Venessa Lewis, the Louisiana Mermaid, was honored as the 2014 recipient of Public Relations Association of Louisiana’s “Communicator of the Year” award at their annual awards banquet Feb. 25.

Each year, the Public Relations Association of Louisiana, Baton Rouge Chapter, awards one person in the state who demonstrates a high degree of skill in communicating effectively through the use of one or more of the media outlets during the current calendar year, a news release from Lewis said. Lewis received the award for her efforts as Louisiana’s state mermaid.

In summer 2014, Lewis became a public figure and professional mermaid character after garnering local, state and national media attention due to her unusual hobby: swimming in a custom-designed mermaid tail. She used the attention to position herself as a positive role model for both children and adults, as well as create a small business, the release said. Lewis worked quickly to brand herself using a custom logo, website and social media and then registered her name, logo and LLC with the state; officially becoming Louisiana’s Mermaid.

“Within weeks I amassed a following of people on Facebook wanting to bring their children to swim with me, and local news stations reported my appearances,” she said. “I began getting requests for paid appearances, and a business was born.”

The buzz surrounding her mermaid persona landed her on social media, newspaper and television outlets such as the Weather Channel, USA Today and more than 40 NBC affiliates nationwide as she made appearances around Louisiana in her now famous “tail.” She also works with several local charitable foundations to raise money for children by appearing in character.

Lewis is a national, award-winning graphic designer with a B.A. from the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, the release said. Lewis became an accredited public relations professional in 2007 and launched her own graphic design boutique, Lewis Graphic Design. Lewis has served as an adjunct instructor in the Manship School of Mass Communication since 2008 and also has served on the Manship School’s Alumni Board for the past two years.

Beginning in spring 2015, she will be promoting waterways and recreational tourism as an official representative of the Livingston Parish Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the release said. This July, she will be attending the Mermaid Portfolio Workshop in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. There she will join several other mermaids from around the world to swim with whale sharks and work with some of the world’s best underwater photographers.