Reflections on the 51st Bell Ringer Awards

Walking into the Bell Ringer Awards cocktail hour always feels like home. No matter the location, no matter the view, no matter the weather, you know you’ll see familiar faces, reconnect with colleagues of the past, and meet new people, all energized and excited about the night ahead. The 51st Bell Ringer Awards was no exception, with a nostalgic blend of the past combined with the innovation and modern feel of the future (and renovated space).

Many of you may not know, the Bells used to be held at the Sonesta years ago – the last gala at the Sonesta was in June of 2004. The Bells, like the hotel, have undergone some evolution since then. While the Sonesta sports new decor, technology, and cuisine, the Bells now represent what’s new in our industry. First, the PR Club’s new name represents the expansion and growth of PR beyond just traditional publicity. New awards categories such as influencers and thought leadership reflect the new tools at our disposal. And new campaign elements such as AI and blended paid/earned/shared/owned content illustrate the industry convergence we’re seeing.

Some of our board members had the chance to speak with Barbara Villandry, now retired, but the former VP of the Bell Ringers from the late 1980s at the event. She reminded us of the former Bell Ringer Awards, where entrants submitted binders with their entry narratives, clip books, and VHS tapes of their work. Where judges had to physically be in person to review the binders and score the entries on paper. And when at the dinner, part of set up included putting out all the binders for attendees to peruse during the cocktail hour. And yet, though our awards process has evolved, the hallmarks of solid PR work still remain: clear objectives that solve a business problem, strategic planning, flawless execution, and evaluation.

As we’re looking back in time, let’s also reflect on the 51st Bells awards process. It started in the fall of 2018 with judge recruitment, carried into the winter with our submission period for single-item and campaign entries, through judging and professional awards submissions in the spring, to our gala, a gateway to summer and a fitting way to celebrate all the spectacular work of our colleagues.

Beyond the newness, beyond the process, though, what really makes the Bells — and the PR Club — special is the people. You. Our members. Our guests. Our sponsors. Our judges. Our host (thank you, Tina Martin!). Your commitment to excellence, learning, and camaraderie shines as brightly as the sun off the Charles did last week. Thank you for a terrific year, and for making the Bells and the PR Club a hallmark of excellence in public relations.