Niceville resident to be inducted into Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame

Special to The Log
Joe Purka

Four public relations practitioners, including Niceville resident Joe Purka, vice president, Kirby-Smith Associates, will be inducted into the Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame in a ceremony to be held in Starkville on July 25. Purka is being honored for his lifetime of service to his country, his communities and the public relations profession.

The Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame was established in 2010 by the Southern Public Relations Federation to recognize the distinguished accomplishments, commitment and leadership of professional public relations practitioners and educators from the Southeastern United States.

The other 2014 inductees include:

• John E. Forde, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA — associate professor and head of Department of Communication, Mississippi State University

• Philip A. Shirley, APR — chairman and chief executive officer, Godwin Group

• Shelia White — director, University Communications (retired), University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast

“The Southern Public Relations Federation is proud to induct these very worthy individuals into the Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame, Class of 2014,” said Kristina L. Hendrix, APR, president of the Southern Public Relations Federation. “Each of them has made an incredible mark on the lives of those around them with their exceptional leadership and upstanding character. Their devotion to the profession of public relations, their communities, and families has made them most-deserving of this meritorious honor. SPRF is pleased to add Joe, John, Philip, and Shelia to the outstanding group of public relations professionals recognized before them.”

Inductees are current and former southern public relations practitioners or educators who have brought honor to the PR field. Inductees are recognized for their extraordinary achievements, accomplishments and contributions to their organizations, communities and the public relations profession. The Southern Public Relations Hall of Fame is co-sponsored by the Southern Public Relations Federation and the Mississippi State University Department of Communication.

Purka gives new meaning to the word “service.” He served his country with distinction during a military career that took him all over the globe. Purka began his public relations career as a speechwriter for the commander of the Armament Center at Eglin AFB, FL in 1971. From there, he moved very quickly as the Chief of Public Affairs in Misawa, Japan, where he was responsible for media relations with both American and Japanese press, employee communications and Japanese community relations. In 1979, he was selected for the highly-competitive Air Force with industry program and was assigned to Hill & Knowlton Public Relations firm in New York. 

Next, Purka became chief of Public Affairs for the Air Force Personnel Center in San Antonio, Texas, then moved to NATO’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium as Chief of Media Relations. After three years in Europe, he was assigned to Air Force Headquarters in Washington, DC and then to the U.S. Air Force Academy. At the Air Force Academy, Purka initiated a minority-recruiting program that met or exceeded recruiting goals and developed an award-winning promotional video.

After the Academy, Colonel Purka retired from the Air Force and began a new career. He developed and directed campaign communications for the National World War II Memorial in Washington, a national campaign that reached $168 million in just over three years. Following that, Purka initiated and directed campaign communications at Rutgers University, a 50,000 student public research university in New Jersey. The six-year capital campaign raised more than $615 million and the campaign materials were recognized with awards from the Public Relations Society of America, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, and the National Association of Government Communicators.

After retiring from Rutgers, Purka settled on the Emerald Coast of Florida. He was recruited by Kirby-Smith Associates and conducts capital campaigns nationwide helping churches raise over $50 million. In 2013, he raised over $15,000 for the Northwest Florida Symphony and the Symphony’s youth education program.

An active member of the Emerald Coast Public Relations Organization since 2003, he has held all officer positions including President, and also served on the board of the Southern Public Relations Federation for two years.