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CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT ON PRSA NORTHWEST OHIO: NEVER A SLOW NIGHT IN TOLEDO, ALWAYS A NEW DAWN

Holy Toledo! There’s a lot to love about the Glass City, it’s demilitarized Ohio-Michigan war zone, and the hard-working, big-hearted members of the PRSA Northwest Ohio Chapter.

The chapter was founded in 1951 by public relation professionals supporting the region’s industrial strength including the post-World War II momentum for the Jeep brand.

We know what came next in the late 20th century for many bustling midwestern towns. Declining manufacturing base and the demand to diversify to survive.

The Toledo region has adapted and grown, and so has the NWOH chapter.

It’s never easy. Chapter membership, now at 58, declined by about 30% through the pandemic.  It is holding ground with the leadership of Chapter President Becky Vogel, Ethics and Inclusion Chair Claire Morrow who provided this Chapter Spotlight Survey report, and the ongoing support of past-president Jared Meade.

Jared is founder and principal of Rayne Strategy Group and 2022 chair-elect of the ECD board.

“After serving at the chapter level for several years, I was inspired to join the ECD board in an effort to improve district relations,” he said, “especially for chapters that need find themselves in need of district/national organizational support.”

The chapter takes pride in its response to the COVID-19 disruptions.  It also deserves recognition for acting well ahead of the curve on the pursuit of diversity and inclusion.

Clair noted that in 2008 the chapter established a diversity chair position and surveyed the chapter to understand the mix of age, gender, specialty area, and racial or ethnic group.

“In 2020, it became increasingly clear that our chapter needed to not only continue to support DE&I efforts but to become actively anti-discrimination,” said Claire. “With guidance from Nationals, we were able to direct our membership to diversity resources and adopt a chapter-wide diversity statement.”

“Unfortunately, COVID set us back but also taught us new things,” said Claire when asked about the strong start in the 2008 survey. “We have a lot of work to do this coming year!  We had some great results from that survey. We’re currently trying to recreate similar survey participation going forward!”

Now, a look back.

In the 1807 Treaty of Detroit the region’s four Native American tribes ceded land surrounding the mouth of the Maumee River where Toledo later developed. 

Proposed construction of the Erie Canal in 1824 launched a fierce competition among small towns along the Maumee River to be the canal’s ending terminus. The towns of Port Lawrence and Vistula merged in 1833 to better compete and chose the name Toledo.

Toledo didn’t get the ending terminus, but it demonstrated brand research without the help of Google.

Popular legend says local merchant Willard J. Daniels suggested Toledo because it “is easy to pronounce, is pleasant in sound, and there is no other city of that name on the American continent.”

The chapter is “Northwest Ohio” but don’t be surprised to see Maize and Blue flying.

Depending on your point of view (and where you sit at “The Game”) Ohio won the Toledo War with Michigan for some land near Lake Erie.  Militias gathered at the border but never engaged and the only casualty was a Michigan deputy stabbed in the leg with a pen knife.

The attacker was a guy named “Two” Stickney who was defending his elder brother “One” Stickney. Ohio got the land, Michigan got the Upper Peninsula, and Toledo got “Stickney Avenue.”  It makes you wonder who the neighbors are at 1 and 2 Stickney Ave.

Toledo industry grew fast in the 1920’s but was hit hard by the Great Depression. WPA projects including the Toledo Zoo and Toledo Museum of Art still stand today.

Several Fortune 500 automotive-related companies had their headquarters in Toledo, but only one remains. Toledo is Jeep headquarters, GM has operated a transmission plant there since 1916, and Cleveland-Cliffs has invested $700 million into modernizing the local steel industry.

Toledo is known as the Glass City because of its long history of glass manufacturing. That corny “Holy Toledo” probably came from the city’s many fine church designs.

The town has a rich history in music, especially in jazz, but “Country Boy” John Denver gave the town a strange soundtrack.

Denver recorded “Saturday Night In Toledo, Ohio,” composed by Randy Sparks after spending a boring night in town. Denver got enough push back to cancel his Toledo concert.  But when he returned in 1980, he drew a record crowd and got big applause when he sang the Toledo song.

Maybe it was a show of Toledo’s open heart, second chances, and no hard feelings. But it might also have been their sense of irony.  They get it, they can take it, and they can give it back.

Give us a brief history of your chapter.

The Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America was founded September 5, 1951, with 15 members representing such major Toledo-area corporations as Libbey-Owens-Ford Co., Owens-Illinois, DeVilbiss, Toledo Edison and The Toledo Blade, among others.

Members of the chapter exemplify the standard of professional qualification, as nearly 30 percent have achieved accreditation in public relations (APR). The Northwest Ohio Chapter maintains about 85 members who, through affiliation with PRSA, nurture individual professional development and guide their organizations, our community and society toward regarding relationships with all their various publics and one another.

Who are your current executive officers?

Becky Vogel, President

Sean Williams, President Elect and Program Chair

Allison Westhoven, Vice President and Membership Chair

Katie Blyth Hatcher, Vice President and Communications Chair

Kayla Lewandowski, Secretary and Treasurer

Claire Morrow, Ethics and Inclusion Chair

Kaylah Benore, Director-at-Large and PRSSA Liaison

Kari Bucher, Chapter Administrator

Describe your membership.

Although the chapter began with representation from major area industries, the composition of chapter membership has changed over the years. These changes include increased female membership as well as greater representation of small businesses and non-profit organizations.
Additionally, membership has moved from strictly a journalism education and experience to a range of educations and experiences in marketing and public relations.

How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our chapter was extremely fortunate to have connections to a variety of virtual presenters. After postponing our March 2020 meeting, we were able to seamlessly integrate these virtual programs into our schedule for the remainder of the year.
These virtual events allowed us to bring in speakers that would not have been feasible in a pre-pandemic world. From discussions about local development, deep dives into data and even the future of AI – the virtual world allowed us to bring in fresh and engaging programing.
In addition to diving head-first into virtual programming, we used our social media as a resource for industry professionals to find trustworthy sources, reference best practices for COVID-19 related issues and remind members that they have a network of support in PRSA.

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

DE&I efforts have become increasingly important to our chapter. In 2008, the chapter established the diversity chair position and received a 50-percent response to a diversity survey that helped to determine the extent of diversity in the chapter by age, gender, specialty area and racial or ethnic group. Twenty-seven members attended the International Conference held in Detroit, where the chapter received an award for its growth in membership.

In 2020, it became increasingly clear that our chapter needed to not only continue to support DE&I efforts but to become actively anti-discrimination. With guidance from Nationals, we were able to direct our membership to diversity resources and adopt a chapter-wide diversity statement.

We are currently developing our DE&I strategy for the future and plan to consciously incorporate DE&I topics, conversations and resources into everything we do as a chapter.

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

Our chapter’s biggest achievement to date would be our pivot at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As I mentioned previously, our connections enabled us to jump into virtual programing and bring some truly amazing speakers to our membership. What started out as a challenge turned into a phenomenal professional development opportunity.

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

Some fun facts about our chapter include:

  • Approx. 30% of our members have achieved accreditation in public relations (APR).
  • Three members – Jim Little, Jim Richard and Dr. Jeanette Drake – have been elected to the prestigious College of Fellows
  • Our chapter has had four members who have served the society on the national board: Chris Hauser and Reg Jackson served as National Secretary, Don Connell was on the board and Jim Little served as president of the national PRSA. He has been one of only a few members from Ohio to lead the national organization as president.

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

Our executive board prides itself on its efforts to stay in tune with our membership and community. We’ve all had a rough couple of years and our chapter has tried to remind our members to value their mental health, physical well-being and personal safety in light of a continually challenging professional environment.

We are constantly learning new ways to connect with our members and adapting to the ever-changing public health situation. More than anything, we know that our chapter feeds off personal interaction at meetings and events. We are tirelessly working to facilitate that same connection through our virtual programming and limited in-person events when possible.

Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you?

Contact President Becky Vogel – bvogel@thejdigroup.com

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