Gold Mining at Golden World Awards

10 years, 4 months ago


Deborah Charnes Vallejo, a judge at this year’s GWAs, found much to admire and learn from among the numerous campaigns vying for honors in this year’s competition.

Let’s be frank. Those of us in the United States can be rather insulated, oftentimes not thinking beyond our borders. There’s an old joke, "what do you call someone that speaks only one language? Answer: American."

During the "Camelot Years" when John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, he was set to beat the Russians to the moon, as he wanted to be sure no other country would surpass our achievements. For decades, we were bombarded with "buy American" messages. In the recent Obama vs. McCain presidential election we heard "this is the best country in the world," in almost every debate. I don’t applaud those words with a sense of pride. I hear underpinnings of propaganda in those chants.

I am proud to be an American and have chosen to live here, after having resided in other countries. But I try to temper that with an appreciation for all cultures and societies outside our continental borders.

This summer, I enjoyed opening my eyes to appreciate the work of PR practitioners around the world. As a juror of IPRA’s Golden World Awards for Excellence I spent many evenings and several weekends reviewing communications case studies electronically. Then, I was fortunate to join 26 other judges in Warsaw, Poland. We chose 30 category winners out of 126 finalists selected from 342 entries submitted by contestants from 42 countries.

Excellent campaigns

Not surprisingly, there were excellent campaigns submitted by public relations agencies, NGOs, corporations and non-profit organizations from the United States. However, the highest awards were given to campaigns from Ukraine, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Japan, Turkey and Switzerland.

For example, Turk Telekom, the biggest provider of integrated telephone services in Turkey, wanted to reduce its cost of issuing paper invoices. The PR team created an awareness program to launch the first e-billing service in Turkey where the vast majority of homes are not online.

Since the campaign began, nearly 1 million Turkish households switched to e-bills, saving more than 4,200 tons of paper annually, equating to 50,000 trees. Turk Telekon is in the process of creating branded forests and has already re-planted 50,000 trees, beyond the 50,000 "saved" trees. Finally, the values of Turkish society have changed, becoming much more environmentally conscious than before this initiative.

History relevant for youth

Another interesting example was from the Ukraine, where the PR team was challenged with making a history book about the WWII Babi Yar massacre of interest to teens. As in most countries, Ukrainian teens don’t opt to read a history book unless there is an exam the next day. Yet the breakthrough PR campaign placed this one on the top 10 list of best sellers in the country, becoming one of the most discussed works of historic literature ever among Kiev youth.

To achieve that success, the agency created fictional personas in social networking communities. On the anniversary of the tragic Babi Yar memorial, all fictional mates "died," leaving a mourning stripe on their avatars and the message: ‘Hi, I am dead. Today I was killed by Nazis along with 50,000 others.’ This link led to the book’s website.

Off-line, the agency implemented guerrilla warfare at soccer matches and shopping malls with bold statements on posters and mirrors such as "This reflection could be alive. During WWII every other Kiev citizen died: page 308."

Shared appreciation

Beyond the quality of the entries from all corners of the world, what was equally impressive to me was the fact that my judging team members and I were nearly always in agreement on the difficult choices we had to make. The jurors represented all ages...all parts of the world...many languages...all specialty practice areas. We were diverse, yet with the shared appreciation for our craft and understanding of how to achieve success for our clients or employers via our profession.

Today, in the United States, most young PR pros have a degree in Communications or Public Relations. When I started in the field, we tended to rise out of Journalism.

However, my background was social anthropology, which I attribute to helping me with my neutrality and success in international PR. Among the IPRA members, there is an interesting cross section. Like me, many did not study PR at their universities. One professional explained how his engineering background was a benefit in PR, as it trained him to isolate the problem or challenge, and design and implement a campaign that would meet and surpass the objectives.

This is one example of how in our industry it is essential that we be open minded. We are counselors and business partners, not publicists.

I have always been a firm believer that the best education is on the job, as evidenced by my fellow IPRA jurors. Judging the Golden World Awards has been my summer school for many years, and I look forward to many more summer studies with my colleagues.



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The Author

Deborah Charnes Vallejo

Deborah Charnes Vallejo has been vice president, public relations at Bromley Communications since 1998

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