As Central Ohio Goes… So Goes Our ECD December Chapter Spotlight!


By ECD Secretary Mark Pompilio

“As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.”  The Buckeye State may no longer be the presidential election bellwether or American microcosm it once was, but the heartland still has heart. As does the PRSA Central Ohio Chapter that calls Columbus home.

In the bewildering year of the COVID-19 pandemic, PRSA chapters leaders and members managed to pivot, reevaluate, take stock, and take charge.  We saw strength and resolve across the East Central District, and can truly say, “as Central Ohio goes, so goes PRSA!”

At the virtual QuickStart 2020 Conference, Central Ohio Chapter President Katie Thomas reported that the unity of her chapter is strong. It was the milestone 70th anniversary of the chapter, the first PRSA chapter in Ohio.  In a year that many want to forget, they chose to make 2020 a year to remember.

Katie said her chapter used the opportunity to fund scholarships for students to attend ICON and create a COVID-19 scholarship.  She said they were excited to make a bylaw change to add a key D&I position to the board. Like all of us, they couldn’t their success celebrate in person, but 150 attended their virtual awards.

Not only was 2020 a year for Central Ohio to celebrate, it was a year to sing about. They even have the tune and lyrics to prove it!

Here’s more from President Katie Thomas in the December 2020 ECD Chapter Spotlight:

“While 2020 was a challenging year, Central Ohio PRSA was able to continue providing quality programs and engaging with members,” said Katie. “After COVID-19 struck, we transitioned our programs to a virtual format. In total, we hosted 13 programs ranging from Women in PR, Meet the Media, Self-Care, Implicit Bias, and more.

“Our annual conference, “The Modern Communicator,” was going to be a two-track conference in-person, and we successfully transitioned it to online with two concurrent tracks and more than 80 attendees. Our PRism Awards had another successful year, and our online awards program had more than 150 attendees.

“2020 also marked our 70th anniversary. We used this as an opportunity to fundraise for the future of our profession: our students. In total, we were able to fund six students to join PRSSA, three students attended our annual conference, one student received a stipend to attend PRSA International ICON, and a young professional received a scholarship to pay for dues as part of our new COVID-19 scholarship.

“In April, we hosted a three-night series called, “What Comes Next” for students, where they could learn about job searching during a pandemic, virtual interviewing tips and ask questions of professionals. 

“Our chapter set a strategic priority to increase our diversity and inclusion efforts. We successfully passed a bylaw change to create a permanent position on our Board of Directors, a Diversity & Inclusion Officer. We also added a Diversity & Inclusion category to our PRism Awards and hosted two programs, one on implicit bias and racism. Because of our efforts, we received an Honorable Mention from PRSA National.


Chapter History:

  • Central Ohio PRSA was the first chapter in Ohio, founded in 1950.
  • CO-PRSA conducted the first public relations professional development seminar in the state
  • CO-PRSA elected the first female chapter president in the U.S. (1958).
  • CO-PRSA is the first known chapter to present an Outstanding Citizen Award (1961),
    Distinguished Practitioner Award (1970), and Rookie-of-the-Year Award (1976).
  • CO-PRSA had the most (six) APR members in Ohio when PRSA announced its first list of
    APR members (1965).
  • CO-PRSA became the host chapter for Ohio’s first chapter of PRSSA (Ohio State University)
    in 1968.
  • CO-PRSA conceived, arranged and hosted the first district-wide APR study seminar and
    examination in the US (1968).
  • CO-PRSA won the PRSA National Chapter Banner Award (1976).

Current Officers:

President – Katie Thomas, APR

Immediate Past President – Alicia Shoults

President-Elect  – Diane Hurd

Treasurer – Heather Sheppard

VP Planning & Procedures – Courtney Tobin

VP Membership – Kristen Vitartas

VP Programs – Heather Clark

VP Communications – Serena Smith

Ethics Officer – Kerry Francis, APR

Director At Large (2020) – Lois Foreman-Wernet, PhD, APR

Director At Large (2020) – Tara Parsell

Director At Large (2020) – Wendy Schwantes, APR

Director At Large (2021) – Alisa Agozzino, PhD, APR

Director At Large (2021) – Mike Vannest

Director At Large (2021) – Jennifer Rieman

Assembly Delegate – Natalie Kompa, EdD, APR

Assembly Delegate – John Palmer, APR

Membership Profile:

The Chapter’s member database (about 250+ members) is made up of professionals in the following industries and has approximately 150 members at a
director level or above:
• Non-profit – 98
• Corporate – 84
• Agency – 50
• Education – 38

• Healthcare – 8 

What is your biggest project of the year?

“I think they are all big! 🙂 I would say programming is our biggest project – we aim for monthly programs, in addition to an annual conference and an awards ceremony. We also distribute a bimonthly newsletter and run social media to make sure we are keeping our members informed.”

How did your chapter’s priorities shift with the COVID-19 pandemic?

“We had to shift all of our programming virtually – including an already ambitious plan for a two concurrent track conference, our awards ceremony and monthly programming. We also had to make sure we were continuing to engage our members and students. Staying in touch was more important than ever.”

How did your chapter respond to social justice unrest and issues of Diversity & Inclusion?

“We worked with our colleagues in East Central District to make a statement to our members. We also took inventory of what we were doing. 

Our 2019 to 2021 Strategic Plan identified specific goals related to diversity and inclusion. They included to:

  • Facilitate a culture of inclusion within our chapter;
  • Implement programs with topics related to diversity and inclusion that feature speakers representing diverse backgrounds;
  • Have a representative of the diversity and inclusion committee sit on various committees to allow for cross representation;
  • Actively invite interested members of all backgrounds to join committees and serve in leadership roles;
  • Develop and implement a plan, criteria and expectations that would create a path to elevate diverse members from committee membership, chair roles and board roles. 

“We immediately took steps to start modifying one of the six director-at-large positions to become a Diversity and Inclusion Officer. This position expands upon the chapter’s mission statement, vision statement and Diversity and Inclusion Committee. We are proud that this passed through our membership and PRSA National and will start in 2021. We also held programs on implicit bias and racism for our members to have this conversation. We are constantly evaluating and looking at ways we can bring this to the forefront. 

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?

Does surviving 2020 count? 🙂

Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share?

The world’s first and only song about public relations had its debut (and demise) May 18, 1976, written by Les Hinshaw after winning the Distinguished Practitioner Award.

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter” – especially in the challenging year of 2020?

“I think being there for each other… being a support in any way possible. On the board level we stepped up to help where needed and contacted our members to see what they needed. 

Have a question for Katie?

Contact her at [email protected]