Inspired by a “Dialogue” From a Time Really Not So Long Ago

Earlier today, a song on the radio — a song I’ve heard many, many times and one written and recorded nearly fifty years ago — made me stop and take in the lyrics and the meaning.

You can listen to the song from this link.

The focus of the song: Troubles taking place in the world at that time and what can be done to make things better. Yes, there is a dialogue between two characters, one bothered by the conditions around him, the other seemingly unaware.

The song resonated with me, given the state of our nation and the world here in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

And, I wonder if others of my generation feel the same way.

Midway through the song, there’s a lyric that’s especially poignant, especially true.

To me, the repeated refrain at the end says it all: We can make it happen.

Do you agree?

Somewhat Despaired by “Public Relations” Campaign to “Defeat Despair” Brought on by COVID-19

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

Conducting sound research is the foundation for any public relations — and for that matter — any sound communications campaign.

That’s why I was intrigued to read an article published in the New York Times that reported on a proposed $265 million initiative managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “defeat despair” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of this writing seemingly has no clear end in sight.

I learned about the Times article from this Yahoo News report, which appeared on my screen when I logged in yesterday morning.

The scope of the communications campaign was to enlist celebrities to provide testimonials to boost the nation’s collective morale as we continue to face momentous health and economic circumstances.

On the surface, this plan has merit: We all could use some uplifting commentary in the midst of the pandemic and a political season especially fraught with extreme divisiveness. As I read more of the story, I learned that one component of the plan was to hire public relations consultants to “vet” potential celebrity spokespersons in order to ensure they excluded “celebrities who had supported gay rights or same-sex marriage or who had publicly disparaged President Donald Trump.”

I suppose this proposed “vetting” process could be considered as conducting primary research; yet, I wonder why the three reasons just cited would automatically disqualify an actor or musician from being considered. (Oh, wait, now it’s clear to me: I just remembered whose been in command the past three-plus years.)

Back to the “defeat despair” plan, the article reports that the plan was quashed last month amid charges and an investigation by members of the House into purported misuse of federal dollars allocated to address the virus. Also, HHS officials reportedly compelled Atlas Research, a Washington communications firm with much experience in the public sector, “to hire three little-known subcontractors with no obvious expertise to join the bigger campaign.”

I question the need to hire public relations professionals to screen celebrities regarding their beliefs on social issues and political views. The goal of the program, I gather, was to educate Americans on how to stay safe and provide encouragement that collectively we can defeat this pandemic. Unless the celebrity had some truly nefarious background, his or her personal beliefs are irrelevant.

And, then let’s talk money. The article did not specify any proposed communications tactics, still $256 million is a whopping amount to spend on any campaign. I wonder what justified this allocation of federal dollars.

Winter is weeks away and COVID-19 cases are soaring in many states, including Illinois where I live. Should the Department of Health and Human Services — or any governmental agency — decide to reprise this kind of campaign, here’s some advice: The American people need honest and straightforward communications, not hyperbole and misdirection.

Perhaps this will happen with a new administration in the days after November 3.

Thoughts on WFH Seven Months Later

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

Come on. You know what the acronym in the headline means.

And, I trust the significance of the time element referenced is readily apparent.

In normal times, this is classic building, the site of a former ladies undergarment manufacturing plant, is my regular workplace.

So virtually raise your hand if you can relate to the focus of this post.  Now, raise your hand if you enjoy or favor this practice perpetrated upon a vast segment of the workforce here and around the world. 

Like any significant societal change, the practice has been studied and dissected precipitously and frequently. If you enjoy statistics, I found this site that provides — count them — 74 stats.

Anecdotally, many friends and colleagues enjoy and appreciate life in this brave new world. The freedom! The increased productivity! Back-to-back Zoom meetings! Donning the same pair of sweat pants indefinitely!

For me, in short, it stinks. Or to paraphrase a quite well-known fictional character, the practice results in a “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” experience. (A virtual gold star if you can identify the reference; a hint: Said character dies at the end of the work.)

My reasons:

  • I miss my daily commute, even though the CTA Blue Line was crowded many mornings.
  • Daily or regular interpersonal communications with colleagues and students are now mostly virtual.
  • Walks through the sprawling university campus — once pulsating with people from all parts of the globe — are now eerily quiet.
  • Plus, the rickety old wooden chair in my home office is hurting my back!

In recent weeks, I have visited my office on the university campus where I’ve worked the past seven years. Through my mask and sanitized hands, I greet the few colleagues I’ve encountered in the stairwell.

And frankly, I am quite productive at the office because there’s no one to disturb me.

Still I hope and pray it does not take seven more months before WFH returns to BTW.  

 

Yes, Mr. President: A “D” in “Public Relations” is a Failing Grade

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

Rather than spend this time preparing dinner and relaxing the balance of this Monday, I’m compelled to comment on a story broadcast earlier on ABC network news.

This shouldn’t take long.

Image courtesy of ABC News.com.

The report in question: Comments made earlier today by President Donald Trump on the “Fox and Friends” morning talk show regarding his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To summarize, Mr. Trump claimed the practices put in place by the federal government related to the pandemic ranked an A+. However, his administration’s communications on the subject — which he categorized as “public relations” — should receive only a D grade.

The reason for the failing grade: The often referenced “fake news” media conglomerate.

As noted in this space on many occasions, the practice of public relations frequently gets tossed around mistakenly by many — from politicians to the media to the neighbor down the block; in fact, Mr. Trump even termed the work done by his former attorney Michael Cohen “public relations,” as I addressed in this post from 2018.

For the record, I did not vote for Mr. Trump nor will I vote for him in the November elections. To use a phrase with a six-syllable word, we are diametrically opposed on just about every issue.

Where we do agree: The communications that originate from him and many in his administration on the pandemic have failed miserably due to inaccuracy, confusion and lack of transparency.

If I was grading this performance, a D would be too high.

For some reason, I’m not that hungry anymore.

 

A COVID-19 Casualty Three Blocks Away

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

The news yesterday that a near century-old Chicago entertainment venue with a storied history closed due to the financial crush brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will more than likely be followed by more sad business news in the months to come.

How many other modest storefronts are now shuttered due to the pandemic?

But what’s often lost these days is the shuttering of less iconic, less well-known establishments across the metropolitan region — and certainly around the world.

As noted in this Chicago Tribune article, the owners of Southport Lanes in the Lakeview neighborhood announced the place will serve its last customers September 27. Read the Trib piece to get full history of the property, originally built as a Schlitz tavern.

Southport Lanes is located in one of the desirable neighborhoods in Chicago, and pre-pandemic I trust the place was packed and profitable. Come on!  It had manual pin setters.  How cool is that?

The image here shows a much different retail property, one now closed due to a loss of business since restrictions were enacted in March.

This storefront housed La Cocina, a no-frills but delightful Mexican restaurant located three blocks from our home in Avondale.  Like many small restaurants, the team at this corner spot tried to survive with take out service.

That lasted a few months. Then, on a walk the other day, I saw the store darkened, the “For Rent” sign on the door.

Over the years, we visited La Cocina periodically for their dollar Taco Tuesday and other specials. The food was fresh and good, and the manager, a smiling young man named Danny, made every visit a pleasure.

Did La Cocina have “The Best Tacos in Town,” as noted on window? That’s debatable. But it was a modest fixture in Avondale for a decade or so. Its loss is certainly measurable.

I trust there will not be much — if any — reporting on the loss of this little restaurant. That’s what inspired this post today.

Golin’s Scott Farrell Addresses The State of Public Relations, Running and the Badgers

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

There have been profound changes in many industries since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, now in its seventh month. Without question, those who practice public relations have altered the way they serve clients during this period of uncertainty that shows no immediate signs of coming to a conclusion.

To get insight on the current state of public relations, I reached out to Scott Farrell, President, Global Corporate Communications at Golin. As noted below, I’ve known Scott for several years and have found him to be open, personable and approachable.

Below are his thoughts on public relations and two other passions: His dedication to running and support of an outstanding charity, and his beloved alma mater.

1. We met way back in the early 2000s, when you were president of PRSA Chicago and I served on the Board. In one sentence, how has the public relations profession evolved since then?

More than anything, the infusion of data and analytics has had a profound impact on every aspect of the work we do, from informing strategy and creative, to targeting stakeholders and measuring impact.

Scott Farrell, Golin President, Global Corporate Communications.

2. In your role as President, Global Corporate Communications at Golin, what are your key responsibilities?

First, ensure that we have the proper plans and resources in place to accomplish the short- and long-term goals we set for the practice and the agency. Second, to see that our clients are served by the very best people and teams Golin has to offer, regardless of office location or sometimes even a particular practice. I have the benefit of being able to have a view across the agency and using that view to provide a best-teams approach to each client’s needs. And finally – the favorite part of my job – working directly with clients as part of a team that is focused on creating bottom-line results.

3. Had to get to this question: What are three ways account teams at Golin have modified strategies and tactics in serving clients since the COVID-19 outbreak?

The early epicenter of the communications need was employees. Yes, companies and brands had important information to share with customers and other external stakeholders, but we put employees at the center of our work recognizing their role as the lifeblood of the organization. Second, we quickly saw that this was no ordinary crisis. For the first time in generations, the entire world shared a common social and cultural context. That meant that media were almost monolithic in their interests and coverage. We had to find innovative ways to do earned storytelling for our clients that found the sweet spot where what media wanted to cover intersected with what our clients had to say. And finally, the words and actions of every brand were under scrutiny as we saw skeptics and critics ready to weaponize social media and trigger a torrent of criticism that could inflict an immense amount of business and reputational damage in a short amount of time. We worked with clients to ensure that every decision about a brand’s words, actions and partnerships were truly authentic and had the brand’s DNA running through them.

4. For the past several years, you have run the Chicago Marathon and have raised lots of money to support Ronald McDonald House Charities. (Buy the way: Way to go!)  How do you balance training, work, life, and family?

I got into running mainly because it’s a fitness activity that fits so well into the other parts of your life. You can do it anytime and anywhere. All you really need is a great pair of running shoes. That really helps with the challenge of balance. Yes, it’s true that training for a marathon – particularly when Saturday runs are 15 – 20 miles long – can be a time suck. At that time of year, I’m fortunate to be blessed with an understanding wife who puts up with a bit of laziness after a long run. But the bottom line is I’ve seen the health benefits that have come from running and I think running makes me a better employee, a better leader and helps make sure I’ll be around longer for my family.

5. Okay, let’s move on in a totally different direction. You’re a proud University of Wisconsin alumni. In August, the Big 10 announced the cancellation of college football and fall sports due to the pandemic. How will you spend your Saturday afternoons?

I was crushed when the Big 10 announced the decision to cancel the season. There are few things I love more than spending a crisp autumn Saturday in Madison watching the Badgers. (Or watching them on TV from the couch as I recover from one of those long weekend training runs!) Some people have suggested that I “adopt” another team to follow this year, but I’m not sure I can do that. I’m sure there will be plenty of projects to do around the house. And there’s always hanging out with my grandkids. That’s a pretty darn good way to spend a Saturday afternoon, football or not.

* * *

Note: I have been proud and honored to contribute to the Chicago Ronald McDonald House charity through the fundraising initiative launched by Scott during his Chicago Marathon runs.

 

What the Summer of 2020 Didn’t Diminish

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

With the month of August just about in the rear view mirror, the summer season is just about over for many of us.

In early June, my cherry tomato plant was just starting to produce fruit.

Yes, those of us in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest soon will be embracing fall. For many, the Summer of 2020 is probably best forgotten — given what’s taken place here and around the world.

You know why, so no need for details.

Yet, we did have summer, and even with the travails faced by many, I can look back with enjoyment and solace on these simple pleasures:

  1. The Paleto Man.  The quiet of an afternoon or early evening often is broken by the sound of bells, a sound coming from one of the many men strolling the neighborhood selling paleto or frozen treats on a stick. As noted in this September 2018 post, these guys can cover a lot of ground delivering a welcomed warm-weather treat that costs around two bucks.
  2. The Sound of Birds. Oh yes, we see birds year-round. But in summer, especially in the early months of the season, we are serenaded by chirps and whistles from robins, cardinals and other species. A touch of nature in the heart of the city, welcomed any time of day.
  3. The Cacophony of Cicadas. These curious creatures are somewhat invisible because one doesn’t see them fly; but the sometimes deafening sound they make in concert just before dusk is mesmerizing and sometimes bordering on deafening. Visit this Instagram post for an example.
  4. My Vegetable Garden. A stretch of warm weather — and of course my care, skill and dedication — resulted in another solid yield of tomatoes, hot peppers and seven kinds of culinary herbs. But wait! There’s more! The growing season is not over yet.
  5. The Evolution of Avondale. Even with the continued widespread level of uncertainty everywhere, our Avondale neighborhood continued to grow. New hipsters, new kids on bikes, new cars, new housing rehab projects, same general level of serenity. Get a perspective on our genesis in the neighborhood from this essay I wrote in 2017.
  6. Time on the Front Porch. Here in Chicago, front porch sitting is great and inevitable part of summer. Susan and I exercise the ritual regularly. (In fact, shortly after I hit the Publish button, you’ll find me on our porch.)  Back in 2018, I shared thoughts on the value of a front porch in a post from that summer.

Now it’s your turn: What aspects of the Summer of 2020 — a summer fraught with real fear, real uncertainty, real degradation of values — remained for you?

 

Is a “Batman” Needed to Help Chicago?

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

A comment last week within a social media post from a friend was compelling, provocative and poignant. After reading it, initially I was angered.

Could the Caped Crusader prevent Chicago from slipping closer to the edge of the economic, moral and cultural precipice? Image courtesy of CelebrityWebFan.com

But given the crime and unrest that has taken place in the place I call home, the analogy he presented is somewhat accurate (at least from a metaphorical perspective) and perhaps warranted (certainly given the damage done).

Here’s what I’m referring to.

My friend, who has been quite successful in the business world, visited Chicago last week, a few days after looters pillaged stores and shops along North Michigan Avenue and other locations around town.  I won’t go into details, but if you are unaware of what took place, it’s easy to find content, video and images with a Google search.

What my friend — who’s visited the city numerous times — experienced during his recent visit were ransacked businesses shuttered with plywood, bridges over the Chicago River raised to control access to the downtown area, and a pervasive atmosphere of lawlessness and fear. The vibrancy of a world-class city was put on hold, the once vibrant nightlife virtually extinguished.

He referred to the state of Chicago’s central core as a place akin to a Batman film. Perhaps much too exaggerated and excessive a comparison, yet equating Chicago to the lawless fictional Gotham City resonated with me.

It’s been months since I’ve visited North Michigan Avenue, the Riverwalk, the Loop or Millennium Park. The pandemic was the key factor why. Now, I’m ambivalent about what to expect.

What I’ve viewed on television following the looting last week is not the Chicago I know, and I maintain the recent calloused and criminal actions of a handful of people will not usher repeated and unbridled violence, resulting in a hollowed remnant of the great Midwestern metropolis where I’ve lived most of my life.

So to the question noted in the title to this post: No, we don’t need a Batman in Chicago.

We need assurances and strategic directives from those who are elected and paid to run the city that cowards who attempt to pillage and destroy property will be prevented from doing so. We need assurances from law enforcement and prosecutors that justice will be carried out. We need assurances from people across the city and metropolitan area — those with moral fiber to determine right from wrong — to admonish those who loot.

We don’t need a fictional superhero to mend Chicago. There are enough heroes here already to do the job.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Public Relations Ever Represented in Fiction?

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

Think bout it.

Many, many professions have been the subject of fiction — in print, on the screen and on radio — with some professions like detectives (and perhaps superheroes, I guess) having genres all to themselves.

What would you add to the above to give it a “public relations” element?Image courtesy of Slideshare.net.

But what about the public relations profession? Can you identify a short story, novel or film where the protagonist worked for a PR agency, corporate entity or non-profit? Or a work of fiction where the practice of public relations was significant to the plot?

A google search led to this list on Wikipedia, which references six novels that have some public relations component.  At least I think they do. For the record I am familiar with the author of one work cited and know Thank You For Not Smoking was made into a film.

Granted, working in public relations may not be as exciting or conducive to dramatic episodes as other communications profession like advertising or journalism. However, one can assuredly conclude that public relations is a lot more exciting than the accounting profession, yet not ranking in the kind of excitement that permeates a hospital emergency room.

Back in 2018, I proposed a TV series based on the profession and encouraged an icon of the medium to take on the project. Still no response.

Which brings me to the focus of this post: A personal contribution to what I hope will inspire future creative works.

In my studies toward completing my Master’s of Arts degree this spring, I wrote a short story set in Chicago (what would you expect?) that addresses the professional conflict faced by a public relations executive. And, from a more literary perspective, there’s another conflict borne by the unnamed protagonist.

Here’s a link to the story, “Where Went the Beggar Lady.” It’s only 2,145 words, so a quick read.

Would welcome commentary on both: The prospect of the profession captured in fiction, and of course, my fiction.

Late July Images From A Town Not Too From Home

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)

The images shown here were taken earlier this week in a town with five syllables in its name; translated from the native American language it means “where the waters meet.”

The focus of our visit was to step away, physically and emotionally, from what has been taking place in Chicago, throughout the state, across the nation and around the world.

As for plans, the goal each day was to explore, embrace and enjoy our surroundings.  That meant meals at local restaurants (including an authentic Irish pub managed by a husband and wife from Ireland!), strolls along the waterfront, returning the unsolicited greetings from the locals. We did not have a television in our room at the 140-year-old bed and breakfast, and we didn’t miss having that option.

We watched a yoga class in a park along the waterfront and appreciated the hospitality of our innkeeper.

Simple stuff.

Over four days, there were few concerns.

We spent four nights in this magnificent palatial home, once the summer residence of a Chicago family with roots in transportation.

Yes, the waters did meet in this town; and waterfront parks and open spaces provided much access.

This solo musician who performed in a pub off the town’s main street was the first live music we’ve taken in since January.

We biked along the lakefront and a county trail on electric-assisted rental cycles.

The City Hall in town is a handsome structure featuring a bell tower and lots of character.

A view of the water made this local beer taste even better.

Look close, and you’ll see a monarch butterfly on this flower.

One warm summer evening, a local guy brought out his restored Chevy.

We appreciated many of the fine homes in town, but this one, with its wrap around porch, was a favorite.

Yes, that’s me, a silhouette within an image of a majestic sunset, the kind one can best witness along the waterfront.