Safehaven honors one of GFW PRSA’s very own with Legacy of Women Award

Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people. —Peter Strople

Gigi Westerman, APR, Fellow PRSA, has been recognized with the prestigious 2019 SafeHaven Legacy of
Women Award. Westerman, a long-time member of GFW PRSA, was honored in October, along with
nine others community leaders and advocates during the 27 th annual Legacy of Women awards
ceremony. SafeHaven’s mission is to end domestic violence through safety, support, prevention and
social change as the largest and most comprehensive domestic violence service provider in Tarrant
County.
The event “expands awareness of the astonishing one in three Tarrant County women who will
experience domestic violence in their lifetime, while honoring women who are leaders and advocates in
our region,” said Kathryn Jacob, president and CEO of Safehaven. “Legacy of Women exemplifies the
word ‘community’ with an unwavering support and continuous rise for change.”
Westerman is co-founder of The S & G Group, an Arlington-based strategic planning and
communications firm that offers integrated communications, market research and analysis, branding,
media relations, crisis communications, issue management, and media training services to clients in the
government, nonprofit and business sectors. Westerman launched the firm in 2015 with long-time
business partner Sandra Brodnicki, APR.
Westerman’s commitment in Tarrant County is all encompassing, according to Michelle Clark, APR,
Associate Vice Chancellor, Advancement Strategy and Administration at Texas Christian University and
Director, Greater Fort Worth PRSA. “Gigi demonstrates that throughout all aspects of her life – while
working on behalf of clients, volunteering for nonprofit organizations, being a committed friend, and
making a difference as a leader and mentor,” Clark said. “She is insightful and unfailingly generous of her
expertise, and uses her time and talents to help make our community and profession better.”
Westerman has been an active member of PRSA since 2002, serving in local and national capacities.
After earning her accreditation in 2010, she dedicated herself to helping others obtain their APRs,
through individual mentorship and local and national accreditation efforts. After being inducted into the
PRSA College of Fellows, she was asked to lead the College of Fellows mentoring efforts and helped
develop a national plan to enhance mentorship within the organization. She has also served as a GFW
PRSA board member and assembly delegate since 2012, bringing local issues to the national stage.

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2019 Worthy Award Winners

The city’s top communicators were recognized for their outstanding achievements last night at the GFW PRSA 2019 Worthy Awards dinner.

A total of 58 awards were handed out at the eighth annual celebration, including 32 Awards of Excellence, 16 Awards of Achievement, and ten Worthy Awards–the chapter’s highest honor. The awards recognize the best in strategic communications programs and tactics practiced by professionals and students in the greater Fort Worth area.

Check out the full list of winners, here.

Communicator of the Year
Each year, GFW PRSA recognizes a community member outside the public relations profession who demonstrates leadership and effective communication when involved in a major event or issue affecting the greater Fort Worth region. This year’s award went to Mary-Margaret Lemons, president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions.

As the leader of the city’s independent housing authority, Lemons has worked to build and maintain support for deconcentrating low-income housing in Fort Worth. She was recognized for leading the charge for affordable housing by cultivating relationships with Fort Worth City Council, senior city staff, officials at Housing and Urban Development, as well as social service agencies and private developers.

Previous honorees include Dr. Kent Scribner, Fort Worth ISD superintendent; Paul Paine, Near Northside, Inc. president; Robert Earley, JPS President and CEO; Patsy Thomas, former president Mental Health Connection; Walter Danby, former Fort Worth ISD Superintendent; Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price; and former Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns.

PRSA Professional of the Year
Michelle Gutt, the communications and public engagement director for the City of Fort Worth, is the recipient of the inaugural Douglas Ann Newsom PRSA Professional of the Year Award. The newly introduced honor recognizes PRSA members who have made significant and outstanding achievement in the profession.

Gutt has more than 25 years of marketing and public relations experience in government, corporate and nonprofit work, and currently leads communications efforts for a diverse city-wide audience. Among many accomplishments, Gutt was recognized for her work developing a robust communications plan for the city’s Race and Culture Task Force, launching the MyFW customer service app for the city, and developing and launching an extensive internal communications plan surrounding the city’s pension vote earlier this year.

Rough Landing

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

When automakers needed a helping hand, they also brought a silver spoon.

“It’s not about the destination,” people like to say, “it’s about the journey.” And rarely was that more true than on November 18, 2008. That was the day the CEOs of Ford, GM and Chrysler traveled to Washington to ask Congress to give them a $25 billion bailout, money they said was desperately needed to stay in business.

The only problem – actually, one of several problems – was that each exec traveled to Washington on a private jet. As one blogger noted, the tab to fly private was about $20,000 — more than 20 times higher than a first-class plane ticket. It was not the best optics, and the media made sure everyone knew it.

“Big Three auto CEOs flew private jets to ask for taxpayer money,” CNN reported. Fox News wrote, “Recipients of eight-figure bonuses in 2007, the corporate cowboys used their executive perks … to arrive in style as they went begging before Congress.” And a legislator commented, “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo.” When you have someone from Congress criticizing your lack of fiscal responsibility, you know things are not good.

To their defense, the automakers came to their defense. GM’s spokesman provided a statement asserting, “Making a big to-do about this when issues vital to the jobs of millions of Americans are being discussed in Washington is diverting attention away from a critical debate.”

The Chrysler spokesperson, meanwhile, said the private jet was done as a safety precaution. This may have been true: If the angry taxpayers had known the bailout-seeking CEO was on board, there’s no telling how they might have responded. And the Ford spokesperson merely referred reporters to the company’s travel policy, which, I understand, begins “Don’t drive a Ford.”

The CEOs were properly chastened, and when GM’s exec make a second trip to D.C. in December, The New York Times noted that he had done, “the Kerouac thing.” As the GM spokesman thoughtfully explained, “You have to be sensitive to the symbolism.” The spokesman also noted that GM would be getting rid of its seven jets and, in an additional gesture of shrewd thinking, had scrapped plans to reintroduce the beloved Pontiac Aztek.

Later in December, President Bush signed a relief package worth $24.9 billion. GM and Chrysler would still enter bankruptcy, but better times were ahead – and then, worse times, like Ford’s harassment allegations and Chevy’s faulty ignition switches. With all the wrong turns that have been taken, it’s no wonder the automakers created backup cameras.

All of which is a good reminder for PR pros: The next time your client wants to go through the looking glass, you might have them look in the mirror first.

Join us for our next GFW PRSA luncheon on Wednesday, November 13, at Colonial Country Club!

Newsletters remain among the most common communication tactics. Whether printed or digital, they’re often a significant element of an organization’s overall strategy. Newsletters can provide a way to share information directly with priority audiences, but only if they’re being read. Is your newsletter keeping up with changing reading habits in a social media age?

Join us on November 13 to hear from Kristie Aylett, APR, Fellow PRSA, who will help attendees:

  • Apply industry research and trends to their communication tactics
  • Identify ways to make their newsletters more effective
  • Examine the future viability of newsletters as a PR tool

When: Wednesday, November 13, 2019, 11:30 A.M.  – 1:00 P.M.

Where: Colonial Country Club

Register, here.

A Monumental Crisis

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

It’s funny how the best intentions can sometimes lead to the worst PR situations. Actually, it’s not funny at all. But that’s what happened prior to November 13, 1982, the day of the dedication ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Certainly the individuals  leading the effort, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund committee, had tried to do the right thing. They had gathered the support of influential people like H. Ross Perot. They held an open competition, accepting more than 1,400 design proposals. They also gathered eight distinguished artists and designers to judge the designs, concealing the identity of the entrants.

So it was a bit of a surprise when the jury announced that the winning design had been submitted by Maya Lin, a 21-year-old undergraduate student at Yale. Her proposal was a bit of a surprise, too: A giant, black, granite V, cut into the ground.

Lin’s design was the jurors’ unanimous choice and well-received by many. As the New York Times wrote, “This design gives every indication of being a place of extreme dignity that honors the veterans who served in Vietnam with more poignancy, surely, than any ordinary monument ever could.”

But some people did not like Lin’s proposal – and among them were many were veterans. They questioned little details about the design, like why, since all of the other monuments in D.C. were white, this one was black. And they wondered why all the other monuments soared into the air, while this one sank into the ground.

Some critics thought the giant V was intended as a subtle form of the two-fingers Peace symbol; one opponent called it “a tribute to Jane Fonda.” One of the most vocal opponents was Tom Carhart, a Vietnam vet who also had entered the competition; he called Lin’s design “a black ditch of shame and sorrow.”

The controversy escalated. People on both sides received threatening phone calls. More than two dozen Republican congressmen wrote a letter to President Reagan, calling the monument “a political statement of shame and dishonor,” while columnist Pat Buchanan asserted that one of the jurors was a Communist. James Watt, Reagan’s secretary of the Interior, refused to issue a building permit, and Perot withdrew his support, describing Lin, who was of Chinese descent, as an “egg roll.”  As NPR later reported, the project “needed public relations crisis managers.” Indeed.

Eventually a compromise was reached: A bronze statue of three soldiers and a U.S. flag on a 50-foot pole would be added to the memorial. This, too, was the subject of controversy, with the unhappy vets wanting the additions placed front and center of the V, an idea that Lin and the architects association strenuously opposed. Ultimately the statue and flag were added, but were placed off to the side. Depending upon your viewpoint, this was either a good compromise or yet another insult.

The years appear to have worked in favor of Lin and her supporters. The American Institute of Architects now ranks the memorial No. 10 on its list of “America’s Favorite Architecture,” and it has become the most widely visited monument in D.C. Several traveling and fixed replicas also have been built.

The initial hostility to Lin’s design may have been an over-reaction, but the opponents did have one point PR pros may want to keep in mind: None of the people judging the proposals had served in Vietnam. We’ll close with excerpts of a thoughtful opinion piece Tom Carhart published in the New York Times:

“There were really two wars in that era: The first was a military war fought in Vietnam where 57,000 Americans died and whose veterans the Fund is authorized by Congress to ‘recognize and honor’; the second was a political war waged here at home. The jurors know nothing of the real war in Vietnam — the television portrayal was far from adequate. … The net result is that the design the jury chose as the winner was necessarily a function of their perception of the war they lived through in America.”

Indeed.