PRide of Poultry

Sanderson Farms Manager of Communication Named PR Practitioner of the Year

As the leader of Sanderson Farms’ corporate communication team and its associated award-winning strategies, Ashley Rea is no stranger to acclaim within her chosen profession of public relations and communication, but recently she accomplished a feat only 20 predecessors have achieved when she was named practitioner of the year by the Pine Belt Chapter of the Public Relations Association of Mississippi. Recognizing achievement in the field of public relations, recipients of the William E. “Bud” Kirkpatrick Practitioner of the Year Award have contributed to the success of the chapter, PRAM and the Southern Public Relations Federation, and have realized success in the practice or teaching of public relations.

“It is always an honor to be recognized among your peers, and this award is certainly no exception,” said Rea, who is currently serving as president of Pine Belt PRAM. “I have been involved in this organization since 2017, and I have learned so much from these talented practitioners in such a short period of time.”

Pine Belt PRAM is an affiliate of the statewide Public Relations Association of Mississippi, serving practitioners and students in the Hattiesburg and Laurel area with professional development opportunities aimed at enhancing and growing individual skill sets, which contributes to the expanding science of public relations policies and practices. The practitioner of the year award was named after Pine Belt PRAM founding member, Bud Kirkpatrick, and is bestowed at the association’s SPARK Awards banquet, which is held annually in February and recognizes outstanding work in the field of public relations by celebrating individuals for their contributions to the profession.

At the awards ceremony, Sanderson Farms was awarded the competition’s highest honor as the Judges’ Choice Award recipient for the company’s hourly wage increase campaign, a strategic integrated communications program launched in 2021 when hourly employees were awarded across-the-board wage increases. “The entry selected as the Judge’s Choice Award winner demonstrated an expert-level understanding of using the public relations process for a successful campaign,” said the judging panel from the Starkville/Mississippi State University chapter of PRAM. “Excellent writing made the reader care about the issue at hand and want to know more about how public relations practitioners tackled the challenge.”

The company’s corporate communication team also received SPARK Awards from the association for the same campaign and the long-term employee education campaign titled “This Is OUR SHOT to Stop COVID-19.” Other SPARK Award recipients were the Office of University Communications at the University of Southern Mississippi for their “Back in Black and Gold” campaign and the City of Laurel for their “Fill the Cup: Combating Compassion Fatigue” campaign.

In just over six years, Sanderson Farms’ corporate communication department has amassed over 75 public relations and advertising awards across the local, state, regional and international levels of competition including awards bestowed by the Public Relations Association of Mississippi, Southern Public Relations Federation, American Advertising Federation of Jackson, Mississippi, American Advertising Federation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Hermes International Creative Awards. Many of the awards recognize the team’s strategic public relations programs, as well as the publication of the Sanderson Farms Newsletter and the company’s annual Corporate Responsibility Report.

Although Rea’s work is well-recognized within the public relations field, she has also achieved similar recognition from the agriculture industry. In 2018, Rea was named a recipient of the International Production and Processing Expo’s 30 Under 30 award, which is awarded to the next generation of young professionals who work for companies directly involved in the production and processing of poultry and other meat or the production of animal and poultry feed.

Joining Sanderson Farms full-time in 2013 as a communication trainee after completing the company’s summer internship program, Rea has led the company’s corporate communication department since its inception in 2015. She is also a graduate of the company’s corporate mentoring program, Sanderson Farms 2020: Vision for Our Future, as well as serving on the company’s diversity and inclusion committee and antitrust committee.

As a summa cum laude graduate of Mississippi College, Rea earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communication with a concentration in public relations. In 2018, she was honored as the university’s Distinguished Young Alumnus for the communication department.

After earning her undergraduate degree, Rea pursued a graduate degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she received a Master of Science degree in public relations. During college, she received many writing and academic research awards, gaining conference acclaim for her research by the Southeastern Journalism Conference and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.