The Ocala chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association will honor Toni James with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Also presented will be Communicator of the Year and Image Awards.

It sounds like alphabet soup: FPRA, APR, CPRC, PRSA.

But what all those acronyms mean to Ocala's Toni James is that on April 26, her career in public relations will be honored for Lifetime Achievement by the Ocala chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA).

James has the distinction of following her signature with two designations: (1) Accredited in Public Relations (APR), recognized by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and other national public relations professional associations as a universal accreditation, and (2) Certified Public Relations Counselor (CPRC), which recognizes the professional growth and achievement of senior FPRA members who have already earned the APR designation.

James will be honored by the local chapter during the Mid-Florida Local Image Awards event, with the theme PaRade of Excellence. The event will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and the program at Medical Health Center.

Also honored during the event will be winners of the 2018 Wilton F. Martin Communicator of the Year awards for institution and individual. The nominees are:

Institutions: Digital Fury, Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Marion County Public Schools, Mojo Grill and Catering, and Zone Health and Fitness

Individuals: Jessica Barnes of St. Leo University; Ginger Broslat (APR, CPRC) of Ginger Broslat Communications, James George of American Cable Services, Tom James (Toni's son) of Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Economic Partnership, Lisa Lombardo of HDG Hotels, Jim Ross of the Ocala Star-Banner, Kevin Sheilley of Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Economic Partnership and Wesley Wilcox, Marion County's supervisor of elections.

Toni James was nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award by Broslat and Laura Byrnes (APR, CPRC). According to materials provided by the chapter, James' career highlights include:

• Her work with United Way of Marion County brought the agency's fundraising from $300,000 in 1980 to $2.2 million in 2005 and an endowment of more than $1.5 million. For five years, she authored a bi-weekly column in the Star-Banner on volunteerism. She retired in 2006 from United Way of Marion County after 30 years. She chaired United Way’s 50th anniversary event and stepped back into the role of executive director when an interim leader was needed. When it was time to again retire, she continued to serve as chair of the agency's public relations and marketing committee and still serves as a committee member.

• She is the owner of Toni James & Associates Strategic Public Relations.

• She has continued to serve as board chair of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra. It was under her guidance that the orchestra was renamed and hired Matthew Wardell as its conductor.

• She worked tirelessly for the Heart of Florida Health Center, Friends of Munroe Regional Medical Center and Save the Marion Theatre. She was part of the Library Lovers campaign that promoted restoration of funding to Marion County's Public Library System.

• She recently was named to the board of the Public Policy Institute.

• Her community involvement also includes Women of Worth, Ocala Women’s Network, Rotary, Marion County Children’s Alliance, Friends of the Ocala Public Library, Success By 6, Kids Central and her church.

• She is a charter member of the local FPRA chapter, has served three times as president and was state vice president of Golden Image. In 2009, she received the Doris Fleischman Award for dedicated service to the association and the profession, and she continues to serve as needed, including chairing Credentials and ACES, assisting as Image Awards judge and helping with Communicator of the Year. In 2013 she achieved CPRC, a designation held by only 80 professionals in the state at the time.

To learn more, we did a question-and-answer session with James, event chair Allison Campbell (APR, CPRC) and chapter president Lisa Varner (APR, CPRC).

Toni James

Question: How do you feel about receiving such recognition?

Answer: I am somewhat overwhelmed. The Lifetime Achievement Award is not an annual award or a competition, as are the Communicator of the Year and Image awards.

I was one of the founding members of the FPRA chapter in 1980, at a time when I had just begun (or restarted) my career at United Way. During those days there was only me and a secretary for staff, so it was my job to get acquainted with the media to tell UW’s story. As a single parent I worked hard and loved every minute of it. Over the years as I continued in membership at FPRA, I learned the nuances of public relations beyond publicity. The chapter and state association offer so many ways to learn public relations and effective communication with those important to your organization’s success.

I sat for exams to became accredited as a public relations professional (APR) and then more recently as a certified public relations counselor (CPRC), the closest the profession has to a license. I’ve been an active member of the chapter, as well as the state association, being chapter president twice and a number of other offices.

After retirement from United Way I’ve been actively involved in several other community activities. To be recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award is more recognition than I ever expected, and I am deeply honored.

Q: What do you feel is your most important work as a communicator?

A: Listening. Without listening, I don’t have any way to know what is the understanding of United Way, or the public library, or the symphony orchestra, or whatever idea I’m trying to communicate about. So if I listen, I will know where the understanding ends and learning can begin.

Q: What words of wisdom would you share with others in the industry?

A: Work hard. Care about others. Continue to learn. Invest in your community. Never give up.

Allison Campbell

Question: How did you come up with the PaRade theme?

Answer: The Mid-Florida Image Awards are a part of a statewide competition known as Golden Image. The state vice president of Golden Image, our own Laura Byrnes, APR, CPRC, chose the theme “Let the Good Times Roll” with a Mardi Gras concept. We liked it and decided to make ours Mardi Gras themed as well. Because we combine it with the Wilton F. Martin Communicator of the Year, it seemed a great fit to call it PaRade of Excellence.

Q: Can anyone attend the event?

Absolutely. This event is open to the public, and with the host of excellent communicators, especially in our Communicator of the Year nomination pool, we hope their friends, colleagues and family will be on hand to support them.

Q: How does being honored with an Image Award or other award help someone?

A:  I’m the mom of three elementary-aged boys who bring home gold stars and “atta-boys” on their school work all the time. As professionals, its not as common to be rewarded for a job well done. Especially in public relations — the job can still seem ambiguous to some. The proverbial “they” think we are just the ones who plan events, take pictures and write press releases, while in actuality there’s a lot more to our jobs than most realize.

With the Image and Golden Image awards process, you aren’t just measured on a job well done from an employer or client. You can really see how well your work stacks up to other professionals in our field. Each entry is judged on the use of research, measurable objectives, implementation, evaluation and budget. Other than the sense of accomplishment that comes from winning, it’s very rewarding to know that other peers respect our work, and that we are following the best processes in each project.

For Communicator of the Year, the same holds true. Whether you are a PR practitioner or not, there are many nominees who simply know how to communicate well, or they have a great communication team. Those efforts deserve recognition.

Lisa Varner

Question: As president of the chapter, what do you want people to know about the state and local groups?

Answer: The Florida Public Relations Association is dedicated to developing public relations practitioners who, through ethical and standardized practices, enhance the public relations profession in Florida. FPRA was founded in 1938, and the Ocala chapter was chartered in 1980. There are 15 chapters throughout the state, with more than 1,110 members. The Ocala chapter has 57 members representing government, education, healthcare, corporate, small business, agencies and nonprofit.

I have been involved with FPRA since I was a PR student in 1998 at UF. I joined the Ocala chapter in 2000 and have never thought of not renewing my membership. I am serving as president for a third time. My involvement in FPRA has been the single biggest contributing factor to my professional success.

Q: How can people become involved with the local chapter?

A: Visit us online at www.fpraocala.org.