What Reading Moby Dick Taught Me About Life Today

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

By tomorrow, I will have finished reading one of the most heralded works of fiction in the annuals of American literature. For the past month of so, I’ve taken on Herman Melville’s monumental classic, Moby Dick, otherwise titled, The Whale.

Being engaged in a masterpiece like Moby Dick compels the reader to focus on one body of work.

As for my critique, that may happen in some form later this year, after I complete the next course in my “quest” (felt it appropriate to use such a superfluous noun, given the plot of the aforementioned book) for my Master’s degree in English. Upcoming this Fall: “English 507 Theory, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: Unthinking Signification.”

Taking on a novel, or any voluminous fiction or non-fiction work the size and scope of Moby Dick requires dedication and patience. The hardcover University of California Press edition I’m reading spans 577 pages and includes some informative illustrations of ships, big fish and the men who sail the ships in order to hunt big fish.

Furthermore, Melville’s prose is not what I would rank as “light reading.” Symbolism aside, this is serious, yet compelling, prose, as detailed in this passage from Chapter 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale:”

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and from more portentous — why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things most appalling to mankind.”

Someday, my prose may be this good. Someday. Maybe.

Now, let me direct this conversation to what reading Moby Dick has taught me about one aspect of life today. On my weekday commute on the CTA Blue Line, I observe fellow passengers and ascertain that they would not have the patience to read a novel, especially not a gargantuan work like Moby Dick. Most fellow passengers, not all, ride handheld in hand, dexterously swiping between Pinterest and texts, Facebook and Candy Crush Saga.

Do these folks — young and old — read novels or other long-form literature?  Will they ever? Will a significant number people from future generations only absorb information through images and videos, subheads and captions, texts and instant messages? And, perhaps more vitally, will they ever learn to savor reading a masterwork without responding to an incoming digital message?

Without question, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are studying this relatively modern phenomenon. Assuredly, there are plenty of options for conducting primary research, beyond the Blue Line el.

Now, as noted, I still have a few chapters to go. So, please don’t respond with the fate of Ahab, Ishmael and my favorite character Queequeg — much less the big white whale.

Of course, I could quickly consult my handheld and have the answer.  But, nawh! I prefer to savor and learn, page by page.

 

Advertisements

Three Places Vladimir Putin Should Visit in Washington, DC

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin at an informal summit of CIS heads of state at the Novo Ogaryovo residence. (Credit Image: © Sharifulin Valery/TASS via ZUMA Press)

In a presidency fraught with seismic announcements, actions and adventures, the proposed invitation made last week by President Donald Trump to meet in the nation’s capital with Russian President Vladimir Putin was certainly among the most noteworthy.Hey

After all, relations between the two nations has not at all been rosy, so to say, given charges of meddling related to the 2016 general election. And, it’s been reported that Mr. Putin often resorts to very, very hardball tactics to combat political challenges.

But then, hometown meetings between the leaders of these two world powers has happened before. In 1972, President Richard Nixon joined a summit soiree with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev of the Communist Party of the then Soviet Union.

So, perhaps the U.S. is due to invite a Russian leader to the White House.

Plans for the Putin visit this fall are still being finalized, and it’s certainly speculative that the visit will materialize. Should he commit to the trip, I offer suggestions on three places to visit while in Washington — should time allow between formal dinners, closed-door meetings and other “regular” agenda items.

  1. The International Spy Museum: Okay, this is a no-brainer.  During our 2016 vacation, Susan and I included a stop at this multi-level building on F Street containing “the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display.” Who knows: Perhaps Mr. Putin, a 16-year KGB employee, already has visited the museum.  Better yet, maybe some of the stuff on display was even used by Mr. Putin. Maybe he’ll even add personal stuff to the collection.
  2.  The Lincoln Memorial: Yes, there are lots and lots of compelling monuments, memorials and bronzed men on horseback on public display throughout Washington. But I would highly recommend that Mr. Putin stop by the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall and read these words above the gigantic seated marble figure of the 16th president. “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” In case Mr. Putin is not a student of history, the United States remains a union and a democracy. It will remain one forever, even if foreign powers attempt to surreptitiously alter elections.
  3.  The Big Hunt: International travel and formal meetings can take their toll. Mr. Putin may want to chill out with an adult beverage after the rounds of ceremony, news conferences and pomp and circumstance.  My suggestion: Stop by The Big Hunt, an unabashed dive bar and restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in DuPont Circle. I visit this establishment whenever I’m in the District because the Big Hunt is raucous and real, beers are plentiful and cheap and the conversation among patrons stimulating. I’m sure the locals would welcome a discussion with Mr. Putin over a glass of vodka. Hey, maybe he’d even buy a round!

Assuredly, I’m not an expert on all the most memorable, fascinating and cool places to visit in the District — although I have visited there at least 10 times over my lifetime. In fact, I published a retrospective piece inspired during my visit in January of this year and this travelogue post from the spring of 2016.

My plans call for a return visit to Washington in January of 2019. Wonder if the town — or the nation or the world — will change should the Russian leader, indeed, arrive this fall and leave his mark on Washington.

Now, it’s your turn: What venues in the District would you recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

Two Corporate Blunders That (Fortunately) Were Not (In All Instances) Labeled “Public Relations Disasters”

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

This space has remained stalwart in addressing occurrences of corporate operational or administrative mistakes that were unfairly categorized by the media as “public relations disasters” or better yet, “public relations nightmares.”

In a sound strategic move, Papa Johns will remove its founder from print marketing materials. Image courtesy of the New York Post.

The rationale, as I comprehend it: A company gets grilled when news breaks (and these days, news often is accompanied by a video account) that results in an embarrassment, loss of business or possibly a fine or legal action. This constitutes unfavorable media coverage or “bad PR.” Hence, the correlation — albeit inaccurate and unfair — to public relations.

Well, any reference to a “public relations disaster” was, remarkably, absent in some news reports I read in print or online of two recent corporate blunders:

  • Papa John’s International.  On a conference call, pizza chain founder John Schnatter uttered a racial slur, leading to his resignation as chairman of the board from the publicly traded company.  As a way to mitigate this crisis, the company also is removing Mr. Schnatter’s image from its marketing materials.  I’ll also bet Mr. Schnatter will no longer be featured in TV spots.
  • Build-A-Bear.  Yesterday, this company that allows kids to design and build their own stuff animal created pandemonium — and left a lot of kids and parents unfulfilled — when a “Pay Your Age Day” promotion drew overflow crowds at shopping malls across the nation.  Parents received $15 vouchers as an appeasement, and the company CEO promptly issued a video apology.

But, doing a Google search, yes, I found some references to “public relations crisis” in both stories noted above.

I had hoped the media would dissolve an instance of outright stupidity and callousness (Mr. Schantter) and one that failed to comprehend the consequences of a marketing initiative (Build-A-Bear) from the realm of having anything that originated with a strategic public relations plan.

Assuredly, the public relations teams for both organizations — departments that did not initiate what led to the negative publicity in both instances — will marshal its crisis communications plan in the days to come. Perhaps both companies will get some “good PR” in the future.

 

 

My Favorite Summer Place

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

The front porch of our Avondale home is where you’ll often find me these months of summer.

The summer, at least here in Chicago, has been sultry and scorching, the sun frequently scintillating from the blue sky often void of clouds.

Yes, the days of June and July of 2018 have been marked at times by record heat, tropical dew points and often fierce, drenching thunderstorms that swept across the metropolitan area, leaving flooded roadways, shattered tree limbs and a reminder that the forces of nature can often prevent the even emboldened from venturing out from the safety of a covered roof and air conditioning for very long.

And, it’s only the first week of July.

Still, there’s much to revel about in summer, much to savor. Like finding a favorite summer place.

Mine is depicted in the image above, the front porch of our Avondale home.  There, on the corner of two one-way streets, I can observe or appreciate:

  • The evolution of our neighborhood, from decidedly diverse and middle class to increasingly youthful, Caucasian, artsy and professional.
  • People in motion, on foot, on bicycles, on skateboards, on scooters and pushing carriages. People walking dogs, people with arms outstretched, their eyes and attention directed to a handheld.
  • The flight and calls of all sorts of birds — robins, cardinals, sparrows, grackles, crows, finches and, this being Chicago, pigeons.
  • The emergence of fireflies and the symphonic sounds of cicadas, unseen but yet there.
  • Vendors selling frozen desserts from push carts, including the Hispanic man with the tanned skin who knows I prefer the lime popsicle.
  • Peaks from the sun coming through the trees to the east in the morning, and the remaining rays of light to the east at dusk.
  • The opportunity to read without a light, not caring if my mind wanders off the page, the result of a distraction by the world around me.

In essence, simple things, aspects of the world around me punctuated by the perspective provided by positioning my posterior on my modest perch.

Bring on more heat. I don’t care. It’s always cool in my favorite summer place.

Now, what’s yours?

* * *

Have a little more time? Then read my essay, “The Greening of Avondale,” written in fall of 2017 for a Non-Fiction Writing Workshop class.

 

.

Three Salient Thoughts from Arthur W. Page Society President Roger Bolton

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

Without question, thoughts from the president of the leading international society for senior public relations professionals across the corporate, agency, non-profit and academic disciplines would prove noteworthy, enlightening and compelling — especially for those of us who remain passionate about the state of public relations today. Well, that accurately encapsulates the casual presentation made by Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society.

Bridget Coffing, Maril Gagen MacDonald and Roger Bolton at the PRSA Chicago Senior Leaders presentation June 26.

In Chicago June 26 at the invitation of PRSA Chicago (where I serve on the 2018 Board), Mr. Bolton shared insight on the direction modern public relations is heading, the results of studies on corporate CEOs and CCOs, the mounting impact of technology and much more.

(Shout out to the PRSA Chicago Senior Leaders committee for organizing the event, securing great sponsors and of course, locking in Mr. Bolton.)

Before a packed and attentive audience in a second-floor hall at the classic Women’s Athletic Club of Chicago, Mr. Bolton provided way, way too much to chronicle in its entirety in this space. So, here are three comments that were especially poignant to me.

  • On the role of communications professionals: Defining the organization and its mission is a key role of corporate communicators. Mr. Bolton followed that thought with this equally important comment: The communicator’s job responsibility is to “not burnish the image of a flawed client.” Bravo, bravo!  Learn more from “The Authentic Enterprise” report produced by the Page Society in 2007 based on C-Suite interviews and research.
  • On coping with disruption caused by modern society: A 2016 report, “The New CCO,”  addressed the dramatically evolving role of the men and women charged with directing and guiding corporate communications. All industries, Mr. Bolton said, experience disruption from technology and many other forces; to address this within a corporation, CCOs must navigate ways to change the corporate culture to adapt to the inevitable instances of severance from the norm.
  • On the impact of artificial intelligence in modern communications.  Mr. Bolton noted that the results of some political races are being covered by machines due to a lack of live reporters on the scene. Artificial intelligence is a reality, but communicators should not be dissuaded from employing technology “to make human lives better.” He augmented that thought by stating that communicators today need “to use digital technology in an authentic way.”

The discussion was moderated by Maril Gagen MacDonald, founder of the strategic Chicago communications firm that bears her name.  My colleague on PRSA Chicago, Bridget Coffing, gave the introductory remarks.  Following Mr. Bolton’s unscripted commentary — which he delivered standing up, rather than from the comfy chair provided — there was a robust Q&A session that addressed diversity, the changing corporate culture and the arrival of the Millennial generation within the profession.

Riveted by the conversation and dialogue from fellow communicators, I headed home that rainy evening energized and emboldened. Clearly, the public relations profession will continue to maintain its position as a critical component of modern society.  Watch out AI: We ain’t going away.

What’s Hot in Chicago? The Weather and Elon Musk’s High Speed Airport Shuttle

By Edward M. Bury, ARP (aka The PRDude)

What’s the hot topic of discussion around Chicago these days — besides the extreme heat this Father’s Day weekend?

Come on: Wouldn’t you want to ride in an electric vehicle that travels in a tube at 125-150 mph? Photo courtesy of the Boring Company.

Of course, it’s the recent announcement that billionaire entrepreneur and boundary-shattering businessman Elon Musk received approval from the City of Chicago to design, build and operate a high-speed underground transit network to shuttle people between O’Hare International Airport and the Loop.

The concept — small autonomous cars traveling at high speeds within a 17-mile tunnel — is revolutionary in the U.S.  The project would be managed by Mr. Musk’s Boring Company and privately funded, tremendous news for cash-challenged Chicago and the entire region.

But, like any bold concept that’s new, daring and unproven, there are detractors –many detractors in fact — who cite engineering challenges, the need to focus transportation development in other areas and the prospect that Chicago taxpayers will eventually have to pay for the project.

So in a laudable effort to help my city, I offer these three suggestions for Mr. Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to strategically communicate plans to build the proposed tunnel transit network.

Build a Coalition of Supporters.  The still-to-be-named network will add another transportation option for people — primarily business travelers — to get to and from O’Hare.  This new mode will have an impact on existing transit options — most notably the CTA Blue Line.  Mr. Musk would be wise to engage the CTA and other transit agencies, taxi and limo services, the ride share companies, metropolitan planning, neighborhood and civic organizations and the hospitality industry. Enlist their input, listen to their concerns. Make the entire public and private community a partner of sorts, rather than an obstacle.

Regularly Share Results of California Project. The Boring Company already is building tunnels under Los Angeles to help alleviate the maddening and chronic auto congestion and even extend existing transit lines.  Regularly communicate the status of this project taking place in another major U.S. metropolitan area — both its successes and stumbling blocks. Do not try to sidestep or hide mistakes because in this digital day and age results of a project of this caliber will get exposed.

Maintain Focus that Groundbreaking Projects Can Work. And, they’ve happened here — 125 years ago.  What I’m referring to is the original Ferris Wheel, which debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yes, an underground pod carrying a dozen and moving at around 125 miles per hour is a much different transportation mode than a 264-foot wheel that carried more than 2,000 passengers fro a pleasure journey.  Still, engineering experts in the late 19th century maintained that Mr. Ferris’ wheel was not feasible.  (Wonder: How many ferris wheels are in operation today?) Given the success of Tesla and Space X, two other transportation conglomerates, Mr. Musk should continue to point out he and his team can conceive and build the once unthinkable.

Now it’s your turn. As this project moves forward, what communications advice and strategic direction would you offer to the builder and the city?

Chicago’s heat wave is forecast to end Tuesday. The O’Hare to the Loop tunnel will remain a hot topic for a much, much longer time.

Merkel vs. Trump at G7: How One Image Can Distort the Bigger Picture

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

Checking my Twitter feed this gloomy, rainy morning in Chicago, and the image noted below grabbed my attention.

Well, obviously.

And, as you would expect, this image has been viewed, discussed, tweeted and re-tweeted who knows how many millions of times in the hours since it surfaced last night. Without question, the image and the global scenario behind it will continue to inspire commentary for a few days and provide fodder for political and entertainment commentators.

Predictably, this image from the G7 Summit has sparked lots of commentary, from serious to humorous. What’s yours?

You know who the key people are — world leaders at the G7 Summit in Quebec.  So, I won’t bother to identify them.

But as noted in this report from The Hill, the so-called Twittersphere has captured some of the witticisms communicated by those amused, enraptured, bewildered or enthused by this single image, shared on Instagram by the woman in the light blue jacket who’s postured somewhat defiantly while being surrounded by men.

(If we did not know the subjects in the photo, it’s still a rather compelling image, I think.)

What’s underscored, however: A provocative image like this one — distributed instantly and available to billions around the world — has the ability to inform and inspire relevant debate, yet it also has the ability to deflate and discount the importance of the subject.

How many who view the G7 Summit image will remember it primarily for its immediate initial “shock value,” showing obvious disharmony among two world leaders, rather than the more serious, long-term ramifications of economic discord among the United States and its strongest allies, including our neighbor to the north?

Within the next few minutes, I’ll click on the “publish” button to share this post with the world.  On the other side of the world, two leaders will meet Tuesday at what assuredly will be another monumental summit gathering, but with much higher stakes — demilitarizing a part of the world that has been technically at war for some 70 years.

Yes, there will be attention-grabbing images from the meetings in Singapore shared early and often. Hopefully, the true substance of the outcome will transcend the short-term impact derived from a single static depiction of just one occurrence that took place.