The History of the Capital Chapter

| Written by: Rachel Smith, APR, CPRC

The FPRA Capital Chapter, formerly known as the Hush Puppy Chapter, was founded on September 6, 1956. The chapter has been very strong over the years and it continues to thrive today, due in no small part to the active group of past presidents and senior-level members who remain involved with the chapter and enthusiastically share their expertise when needed. The chapter has the largest number of accredited members in the state.

One of the highlights of the Capital Chapter was when Dr. Edward L. Bernays, who is often referred to as “the Father of Public Relations,” stopped in Tallahassee on his way to speak at a Counselors Network meeting in Jacksonville. It was the early 90s and Bernays was 100 years old. After he spoke to the chapter members at the monthly luncheon, Jay Rayburn arranged for Bernays to speak to his PR class, and then the chapter held a reception for him with “senior-level” members at the old Radisson (now the Hotel Duval).

And who can forget the election debacle of 2004 during April Salter’s, APR, CPRC year as chapter president. After brainstorming with a couple of senior members, she offered chapter members a TOUR OF THE MEDIA ENCAMPMENT. Here’s a copy of the email that was sent out:

“If you’ve never been at ground zero on a national news story, join us tomorrow morning (Wednesday) at 9:00 a.m. for a tour of the media encampment and reception area here in Tallahassee. There are more than 300 media credentialed for the next several days and it should be interesting and informative. We estimate the tour will take 1.5 – 2 hours. Email back to me with a YES in the subject header if you would like to participate. The first 15 FPRA members who respond will be included. Sorry to have to limit it, but it’s a zoo out there and we’re being given a huge opportunity!” Needless to say, the “several days” turned in to several months, but the media eventually went home.

Over the years the Capital Chapter has seen a number of members receive state recognition with five members receiving the highest honor, the Dillin Award including April Salter, APR, CPRC (2012), Rick Oppenheim, APR, CPRC (2005), Jay Rayburn, APR, CPRC, PRSA Fellow (1996), Edward D. Whittlesey, APR (1992), and Stanley Tait, APR, CPRC (1990); one Doris Fleischman Award honoree, Rachel Smith, APR, CPRC in 2010; and two State Members of the Year, Rick Oppenheim, APR, CPRC, in 2012 and Jay Rayburn, APR, CPRC, PRSA Fellow in 1991.

Eight members have served as FPRA state president with the latest being Melanie Mowry-Etters, APR, CPRC, CPM in 2012. Melanie shares a highlight of her time as chapter president, “During my year (2002), the chapter won Chapter of the Year, plus three other statewide awards, when not many were handed out. They were the President’s Award for Membership Development and Retention, Accreditation, and Best Newsletter.”

Other former chapter leaders share their favorite memories, with another former state president, Rick Oppenheim, APR, CPRC starting things off. “The Capital Chapter won Chapter of the Year in 1988 when I was chapter president,” he says. “One of my favorite memories from my year was when we brought in the director of marketing for Sea World, which had just opened a new attraction, ‘The Penguin Encounter.’ He brought one of the Encounter’s residents with him, and our attending members got a kick out of watching him waddle around during the presentation. (FYI, they are very oily and smell like fish.)”

Former State President Janet Dennis, APR, CPRC, remembers, “In 1991, the Capital Chapter won the President’s award for Communication and Educational Relations. We asked all of our members to tell us about their volunteer efforts for any organizations throughout the year and found that FPRA members really give back to our community. This was before the coordinated effort now done by the Chapter to set aside a day for non-profits to get counseling in public relations from the pros (ER for PR). We also had very strong Accreditation/Certification programs run by the Capital Chapter that year.”

Jay Rayburn, APR, CPRC, PRSA Fellow, PhD, adds, “Well, it has been so long ago that I have forgotten most of what happened except that we got Most Improved Chapter at conference my year (1993).

“The Capital Chapter received the President’s award for the Most Improved Chapter in 1999 along with the Membership Award due to the outstanding growth of the chapter that year,” says Rachel Smith, APR, CPRC, “I believe we went from having 40-some members to 60-some and we were very proud. Now, we’re the largest chapter in the state with more than 120 members. We’ve doubled in size over the past two decades!”

“During my year as president (2004), we won the Chapter of the Year award,” says Jennifer Fennell, APR, CPRC. “We also redesigned our website to include a ‘members only’ section, started a special Lunch & Learn series that offered professional development opportunities outside the monthly luncheon, and founded the ‘9 to 5 Clothing Drive’ to collect professional clothing donations for those in need.”

“The high caliber of speakers at our monthly luncheons, the media coverage received, our community service activity, and outreach to local high schools helped position the Capital Chapter as an authority on public relations in the Tallahassee area during 2008,” says Betsy Couch, APR. “We also engaged senior-level members by providing a special networking opportunity with guest speaker Aaron Cushman, creating a Past-Presidents Luncheon where senior-level members were featured speakers, and by inviting them to serve as Image Judges, APR and CPRC panelists, and more.”

“One of the highlights that stands out for my year (2009) was a renewed relationship with the Tallahassee Advertising Federation,” says Terrie Ard, APR, CPRC. “I negotiated a partnership for their signature event. In exchange for the chapter promoting the event through traditional PR, we received half of the proceeds. Our Chapter earned $1,200 for a minimal investment of time. We secured three Chapter awards that year, two of which were the Networking and Fundraising awards for this non-traditional approach to strengthening our Chapter.”

“My year as President of the FPRA Capital Chapter was one of the best years of my entire life!” says Heidi Otway, APR. “It was the first year our chapter embraced social media to reach members and promote chapter activities to a wider audience. The results were impressive: we had a record number of members – over 125 – and nearly half were engaged in the Chapter through our expanded professional development opportunities and programs. At conference, I was named Chapter President of the Year and my awesome board helped us secure two President’s awards – Integrated Communications and Professional Development. To close out my year, our firm took home the Dick Pope All Florida Grand Image Award. As I said, 2010 was one of the best years of my life, and it was truly because of FPRA.”

Amanda Fliger, APR shares her thoughts on more recent history, “The highlight of my year as the president of the Capital Chapter (2012) was sponsoring the Jim Moran Institute (JMI) for Global Entrepreneurship Advice Straight Up event featuring best-selling author and social media guru Chris Brogan and Senior Marketing Manager for PepsiCo Rami Jobaji. This sponsorship allowed the chapter to provide our members with an added benefit – an additional networking opportunity with the special guest speakers.”

The Capital Chapter continues to grow and has new horizons to explore as we continue offering professional development, and other networking and community-oriented opportunities to chapter members.