When I think about what it means to be a great communicator, I think of those who use their abilities to tell a story – whether through spoken or written word, art, photography, stagecraft, film making, music, athletics and/or dance – coupled with their influence in the community to effect change for the greater good. The Wilton F. Martin Communicator of the Year Award has a rich, longstanding history of recognizing those who do just that, whether they realize it or not and whether they are in the public relations field, an affiliated field or something way out in right field.
Tom James is one such individual. The native Ocalan earned his Bachelor’s in Radio/Television Communications from UCF. In fact, I first met him when we were both impossibly young (or in my case, younger) and worked at the Ocala Star-Banner, where Tom honed his storytelling skills as sportswriter and columnist.
Over the years, Tom has put his communications chops to good use, working as Sports Director/Main Anchor for the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers/Naples where he won two Edward R. Murrow Awards, and for seven years helping Fox News Radio become the top billing station in the Southwest Florida market.
He currently does play-by-play and studio hosting for the ESPN family of networks, for CBS Sports Network, Lacrosse Sports Network, the Pro Watercross Circuit and Florida Gulf Coast University basketball. He is also a regular contributor to the weekly regional Southern Pigskin Tonight college football program.
You may recognize Tom as well from his recurring role as “Mr. Teej” on “Do Your Thang,” which aired on ABC TV-20. He is also a regular on Buddy Martin’s “Knights of the Squared Table” (parenthetically, Buddy is son of our Association’s co-founder, Wilton F. Martin, and the 2011 recipient of the Wilton F. Martin Communicator of the Year award).
And that’s all in his spare time. Tom serves as the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership’s Director of Networking, which he jokingly says friends think means he schmoozes, shakes hands and smiles a lot. In reality, he oversees all networking events for the CEP – a 2017 finalist for National Chamber of the Year – including Net>Works groups and Leadership Council, CEO Network Receptions, NetPerking, Business After Hours, CEP 101: Partner Orientation, Marion Business Advantage and, significantly, the extremely useful Networking University.
Networking is defined as the “process or practice of building up or maintaining relationships, especially with people whose friendship could bring advantages such as job or business opportunities.”
That sounds an awful lot like the definition of Public Relations, which we know, is a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Tom excels so much at his brand of public relations/communications that he was invited to speak on “The Necessity of Networking” at the 2017 Fakhoury Young Leaders Conference.
In fact, his ability to communicate – and advocate – for this community is tapped on such a regular basis he’s practically become the Poster Boy of Ocala/Marion County. Consider some of the events he has emceed in the past year, putting his communications skills to work: Parade of Nations Horse Celebration (both the inaugural parade and this year’s), Night at the Library / Friends of the Library fundraiser, United Way of Marion County’s 2017 Campaign Kickoff, Disney Soccer Showcase (okay, that was in Orlando, but so cool I had to throw it in), 2017 ALS Walk, and the 31st Annual Ocala Royal Dames Tiara Ball for Cancer Research.
Tom is also involved in the community as an Elk, a member of the Ocala Rotary, and volunteer for United Way of Marion County and for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign. He also supports FPRA/Ocala as son of longtime member Toni James, APR, CPRC, and spouse of a 2017 Golden Image winner Heather James.
In short, Tom is true Ambassador for this community who lives, breathes and communicates the Ocala/Marion County brand day in and day out using myriad communications skills across multiple disciplines. I am proud to nominate Tom James as 2018 Wilton F. Martin Individual Communicator of the Year.