VCU Engineering’s Marketing and Communications Team Recognized at 71st Annual Virginia Public Relations Awards

Rebecca Jones, Emi Endo and Kendra Gerlach with Virginia Public Relations Awards master of ceremonies Cameron McPherson
Rebecca Jones, Emi Endo and Kendra Gerlach with Virginia Public Relations Awards master of ceremonies Cameron McPherson

VCU College of Engineering’s Marketing and Communications team received three awards at the 71st Annual Virginia Public Relations Awards on May 24.

Each year, the Richmond chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) recognizes outstanding public relations professionals and their work at the Virginia Public Relations Awards. The Public Relations Society of America is the nation’s largest professional organization serving the communications community.

This year’s award ceremony at The Jefferson Hotel on May 24, 2018, was hosted by the Richmond PRSA chapter, but represents statewide recognition. VCU Engineering received honors in three categories.

Copywriter and social media specialist Emi Endo’s article about a NASA-funded project to study the effects of space radiation on muscle and bone received the top honor, Award of Excellence, in the Feature Stories category. The article directed the public to a study by Henry J. Donahue, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and College of Engineering Foundation Professor, that suggests space radiation may cause astronauts in outer space to lose additional bone, but not more muscle. This research raises questions for humans on Earth dealing with age-related bone and muscle loss. The feature article had widespread appeal for the general public and attracted attention in international media outlets.

VCU Engineering and VCU’s Division of University Relations received the Award of Excellence for its integrated communications strategy to publicize a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — the largest private grant in university history — to establish the Medicines for All Institute at the college. The communications plan included a press conference, news release, home page feature, video, social media and multiple media pitches. With more than 73,800 views on Facebook, the video was the most watched VCU video of the year and the Facebook Live video of the event was viewed more than 18,600 times. The Gates Foundation was “thrilled with the coverage,” requesting a copy of the Facebook Live video.

The media event announcing the grant and the establishment of the institute also received an Award of Merit in the Press Conference category. About 20 people were expected at the August 24, 2017, press conference, but more than 70 attended. The conference resulted in earned media placement in local outlets including articles in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Business, Richmond BizSense, the Commonwealth Times, Philanthropy Times, WVTF and KTEP. The coverage expanded awareness of VCU’s preeminence in pharmaceutical engineering and its status as one of the nation’s premier urban public research universities.