ECD is proud to claim our distinguished colleague Clare Wade in the newly announced 2020 class of the PRSA College of Fellows.

Clare is an APR and Manager, Corporate Communications for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is one of the 15 College of Fellows members PRSA announced on Aug. 6 and will be formally inducted in a virtual ceremony on Oct. 25.

Clare is a past president of the PRSA West Michigan chapter and the American Advertising Federation West Michigan chapter. She has twice been recognized as West Michigan’s Distinguished PR Practitioner. Spectrum Health is Michigan-based integrated health system with 14 hospitals, 31,000 team members and a health plan serving 1 million.

Clare spoke with ECD secretary Mark Pompilio about the journey of career, community and conviction toward Fellowship, and the people who most inspired her quest.

How do you feel about receiving the honor?

I was thrilled. I was so excited. I couldn’t even believe it.  We are linking on social media, all getting to know each other. The role of a Fellow is to find ways to give back to PRSA. We will be working with those who have been Fellows for a while for ways to engage in projects and committees. Much like joining a chapter.

To qualify for admittance, you must have 20 years of experience, but to be admitted they must be quality years.  How did you choose the most meaningful highlights of your career that perhaps most influenced your selection?

The process itself helps you determine those milestones that help support your application. The application itself – there are eight pages – blank – to share your background, tell your story, and demonstrate the 20 examples of how you have provided superior professional performance, how you have advance the profession, how you provided service within your community, and how you have throughout your career been a role model for others in public relations.

It’s basically the biggest job interview you’ve ever had. You look at your career and showcase how you have put it together. It’s a portfolio of your public relations work – not just your work, but how you made an impact. Its exciting.  You have a chance to really reflect on the work you’ve done and the relationship you’ve had.

The difference is that you don’t go to an interview. You submit your application and six individuals submit letters of support. For each of the 20 highlights you provide, you list the contact person. This is where the public relations community you are part of comes into play because they are speaking on your behalf.  It was very humbling. People I’ve known and worked with are the ones who provided the “interview” answers.

The College of Fellows Cole is like an endowment – it helps keep the organization strong and growing.

Becoming a PRSA member is the first level. The APR tells you how to do it. The College of Fellows is the component that brings the whole circle together.

It’s like a spectrum: You join the organization, adopt high standard of practice and ethics, and as Fellow you look at it more broadly.  How can we look back and make the organization better? How can we inspire young professionals to do their best work and be their best selves? And how can we learn from them?

I’m grateful for the experience.  It doesn’t stop there. Every day there are new situations and opportunities to learn from each other. We need each other. We’re one big community.

I don’t have much knowledge about the selection process for Fellows, and I suspect many of our ECD members would admit the same. What goes into becoming a Fellow?

Becoming a Fellow starts when you join PRSA. The application is as personal as you are. It shares how your passion for PR results in the most meaningful highlights of your career. The process is daunting, exhausting and renewing.


We need our professionals to be part of the College of Fellows. When you hit the midpoint in your career you need to focus and plan for it. It’s a big undertaking. It took me months, in the middle of COVID-19. You have to be very focused to do it. It took me several years to work up the courage to do it.

Talk to others. Dr. Tim Penning at Grand Valley State University, who became a Fellow last year, gave me the encouragement and help I needed to be ready to dive in.

That’s what PRSA is: a community of people who help each other. We share best practices, experience and try to help each other succeed.

You are assigned what they call a “GoodFellow” who acts as a consultant. They play a very important role providing background on the process and perspective on your application. My GoodFellow was Robin Schell at Jackson Jackson & Wagner.  She was fantastic. I enjoyed meeting (virtually) with her, and she offered valuable guidance.

You have to talk about yourself. You’re used to supporting clients and organizations, not necessarily yourself.  She reviewed the process and made sure I understood it. It was helpful to have a second pair of eyes on the application – what I chose to highlight and whether the outcomes were clear.

What made you want this?

I think we all have people in our lives who inspire us.  Fred Chapman was a Fellow in our West Michigan chapter.  He had a career in business and a separate career as a professor at Grand Valley State University. He also adopted our PRSSA student members because he was such a role model.

I was a colleague of his and he was helpful as a mentor. At PRSA conferences, he took students to dinner, introduced them to PR professionals and inspired them to win awards. He was such a charismatic and giving person. I felt I wanted to honor him.  Tim and I are the first Fellows in our chapter in a while.


It must be sad that he isn’t here to see you achieve this.

It’s been eight years – he died in 2012. He was an amazing individual. He influenced so many people. He was president of our chapter, president of the New England chapter, worked at Mercedes Benz in New Jersey and was elected to public office. He showed you never stop learning; you never stop meeting people and contributing. I’m sure he’s very proud of Tim and me. 

Talk about your work at Spectrum Health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of COVID-19 we all had to reaffirm what we’re doing. Personally, and professionally, what are our priorities? What is most important to us? How do we carry out our mission in life with so many restrictions in place?

People who work in health care, first responders and essential workers likely have a very different view of the pandemic than those who are not as close to it. We have seen the impact on family, community and coworkers, particularly our community of color. It is exhausting and heartbreaking. We’re so proud to be part of a health system helping others in the most difficult time of their lives.

Is it disappointing that the College of Fellows Class of 2020 induction event will be celebrated virtually on Sunday, Oct. 25?

This is how our world is right now. I feel honored.  The virtual celebration is the official celebration. The intent is if we can meet in person in 2021 at the PRSA International Conference we can make that a celebration, too.

How will becoming a Fellow impact your continued involvement in PRSA?

It’s twofold.

I have been active in the local chapter. I’m on the membership committee right now. I just had a call with the membership chair to talk about next year.  My goal is to continue to be active locally and take on new projects through the College of Fellows to help on both levels.

The local chapter is the home base, the home team, the most important work I do.  I can take that on a higher level and contribute at the College of Fellows as well. Jumping into the unknown is what I like to do. Pursuing something new is exciting for me, I like that challenge. That’s why community is so important. You’re off on new adventures, and you need people behind and beside you.

It sounds as if the College of Fellows is your “Fellowship of the Ring”!  You have a new challenge, but your home chapter is always your “Shire.”

We are all trying to make the world a better place!