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PRAL-BR Honors Top Practitioners at Awards Banquet

The Public Relations Association of Louisiana-Baton Rouge honored standout practitioners at its yearly awards banquet. Honorees included Holly Houk Cullen, PhD, APR, as Member of the Year; Trey Williams as Practitioner of the Year; Venessa Lewis, APR, as Communicator of the Year; and Kristine Calongne Sanders as First Circle Award recipient.

The late Bill Michelet, considered the “father of public relations” in Baton Rouge who passed away in August, also was remembered with a moving video tribute. Michelet worked in corporate and external affairs for 27 years at Bell South. He also helped establish the PRAL and Public Relations Society of America chapters in Baton Rouge, as well as the Southern Public Relations Federation.

Catherine Carlock Simpson also was honored as outgoing board president by current board president Ginger Guttner. Simpson will continue to serve on the board of directors as immediate past president.

Houk Cullen (2014 Member of the Year) has been a public relations professional for more than 30 years, with experience in both healthcare and higher education. For the first several years of her career, she held a variety of marketing and PR posts at hospitals throughout South Louisiana. Those experiences provided the perfect springboard for her current role as assistant vice chancellor of University Relations at LSU, where she has worked since December 2000. In addition to her service to PRAL, Holly serves on the Board of Directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness−Louisiana, and is a Marketing and Communications commissioner for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), as well as a CASE District-IV Board member.

Williams (2014 Practitioner of the Year) serves as senior director of marketing for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in Louisiana. Prior to his current position, he served as director of communications and governmental affairs for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. Trey has served in the administration of two Louisiana governors, Governor Mike Foster and Governor Bobby Jindal, and has spent time on Capitol Hill working for two former congressmen as well. Williams currently serves as President-elect of PRAL-BR, is on the board of directors of the Public Relations Association of Louisiana, and serves on the board of directors as a Louisiana representative on the Southern Public Relations Federation. He also serves on the board of directors for the Louisiana Tech Alumni Association. He is a past recipient of the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Top 40 under 40 award.

Lewis (2014 Communicator of the Year) is a national award-winning graphic designer who began her career in 1999 after obtaining her B.A. from the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications. She became an accredited public relations professional in 2007 and launched her own graphic design boutique, Lewis Graphic Design. In the summer of 2014, Lewis unexpectedly dove into a second career as a public figure and professional mermaid character after garnering local, state and national media attention due to her unusual hobby. She then used it to position herself as a positive role model for both children and adults, as well as create a small business. The buzz surrounding her mermaid persona landed her on social media, newspaper and television outlets such as the Weather Channel, USA Today and more than 40 NBC affiliates nationwide as she made appearances around Louisiana in her now famous “tail.” She also works with several local charitable foundations to raise money for children by appearing in character. In 2015 she will promote waterways and recreational tourism as an official representative of the Livingston Parish CVB. Lewis has served as an adjunct instructor in the Manship School of Mass Communication since 2008 and also has served on the Manship School’s Alumni Board for the past two years.

Sanders (2014 First Circle Award recipient) is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Communications at the LSU Office of Communications & University Relations. She has worked at LSU for more than 20 years in various capacities, including Media Relations Director, science writer, and editor before being named Assistant Vice Chancellor in 2009. She serves as one of the university spokespersons, provides strategy and direction for LSU’s global public relations efforts, and assists with messaging for the university’s top administrators. Sanders played an integral role in LSU’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, the Baton Rouge serial killer, several tragic student deaths, and many other emergencies. She has also worked with the U.S. Secret Service and the White House public relations staff to help coordinate and promote Presidential and Vice Presidential visits to LSU’s campus.

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