The South Carolina Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (SCPRSA) was established and granted a charter on September 21, 1967. From that small group of dedicated professionals nearly 50 years ago, the Chapter has grown steadily throughout the years. Our Chapter has received national recognition several times over the years for membership development and was recognized in 1999 for chapter leadership. SCPRSA’s geographic boundary includes every county in South Carolina.

SCPRSA The Early Years, 1967-1979

In the mid-60s, organized public relations activities for both Carolinas were coordinated through a Carolinas Chapter of PRSA. By January 1966, a local group started meeting in Greenville and called itself “PR 16” so named because it numbered about 16 professionals who primarily represented the textile industry. This group spun off similar gatherings in Columbia and Charleston.

By September 1967, an official chapter of PRSA was formed for South Carolina, with Paul Smith of Liberty Life Insurance as president. On February 6, 1968, the Chapter’s charter was formally presented at a banquet at the Capital Cabana Hotel in Columbia with some 80 attendees. A former national PRSA president spoke and made the presentation. After that, quarterly meetings of the South Carolina chapter–mostly social in nature–were held for several years. Membership grew from about 20 initially to 50 in the first 10 years.

The Chapters membership growth serves as a good indicator of how South Carolina’s businesses, industries and services were growing. In the late 60s, textile company practitioners predominated but were soon joined by representatives of other large corporations. Personnel from banks, higher education, non-profit and advertising/PR agencies began to appear in greater numbers by the mid-70s.

The Chapter even served as co-host with USC’s PRSSA chapter for the 1975 Southeastern District Conference in Columbia. Nationally syndicated columnist David Broder was the keynote speaker. Marshall Doswell, Southeastern District chair, and Dr. Joe Nolan, former USC faculty member, coordinated the successful three-day meeting attended by 150 professionals plus students.

Even though the Chapter had been in existence less than 10 years, it received a national Chapter Banner Award for its accomplishments in 1976.

As is the case with most organizations, the Chapter encountered its ups and downs, however. Unfortunately, by the end of the 1970s, growing pains intensified as the group experienced some dissatisfaction in the direction, leadership and goals. The Chapter thus had difficulties increasing and retaining members and was in jeopardy of losing its chapter status with national.

The 1980s

By the end of 1980, the Chapter resolved its problems and regained the membership that had been lost in the previous years. Two successful workshops were sponsored that year, and the Chapter was on track with a renewed commitment to professional development. One primary issue for the early 1980s was how to coordinate and sustain interests from practitioners around the state. The Charleston satellite group was spawned from this growth in interest and still continues to meet today.

Professional development of members became an important focus. The “Practical PR” annual seminar series, sponsored with the Charlotte and North Carolina Chapters, was popular in the early ’80s. Also, an early effort toward establishing an awards program was made by co-sponsoring a competition with the North Carolina chapter in 1981.

Lois L. Duke, APR, was elected in 1981 as the Chapter’s first female president (she was also the first female to receive accreditation in the state). She paved the way for many more female members who have since followed her as chapter president.

In 1982, the Board designated the second Tuesday of each month as the usual Chapter meeting time. Also in 1982, regional representation of the state was established for the board of directors to underline the Chapter’s commitment to reaching practitioners statewide. The Chapter’s own post office box was secured this year.

The Chapter sponsored and hosted PRSA’s Southeastern District Conference in 1983 in Charleston, attracting more than 100 attendees. Judith Bogart, national PRSA president that year, was a guest speaker. The Chapter also received a PRSA Chapter Banner Award from the district in 1983.

Throughout the 1980’s, the Chapter outgrew several meeting “homes”–members’ offices, USC School of Journalism, the now defunct Market Restaurant and A.J.’s restaurant. Functions were presented at Charleston and Greenville hotels as well. Another annual highlight developed in this decade was the summer seminar, an intensive two-day workshop devoted to a special professional topic with nationally recognized speakers. The Chapter retreated to Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island regularly for this event.

By the end of the 1980s, Chapter membership was likewise in the 80s, with yearly membership directories, computerized mailing lists and periodic newsletters the standard. Expanded treasury duties produced more detailed records on the Chapter’s activities and expenses, and more than $1,500 was routinely kept in reserve with the checking balance. Some 25 percent of the membership held accreditation (APR) status.

The 1990s

In 1990 the South Carolina Chapter topped 100 members for the first time–109 by year’s end. This growth required more management housekeeping, including overhauling mailing lists, planning programs with adequate lead time, reworking meeting schedules and meals, and relocating to the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce building. Continuing to meet these objectives helped the Columbia lunch meeting attendance to grow as much as 100 percent to a monthly average of 50.

By 1990, regional growth prompted the Charleston satellite meeting (now known as the Lowcountry region) to refocus and begin attracting 25 to 35 professionals to monthly luncheons, and the Upstate area established a satellite serving Greenville, Spartanburg and Asheville. Progress in 1990 garnered Chapter Banner Award district honors for the Chapter.

During the 1990s, the Chapter enjoyed renewed involvement with PRSSA at the University of South Carolina and sponsored a mentor program matching students with professionals.

SCPRSA sponsored its first Mercury Awards competition in 1991. The annual banquet recognizes outstanding statewide public relations programs and noteworthy individuals.

Special programs throughout 1992, including roundtable discussions led by members and professional development workshops, honored SCPRSA’s 25th anniversary of its chartering. Its first-ever scholarship, the Past President’s Scholarship, was awarded in 1992 to a USC PRSSA member. For its 1992 activities, the chapter again won the district Chapter Banner competition.

In 1995 the Mercury Awards celebrated its 5th anniversary with great participation from members. Also, the Chapter co-sponsored a Pro-Am week with PRSSA where students were paired with members for an intensive and competitive one-week internship.

In 1996, the Chapter began its first strategic planning process which resulted in a three-year plan for the Chapter. The plan outlined the future of SCPRSA and served as a road map for chapter and membership development. It was reviewed in 1997 and 1998 and is now a staple of yearly planning.

Throughout the 1990s, Chapter leadership helped move SCPRSA and the public relations profession in South Carolina forward. A few of the highlights of this decade include:

  • Reaching a record membership of nearly 200, with a majority of new members from areas outside the Midlands.
  • Creating an endowed SCPRSA scholarship through the USC Educational Foundation and identifying other ways to assist public relations students.
  • Providing quality programming for members, including regional luncheons, seminars and events for senior-level practitioners.
  • Producing useful communication tools for members–a newsletter, an annual membership directory, and a membership brochure, as well as establishing a Web site and an electronic mailing list for quick dissemination of information.
  • Serving hundreds of nonprofit professionals through regional seminars in Columbia, Greenville and Charleston.

As a result of the Chapter’s successful strategic planning and resourcefulness in securing printing and other in-kind donations, SCPRSA was able to hire a professional association management company in 1999 to provide assistance in the areas of membership, finances and general administration. This arrangement enabled SCPRSA to move to a new level of service to its members and the public relations profession in South Carolina, eventually resulting in the hiring of the Chapter Administrator, Karla Falk, in 2002.

Another milestone occurred in 1999, when SCPRSA received the Overall Best Chapter Excellence Award for Chapter Leadership. This national recognition speaks highly of the quality and dedication of the Chapter’s leadership.

The 2000s

Through the dedicated efforts and hard work of its members, SCPRSA has made great strides in its nearly 50-year history. In fact, the Chapter celebrated its 40th anniversary with an oyster roast held in conjunction with the fall professional development conference in November 2007.

The following year, 2008, saw the development of a PRSSA Chapter at Clemson University. Statewide programming that year focused on senior practitioners, ethics, independent practitioners and more. SCPRSA held not one but two professional development conferences in 2008, one in the spring at the Mercury Awards in Charleston and another in the fall in Columbia.

The Chapter also hosted a hugely successful PRSA Southeast District Conference in Greenville in 2015. Nearly 150 PR practitioners from across the Southeast came together to celebrate the PR profession and learn best-practices from their peers. Kathy Barber, national PRSA president at the time, spoke at the event, which also included a special focus on Accreditation in Public Relations.