Raw emotion characterizes the Oscars of the PR world

The 2016 PRWeek Awards were handed out last night in a fantastic evening that underlined the quality, depth, and scope of an industry that is really demonstrating its effectiveness to companies and organizations of all types.

Jennifer Pinckney accepts the PRWeek Communicator of the Year 2016 award on behalf of her late husband, Clementa. Photo by Erica Berger.
Jennifer Pinckney accepts the PRWeek Communicator of the Year 2016 award on behalf of her late husband, Clementa. Photo by Erica Berger.

Last night’s PRWeek Awards were a fantastic mix of raw emotion and rampant celebration as the Oscars of the PR world were dispensed for the 17th time.

St. Patrick’s Day and the start of March Madness couldn’t keep the throngs of guests away from our fantastic new venue on Wall Street, the beautiful Cipriani building.

The event kicked off with a poignant tribute to our Communicator of the Year – State Senator Clementa Pinckney – by his wife Jennifer that left the audience spellbound and many in tears.

Jennifer described how last June she and her six-year-old daughter hid in a room adjoining the main part of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston as her husband, a senior pastor at the church, was assassinated along with eight other people while leading a prayer session.

Her quick thinking in locking the door to the room almost certainly saved her and her daughter’s lives. It’s not often you see the wait staff at a venue stop and listen to the speakers on stage, but they were as engaged as everyone else listening to Jennifer remembering her inspirational husband and devoted father to their two daughters.

Pinckney was the youngest African American to be elected to the legislature of South Carolina, at the age of just 23. He was an inspirational, passionate, and charismatic speaker and communicator.

He rose to national attention earlier last year when he called for the adoption of police body cameras after the fatal shooting of unarmed black man Walter Scott by white police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, just six miles away from where Pinckney was subsequently murdered. Pinckney drew on his faith to call for prayers for both the Scott and Slager families.

At a time when there is so much negative and divisive rhetoric in our public discourse it was truly humbling to hear Jennifer speak so bravely and emotionally, but also rationally, about her loss, the effect on her family, church, and community, but also about the values Clementa represented and displayed in his daily life.

Everyone at PRWeek is so proud to name him as our fourth Communicator of the Year and we hope in some small way it pays tribute to his memory. Our thoughts are with Jennifer and her daughters as they attempt to rebuild their lives. And we want to highlight the Clementa C. Pinckney Foundation that has been set up in his name to support poor families in the Lowcountry region, as well as The Reverend Pinckney Scholarship Fund, created to support education scholarship for church members, the victims of the shooting, and their extended families.

The big PR winners on the night included MSLGroup and Abbott, which won Campaign of the Year and Healthcare Campaign of the Year for its Similac Sisterhood of Motherhood initiative; MSL also won Multicultural Marketing Campaign for its work on Hass Avocados. Sister Publicis ad agency Leo Burnett was named In-house PR Team of the Year.

Weber Shandwick took down Large Agency of the Year and Agency of the Year for the second time running, and Omnicom Public Relations’ Karen van Bergen and Atlantic Media’s Emily Lenzner won the Agency and In-house PR pros of the year respectively.

Other notable campaigns honored included Burson-Marsteller and Texas Health Resources for its work around the first case of Ebola in the U.S., which was Honorable Mention in Campaign of the Year and won Crisis or Issues Management Campaign of the Year. Ketchum and Truth Initiative’s Left Swipe Dat anti-smoking effort won in the Nonprofit and Arts, Entertainment, Sports and Media campaign categories – Ketchum also took home Community Relations Campaign for its Michelin work.

Next Fifteen Communications Group agency M Booth had a superb evening, winning Midsize Agency of the Year, Honorable Mention in Agency of the Year, and Consumer Launch for its A Rare Opportunity campaign for The Macallan whisky and Technology Campaign for its We-Vibe Let’s Laugh About Sex activation.

Next Fifteen sister firm Text100 won Best Use of Analytics for its Travel Hacker Guide for Kayak; it also took the Honorable Mention in this category for its work with Adobe on its Digital Index.

Other campaign wins for Edelman (for GE), Golin/IW Group (Wells Fargo), Ogilvy PR (Brand USA), Spong (H&R Block), WE Communications (Volvo), Porter Novelli (Vossler), Olson Engage (Skittles), PPR Worldwide (Dell), Finn Partners (Fort Lauderdale), MP&F (Red White and Food), and Colehour and Cohen (Privateer Holdings) demonstrated the competitiveness, consistency, and sheer strength in depth of the industry.

It is very difficult for one firm to dominate proceedings nowadays, either at the PRWeek Awards or in the agency business generally. It was a tribute to the event that I noticed at least 10 of the top 13 global agency bosses in the room, as well as many of the highest-profile client-side PR pros, plus leaders from the midsize, small, and boutique firms.

PR Student of the Year Manuela Carvajal was already being courted by some of those leaders at the after party and I’m sure she will have plenty of job offers to choose from as she decides how to start her career.

It was an inspiring and emotional night from start to finish and I thank all of you who attended for continuing to make it the biggest night of the PR year.

Congratulations to all the winners – now it’s onwards and upwards for 2017!

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