White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Receives Public Relations Honors From PRSA

On June 5, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) presented its highly coveted Public Relations Professional of the Year award to White House Press Secretary Robert L. Gibbs for his groundbreaking use of new communications techniques and technologies, as well as successful delivery of campaign messages to a broad electorate. The award was presented last night at the annual PRSA Silver Anvil Ceremony at the Equitable Tower in New York City.

“Robert Gibbs and his team revolutionized the way presidential candidates speak to voters by engaging best practices in current communications techniques and technologies,” said PRSA Chair and CEO Michael Cherenson, APR. “He transformed static, one-way messaging into a dynamic dialogue to engage an expansive electorate like never before.”

As communications director of the Obama campaign, Gibbs made groundbreaking use of Web 2.0 technologies, including blogs, social media sites and online video, to engage the electorate, especially younger voters. The campaign amassed a vast database of e-mail and text addresses to enable direct communications with voters on a massive scale. At the same time, the campaign maintained a disciplined communications approach that yielded the ability to speak with a single voice and precise narrative, and to carefully control the flow of information and respond rapidly to attacks while maintaining fluidity and creativity of language.

“From the moment the Obama campaign began almost two and a half years ago, we set out to do things differently,” said Gibbs. “We had to connect with people in a new way — through their homes and communities, their families and their friends. We had to break away from the old rules of campaigning that emphasized tactics and political posturing, and instead focus on the message of change being communicated by our candidate. In the end, we knew our success depended on our ability to stay focused on that message and relay it honestly and consistently to people across the country.”

The campaign also was marked by visible emphasis on communications transparency, openness and expediency, and generated a feeling of real-time connectedness with the electorate due to the active dialogue with voters. It also exhibited a true understanding of public and media sentiment.

“It is with great honor that PRSA recognizes Robert Gibbs as this year’s PR Professional of the Year,” said Joice Truban Curry, PRSA 2009 Honors and Awards chair, and president/CEO, c3 Communications, Inc. “When the collective Honors and Awards Committee met to determine who really made the most impact on this industry from innovation, dedication and strategic public relations, it was clear and unanimous — Robert Gibbs. His tireless work as the communications director for President Obama’s campaign was second to none. Through his vision and innovative strategies and tactics, he has rewritten how public relations will forever be used in political campaigns.”

The Public Relations Professional of the Year Award represents the highest achievement in the practice of public relations by an individual or team. Past award recipients include:

  • 2008: San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ communications team for its expert handling of citywide communications during the wildfires in October 2007 included Fred Sainz, communications director; and deputy press secretaries George Biagi, Eileen Brennan and Bill Harris.
  • 2007:The public relations campaign team for Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” included Megan Colligan, Paramount Vantage executive vice president of Publicity and Promotions; Buffy Shutt, Participant Productions executive vice president for Marketing; and Michael Feldman, Glover Park Group.
  • 2006: Bernadette Mansur, senior vice president for Communications, National Hockey League (NHL).
  • 2005: Charles Conner, senior vice president, Communication & Marketing; Darren Irby, vice president, Public Relations; and Deborah Daley, vice president, Corporate Communications, American Red Cross.
  • 2004: Grace Chen Trent, senior vice president, Communications/Chief of Staff and Brad Burns, senior vice president, Public Relations, MCI.

About the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
The Public Relations Society of America, headquartered in New York City, is the world’s largest organization for public relations professionals with nearly 32,000 professional and student members. PRSA is organized into 109 Chapters and 10 Districts nationwide, and 20 Professional Interest Sections and Affinity Groups, which represent business and industry, counseling firms, independent practitioners, military, government, associations, hospitals, schools, professional services firms and nonprofit organizations. The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) has 302 Chapters at colleges and universities throughout the United States, and one Chapter in Argentina.