconceived notions that were important to combat, and the major successes and opportunities to highlight as well. “We also evaluated the competitive landscape as a primary research component to better understand and improve upon what currently exists in the marketplace,” said Hirons Account Manager Kendall Bybee. All of this resulted in the 20-minute script.

The press conference garnered coverage from all major local outlets and reached more than 91 million people.

Best of Show – Program – Kiwanis International

Pinnacle-award_Kiwanis-selfieKiwanis International took home the Best of Show in the Programs Category for their special event, “Kiwanis International Centennial Celebration 2015.” Kiwanis saw their 100th anniversary as the perfect opportunity to increase pride among current members and recruit new members.

“The event itself was years in planning and multi-faceted in strategy, including events, media relations, community relations and even a little advertising, all executed over eight months,” explained Kiwanis International Chief Communications Officer Amy Wiser.

Kiwanis kicked off celebrations in January 2015 with a float in the Rose Bowl parade and then held a large-scale birthday party in Detroit, home of Kiwanis Club number one. A centennial tour of 14 cities followed, featuring international Kiwanis speakers and special service projects and events. They also created “party-starter” kits for local chapters to use in their own events, and used media relations to promote events and boost excitement among members. The culminating event happened in Indianapolis, where more than 7,000 Kiwanians descended for their international convention. The convention included a free pancake breakfast on Monument Circle and many other city events

Overall, the campaign was a tremendous success. Kiwanis gained 185 positive media stories nationwide, saw social media numbers soar, doubled attendance at the international convention, and helped thousands through its service projects all year long.

Kiwanis International knew the Centennial Celebration was a great candidate for the Special Events category, but Wiser says the challenge was clearly communicating and capturing the essence of such a complicated multi-faceted, multi-event event.

“We followed the gold-standard PR Plan foundation, ROPE, dividing our submission into focus areas of research, objectives, planning and evaluation. We were able to hit the highlights of our events in a summary section, and then drill down further into what we thought were important components, especially in research and evaluation.”

Advice for 2016 Entrants

For those planning to submit a project or program for a 2016 Pinnacle Award, the winners have a few words of wisdom.

Bybee at Hirons & Company lists the following as crucial for any award nomination:

1)     Clear, concise and clean – Be clear and concise in telling your story; you have very limited space to do so and it’s important that you abide by the guidelines and meet the deadlines. Every word counts. Also edit and review and then edit and review again. We work in PR, grammatical errors are not acceptable.

2)     Research – Hirons is a research-based, results-driven agency and it’s a huge part of our work. It was important that we included our research components in order to understand the base of which we developed the script from.

3)     Planning & Execution – It’s not only important to know your audience, but also to know who you are writing for and what they prefer and/or are used to seeing. Hirons conducted a half day media training workshop with the speakers in order to make sure everyone was comfortable with their speaking parts. This is important to the overall success of your project.

4)     Measurement – It’s difficult to submit an entry for the Pinnacles if the work cannot be measured. The press conference and announcement received local, national and international coverage with a potential audience reach of more than 91 million people within the first week of the announcement.

Wiser of Kiwanis adds, “I would advise following ROPE, and making sure you include research–especially any quantitative research you did; spelling out your campaign’s measurable objectives; and then showing your evaluation and how you measured your success at the end of the campaign.”

Find a full list of award recipients at

Jennifer Cahill serves as communications chair on the Pinnacle Awards committee. She is the senior director of media and public relations for Project Lead The Way, a national nonprofit headquartered in Indy. You can find her on Twitter @jencahill.