When students ask me what my favorite benefits of PRSSA are, I usually have a hard time choosing only a few. In my fourth year, and serving as National President, I’ve taken advantage of nearly every benefit the Society has to offer. But there is always one I make sure to emphasize — the Champions for PRSSA.
A Brief History
The Champions are a group of professionals who are committed to helping PRSSA members enhance their education and launch their career in public relations. Originally called “Friends of PRSSA,” the Champions were founded in 1981 by Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA, the godmother of PRSSA.
The Champions Directory, a PRSSA member benefit, contains a list of practitioners and educators who offer their contact information for mentorship and networking opportunities. The Champions also sponsor several award programs that honor exceptional Chapters, Advisers and students. These programs include the Teahan Chapter Awards, which honor PRSSA Chapters for excellence in a variety of initiatives, and the Altschul Outstanding Internship Award, which recognizes one student per year. The Champions are currently co-chaired by Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA; Rochelle Ford, Ph.D., APR; Mary Beth West, APR; and Brian Price.
The New Website
In order to meet students where they spend their time — online — the Champions knew they needed a website. The microsite was built by former PRSSA National Vice President of Public Relations Ben Butler, APR, who is now founder and head of client success at Top Hat IMC. Butler answered the call and built the site from scratch in a mere three months.
“I’m a passionate advocate for Champions and an active participant,” Butler said. “When the opportunity emerged to further the mission, I was ecstatic to jump on the opportunity, especially since our agency has the capabilities.”
In addition to helping students more easily identify and connect with Champions, Mary Beth West, APR, said she hopes the new website also will increase the number of professionals giving back.
“We really appreciate Gary McCormick’s, Brian Price’s and Ben Butler’s hard work in making the website come together as a connection tool,” West said. “We hope it will enable us to reach more professionals and encourage them to join, which will broaden our financial resources for things like student scholarships.”
Brian Price has seen the evolution of the Champions over the last few years from student to Champions co-chair. As former National President, Price worked on several initiatives tied to mentorship and the Champions, and he quickly became a Champion following graduation because of this experience. Price said he sees a lot of value in the creation of the microsite.
“Our new website shows the impact of the Champions in an exciting way,” Price said. “Our directory is more dynamic and searchable, and gives a strong overview of what we’re all about: providing networking and mentoring opportunities and providing scholarship money.”
Travis Mortenson, Chapter president at Brigham Young University, has had firsthand success for himself and his Chapter by using the Champions directory. It’s been a great tool to expand his network and explore various public relations career paths.
“The Champions directory has helped me feel more confident about my network,” Mortenson said. “Previously, I didn’t know a lot of public relations professionals outside of Utah, and this directory helped me broaden my horizon and get to know these professionals on a one-to-one basis.”
Mortenson used his knowledge of the directory to benefit his Chapter by bringing nearby Champions to campus as speakers, like Jane Dvorak, PRSA chair-elect. After building that relationship, Dvorak and the BYU Chapter re-connected at the recent PRSSA National Conference and members had additional one-on-one time with her. Mortenson recommended more Chapters and members take advantage of this exclusive resource, citing its ability to connect students to potential mentors who are crucial in the transition from student to professional.
“Sure, we could go the distance alone, but all of us could benefit from a mentor and a friend. The Champions are full of good advice, and they are willing to help you advance your career,” Mortenson said. “Use it, but don’t abuse it and remember to be thankful for the time these Champions give you — it goes a long way in building a relationship.”
Gary McCormick remembers when he first met Brian Price at a Coffee with the Champions event. This meeting was Price’s first ever PRSSA National Conference, before he became the PRSSA National President or even knew what the Champions were. Price had no knowledge of McCormick’s qualifications or connection to the Champions as co-chair, but stayed in touch.
“He continued to build the relationship, move into PRSSA leadership roles, and today is as big an advocate for students as any Champion on the roster,” McCormick said. “I’d like to think that Champions can take a little credit, but I’m sure he would have found success on many other paths. My role as co-chair not only brought me in contact with Betsy, but the leadership within PRSSA over the last two decades that has led to watching many successful careers unfold.”
Rochelle Ford was a Betsy Ann Plank Scholarship winner in college, and was lucky enough to have Betsy as a mentor and supporter. This relationship motivated her to become a Champion as a professional and showed her how important the Champions can be in impacting students’ lives.
“We are here because we care about PRSSA,” Ford said. “We want you to become public relations professionals and members of PRSA, so get to know us before you graduate so we can help you transition.”
My Challenge for You
So now I challenge you to broaden your network and reach out to a Champion today. Or, if you’re a professional, to become one.
“Like any other resource in life or in work, this group has to be tapped into by the people it’s intended to help (students) in order to serve its purpose,” West said. “That means that PRSSA students should reach out to the professionals who are in the Champions directory if they identify one who could be particularly helpful to them — whether it’s by virtue of their geographic location near their school, career path alignment with the student’s own interests, or any other reason.”
I sincerely believe in the power of a good mentor, and with this new digital tool there are no excuses not to get connected.
Emma Finkbeiner is the PRSSA 2016–2017 National President. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public relations and advertising at DePaul University in Chicago. She works for the DePaul Office of Community and Government Relations and SIX 4 Creative. When she isn’t working or commuting on the red line, she is often walking her pit bull puppy Addison or watching the Chicago Cubs.