Mike FernandezMike Fernandez (center), corporate VP of corporate affairs, Cargill, accepts the Alexander Hamilton Medal, flanked by Tina McCorkindale, president-CEO of IPR (right), and  Wendi Strong, executive VP, corporate  communications, USAA.

PR and marketing executives need to engage with their “most ardent critics to try to establish a shared understanding of the facts and see if we might achieve a shared belief in a collective aim as to where we are going and how we might get there,” Mike Fernandez, corporate VP of corporate affairs at Cargill, told nearly 250 PR and marketing executives earlier this week at the Institute for PR dinner at the Yale Club, New York.

Fernandez, who was given the Alexander Hamilton Medal for Lifetime Contribution to PR, added: “It’s never easy. As we know from many a survey fewer people trust business, government, NGOs and other institutions than ever before. To rebuild that trust requires a greater degree of transparency and dialogue, which is difficult to do if the reflex of our leaders is to retreat and cover in the midst of conflict, or worse yet require us to communicate something less than the truth.” 

Fernandez also stressed that the PR field needs to do a better job at diversity.

“This fall for the first time the overall number of Latino, African-American and Asian students in U.S. public K-12 classrooms surpassed the number of non-Hispanic whites,” he said. “If we do not move more quickly to provide a hand-up to our diverse talent through focused professional development, networking, mentorships and real opportunities, our charge to communicate might be compromised by an inability to relate to the very audiences we seek to reach.”

Fernandez’s was one of several communication executives honored by the IPR.

Gary Sheffer, VP of corporate communications and public affairs at General Electric, who is retiring from GFE at the end of the year, was given the Jack Felton Medal Recipient. The award is named after the late Jack Felton, who was CEO of IPR for 10 years and two-time PRSA president.

Dr. Anne Gregory, professor of corporate communications, University of Huddersfield, was given the Pathfinder Award, the highest academic honor bestowed by IPR in recognition of original PR research. Gregory’s research focuses on capacity building in PR and corporate communications.

Frank OvaittKen Makovsky (left), President of Makovsky, with former IPR president-CEO Frank Ovaitt (center) and Tina McCorkindale.  

Tina McCorkindale, who in May took charge at President-CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, hosted the festivities. 

McCorkindale succeeded PR legend Frank Ovaitt, who has retired to a horse farm in Kentucky.

Ken Makovsky, co-chair of the Institute for Public Relations Board and President of Makovsky, showered Ovaitt with kudos.

“While Frank was at the Institute, he helped champion the mission of IPR—he is a pillar of our profession. He emphasized that the research we do should be made available for free,” Makovsky said. “He helped craft a development plan, and one of his greatest contributions was ‘The Essential Knowledge’ project that can be accessed on the IPR website. It is an online guide of the best research in terms of how organizations build and manage relationships with customers, communities, employees and other stakeholders.”

He added: “[Ovaitt’s] leadership, organizational and management skills, his intellectual and creative capabilities and his love for IPR and our business as a whole are beyond compare.”

Accepting an IPR decanter, Ovaitt said: “Support the science beneath the art. If you want to honor me, keep it going.”