BECKLEY, W.Va. — A Beckley father/daughter team, Jim and Lora Owston, were recently notified that they again won “Best in Show” and numerous other awards for their 2018 WV Remembers public relations campaign for Temple Beth El’s Beckley Annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The latest honors pit the duo against professional advertising agencies in a six-state region in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) — East Central District’s 2019 Diamond Awards competition. This latest honor follows Owston & Owston’s winning the 2018 “Best in West Virginia” award in Morgantown in June 2019 during the West Virginia PRSA chapter’s annual Crystal Awards Gala.
The impetus for the campaign was a 1996 interview of Max Lewin, Beckley’s only Holocaust survivor, which was slated for a TV program Jim Owston produced at the time.
“Max called me the next morning and begged me not to air the piece, as it was such an emotional experience for him,” Owston said in a news release. “He requested that it not be played until after he died.”
Lewin passed in 2002, but the 20-minute interview remained shelved until 2018.
Being inspired by other PR campaigns in the state, Dr. Owston, a mass communication professor at Alderson Broaddus University, thought that it might be a good project on which to collaborate with his daughter Lora, then an Alderson Broaddus junior mass communication and journalism major.
“We hoped that we might be able to submit our work for consideration,” said Owston. “We never expected that we would have the highest score in the state, let alone in the region — it’s mind boggling.”
The two Owstons, who were only in Beckley on the weekends, worked part-time on the pro bono campaign at a distance. With a shoestring budget of $515, the pair used media contacts to aid in bringing 165 people to the April 15, 2018, Beckley Holocaust Remembrance Day; one family even drove six hours from Maryland to attend.
The Lewin interview became the centerpiece of the commemoration and the basis for a PR campaign that also included branding, a logo, blog, posters, radio PSAs, a feature radio story, videos, a press release, a newspaper article, radio interview, website, social media presence, newspaper ads and other media coverage.
“The ability to hear Max tell his story — in his own words — that was the draw,” said Owston. “It really wasn’t anything we did — we were just the conduit of the message.”
The campaign was active between February and April 2018.
“We’re extremely grateful for the support of the community and three universities where event has been hosted,” said Tom Sopher, president of Temple Beth El. “Max Lewin would have certainly been proud of its recent success.”
In addition to “Best in Show” and “Best in West Virginia,” Owston & Owston’s WV Remembers campaign won eight first place Diamond and four second place Merit awards at the regional level and 11 first place Crystal awards and one second place Honorable Mention at the state level –- a total of 26 honors. In competition with hundreds of other entries, the Owstons captured 23% of the 2019 regional awards.
The PRSA East Central District serves West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Western Pennsylvania. Previous “Best in Show” winners were Gatesman, Inc., of Pittsburgh (2018), TriComB2B of Dayton (2017), Bose Public Affairs Group of Indianapolis (2016) and the Indiana Department of Revenue (2015). The West Virginia Department of Commerce in 2011 was the previous state entry to achieve the regional “Best in Show” award. “Best in West Virginia” winners from the recent past include Charles Ryan and Associates (2018), Fahlgren Mortine (2015 and 2017) and West Virginia University (2016).
Dr. Owston will be presenting a case study of the WV Remembers campaign in Morgantown, West Virginia on Jan. 21. See PRSAWV.org for details.