Awards highlight significance of cultivating adept young pros

Each year, the PRWeek Awards winners manage to somehow embody a prevalent theme in the industry for that time.

Each year, the PRWeek Awards winners manage to somehow embody a prevalent theme in the industry for that time.

A few years ago, coping with a new era of financial scrutiny was a major topic. At a time when budgets were being slashed, smart programs that didn't cost a fortune were applauded, often over their splashier rivals.

We published the Book of the Night in last week's issue, and before it gets put on the shelf, the festivities of the evening long forgotten, I would like to take one more moment to review some of the more important lessons of the year. These entries will inform the way we, and many of those outside the industry, think about PR for the next year.

The role of PR in high-profile work, such as GM's FastLane blog, Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign, and Baidu.com's IPO, was significant. Even more telling is how companies are more proudly telling these stories than ever before. GE's Ecomagination program is a stunning example of the role of communications in instigating fundamental change in a corporation's approach to global issues.

But there is one category in particular that I would like to highlight, one that sets an even more exciting precedent for the PR profession. That is the award of Young PR Professional of the Year. This year's winner, Courtney Hill of Hill & Knowlton, moved from account coordinator to being the firm's youngest manager in history. Hill first came to our attention when we ran our "Rising Stars" feature on prweek.com, a Web exclusive that highlighted great work by members of the industry's less senior ranks.

What made Hill stand out then, and also to our awards judges, was his initiative in developing a business plan to launch a new unit at the firm. Eventually dubbed Hill & Knowlton Small Business, the division was designed to give quality PR services to companies and nonprofits that don't have access to GE-style budgets.

The division was test-launched in January 2005 and won $2 million worth of new business in less than year. Meanwhile, Hill also supervises one of the Chicago office's larger pieces of business, the Illinois Lottery. Hill has also established a small-business division with sister advertising agency JWT.

Hill's victory represents one of the critical themes for the industry, now and for the future. Attracting and retaining a high level of talent, particularly at the entry and mid-levels, remains an ongoing challenge, in part because standards are higher than ever. Someone like Hill, with an affinity for both clients and business growth, is a highly coveted asset.

Another theme here, too, is creating an environment in which these future leaders will thrive.

H&K should also be commended for ensuring that Hill's ideas and enthusiasm did not get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day account service, which is something that could easily happen. Hiring future leaders is one thing; helping them become the very best they can be is the tough part.

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