News from the Public Relations Society of America
North Carolinian Joe Epley Receives
PRSA’s Highest Honor
NEW YORK (Oct. 28, 2008) — Joe S. Epley, an icon of Charlotte, N.C., business and the so-called “godfather” of modern public relations in Russia, received the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) 2008 Gold Anvil Award, the highest individual honor, at the Society’s 2008 International Conference in Detroit Oct. 25-28.
“Joe Epley has distinguished himself over many years as a sophisticated, visionary ethical professional who has been an inspirational leader of PRSA,” said PRSA Chair and CEO Jeffrey Julin, APR. “He is a credit to the profession and to this organization in every respect, and he is a worthy recipient of this honor.”
Julin presented the prestigious Gold Anvil Award to Epley during the International Conference. First awarded in 1948, the Gold Anvil commemorates a lifetime of service by an individual whose work significantly advanced the profession and set high standards for those engaged in the practice of public relations.
Epley, now semi-retired in the Blue Ridge Mountains community of Tryon, N.C., headed Epley Associates, Inc., for 37 years. The full-service firm represented a variety of clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to local not-for-profits, many of them clients for more than two decades. He also was founding partner in Worldcom Public Relations Group, a network of independent firms that grew to include businesses in 35 countries. Epley is widely applauded for helping establish professional, ethical public relations in Russia shortly after the collapse of the former propaganda-dominated Soviet Union, and for his work there, the Russian Public Relations Association made him a lifetime member in 2005.
In addition to an excellent personal reputation for professional ethics, Epley also required employees to embrace PRSA’s Member Code of Conduct, and included adherence the PRSA code of ethics in client contracts as well.
“Joe Epley has made a great impact in all aspects of the public relations field and has been an exemplary professional. We’re proud to recognize his great contributions to our profession by awarding him the 2008 Gold Anvil Award,” said Sherry Goldman, 2008 PRSA Honors and Awards Committee chair and president of the New York-based Goldman Communications Group.
“It is both a thrill and a humbling experience to be selected by your peers for such a high honor,” said Epley. “I can't think of a better way to cap one's career. It makes me feel that I have made a difference. But I also have had many colleagues who worked with me, guided me, supported me and gave me the opportunities to make that difference.”
Epley, a native of Forest City, N.C., was once a television news reporter and editor in his native state in Asheville and Charlotte. In 1968, he founded his public relations firm in Charlotte and built it into a unique organization with global reach. According to one of his nominations for the award, Epley never shied away from work for controversial clients, but with those clients especially, he provided leadership and support for their advances in social responsibility and open, ethical corporate behavior — years before laws and a changing business environment compelled it. Epley once famously observed that, “We can build awareness, but it won’t be worth a hill of beans if everyone in the organization’s management does not embrace the basic principles of ethical conduct in business and corporate responsibility in society.” A 1993 study he presented to the Defense Information School on ethics in military public affairs also is credited for putting professional ethics standards on the decision-making table in that segment of the public relations profession as well.
“As a profession, we still have not achieved the universal status of being an essential element to management,” he said. “We are too often being slotted as tools of marketing or human resources. If more of our practitioners reach out to be more relevant to their organizational decision makers, then perhaps we can have greater influence in the future.”
He is former national president of PRSA and twice chair of the PRSA Foundation and, as a founding member of that organization, the author of its bylaws. He also has served as chair of the PRSA College of Fellows and the Counselors Academy. In North Carolina, he was a board member of the North Carolina PRSA Chapter until he co-founded the Charlotte Chapter; he served as Charlotte Chapter president in 1980.
Three items in particular characterize Epley’s term as national PRSA president in 1991:
- As an early adopter of technology and an advocate of sound business practices, he directed extensive business process improvements in the organization, including its hiring of its first professional finance manager.
- He led a PRSA drive to send textbooks and curricula to Russia when that country adopted its first formal training program — a program that subsequently has been adopted in more than 100 Russian universities and educational institutions. Since then, he also has made multiple trips to Russia for mentoring and hands-on guidance.
- As Epley was about to assume the presidency, the organization faced a crisis: African-American members threatened to boycott the Conference in Phoenix because Arizona political leaders had rejected celebration of Martin Luther King Day, a threat that could have cost the organization more than $500,000 if it altered Conference plans. Although Epley declared the organization would move the Conference rather than offend its members, he spearheaded a grassroots effort, lead by PRSA members in the state, that resulted in the first referendum to establish the King memorial holiday by a popular referendum.
Epley currently serves as a trustee of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and a member of the board of Directors for Pavilion International, a substance abuse recovery center. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and its Center for Global Public Relations.
He and his wife Dorcas, who in 2009 will celebrate their 50th anniversary, have two children and four grandchildren.
About the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
The Public Relations Society of America (www.prsa.org), 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 296 Chapters at colleges and universities throughout the United States, and one Chapter in Argentina.