Ally Caldwell helped ECD kickoff 2021 with the first “Best Practice” presentation of the year “Virtual Award Ceremonies” in the Jan. 27 ECD board call.  With the pandemic still presenting unknowns about in-person event planning in the calendar year ahead, it was appropriate to discuss the evolving world of virtual.  Ally is an account executive at Güd Marketing in Old Town Lansing and a Awards Committee chair for Central Michigan PRSA. She shared what her chapter learned about Virtual Award Ceremonies in the planning and staging of the virtual 2020 PACE Awards. 

“I’m excited to meet you all even if it’s in a virtual space,” said Ally, who is quick to say her chapter learned virtual on the fly.  “I don’t know if I can put a Best Practice together based on one year of virtual awards ceremony so bear with me!

Ally introduced everyone on the call to the Central Michigan PRSA territory and noted that the 2021 ceremony will mark the 35th annual PACE awards.

Everyone was open and forgiving for the situation. Don’t be afraid for things to go ‘imperfectly perfect.’”


“Normally we would prepare awards in February for an April ceremony,” said Ally. “But that was just as the world started shutting down. We immediately pivoted – I remember putting out a statement of cancellation, realizing it was the most important thing at the time.  There was lag time of a couple of weeks before deciding about virtual – we thought maybe we could reschedule in the fall – but we immediately began making plans for a virtual ceremony. We pulled it off in June and had the awards in the fall.

What we learned:

  1. Keep an open mind – “It’s the most important part. It’s easy to get hung up on ‘We’ve always done this.’ 2020 forced us in a lot of ways to open up and think on our feet.  There was a lot of great work and the last thing we wanted to do was shove that under the rug. We wanted our chapter to connect and celebrate people who won awards.”
  2. Partnership are important – “We could not have done virtual at all without our sponsors. We had some lined up before the shut-down.  When we reached out, a lot were still interested.  In-kind sponsorships were important. A lot of folks were willing to pitch in.  None of us were experts on streaming. We’re thankful for the people who helped.”
  3. Communicate early and often – “In the moment we were so focused on getting it on the calendar, we didn’t reach out to winners as early as could have and given them more time to put together acceptance videos.”
  4. Engage your audience – “Even if things go wrong, be prepared to go with the flow, and the technical issues.  Everyone was open and forgiving for the situation. Don’t be afraid for things to go ‘imperfectly perfect.’”
  5. Give yourself some grace – “We’re proud of what we put together, even in a short time period.  Super proud of what we were able to accomplish.  There could be a hesitancy about technical difficulties and what membership might think of a pivot like this. It was important to celebrate their accomplishments even if it looked a little bit different.  Everyone enjoyed the ceremony, maybe even better in the comfort of own home.”

“We had about 30 to 40 people watching live, and after the fact on the Facebook page. We could have had more watching. We had only two weeks to promote.  The ticket structure went away (no fees). More people were incentivized to watch.”


How did you adjust your sponsorship packages?  “Our committee has had a sponsor package the last few years, We cut them in half and created new benefit packages.  We were able to recognize (sponsors) in the virtual event and use them in promotion.  We allowed for video and speaking opportunities, interesting banners, etc. We recognized we were not providing the same benefits to the organizations sponsoring.  We did have the benefit of having some locked-in for the in-person event.  This (2021) will be the first year going into it with the same lower packages.” (Ally encouraged members to contact her at [email protected] for more specific information on the financials).

How did you decide to use winner acceptance videos? – “An integral part of our ceremony is people coming up and accepting awards.  We focused on the Pinnacle awards.  We were quick on our feet to get videos form those who won and recognize the people involved.  We got a video from all but one organization. It worked well and we hope to continue it.  It was the most event organizational part of it – we had 20 to 30 videos total.

Which platform did you use?  “We used the Crowdcast platform and streamed through Facebook live.  Crowdcast allowed people to chat throughout; Facebook allowed us to view in the middle of the ceremony and watch later.”

I see Cleveland just had a virtual program and it sounds awesome. I would like to know more about that. Jennifer Day said Cleveland charged $10 and it was very nice. Central Michigan PACE awards acceptance speeches sounded like a really good idea.

Chris described Cleveland’s virtual awards in the Chapter Roundtable and offered to send a link to the event.

If you’re interested in chatting with Ally about award ceremonies her email address is [email protected].