Posted Date: 09/01/2023
Union Chief Communications Officer Chris Payne was surprised this morning after learning he will receive the Steve Turnbo Lifetime Achievement Award – only the second time in history that the award is being bestowed.
The Tulsa chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) surprised Payne during an employee meeting at the Education Service Center with the news. Payne will formally accept the honor during PRSA’s Silver Link Awards Thursday, October 5, at the Agora Event Center.
Amanda Murphy, manager of Internal Communications at One Gas, and several members of PRSA congratulated Payne, who was probably wondering why his professional colleagues were at Union today. See video: https://youtu.be/L6RR7qi8vt0
Speaking for the PRSA members, Murphy said they were honored to recognize Payne with only the second such lifetime award for his work and efforts to help his colleagues obtain certification.
The honor was first given was in 2019 when PRSA honored well-known public relations official Steve Turnbo, who started his own PR firm, which later evolved into Schnake, Turnbo and Associates.
Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler also commended Payne, noting it is indeed a great honor to receive considering it is rarely given.
Absolutely deserved. I have been lucky to learn from (and lean on) Chris since I started in my current role with OPS. Congratulations, Chris!! https://t.co/7uhgpnz2kQ— Jordan Korphage (@jordan_korphage) September 1, 2023
Payne joined Union Public Schools in January 2017, with more than 30 years of public relations and strategic communications experience. He previously served as executive director of Communications for Tulsa Public Schools, the second-largest district in Oklahoma. In 2018, he led the successful passage of the district’s first five-year, $128.6 million bond campaign.
Payne began working for Tulsa Public Schools in 2011, where he was instrumental in the success of Project Schoolhouse, an initiative that consolidated 13 schools, resulting in more than $6.3 million in savings. Payne also helped TPS pass a $415-million school bond initiative, the largest ever in the state.
He previously served as vice president and general manager for the Tulsa office of SAXUM, an integrated communications firm, before joining Tulsa Public Schools. Prior to that, he was senior manager of corporate communications for Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc., the parent company of Thrifty Car Rental and Dollar Rent A Car. He worked at the company for 17 years. He previously lived in Dallas, where he spent four years working for public relations and political consulting agencies.
In May 2021, Chris received a Tomás Rivera “Heroes in Education” Award from the Greater Tulsa Area Hispanic/Latinx Affairs Commission for actively supporting the Latinx community in education. In 2014, Chris was one of 16 individuals inducted into the PRSA College of Fellows, which recognizes those who have left a significant footprint on the public relations profession. In 2012, he received a national Silver Anvil Award from PRSA for his groundbreaking work in issues management, and a 2012 Award of Excellence for his work on Project Schoolhouse. In 2002, he was named “PR Professional of the Year” by the Tulsa Chapter of PRSA.
He is a trustee of the Union Schools Education Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to making investments in education to fund creative programs that profoundly impact students and teachers. He serves on the Education Committee of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Society in Tulsa and is also Chair of the Publicity Committee. In July 2022, he was named Board Member of the Year by the MLK, Jr. Commemorative Society in Tulsa. Previously, he has served on the board of directors for the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. He is past board president of Tulsa’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure and past president of the Tulsa Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. He has also served on the citywide marketing committee for the Tulsa Area United Way, as well as leading Union’s employee fundraising campaign for the last five years.
Payne has a Master of Arts in mass communications from the University of Oklahoma and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. He is accredited in public relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America and is also a member of the National School Public Relations Association.
He and his wife, Susan, have three daughters, who are graduates of Union Public Schools.