Ashley Varner, a senior at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Va., has won the "Take Flight with PR" video contest hosted by the Council of PR Firms.

Her 2:45-minute video, called "Oust the Earmuffs," was shown at last night's dinner of the Council in the Park Lane Hotel.
The video, as she describes it, addresses the need for marketers to "cut through the clutter, distinguish themselves in the marketplace, and engage in order to effectively reach consumers."

Varner collected a $2,500 prize, awarded before nearly 200 counselors at the event. The video is featured on the Council's website. She also was taken on a tour of three PR firms.

Varner said she initially wanted to focus her video on storytelling, but during conversations with friends and family, she realized that many of them were hostile to traditional advertising.

"I learned that the messages my friends and family remembered in a positive light were the ones that they weren't forced to hear," she said. "These campaigns were put in a category completely separate from the troublesome ads because they are meaningful. When I saw this reaction, I realized I wanted to address not only what has made PR successful, but also how I can contribute to help PR evolve in a time when unsolicited information is often seen as intrusive."

Senay Sees Growth But Move from 'PR'

Dave Senay, chairman of CPRF and president and CEO of FleishmanHillard, said PR has "come of age," propelled by the emergence of social media and other factors. But he also noted that many member firms are dropping the term "PR" in their titles.

The term was used by 18% of members in 2003 but that has sunk to 12% in 2013 (13 of 110 members). 

The ranking of the 50 largest PR firms by O'Dwyer's has only three firms that use "PR" in their titles -- Coyne PR, Parsippany, N.J., No. 14; 5W PR, New York, No. 24, and Airfoil PR, Southfield, Mich., No. 42.

Several counselors in the audience said CPRF has to "think seriously" about getting a new name.

A committee should be formed to explore this and make recommendations, said Don Middleberg of Middleberg Communications, New York.

He says much of what was called "PR" has gravitated to the social media side of communications. However, he is not sure that phrase should be part of a new name.

"Strategic Communications Assn." is another name that has been suggested.

Senay said he is seeing a good amount of growth in mid-sized agencies.

His address centered on the need for the highest ethics by PR counselors and for PR's increasing emphasis on "story-telling."