The Earmuff Ouster—Meet Ashley Varner, Winner of the Council’s Inaugural “Take Flight with PR” Video Contest

Are you wearing earmuffs? Do you block out most messages and pay attention only to those that appeal to you?

Ashley Varner, a student at William and Mary, thinks you might.  Winner of the Council’s inaugural “Take Flight with PR” video contest, Ashley created “Oust the Earmuffs,” a fully animated short that addressed the need for marketers to cut through the clutter, distinguish themselves in the marketplace, and engage in order to effectively reach consumers. As reward for her efforts, Ashley claims a $2500 cash prize and an all expenses paid trip this week to New York City, where she will have her video premiered and meet with three Council member firms.

As Ashley tells it, she initially wanted to focus her video on storytelling, but during conversations with friends and family she realized that many were hostile to traditional advertising. “I learned that the messages my friends and family remembered in a positive light were the ones they weren’t forced to hear. These campaigns were put in a category completely separate from that of the troublesome ads because they are meaningful. When I saw this reaction, I realized I wanted to address not only what has made PR successful, but also how I can contribute to help PR evolve in a time when unsolicited information is often seen as intrusive.”

Ashley further reflected that she had developed her own “earmuffs.” She tended to ignore or reject most of the unwanted information that came her way, sensing that it didn’t apply to her. What did appeal to her was information that was relevant and tailored to her particular tastes and interests “Add entertainment value and a way to interact, and the passive viewer becomes an engaged audience member.”

An art history major and theater minor, Ashley first became interested in PR after a family friend suggested the industry might fit her skills and interests well. A summer internship at FleishmanHillard’s Washington, DC office convinced her that PR was worth exploring further. “I saw firsthand that PR is more than just a series of advertisements; it’s about effective interaction and presentation. I was able to apply my knowledge of what motivates people and interest in current events to projects geared toward audience engagement. Helping to oust people’s earmuffs appeals to me because I want to produce content that people not only appreciate passively, but enjoy enough to seek out.”

Looking ahead, Varner seeks to learn as much as she can about the PR field. As she advances in her career, she also hopes to nurture her budding love for international travel. “I enjoyed spending a year abroad, particularly in London, and if my future job were to take me back there, I would be very happy!”

Varner’s award is particularly meaningful given the many other excellent videos that were submitted. Two runners-up were named, and their videos are well worth a look. “Join the Mission,” by University of Alabama student Myreete Wolford, depicts a career in PR as an opportunity to “support a cause, change a life, take a trip, build a home and join a mission.” “Visual Storytelling,” by Pearce Murphy of the University of Texas, Austin, emphasizes the ability in public relations to tell stories through video. “Working with video lets me take a message and translate it in such a way that is meaningful and resonates with an audience,” Murphy says. I have a passion for creating these stories through video, and a career in public relations would give me the opportunity to tell a new one every day.”

The “Take Flight with PR” contest sought to showcase the next generation of PR industry talent and their creative storytelling skills. Running from April 2 to July 8, the contest attracted nearly 45,000 visitors. Entries were narrowed by crowd-sourced voting to 10 semi-finalists, and a panel of judges from leading firms selected the winning submission.

Like the judges, we at the Council were impressed by the overall quality of the submission. Ashley’s video stood out from the field as visually striking, with a narrative that shared not only her understanding of the power of public relations but a passion for the work that goes into it. Please join us in congratulating Ashley. Up-and-coming talent like hers represents the future of our industry, and if the contest is any indication, the industry will be in good hands indeed.


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