Public relations professionals from around Alaska were honored for their outstanding work at the annual Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Alaska Aurora Awards ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 14, at Williwaw in Anchorage.

The Public Relations Society of America proclaims that the essential components of public relations are research, planning, execution and evaluation. The Aurora Awards and Awards of Excellence honor the people and teams which bring public relations to life every day in Alaska. Entries are judged by PRSA members from outside of Alaska.

Valpine Creative’s low-budget yet wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for Anchorage-based functional fishing fashion FisheWear netted the night’s top honor – Grand Aurora Award. The campaign smashed the client’s goal of $50,000 by more than 30 percent and resulted in positive and far-reaching public relations, brand recognition and earned media. It also landed in second on Kickstarter’s national “Project We Love” list, had 29,000 video views on a growing Facebook page and was shared by popular fashion and fishing influencers. The winning team is comprised of Valerie Walsh, Linda Leary, Chaney Fray and Emily Tallman.

The creative and collaborative work between Thompson & Co. Public Relations and Channel Films on their videos spotlighting the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program’s new Acceleration High School program was named the Grand Award of Excellence winner. This entry illustrated the inspiring power of video, storytelling and Alaska’s youth. The team consisted of Liz Baker, Nikkie Viotto, Dr. Herb Schroeder, Michael Bourdukofsky and Michael Ulroan.

Each year, Alaska’s distinguished Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) professionals select an APRs’ Choice Award. This year’s winner, produced by Heidi Embley, Heather Marron, Pam York, Pam Butcher and Saggio, was the Anchorage School District’s school bonds campaign which educated voters on the 2017 bond. While the bond would increase property taxes, ASD’s Communications team shared factual and impartial information in a full-blown non-advocacy campaign that convinced voters, who approved the bond.

Anchorage’s Heidi Embley was recognized with the Bruce Pozzi Chapter Service Award for her enthusiasm, reliability and volunteer work that always goes above-and-beyond. This year’s Vivian Hamilton Professional Promise Award recipient is Nicole “Nikkie” Viotto. Nikkie is an adventurous and energetic account executive at Thompson & Co. Public Relations with a passion for perfection.

And PRSA Alaska Chapter’s Communicator of the Year honor was presented to Sarah Erkmann Ward, a longtime, hardworking and respected Alaska PR pro who has worked at a public relations agency, a pharmaceutical company, for politicians and the oil industry. She balances her heavy workload with volunteering and family obligations and makes it all look easy.

First-place Aurora Awards for communications campaigns were presented in the following categories:

Events and Observances (Seven or Fewer Days)
Carla Browning, Amy Hartley and Kari Halverson – UAF’s Campus Flower Planting Day

Public Service
University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Michelle Renfrew, Kari Halverson, Tori Tragis and Sharon Burke –“Create a Safe and Welcoming Campus”

Public Affairs
Heidi Embley, Heather Marron, Pam York, Pam Butcher and Saggio – Anchorage School District school bonds campaign

Marketing Communications
Spawn Ideas and Northrim Bank – Beyond Banking Campaign

Internal Communications

Yuit Communications and the Aleut Corporation –“Aleut Voices”

Integrated Communications
Valpine Creative – FisheWear Kickstarter campaign

First-place Awards of Excellence for tools and tactics were presented in the following categories:
Media Relations

Natalie Lowman, APR, Amy J Burnett and Meredith Kenny of ConocoPhillips – Willow Oil Discovery

Writing Portfolio

Leona Long, whose writing brought Alaska Native lifestyles and culture

Internal Publication

Sean Carpenter and Natasha Price – Anchorage Economic Development Corporation – Investor e-newsletter


Heather Marron, Pam York, Pam Butcher and Heidi Embley – Anchorage School District “Safe Digital Communication Practices”

Annual Report

  1. Scott Moon and Wesley Remmer – Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s 2016 annual report


Jenn Baker, Sherrie Roberts and Aida De L’isle – University of Alaska Fairbanks redesign

Social Media


  • Meredith Kenny, Amy Burnett and Natalie Lowman, APR, of ConocoPhillips Alaska ­– Mannequin Challenge
  • Andrew Cassel and Jeff Richardson – UAF #AGU16

Video Material


  • Amy Burnett, Meredith Kenny and Valli Peterson of ConocoPhillips Alaska – “CareerQuest”
  • Thompson & Co. Public Relations and Channel Films – ANSEP’s Acceleration High School program

Radio Material

3fold Communications and SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium – “Healthy is Here”

Special Electronic & Printed Promotional Material

Rasmuson Foundation, Brainspace Creative, Cassandra Stalzer, Queryon, Strategies 360 and Larry Persily –Plan4Alaska Budget Challenge

Photos from the event can be downloaded from Flickr: For a complete list of all award recipients, visit Established in 1977, the PRSA Alaska Chapter connects communications professionals working in the Last Frontier. Today, PRSA Alaska includes more than 200 members statewide, providing public relations practitioners and communicators with monthly luncheons, professional development seminars, webinars, career postings, education, awards recognition, accreditation preparation and more. Learn more about PRSA Alaska by visiting