On June 4, PRSA held its annual Silver Anvil Awards gala. It was a first-class evening featuring live music, lively conversation and generally high spirits all around.
The Silver Anvil is more than another public relations award, and the Silver Anvil evening is more than another awards show. The Silver Anvil is the industry’s original award for public relations excellence. Symbolizing the “forging of public opinion,” the Silver Anvil was created more than 60 years ago to recognize practitioners who successfully address contemporary issues with exemplary professional skill, creativity and resourcefulness. It’s truly the pinnacle of achievement in our industry.
Befitting the awards’ stature, the Silver Anvil evening is a festive occasion: a genuine celebration of public relations and a showcase of what we’re capable of achieving as a profession. It’s hard to walk out of New York’s Equitable Tower at the end of the night without a real sense of pride and accomplishment.
The “Best of Silver Anvil” winner, for example, recognized the Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs for its exemplary response in the wake of a gunman bursting onto the stage of a large NIU lecture hall and firing into an audience of nearly 150 undergraduates, killing six and injuring 19. The Chicago Tribune called NIU’s response “textbook crisis management,” while “NBC Nightly News” named NIU its “Person of the Week” for its resolve in preventing an act of violence from defining the university. Today, applications from prospective NIU students continue to rise, and only 19 of 300+ students directly affected by the shooting have left the university.
The Silver Anvil evening also feted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who was named PRSA’s “Public Relations Professional of the Year.” Gibbs (who was in Cairo with the President and unable to attend in person) was recognized for his remarkable and, indeed, revolutionary stewardship of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign communications.
Gibbs was groundbreaking in his use of Web 2.0 technologies in a Presidential campaign to engage the electorate, especially, younger voters, nearly three quarters of whom went for Obama. The campaign also leveraged a vast data base of email and text addresses to communicate directly with voters on a massive scale, and employed a disciplined communications approach that yielded the ability to speak with a single voice and precise narrative, control the flow of information and respond rapidly to attacks.
At a time when the perception and comprehension of public relations are suffering, the Silver Anvils are a great reminder of the important role that our professionals play in business — and in society at large.
This year’s Silver Anvil Award winners — like the winning campaigns in years past — have achieved real, measurable results in driving business outcomes critical to organizational success. This includes things such as reputation and brand building, consumer engagement, sales generation and beneficial shifts in constituent attitudes and behaviors. Other Silver Anvil winners have served the public good, accomplishing laudable goals like securing beds for teen homeless shelters, fighting prescription drug abuse among children and saving the lives of orphaned pets.
So, the next time that you’re frustrated by references that equate public relations to publicity, or that attempt to define our craft as spin, our professionals as flacks and our currency as misrepresentation and disinformation, you can always point to Silver Anvil Award-winning campaigns as immutable evidence of public relations’ contributions to corporate success and the public good.
Michael Cherenson is Chair and CEO of PRSA.