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PROOF IN PERFORMANCE: ECD MARCH CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON WEST MICHIGAN PRSA

The ECD March 2021 Chapter Spotlight shines on the West Michigan PRSA Chapter.  We’re grateful to Kim Skeltis, APR and WMPRSA President for providing the information and insights into her chapter.

We knew Kim would be compelled to sing the praises of West Michigan PRSA, especially since ECD owes so much to West Michigan’s legacy of leadership.  I wrote Kim and said, “I’ve been thinking about reaching out ever since interviewing Clare Wade about her Fellowship. Your chapter has a lot to be proud of – including our esteemed past president Adrienne Wallace!”  How could she refuse?

You’ll learn in the March Chapter Spotlight how West Michigan embraced the challenges of COVID-19 and Diversity & Inclusion.

“We switched to 100 percent virtual programming in 2020, which we are continuing in 2021,” says Kim. “The silver lining is we can bring in national-caliber speakers without paying travel fees, and we can pass along cost savings to our attendees. We’ve reduced monthly program pricing…  our programs also are more accessible, with virtual access eliminating geographic boundaries.”

The pride comes through with WMPRSA’s PRoof Awards, and the new D&I Program. “We knew it was the right thing to do – but the proof was in the attendance figures,” said Kim. “It tells us that there is a strong desire for more professional development programs on this important topic.”

And there are always the small surprises that come when chapters bask in the glow of the Chapter Spotlight. For West Michigan… watch for the “May-December” serendipity of their membership!

ECD 2021 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SURVEY – West Michigan PRSA Chapter

Completed by Kim Skeltis, APR; 2021 WMPRSA President

Give us a brief history of your chapter:

The West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA) was formed in 1984 and is one of four chapters in Michigan. WMPRSA represents the largest geographic footprint of Michigan’s PRSA chapters, comprising 100 PRSA members in the western half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. We also are the sponsoring chapter to PRSSA chapters at Ferris State University and Grand Valley State University.

Who are your current executive officers?

  • President: Kim Skeltis, APR (Blue Blaze Public Relations)
  • President Elect: Andria Romkema (The Right Place, Inc.)
  • Secretary: Kristen Krueger-Corrado (Grand Rapids Public Library)
  • Treasurer: Adrienne Wallace, PhD (Grand Valley State University, BlackTruck Media + Marketing)
  • Immediate Past President: Amanda St. Pierre, APR (Aquinas College)

Describe your membership:

While the chapter represents a large geographic area of West Michigan, 77 percent of our members hail from Greater Grand Rapids. Our WMPRSA membership is comprised of a diverse cross-section of industries and company settings. Our members primarily support the healthcare, association/nonprofit, professional services, education and retail industries. Work settings are almost an even split between agency (29 percent), nonprofit (27 percent) and corporate (24 percent), with the remaining 20 percent a combination of education, government and other settings.

WMPRSA includes professionals at every end of the career spectrum – with 41 percent of membership with 10 years or less of experience, 29 percent with 11 to 19 years of experience, and 31 percent at 20-plus years of experience. We also are proud to boast 29 members Accredited in Public Relations and two in the PRSA College of Fellows.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

Our biggest project of the year typically is our PRoof Awards, the “Oscars” of the West Michigan PR industry. This not only is our highest attended event (and full of fanfare and networking in a beautiful setting), it is an important annual chapter fundraiser. We are excited to bring it back in 2021 after a one-year hiatus due to COVID. We have retooled it to be a “look-live” virtual program, and we’re allowing entries for work completed in 2020 and 2019. We also added two new project categories this year – COVID Communications and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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

Like many PRSA chapters, we had to rethink how we would gather so we could meet safety guidelines yet continue to give our members value. We switched to 100 percent virtual programming in 2020, which we are continuing in 2021. The silver lining is we can bring in national-caliber speakers without paying travel fees, and we can pass along cost savings to our attendees. We’ve reduced monthly program pricing since our events have gone virtual, making these programs free for those who are unemployed, underemployed or students. Our programs also are more accessible, with virtual access eliminating geographic boundaries, plus closed captioning and ASL available by request.

While we started this program back in late 2019, we ramped up our experience-based cohort gatherings during the pandemic as an important networking channel.Our chapter created three cohort groups by decade (0-9 years, 10-19 and 20+) that meet regularly to talk about relevant issues. These roundtable discussions are more informal and lead to additional networking – and best of all, they are free to members.

How has your chapter leaned into the issue of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity?

We readily admit we have more work to do in this area, starting with diversifying our membership base (only three percent of our members identify as non-white). That said, we have stepped up our commitment level this year by creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee as one of our chapter’s eight committees.

We also continue to host an annual signature DE&I event, which we have done since 2019 (our second-highest attended event annually after PRoof Awards). We are further working to integrate DE&I as an ongoing theme in our regular programming, evidenced by our February program, “Actions, Authenticity & Allyship,” aboutwhy we need to develop a long-term strategy for advancing equity. Finally, we created a WMPRSA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fund Grant in 2019 for PRSSA seniors who wish to pursue a DE&I experience, in which they can apply for up to $1,000 toward that experience (they also will receive their first year of chapter membership dues free if joining the WMPRSA chapter upon graduation).

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

Probably our chapters’ most recent proud achievement is the addition of a signature annual diversity, equity and inclusion program. We knew it was the right thing to do – but the proof was in the attendance figures. We had 212 people attend the first year ever – many of whom weren’t members. It tells us that there is a strong desire for more professional development programs on this important topic. The related scholarship fund created that year is something to be proud of to recognize the importance of advancing DEI in the communications community within West Michigan. The fund is intended to support the next generation of diverse communications professionals following the lead of the PRSA Foundation, whose mission is to support rising talent and improve diversity.

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

We have almost the same number of members with five or less years of experience (27 percent) as we have members with 20-plus years of experience (31 percent). That’s quite a range! We also have a high ratio of APRs among those who are eligible, with 43 percent of eligible members having their Accreditation in Public Relations. And two Fellows isn’t bad either! 

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

I think the secret to a happy chapter, especially in these difficult times, is to continue finding ways to add value and stay relevant. That means providing ongoing communications, timely programming reflecting current events, and creative ways to connect and network when we can’t gather in person. It also means meeting members where they are at financially, noting we’ve seen the largest attrition rate in our chapter’s history in the last year from job loss, dues no longer being paid by employers, and other financial hardships. We always have room for improvement, but in our 2020 membership survey, we were gratified to receive feedback like, “You guys are doing a great job during this tough time. Appreciate the effort!” “You are doing a fantastic job when everyone is reinventing how to offer value. Thank you!” and “Doing well despite difficult times.”

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

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