By Adena J. White, APR

It’s an honor and privilege for me to stand before you today as the 2019 president of the Arkansas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge how humbling it is for me to be the chapter’s first black president in our 55-year history.

While this is a historic moment for the chapter, my charge is that I’m not the last person of color to hold this office.

Thanks to the efforts of our diversity and inclusion committee, spearheaded by Pam Jones, Dr. Riva Brown and Sarah Kinser, APR, I’m optimistic that Arkansas PRSA will continue to see leaders from underrepresented groups.

This afternoon, I want to share a little about what PRSA has meant to me and what I hope to accomplish during my term as president.
I owe so much to PRSA when it comes to my professional development. The networking and dynamic speakers this chapter affords were much needed for a fresh-out-of-college young professional working on a mountaintop at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

Arkansas PRSA and PRSSA at Arkansas Tech have been vital parts of my career development. For this reason, I am excited to see the efforts director-at-large for PRSSA Lamor Williams and immediate past president Kristen Nicholson, APR, have put into our PRSSA Ready to Work Apprenticeship program

This eight-week program will pair students with some of the best public relations professionals in the business – which includes the people in this room – to equip them for PR work and leave them not only with the knowledge, skills and abilities to help them thrive in their careers but with tangible benefits – such as letters of recommendation, a portfolio with relevant work and hopefully, a paycheck – to assist them in their job search.

I thank Lamor and Kristen for the work they’ve put into our apprenticeship program so far and look forward to seeing the impact it’ll make on these young professionals and the organizations they serve.

As I gained more career experience, PRSA was there for me again as I began to think about pursuing Accreditation in Public Relations. If it had not been for the support and encouragement from fellow chapter members, I’d still be on the fence.

I owe a great deal to former APR chair Dan McFadden, APR, for my personal journey to accreditation, and I’m excited to continue to work with our current director-at-large and assembly delegate Denver Peacock, APR, as he helps guide interested members through the accreditation process and ensures that the seasoned members who have achieved accreditation remain connected to our chapter and to each other.

This year will make my eighth consecutive year on the Arkansas PRSA board. I’ve been able to serve the chapter in various capacities – from director-at-large over membership to treasurer to communications as vice president, to programming as president-elect.

Because I’ve held many of the roles on the board, I know how challenging and rewarding these positions can be. In addition to Lamor and Denver, who I mentioned previously, we have some capable board members who will continue to help our chapter reach new heights.

Our president-elect, Jason Brown, APR, has served as secretary for our chapter the past two years, streamlining our check-in process and effectively documenting our board meetings. I am confident he will bring this same energy into programming in 2019 and look forward to working alongside him.

My good friend Brandon Morris, APR+M, is back on the board to manage our chapter communications as vice president. As a former assembly delegate and accreditation chair as well as a former PRSSA liaison, Brandon brings a wealth of knowledge to our board, and I’m excited to serve with him again.

Maegan Clark, who is on a jealousy-inducing vacation in Panama, is moving from vice president to secretary. As vice president, Maegan was instrumental in launching our new and improved website and migrating us over to our new email distribution and event registration system. I know she will be just as effective in her new position as secretary.

As Kristen mentioned, our treasurer position is now open because Kathryn Heller, APR, has taken an amazing opportunity in Bentonville with the Walton Family Foundation. She has been the treasurer for nearly two years, coming onto the board in a pinch.

During her time as treasurer, Kathryn helped us curtail expenses by taking on duties previously outsourced to a third-party bookkeeping service. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Kathryn through PRSA and wish her all the best in northwest Arkansas.

If you joined our chapter or obtained your APR within the last few years, you’ve been fortunate to have the support of Heather Haywood, APR. Heather is beginning her second year into her three-year term as director-at-large over membership and has been instrumental in our chapter reaching and exceeding 100 members. 

Not only does she help recruit members, Heather helps us retain members through regular membership orientations and by making new members feel welcome with a reserved table at monthly luncheons. We are 105 members strong, and with Heather’s drive and determination, I know we are poised for future growth.

The last three years, Stella Prather, APR, has been our director-at-large over the Prism Awards, now the ARcom Awards. Through collaboration with IABC and AdClub Little Rock, Stella and the committee have transformed the event, bringing in new sponsors, new entries, and a more formal look and feel to the ceremony.

We will miss having Stella on the board and are grateful for her contributions to our chapter. I look forward to working with Mary Claire Hill, our new director-at-large for the ARcom Awards, and know she will be equally capable of putting on a first-class event to celebrate exceptional public relations programs and skills in Arkansas. 

I’ve benefited from the support and advice from several members of our Past Presidents Council, including our immediate past president Kristen Nicholson, APR, and our outgoing immediate past president, Sarah Kinser, APR.

I have 55 years’ worth of big shoes to fill. 

Before I get to our goals for the year, I also want to thank my support network outside of PRSA.
When I received my APR pin back in January 2014, my Conway Area Chamber of Commerce colleagues came in full force to show their support. As I said then, “We roll deep.”

Not much has changed, as you can see. We have a few new faces at 900 Oak Street in downtown Conway, but they are still the same supportive and encouraging group they were five years ago.

I am fortunate to have ongoing support from my parents and two sisters. I want to thank my sister and fellow public relations professional, Katrina Dupins, for taking time out of her day to be here, as well as my ageless mother, Magdalene Strickland. Katrina is media relations manager at UAMS, so Heather, I may need your help working on getting Katrina here more often.

Although he could not be with me today because taking off work is a little more complicated as a schoolteacher, especially on the heels of a holiday break, I’m grateful for the support of my husband, Matthew. As many of you know, we welcomed our son, Elijah, into our family on October 9. He is a lot of work but has been a true joy. (To be clear, I’m talking about the baby.)

At this time, I want to briefly outline what I hope to accomplish this year.

During my time on the board, I’ve witnessed our chapter accomplish many organizational goals:

  • grow our membership to more than 100 members,
  • bring in excellent local and national speakers,
  • become more financially sound,
  • increase the number of accredited members, • create new programming opportunities for students,
  • rebrand and expand our annual awards program, and
  • become more intentional about diversity and inclusion. This year, I want to combine the “best of what is” with “what might be.”

I’ve been part of a number of conversations during my time on the board, some of which have included creating a scholarship for public relations students, re-evaluating our membership dues structure as well as the location of our monthly meetings, and reaching more professionals who live and work outside Little Rock. 

All of these conversations are worth having and tie back into PRSA’s larger mission to “make communications professionals smarter, better prepared and more connected through all stages of their career.”

In order to truly explore these longer-term goals, we have to put a financial mechanism in place that goes beyond our membership dues and the revenue from our awards programs.

As an employee of a membership-based organization and as a former treasurer of this chapter, I recognize the importance of having multiple revenue streams in order to build our assets and make sure our association is sustainable and prosperous in the years to come. 

To accomplish this, I want to form a finance and sponsorship committee that will assist our board in two key areas:

  1. increasing non-dues revenue through sponsorships and 
  2. investing some of our current assets for long-term growth. 

Last year we took the first step by creating a comprehensive packet that outlined our existing sponsorship opportunities and identified some areas where we could create new sponsorships. Now that the framework has been set, I want this new finance and sponsorship committee to focus on securing sponsorship commitments that will be mutually beneficial for the sponsor and for our organization.

The next area of focus will be investing some of our current funds. As I’ve mentioned, our chapter has been financially sound for some time. Rather than keep our assets in a low-interest checking account, we want to build a sustainable future for Arkansas PRSA by investing our money in a way that will yield better returns.

Generating more revenue through sponsorships and investing money is about more than sitting on a fat bank account. By focusing on non-dues revenue and investments today, we can set the stage for tomorrow’s leaders to continue to advance the public relations profession and the public relations professional.

As I take my seat, I want to thank Arkansas PRSA for entrusting me to lead this chapter in 2019. If you’re looking to get more involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or with any one of our board members.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to another great year.

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