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PRSA: A ‘Tribe’ That Embraces

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Editor’s note: In recognition of PRSA Volunteers, we invited members of various Committees and Sections to offer their views on the importance of volunteering and reflect on what prompted them to become a PRSA volunteer. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, please submit your application by visiting this link.

Recently I was having lunch with some colleagues – all volunteers, of course – at a PRSA national committee meeting.  When a few more dropped by, we did what good PRSA members always seem to do – we immediately exchanged hugs/handshakes and found a way to make room at the already-crowded table.  Remarked one friend, “This is what I love about being with PRSA people – I always feel truly welcomed.”

That simple comment embodies some fundamental values that we all share, as PRSA members and volunteers:

  • We look for ways to make space for newcomers at the table, rather than exclude people from it.
  • We focus on solutions.  We truly do see problems as an opportunity to make things better.

We are the nation’s largest community of public relations and communications professionals – but our size isn’t what make us so distinctive, or what makes so many of our members give, individually, hundreds and even thousands of hours of volunteer time.

We are a special kind of organization because of the mission we embrace, the passion for our profession that we encourage, the people that we attract, and the circle we seek to continually widen.

The fact is, I knew nothing about PRSA when I switched from newspaper reporting to my first public relations job.  I did know that I had found a profession that was challenging, stimulating, and offered the potential to make a positive difference to benefit society.  One day, in a new job in a new town (Baltimore), my boss suggested that I accompany him to a local PRSA meeting.  That’s where I found a special community and a special connection that would make an enormous difference in my life, personally and professionally.

Quite simply, PRSA has provided me throughout my career with a special community.  It has helped me advance my career, work as a volunteer with an incredibly talented group of colleagues (and a great PRSA professional staff), and learn the joy of mentoring, as well as learning from, others– from students to practicing professionals.

I didn’t have the privilege of beginning as a PRSSA member, but PRSA has been with me for just about every other stage of my life and career.

PRSA was there when I had a demanding job with a very small staff and needed others in our field with whom I could share ideas and problems.  Initially, through my chapter, I met colleagues from all sectors – corporate, education, entertainment, and the like.  I also gained valuable leadership experience serving as a committee member, treasurer, secretary, and chapter president.   Getting my APR impressed my employers with the seriousness of what we do and our commitment to it – and affirmed my passion for public relations as an ever-evolving, ever-changing, profession.  Moving into national leadership – through committees, sections, and eventually the PRSA Board of Directors and presidency– gave me, on the professional level, real-world training and experiences, from crisis communication to advocacy to global connections.  This professional growth through volunteerism served me well in my career, too.

I gave to PRSA – weeks, months, years – and I got back in full measure.  I gained knowledge, experience, a global perspective – and more true friends than I ever would have imagined.  These friends have represented the wide scope of our profession, of our diversity, of our causes.  It’s been an amazing ride. Whatever stage of your career you have entered it, PRSA is there to enrich you and welcome you.

I can’t seem to quit being a PRSA volunteer – maybe because I continue to gain so much from whatever I am able to give.  It’s fun, as a member of the College of Fellows, being in a position to mentor young members.  It’s exciting when someone I have the privilege of counseling gets a job, or gets admitted to a graduate program, or suddenly sees exactly where he or she wants to go.  It’s exciting to be part of the PRSA Foundation, which, through the activities it funds, will make a difference in our diversity and our global understanding.

I’ve heard us referred to as a tribe.  I like that, in its most positive sense.  This is a tribe that opens, rather than closes, its arms; that looks forward, not back; that moves to the light.  In short, this is a tribe that I am very proud to belong to, to give to, and to benefit from.


Judith T. (Judy) Phair, APR, is president of PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC, an independent consulting firm founded in 2002.  She is a seasoned public relations executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, branding, global public relations and marketing, media relations, fund raising, and legislative relations. Judy served as President and CEO of the PRSA in 2005. In October 2010, she received PRSA’s highest individual award, the 2010 Gold Anvil. In late 2013, PRSA’s largest chapter, the National Capital Chapter, inducted Judy into its Hall of Fame. Earlier, the Maryland Chapter of PRSA honored Judy with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and her work has been recognized with numerous other awards in public relations, publications, marketing, and crisis communications.

About the author

Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA

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