Strategies & Tactics

How Independents Helped Relaunch PRSA Montana

October 2, 2018

[prsa montana]
[prsa montana]

Following a few years of inactivity, PRSA’s Montana Chapter restructured and became fully operational in late 2017. Many catalysts helped revive the Chapter, but among the more telling dynamics involved, independent practitioners have been driving forces behind its resurgence.

According to Chapter leadership, the Montana Chapter’s revitalization coincides with economic growth throughout the state. In 2017, Montana ranked as the No. 1 state in the nation for entrepreneurial activity for the fourth consecutive year, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which tracks entrepreneurial trends.

Missoula resident Christina Ragsdale, APR, of Christina Ragsdale Communications, is the Chapter’s 2018 president. The newcomer to Montana found “a group of professionals who were very action-oriented and anxious to step up to get the chapter off the ground,” she said. “The new and very small board was ambitious this year and decided to take on both a statewide conference and Accreditation.”

When she first arrived in Montana she knew she would love living there, but was unsure about returning to full-time consulting. An independent for about six years, she had continued working part-time since then. (Ragsdale moved to Montana full time in May 2016, though her mother was from the state.)

“Now I was trying to lift off again in a new state,” she said. “I had a couple of small clients and prospects in my former home [in Sacramento, Calif.], but opportunities in Montana also presented themselves. The entrepreneurial spirit was everywhere I looked, and easy to step back into.”

Courtenay Sprunger, founder and principal of Big Sky Public Relations in Missoula and a board member of the Montana Chapter, has seen the local business landscape evolve. In the past, only Montana’s most robust industries understood public relations and its value, she said. Now, many of Montana’s urban areas are poised to join the “Silicon Prairie,” where new technology companies appear in the heartland, “creating a far different business blend than years prior when agriculture, tourism and manufacturing were the predominant market drivers.”

Most startup companies in Montana are small and have limited budgets for creative and professional services, she said. For such organizations, independent PR practitioners and boutique firms offer strong value, since they’re “more affordable because they don’t carry the same overhead as larger agencies.”

A strong economy

Amber Conger, communications director for the State of Montana Department of Administration in Helena, is incoming Chapter president for 2019. She believes the state has created a positive and receptive atmosphere for business.

“The economy is strong, unemployment is low, we have an engaged workforce and the business-tax environment is favorable,” she said. Recognizing these advantageous conditions, more and more companies and business owners are choosing to do business in Montana.

Sprunger said PRSA’s renewed presence in Montana has helped create a mechanism for better networking. The relaunched Chapter “has introduced me to a number of PR pros across the state who I would likely not have met otherwise,” she said. “It’s opened up an incredible new professional network and exceptional new resources for our agency."

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast. Email: Twitter: @OBrienPR.


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