PRSA Greater Cleveland is the final ECD chapter to be profiled in the Chapter Spotlights. Thank you to all chapter leaders! Your support has been invaluable!

By ECD Communications Chair Mark Pompilio

They say the heart of rock and roll is still beating in Cleveland, and from what we’ve seen from PRSA Greater Cleveland… we believe ’em!

Rock is king when you’re home to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. But as Past President, APR, Fellow PRSA, and all-time chapter “front man” Chris Lynch reminds us in the May ECD Chapter Spotlight, “Clevelanders are used to being the underdog.”

Maybe it’s playing with an ever-present chip on the shoulder that makes Cleveland go so big. It is one of the premier metros among ECD membership and Chris is proud to proclaim the accomplishments of his chapter with a bully pulpit bullhorn.

It’s not bragging when you can back it up.

PRSA Cleveland not only pivoted during the pandemic, they at times tripled the number of professional development programs to keep members eagerly engaged.

They leaned forcefully into DEI by building a chapter committee, programming, education and scholarship. And just like the heart of rock ‘n roll that kept beating through the pandemic, so did the Cleveland Rocks Awards.

The chapter’s flagship event at the Rock Hall lit up the dark COVID-19 year of 2020 with a virtual platform.  They shot the entire ceremony on video, including 50 different clips, interviews, and musical rock classic interludes – all from the Rock Hall.

It is tough for Cleveland to escape its past. After all, this is the city where combustible pollutants frequently lit up the Cuyahoga River. Singer Randy Newman infamously crooned, “Burn on, big river, burn on.” The dagger was Randy’s innocently snarky line, “Cleveland, city of magic, city of light.”

Yea, right.

Clevelanders sometimes feel like they can never escape the futility. Just ask those die-hard and sometimes left-for-dead Browns fans.

When your Heisman-winning, top-pick quarterback is on the way out as damaged goods, and your new zillion-dollar QB comes with a damaged reputation… the river seems to be once more “smokin’” through their dreams.

It’s the job of PR professionals to tell the better story. Sometimes it’s the story of redemption.

Let’s talk about that river.

The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S.  It commonly caught fire, 13 times since 1868. 

The worst blaze in 1952 caused $1.3 million in damages. The most fatal was the 1912 fire with five deaths.  The damage wasn’t as bad and no one died in the 1969 fire, but it drew the most attention.

As reported in TIME, the country was become more aware of ecology and a shift was underway from industry to technology, and waste dumping to recycling. 

Inspired by the 1969 river fire, Congress passed the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). It became law in 1970 and helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The river no longer burns, but the legacy is bright.

The good work of public relations has a long history in Cleveland. A predecessor to PRSA Cleveland, is the Cleveland Advertising Association, organized in 1901 as the Cleveland Advertising Club “to establish advertising as a positive force in business and promote Cleveland as an advertising center.”

According to Case Western Reserve University, in 1908 the club formed the Vigilance Committee to encourage truth in advertising and good business ethics by monitoring careless and deceptive advertising. Renamed the Fair Practices Committee, it expanded its activities, eventually evolving into the Better Business Bureau.

Cleveland is the largest city on Lake Erie and one of the most populous urban areas in the country. It was founded in 1796 by General Moses Cleaveland who gave the city its name. (The Cleveland Advertiser changed the spelling in 1836 so it would fit better on the newspaper’s masthead).

It was a huge advantage to be a port city connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Cleveland grew into a major manufacturing center thanks to transportation by river, canals, and railroad lines. The economy flourished also through financial services, healthcare, biomedicals, and higher education.

By the early 20th century, Cleveland had emerged as a major American manufacturing center. It attracted waves of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe and the rural south. The Cleveland Indians won their first World Series in 1920.

The city was hit hard by the Great Depression. There were labor struggles and strikes. It rebounded after World War II as an “All-America City” and the Indians won the 1948 World Series. The 1950’s saw the rise of new music coined by Cleveland DJ Alan Freed as “rock and roll.”

In the 1960’s the city’s economy slowed. People fled to the suburbs as the rail and steel industries declined. In 1978 Cleveland became the first major American city since the Great Depression to default on its federal loans.

Cleveland entered the new century with a more diversified economy and gained a national reputation as a center for healthcare and the arts. And thanks to the Cuyahoga River cleanup, it has become a national leader in environmental protection.

Cleveland lost World Series heartbreakers in 1995, 1997 and 2016. The Browns haven’t won an NFL title since 1964.

But who cares if you believe “Major League” in 1989 (Wild Thing!) is one of the best sports movies ever made? The Browns have talent, the fans still believe, and Cleveland baseball rises again as the “Guardians.”

The secret, says Chris: “Put us all together, we’re going to tell great stories.”

One more time Randy…

Cleveland city of light city of magic
Cleveland city of light you’re calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
Cause the Cuyahoga River
Goes smokin’ through my dreams.


Submitted by Past President Chris Lynch, APR, PRSA Fellow

Give us a brief history of your chapter.

The Greater Cleveland Chapter was chartered in 1951. It currently has 195 members. The chapter currently has 41 APRs (21% of its total membership) and seven Fellows (3.5% of its total membership).

PRSA Cleveland is the professional organization that brings together public relations, communications and marketing practitioners throughout Northeast Ohio.

Who are your current executive officers?

President: Heidi Modarelli-Frank, APR

President-Elect: Sydney Stone

Past President: Chris Lynch, APR, Fellow PRSA

Treasurer: Brian Newbacher

VP-Diversity Chair: Kimberly Smith-Woodford

VP-Membership: Rosemarie Ascherl

VP-Communications: Vicki McDonald, APR

Secretary: Bobby Batyko

Chapter admin: Lynn Bracic

Describe your membership.

The PRSA Greater Cleveland Chapter is the professional organization that brings together public relations, communications, and marketing practitioners throughout Northeast Ohio. Among the Chapter’s most important activities and duties:

  • Coordinate networking events and activities
  • Develop and host professional development activities for members on all levels
  • Serve as a resource for public relations students at all levels
  • Provide recognition of excellence and best practices in all facets of the public relations field
  • Develop and establish, in conjunction with the national chapter, ethical standards for the profession

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

As our chapter’s largest fundraiser, the Cleveland Rocks Awards, honor outstanding campaigns and tactics developed by our PRSA community. Funds raised benefit four scholarship funds: Student, Multicultural Student, Associate Members, and Non-profit Members.

Reflections on 2021 #PRSAROCKS wouldn’t be complete without a special thanks to our presenting sponsor Falls & Co . Our recent program (sporting the theme ‘Let There Be Rock!’), returned in person and was held at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, with more than 140 professionals in attendance.

How has your chapter adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ironically with the pandemic, we were able to double and some months, triple the number of professional development programs, that we were able to offer our members and prospective members through virtual programming.  It also allowed us to tap into programming from a more diverse number of practitioners, from around the country. However, we have seen some networking and personal interactions that members crave from our society, so we have been – slowly but surely – been adding in-person events to the mix again.

How is your chapter leaned into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Our initiatives include:

  • Establish a multi-cultural committee
  • Speak out and advocate for equality, while publicly pointing out and condemning racism
  • Create quarterly DE&I programming to better foster inclusion and educate chapter members and all Northeast Ohio communicators on the features and benefits of a multicultural society
  • Reach out to the communications community to embrace and recruit new members of diverse backgrounds and culture
  • Create and support educational and scholarship opportunities for communications students from multicultural backgrounds

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

While we feel our Cleveland Rocks awards events (an award-program unlike any other we like to boast), that has featured MTV DJs, music and media celebrities, a mix of video and live performers – and all the while raising thousands of dollars for students, multicultural students, and memberships for new Associate and Non-Profit members – the fact that we FINALLY got a new website created and implemented; well, that was a Herculean task. Visit us at

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

More on Rocks – we held our 2020 celebration on a virtual platform, but shot the entire ceremony, including all speakers/presenters and sponsors, on video. The finished program featured 50 different clips, interviews, and musical rock classic interludes all from the Rock Hall.

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”?

Hey, Clevelanders are used to being the underdog.  And a lot of times, PR people are too.  Put us all together, we’re going to tell great stories, laugh and share practical advice about how we can all do our jobs and communicate just a little better every day.