Students were asked to devise a PR campaign based on a fictional company launching genetically modified rice in a low rainfall country.
Jeremy Dickey, 23, from the University of Arts, London, landed first place for his submission and received a £1,000 cheque and crystal trophy for his entry.
On his win, Dickey said: "Funnily enough, I chose to support the introduction of GM crops because it is the opposite of what I personally believe.
"I wanted to challenge myself as a budding PR practitioner and stepping out of my comfort zone was rewarding, made me do some serious thinking and allowed me to flex my creative muscle."
Runners-up included Ewan Sanderson, 23, from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and Kelly Phelps, also 23, from Bournemouth University.
Stephen Waddington, president of the CIPR, said: "All three students submitted entries that reflect the future of public relations; their entries advocated being open, ethically driven, multicultural, and took an international outlook."
The CIPR's Douglas Smith Student awards are designed to help a new generation of public relations professionals showcase their talent.
Smith, who passed away in 2012, was a founder member and patron of CIPR International, a former CIPR president and a supporter of young talent. The award aims to extend his legacy with a challenge based on a real-life issue facing industry and society, and will run annually.
The PRCA also runs an award in Smith's name, focused on young public affairs talent.