All posts by Alicia Cooney

Rochelle L. Ford, APR, on Becoming a More Inclusive Communicator

Historian and educator Carter G. Woodson had the vision to create a moment once a year to celebrate and recognize the contributions of African Americans in the United States. Woodson’s vision started with Negro History week in 1926 and, 50 years later, became what we know as Black History Month.

Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity,” explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States.

Following last year’s revelation to the world of the continuum of systemic racism in America, companies, organizations and individuals across all color lines have embraced the notion of the lack of diversity, and are having more conversations on ways we can heal and move forward becoming a more inclusive nation. This is especially important as communicators.

To create an open dialogue, PRsay reached out to Rochelle L. Ford, Ph.D., APR, who was recently named to #ColorComm28, which recognizes 28 Black women who have made notable contributions to the communications profession.

Ford is a recognized scholar and leader with intensive knowledge of multicultural communications and diversity. She has been published in several academic works and received numerous accolades, including PRSA’s Educator of the Year and the D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award.

She is currently the dean of the School of Communication and professor of strategic communication at Elon University. Here, she discusses her perspective on how diversity, equity and inclusion are shifting and how we, as practitioners, can join the movement.

With your experience in conducting research around diversity in advertising and public relations, what findings do you think we should be most aware of?

This idea of diversifying our industry and making sure everyone is invited to the party. It is something way past due. We have made strides, but not nearly enough. We can’t take our foot off the pedal. We have to recognize that we have inequities — the systems in the PR industry, how we approach hiring, letting people know what the career pathway is — and we have some built-in systems of inequity. We have to rethink and break down those systems to have a more equitable feel.

We talk about diversity but what is more important is inclusion. Inclusion where people feel like they belong, where they bring their whole self to work, is the goal. When we think about diversity, it is a journey; and inclusion is a journey where we are all learning. It is not a destination where we will ever arrive, but we will always get better.

What does Black History Month mean to you, especially considering the heightened importance of racial injustice following the events of last year?

Every day is an opportunity for Black history, not just a month. There are people, and have been people, who have made contributions to America and the world. We need to recognize that talent. We need to know about those pioneers such as Ofield Dukes, my mentor. We need to know about those Black institutions. If there were not Historical Black Colleges and Universities, there would not be a Black middle class.

Look at the prominent leaders of schools and Greek-letter organizations that have provided scholarship, community service and contributions as a support system to hundreds of college graduates. Black History Month allows us to zoom in to understand and learn about institutions, to learn about people and leaders, and it’s a time for us to reflect for us to know where we need to go.  The struggle is not over. It is better but not over.

In recent years, and particularly this past year, there has been more emphasis on increasing the diversity within communications and marketing. Where would you like to see the profession move?

I want to see the profession move in multiple areas. I want to see our profession reflect the public we serve. We should be a reflection of America… We need to see this in every sector and at every level. It is time that we say we cannot find talent but begin investing in the talent that we have.

As communicators, what can we learn from the experiences and impact of Black history makers?

There are so many lessons to be learned. I learned so much from Ofield Dukes… he was a personal influence model. He had a huge Rolodex of people who were influential and it was his job to be a connector. He taught me the art of networking. He helped teach me the art of putting other people’s needs before your own. He would ask, ‘Hi, Ms. Tillery. What can I do for you?’ He knew that public relations was a two-way street and meeting the needs of the person you were talking with is critical.

I think you can learn lessons from all people. Unique lessons you wouldn’t have learned from African Americans if you hadn’t read, studied and learned about them.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were just starting out, and what advice would you offer other up-and-coming people of color within this profession? 

I think that it would be a reassurance that there is no one way to success. Everybody will take different turns and struggles, and it is OK. There is not a magical formula. In talking to young people and others, be true to yourself. [Regardless of your ethnicity and race] know who you are, how your experiences have shaped who you are, and be willing and open to learning about someone. To find that common bond that we all have as humans and to grow from there.

Keep your eyes on the prize and learn from your failures. You learn more from your failures than you do from your success. Keep moving.

Article written for PRsay, an extension of Strategies & Tactics, PRSA’s award-winning publication, by LaShana Sorrell, director of brand engagement at Vulcan Park & Museum, home to the world’s largest cast-iron statue. She lives in Birmingham, Ala., with her teenage daughter. 

Cleveland Rocks Winners Announced


The Cleveland Rocks Awards, PRSA Greater Cleveland’s signature event, recognizes the area’s best in public relations and communications projects and programs. Congratulations to the winners of our 19th annual event!

More than 50 gold, silver and bronze awards were presented to corporations, nonprofits and agencies and their clients in recognition of excellent communication programs and tactics.

The winners are:

Category: TACTIC

Annual Report

GOLD Award: Roop & Co. | RPM International Inc., 2020 RPM Annual Report

Best Paid Social Media Campaign >$500 (B2B & B2C)

GOLD Award: Falls & Co | Spectrum Diversified Designs

Best Use of Facebook Page

GOLD Award:  Marcus Thomas | Ohio Lottery Commission, PAC-MAN®’s Live Extrava-Game-Za

Best Use of Influencer Promotion

SILVER Award: Falls & Co. | T-Rex Tape, Guinness World Record Influencer Campaign

GOLD Award: Marcus Thomas | Ohio. Find It Here. 2020 Brand Ambassador Program

Book, Guide, Resource or Directory

SILVER Award:  Goldberg, Quill & Associates | LLC for Jesuit Retreat Center,

A Gift of Words and Wisdom – Homilies of Father Jim Von Tobel


SILVER Award: Roop & Co. | RPM International Inc., RPM Around the World Newsletter

Feature Article

SILVER Award: Falls & Co. | Erie Insurance Feature Article, “Renovating Your Home? How to Protect Your Investment”


SILVER Award: Hathaway Brown School: Historically Modern – Hathaway Brown Magazine, Summer 2021

Multimedia Content: Online Newsroom or Digital Media Kit

GOLD Award: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, “The threat of eviction during COVID-19: Perspectives from Cleveland’s Ohio City”

Multimedia Content: Podcasts, Audio

SILVER Award: Falls & Co | Marathon Pipe Line Radio Campaign

Integrated Communication Campaigns (Non-Profit)

GOLD Award: YMCA of Greater Cleveland, “Recovering from COVID: YMCA of Greater Cleveland’s Campaign to Return to Growth”

Media Relations (Trade)

SILVER Award: Stevens Strategic Communications, A Division of Roop & Co. | Polar King Companies

Polar King Companies COVID-19 Vaccine PR Campaign

Media Relations (Local / Regional)

SILVER Award: Sweeney| Atlantic Union Bank, “Swift Response to Paycheck Protection Program Extension”

Media Relations (National)

BRONZE Award: Falls & Co. | Shurtape Technologies/Duck® Brand “Duck® Brand’s 20th Annual Stuck at Prom® Scholarship Program

SILVER Award: Falls & Co | The North American Menopause Society, 2020 National Media Relations Program

GOLD Award Marcus Thomas | Vitamix®, “Meet the ONE™” from Vitamix®




Marcus Thomas with “Meet the ONE™, from Vitamix®”


Marcus Thomas with “PAC-MAN®’s Live Extrava-Game-Za, Ohio Lottery Brings Fun Home with a Facebook Live Interactive Game Show.”


YMCA of Greater Cleveland, “Recovering from COVID: YMCA of Greater Cleveland’s Campaign to Return to Growth.”


Marcus Thomas, Ask Troy 2.0 for Troy-Bilt

Consumer New or Current Product or Service Launch Campaigns

BRONZE Award: FACTEUR PR |Boogie Board “VersaTiles Launch from Boogie Board”

SILVER Award; City of Beachwood,“Beachwood Delivers”

GOLD Award: Marcus Thomas | Troy-Bilt, “Ask Troy 2.0”Campaign: COVID-19 Response, External Communications Campaign

SILVER Award: Sweeney | Enlighted, Inc. “Enlighted Pivots to COVID-19 Marketing Strategy”

GOLD Award: Marcus Thomas| Ohio. Find It Here. “Ohio. Find It Here. 2020 Brand Ambassador Program”

Digital Campaigns

SILVER Award: Falls & Co. | Spectrum and Tovolo, Spectrum and Tovolo Organic Social Management and Influencer Program

Diversity & Inclusion External Communications

BRONZE Award: Cuyahoga Community College, Stand for Racial Justice

SILVER Award: Stevens Strategic Communications, A Division of Roop & Co. |Erie County (PA) and Erie County Department of Health, Research Regarding COVID-19 Messaging to Underserved Populations and PR Campaign

GOLD Award: shark&minnow | Guardians CLE “Guardians CLE”

Events: Corporate Communications

GOLD Award: Stevens Strategic Communications, A Division of Roop & Co. | Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, “How a Regional Sewer District Made Their Employees FAME-ous NEORSD 2020 Service Awards Video”

Events: Health Care

GOLD Award: Falls & Co. |The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting

Events: Non-Profit

SILVER Award: Falls & Co. | Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship, Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship: Teeing Up Success to Give Back to Northeast Ohio

GOLD Award: Impact Communications | Cleveland Chapter, PRSA 2020 Cleveland Rocks Awards

Events: Public Affairs & Government

BRONZE Award: Falls & Co. | Team NEO “Lost Opportunities: Team NEO Event Draws Attention to the Pandemic’s Impact on Northeast Ohio’s Working Women”

SILVER Award: Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission for DriveOhio, “Ohio Turnpike paves the way for emerging technology.”

Integrated Communication Campaigns (Corporate Communications)

SILVER Award: Mower | FirstEnergy, “Stop. Look. Live with Max Safety”

Integrated Communication Campaigns (Education)

GOLD Award: Cuyahoga Community College, Full Tuition Assistance Campaign

Multimedia Content: Video

BRONZE Award: Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission for Ohio Turnpike, Ohio Turnpike: 65 Years of Excellence Video Series

SILVER Award: shark&minnow | Guardians CLE

GOLD Award: Marcus Thomas| KeyBank, KeyBank: “We’re not in your neighborhood, we’re from your neighborhood. A content series introducing local voices to underbanked communities.”

Press Release

SILVER Award: Falls & Co. | Erie Insurance, Press Releases: National Auto Survey

GOLD Award: Falls & Co | The North American Menopause Society, Postmenopausal women can dance their way to better health press release for NAMS

Promotional Content: Media Kit

SILVER Award: Hathaway Brown School, You’ll Love it Here Acceptance Kit

GOLD Award: Marcus Thomas | Vitamix®, Meet the ONE™, from Vitamix®

Technical Article or Whitepaper

SILVER Award: Fahlgren Mortine | Lubrizol Engineered Polymers,Fahlgren Mortine Guides Lubrizol Introduction to Paint Protection Film Manufacturers”.


GOLD Award: Fahlgren Mortine | Carrier Fire & Security Products, “A Healthier Future Starts Indoors” Webinar Series

Website / Mobile App

BRONZE Award: Collective Reach | Charitable Pharmacies of America

BRONZE Award: Fahlgren Mortine | Novagard, Novagard Electronics Microsite

SILVER Award: Roop & Co. | 2020 RPM Website Redesign



 B2B Campaigns

GOLD Award: Sonnhalter|KNIPEX TwinGrip Pliers Launch

Best Use of Influencer Marketing / Promotion

GOLD Award: Marcus Thomas |Ohio. Find It Here, 2020 Brand Ambassador Program

Community Relations (or Cause) Campaigns

BRONZE Award: shark&minnow | Guardians CLE

SILVER Award: Mower | FirstEnergy, “Stop.Look.Live with Max Safety”

GOLD Award: Embrace Pet Insurance “The EmbraceCLE Community Challenge”

Duplicate awards can be ordered here: DuplicateAwardOrderForm 2021