By Mark Ambrogi
With ink in his veins, Bill Benner never expected to be in public relations.
“I thought I’d be a newspaper guy all my life,” Benner said. “Back then, (public relations) was the other side and I never saw myself on the other side. Time changes and life happens, and you find yourself on the other side and you want to do as good as you can. I was lucky to have not, one, two, three but four jobs on the other side and each one was very fulfilling.
“In each one of them, the communications skills I developed on the print side absolutely translated and were valuable on the other side.”
The longtime Geist area resident was honored as the 2022 Indy PR Legend at the April 20 Indianapolis Public Relations Society’s monthly luncheon meeting, which took place in the Pennsylvania Street Conference Room at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
“When they told me they were going to honor me with a Legend award, I was totally taken aback,” Benner said. “It’s quite an honor and distinction.”
Benner said he has divided his career in two halves with the newspaper half and the public relations half.
“To have this recognition for the PR half is a wonderful thing,” said Benner, a 1967 Center Grove High School graduate and Indiana University graduate.
Benner spent 33 years as a sportswriter at The Indianapolis Star, becoming a full-time columnist in 1990. He left The Star in 2001 to become vice president of communications for the Indiana Sports Corp. He then became director of communications in 2005 for Visit Indy, and then became senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League in 2010. He joined Pacers Sports & Entertainment in 2013 for a seven-year stint. He retired from the organization in 2020 as senior vice president for corporate, community and public relations. From 2001 to 2013, he wrote a sports column for the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Benner said public relations and media relations were parts of his various jobs.
“There was storytelling and there was the pursuit of high-profile events like Final Fours, championships and conventions when I was working with Visit Indy,” Benner said. “With the Horizon League, it was trying to elbow your way in and help the schools raise their profiles in very difficult situations. With the Pacers, it was gratifying to message the positive things the organization does in the city.”
Benner was involved in Indianapolis’ bid to host the 2024 NBA All-Star Game.
“Working the public relations side of the agreement with the city to bring substantial $300 million-plus changes to the Fieldhouse, we are now seeing the fruit of that,” Benner said.
Benner is still a regular contributor to the statewide “Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick” television show.
Benner was inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 2017 and into the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame in 2020. He also was awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017.