Congratulations to PRSA Georgia’s 2021 Chapter Award Winners!
Each year, the Chapter Awards recognize the best of the best PRSA Georgia members who have demonstrated leadership within the Chapter and the public relations profession. Nominations for the Rising Star (fewer than eight years of experience), Shining Star (eight to 15 years of experience), and Luminary Star (more than 15 years of experience) awards, are submitted by PRSA Georgia members, with winners selected by a panel of judges.
In addition, the Chapter presents the annual Distinguished Public Relations Award to recognize a prominent Georgian outside the public relations practice who has made an outstanding contribution to Georgia’s regional, national, or international reputation through public relations practices and principles.
2021 Luminary Star
Kristie Swink Benson, APR
Vice President of Communications and Chief Spokesperson, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
Kristie Swink Benson, APR, is a seasoned public relations counselor with more than 15 years of experience in the field. Benson has worked in varied public relations industries that read like an agency client list, having served organizations in local government, mental health, utilities, arts and culture, and transportation. As a communications executive, much of her career has been focused on external communications, crisis communications and strategy.
Benson credits involvement in Chapter activities like professional development luncheons, early morning seminars, and Leader Board meetings with serving as a training ground to deepen her knowledge and love for public relations. Always eager to offer a helping hand, Benson has served as a volunteer for PRSA Georgia in numerous roles and expressly enjoyed helping plan and secure Annual Conference speakers and serving as a “cheerleader” and co-table facilitator for several Real-World Conferences.
A self-proclaimed professional development junkie, Benson set her sights on pursuing the Accreditation of Public Relations in 2014. A year later she achieved that goal, earning the prestigious APR designation in June 2015. Since earning the designation, Benson has been an advocate for the process, serving as a volunteer on the APR Committee, which eventually led to committee co- chair for two years then APR board liaison. Benson now serves as board liaison for the Membership, Recruitment and Engagement Committee but remains an active volunteer with the APR Committee because she believes the process is one of the most rewarding professional experiences of her career.
Benson is a member of the 2021 Inspire Atlanta Class, a 2019 member of PRSA Georgia’s 40 under 40 Inaugural Class, 2019 Phoenix Award and Georgia Excellence Award winners, a 2019 Chapter Champion, a 2018 member of the American Express Leadership Academy, a PRSA Georgia Chapter board member, and an Art Marketing Museum Association (AMMA) board member. She is now proud to add the PRSA Georgia Luminary Star Award to her growing list of accomplishments. Benson, who recently accepted a new position in Washington, DC, plans to continue her close involvement with PRSA Georgia.
2021 Shining Star
Media Director, Lenz Marketing
Rachel Cushing began her professional career in marketing and communications in 2013, having previously worked in nonprofit development and political campaigning.
She is currently the Media Director for Lenz Marketing, overseeing the agency’s owned, earned, and paid media initiatives. Throughout her 8+ years in the marketing and communications field, Rachel has worked with more than 40 brands in the healthcare, nonprofit, higher education, small business, home services, and entertainment industries. She’s passionate about solving problems, developing strategies, and improving systems for her clients and the communities they serve.
Rachel has been an active member of PRSA Georgia since 2013. Her passion for working with (and learning from) the next generation of communications and marketing professionals drove her to join the College Relations Committee in 2014, where she served for the next three years. After taking a short break from the committee in 2018, she returned as co-chair in 2019, leading year-round advisor relations efforts as well as student programming logistics for the PRSA Georgia Annual Conference. In 2020, she served as co-chair of the Annual Conference committee and helped execute the first-ever virtual PRSA Georgia Annual Conference. Currently, Rachel serves as co-chair of the Professional Development and Annual Conference Committees. She has also previously been a panelist for several PRSA Georgia Annual Conference sessions, represented the chapter at various university engagements across Atlanta, participated in judging both the 2018 and 2019 Richmond PRSA Phoenix Awards, and served as a member of the Chapter’s Nominating Committee. In 2020, she was named a PRSA Georgia Forty Under 40 Honoree and Chapter Champion. Rachel graduated cum laude from Agnes Scott College with a B.A. in Political Science.
2021 Rising Star
Account Supervisor, MSL
Kristen Ellis has more than five years of experience leading consumer and corporate communications, brand marketing, and reputation management programs for a variety of clients, from publicly traded companies to nonprofits. Her work has spanned many industries and business sectors, including clients such as The Home Depot, Goldfish, Habitat for Humanity International, T-Mobile, Bayer Crop Science, Johnson & Johnson, Soma, Chico’s, White House Black Market, the CDC and Food Lion.
Kristen is an active volunteer for PRSA Georgia; she currently co-leads the College Relations and Young Professionals Committees within the Membership, Recruitment, and Engagement Committee. She also serves as a professional adviser to Kennesaw State University’s PRSSA chapter, and she’s a mentor to students at her alma mater through The Oakley Society professional development program, a program she participated in as a student. Kristen has previously taken part in PRSA Georgia Chapter mentorship programs and created and moderated programming for students at PRSA Georgia’s Annual Conference. She has received numerous industry awards for her work with her clients and teams, as well as a 2019 PRSA Georgia Chapter Champion Award.
Kristen graduated from The University of Alabama with a degree in Public Relations and minors in Business and Spanish. Highlights of her career include meeting Steve Harvey, The Property Brothers and Lo Bosworth; receiving regional and local Client Service Excellence Awards; being published in PR Daily; and being named a PRSA Georgia Forty Under 40 Honoree. She is grateful for the endless support of her friends and colleagues in the industry – through PRSA Georgia and beyond – from whom she learns so much every day.
2021 Distinguished Public Relations Award
Co-owner & Vice President, WNBA Atlanta Dream
Founder & CEO, Renee Montgomery Foundation
Renee Montgomery, winner of the 2021 Distinguished Public Relations Award, is a longtime powerhouse in college and professional basketball who opted out of playing in the WNBA to focus efforts on social justice activism and on The Renee Montgomery Foundation, founded in 2019 to serve the Atlanta community. Under the umbrella mission of “Moments Equal Momentum,” the nonprofit foundation has focused on voter registration, raising funds to enable students to continue their education at HBCU institutions with “The Last Yard,” and back-to-school giveaways for local schools.
Montgomery’s professional career has taken her from three Girls State basketball championships in West Virginia to leading the University of Connecticut’s 2009 women’s basketball team to a NCAA national championship. A two-time All-American, Montgomery was drafted 4th-overall in the WNBA and won two WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx, while also being named an All-Star and 6th Woman of the Year during her 11-year professional career. She retired in 2021 after sitting out the 2020 season to focus on social reform and justice.
That same year, Montgomery became part owner and vice president of the WNBA Atlanta Dream, making her the first player turned owner and executive of a WNBA franchise. Montgomery is currently a sports analyst for NBA/ESPN and host of two weekly podcasts, “Montgomery & Co,” and “Takeline.” In 2020, She was named to the TIME 100 Next, as well as Bloomberg Businessweek’s Bloomberg 50, both annual lists of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders who have changed the global business and social landscape over the year.