Questions for PR Professionals Offering Counsel in Wake of #MeToo

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

One service performed by strategic public relations professionals centers on counsel mitigating a potential threat to the client or organization.

It’s better known as crisis communications preparation, and every senior practitioner today should have the skills needed to craft a strategic program and initiate tactics should a crisis arise in this era of digitally-driven, non-stop news.

Of course, the true value in managing a crisis lies in having the plan in place before it’s needed.

Image courtesy of YourStory.com

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been in the wake of a seemingly ongoing cycle of men in high places being accused of abusive actions to girls and women, as well boys and young men.

You know where I’m going — the evolution of the #MeToo Movement. And, of course, the fallout it has created.

Movie moguls, actors, newsmen, elected officials and men from other industries have been charged with alleged misgivings and even crimes that took place recently and in the distant past.  By the time this post is published, there’s the strong possibility that a new story on this topic will surface.

This has prompted me to ponder what advice and counsel I would provide to a client who was the subject of allegations related to sexual and other abuse.  Frankly, the foundation of crisis mitigation centers on addressing the issue immediately, honestly and tactfully.  This is the general advice I would provide.

But what about a different scenario: The client informs you that he (or perhaps she) did, indeed, abuse an underling, employee or colleague.  The client charges you with preparing a strategy and plan.

What advice do you offer?  Do you advise the client to come forward and admit to conduct that may be career-ending or even criminal in nature? Or, do you develop a plan to execute should the charges surface?

Frankly, I’m at a quandary.

The PRSA Code of Ethics cites Provisions of Conduct that include open disclosure of information and a free flow of information; but from another perspective, ethical public relations professionals should safeguard confidences, avoid conflicts of interests and enhance the profession.

The national conversation on the sexual abuse topic, and its long-range implications, is just beginning to take hold in the nation’s consciousness. Earlier today, Time Magazine published its annual Person of the Year issue.  The subject: The Silence Breakers — The Voices That Launched a Movement.

There’s no question that in the days and weeks to com, more women — and assuredly men, too — will step forward and recount allegations of being abused by someone who held power.

The question I have: Are ethical public relations professionals prepared to render sound counsel?

 

 

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Masi Brothers Guide Creative Agency Torque Digital to 25th Anniversary

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

What’s stronger than one outstanding creative communications professional? Well, how about two?

That’s the case at Torque Digital, a Chicago-based integrated marketing agency that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a summertime-themed party at the company’s way-cool loft style offices in Chicago’s rapidly evolving West Loop Fulton Market neighborhood.

Torque was founded by brothers Eric Masi and Kevin Masi, creative guys steeped in the fine arts and balanced by strong business skills and dedication to their wide roster of clients.

This Q&A conversation, edited slightly, was conducted earlier this month. A short disclaimer: While managing marketing and communications for a Chicago-based association, I worked with the Torque team and was very pleased with the quality and caliber of the work produced, as well as the dedication of the account staff.

So, let’s get started.

Here are thoughts from Co-Founder and President Eric, and Co-Founder and CMO Kevin.

1. What was the impetus behind the formation of Torque?

Eric: Kevin and I went through the same fine arts training at the University of Illinois; we’ve been artists since we were toddlers. After we graduated, Kevin went into real estate and I ended up at an agency. But we are artists at heart. That was the catalyst. We are visual artists, marketing thinkers and designers. This compelled us to start an agency that embraced all three disciplines.

Kevin: Eric and I started Torque when we were young enough to still be casting about to decide what direction to take in life, in terms of profession and gainful pursuit. We were inspired by the vastness of the marketing and advertising world and the access to business in general. We were inspired by the chance to build our creative skills, critical thinking and craftsmanship. Knowing as little as we did back then, we were industrious and undaunted enough to plunge in and work diligently.

2. After 25 years, what is the most significant change in the marketing industry?  (Besides the rise of digital, of course.)

Torque Co-Founder and President Eric Masi

Eric: Digital is an easy thing to point to in terms of change in the marketplace. The outcome that is more interesting is the decentralization of small agencies, these micro agencies of two and three people. These firms are able to manage large accounts by putting together virtual teams. Another change that we’re seeing now: Digital and the web has democratized creative and facilitated a lot of services. You can buy a logo by posting a request and ask designers to bid on the project. You can hire a photographer anywhere in the world.  This is really changing delivery and capacity costs. And now, Google is digitizing its algorithm and programs, so you can almost remove the strategist.

Kevin: So much has changed in the way we all live. We started the business on the basis of being able to buy a Macintosh computer and learn “desktop publishing” as a lightweight way to start a business in an otherwise more capital and material intensive industry. The biggest thing to change is the increase of complexity. You can see this in three big areas: 1) Mature business and product categories need to work much harder to compete and grow. This is both an opportunity as companies need more help and also a challenge as the problems also increase exponentially. 2) The second consequence of complexity is the opposite, in the form of an exploding niche marketplace. We are constantly taking a deep dive into some subtle, detailed business model that must be decoded for the world to understand. It’s often hard to tell if they are brilliant or wacky. 3) Lastly, complexity has driven us to diversify our offerings and to be constantly learning about new aspects of technology, marking channels and more. And of course hiring a wider array of people and skills to do the work. And with talent has come a steady rise in labor cost as well as honing of skills to manage and lead Millennials.

3. Torque has a specialty in real estate marketing. And, you’re located in the on-fire Fulton Market District. What strategies and tactics are real estate companies employing to remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving market?

Eric: It’s almost more fun to talk about what’s not working. In many cases, real estate is 10 to 15 years behind the curve in terms of marketing, and the industry is now starting to wake up. Developers are now renovating old warehouse spaces.  And, with all the space available, the big difference in marketing is how well it connects to the brokerage world. The point of difference often is the marketing. With all this massive renovation, the developer wants to appeal to Millennials and convey a lifestyle. This has to be communicated in a compelling way. It’s not enough to say, “Our property has a tenant lounge and a rooftop deck.” There’s all kinds of shades of grey in this type of promotion. It clutters the experience. We’re in the middle and help articulate what’s unique about the property. One way we do this is through a process called Brand Bedrock®, which allows us to help build a brand around a property. It’s a fairly involved process, but it’s at the core of what we do.

Torque Co-Founder and CMO Kevin Masi

Kevin: We love real estate! Yes, we live in an exploding market which doesn’t seem to need much help to lease, sell or otherwise deploy and stabilize assets. However, in mature markets, the ones being bled dry by new exciting developments, companies are working hard to remain competitive first through the usual means of making capital improvements to their properties and of course taking marketing more seriously. For new and exiting properties we know its an amenity war. The developers and owners who are succeeding are doing so by dialing into the building experience and needs of potential leasing companies (for commercial properties). This comes down to digging deep to understand what users want and showing companies how they can attract and retain talent as well as support their productivity within the given property. This happens when owners can bring to life the right qualities of a property experience: Health, transit, education, collaboration, aesthetic, entertainment, discovery, status. And so on. Another emerging approach is to develop brand meaning and purpose for the company, as well as for their individual properties. It’s an exciting time for marketing to be able to develop strategy and insight for companies going through this process.

4. Other brothers have been successful in the advertising/marketing industry. Saatchi and Saatchi come to mind. What are the benefits and challenges of working with a sibling?

Eric: It works both ways. There’s lots of challenges, and a lot that we’re not entirely conscious of. The classic model of good business partners for entrepreneurs is that one has the vision and is the creative person, while the other manages implementation and logistics and is grounded in the reality side of the business. Kevin and I are both visionaries. But when it gets down to it, he is more of the implementer than I am. Recently, we brought my wife, Jennifer into the business and the three of us are partners, and the three of us implement our visions.

Kevin: The biggest benefit we’ve enjoyed is the ability to exchange and build ideas quickly because we have such a long shared past and a way of communicating. Trust has been an enormous benefit as well. The challenge with both of these is to translate our qualities to a broader team so they can participate as well. Intuitive and innate skills are hard to pinpoint and teach.

5. Torque is know for outstanding strategic communications campaigns. But it’s also known for  hosting outstanding themed holiday parties. Who handles the creative side, and who handles the logistics?

Eric:  Our staff actually does most of the work. They just tackle the planning and joke and aspire to host the craziest parties. We’ve hosted tropical goth, medieval Christmas, white trash on the farm — all kinds of parties. If the theme is politically incorrect and crosses the line, we’ll say no to a concept. Otherwise, we give them a budget and we let them make it happen. For us, it’s great to watch them enjoy themselves. It’s as much for them as it is for us.

Kevin: Well we used to say that I lead strategy and Eric lead creative. We definitely both delegate logistics! But really it doesn’t separate that cleanly as we see a great deal of creative thinking in our strategic process so really we are always applying creativity and strategic rigor. For sure the era of arbitrary creative ideas is gone and the creative must service the business in specific ways…while also entertaining or creating sensation and engagement.

Thanks, But I’m Not Giving Into the Holiday Shopping Madness

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

Let’s start this post off with a little contest: Analyze this image and guess the number of stand-alone promotional print fliers included in the home delivery edition of today’s Chicago Tribune.

Hey, don’t cheat: Make your guess now, then continue reading.

The results are below, but please keep reading.  (After all, what else do you have to do today but cook and eat, watch parades and football on TV, and fall asleep on the couch.)

Of course, these print advertising vehicles are among the many ways retailers enlist shoppers to patronize their establishments in the countdown to Christmas.  The headlines proclaim “Blowout! Doorbusters” and “Huge Deals” and “Black Friday Sales,” although some stores are open later this afternoon.

Switch on the TV news after the turkey and trimmings have been crammed into the already jammed refrigerator, and I’ll guarantee local network owned and operated stations will broadcast reports of shoppers camped outside stores anxious to take advantage of that great 70 percent off deal on a flat screen TV.

Ah, the American consumer! The driving force behind our economy and free enterprise system.

Want proof? Visit this page from Trending Economics to get a perspective on U.S. consumer spending, which reached an all time high in 3Q 2017.

Well, in case you’re wondering, I do not plan to join the mad rush and grapple among the hoards of shoppers jockeying for a holiday deal this Thanksgiving Day, tomorrow on Black Friday or any other day this holiday season. (On second thought, I might visit a liquor store during the days ahead, because the holiday is always a little merrier with a great beer or glass of wine in hand.)

Honestly, I don’t need much in terms of material goods these days; would rather focus energies (and dollars) on the non-tangible stuff, like family and friends, learning and growing, peace and quiet.  That’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving Day.

However, consumer spending keeps the U.S. economic engine running, so charge forward shoppers! I’ll be glad to share any or all of the promotional fliers that arrived on our doorstep this morning.

Now for the answer: Total of 40, however we received a duplicate copy of a very well-designed flier from a major retailer.  Still not enough to make me want to shop there this season.

 

The Outlook of Hyperlocal News After the Demise of DNA Info

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

The digital dust, so to say, has settled on the abrupt closing earlier this month of a no-cost online news source that provided subscribers with the little stories often not covered by the more established print and broadcast outlets, as well as many of the big stories.

The question now is: “What, if any, media source will fill the void created?”

Of course, I’m referring to DNA Info and Gothamist, the so-called hyperlocal news organizations covering Chicago and New York.

As a subscriber the Chicago edition, I often enjoyed reading the content researched and written by the current breed of  journalists.  Although, at times I passed over reading stories about the new watering hole in Logan Square featuring an acclaimed mixologist or the hip deli offering house made pickles. Also, the comments section that accompanied reports often was populated by real trolls who thrived on posting unsavory thoughts that prompted distasteful back-and-forth comments rather than adding to a rational discourse.

But, as a former newsman who began his career when Chicago still had three daily papers, I was saddened that dozens of staff reporters and freelance contributors are out of work.

Many have commented on the shutdown of the news site, including former columnist Mark Konkol, who wrote a compelling opinion piece about the big impact little stories can have in a city of neighborhoods like Chicago.

Clearly the business model behind the organizations — totally supported by advertising — didn’t work in this era of seemingly unlimited free online content, images and video. (After all, there’s no charge to read The PRDude, but I would accept a beer as an honorarium should you find value or enjoyment in reading this blog.)

But from another perspective, DNA Info really was not delivering a novel product. Community newspapers, which still exist in print and online formats, cover the small stories — the community meetings, the business openings, the stories of human interest.

So where will former DNA Info readers go for hyperlocal news?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But one option is to seek out relevant and accurate information disseminated through online sites maintained by established neighborhood associations or organizations, elected officials and local chambers of commerce.

Another is to reach out to neighbors and share news. The concept actually is ancient and known as vox populi, or voice of the people.

In theory, it means the people always are correct. But then again, theories need to be proven.

 

What Happens When You Put 24 PR Agency Leaders Together in One Room?

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

Well, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, let me provide some background.

Yesterday, long before Halloween trick or treating started for most, I and some 100 other public relations professionals attended the 6th Annual Agency Leaders Breakfast Roundtable hosted by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

This popular fall gathering allowed participants and senior members of many of Chicago’s foremost global and local PR shops an opportunity to launch conversations in a round robin format.

I’m sure many at the Agency Leaders Roundtable were mesmerized by the view.

The event was sponsored by Find Your Influence, an influencer marketing technology platform, and held in a glorious old cathedral-like room at the University Club of Chicago. The views overlooking Millennium Park and Chicago’s lakefront were sublime, the trees alive with fall colors; but the overall focus was on all things public relations related.

As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I was charged with helping to stimulate conversation at table #9. Like most in attendance, I was fueled by coffee and the desire to engage with the many industry colleagues assembled.

Here are abbreviated and paraphrased take aways from the six agency representatives who conversed with myself and two other attendees. Three dominant topics surfaced: The growth of employing influencers, the expansion of multiculturalism, and the resounding need to support ethical public relations practices.

Amy Littleton, Senior Vice President, KemperLesnik: People are getting smarter about recognizing fake news, and people eventually will return to traditional news. Young people digest lots of content on multiple platforms, and they might not be concerned about accuracy. So, we may someday see legislation related to fake news. The public may be making decisions regarding fake news at the ballot box.

Aaron Schoenherr, Founding Partner, Greentarget Global Group: Before the emergence of influencer marketing, public relations campaigns would piggy back on the built-in reputation of the endorser. We’ve determined that some B2B clients are not interested in influencer marketing.  But there is without question a rise in digital: Subscriptions to the New York Times digital edition are up, and Reuters has found that digital use is up. Plus, there’s not as much trust in traditional outlets today.

Stimulating conversation flowed during the 90-minute morning event.

Amy Kennedy, Executive Director, Golin: The question is: Who will own the relationship with influencers today?  PR firms? If so, public relations practices have to be ethical and must include multiculturalism. At Golin, we support multiculturalism and determine ways to find inclusion.  We determine, “How should we talk about that product or service?” It’s the personal responsibility of the influencer to be inclusive.

Christina Steed, Executive Vice President, Flowers Communications Group: Flowers has practiced multicultural communications before it was a well-used term. We would reach out to pastors at local churches to convey messages related to the community, or reach out to the Chicago Urban League regarding economic development. They would help us get the message out.  Some large clients, like McDonald’s, have been slow to catch on with influencers. Current influencers need to put trust in the trust bank.

Maxine Winer, Senior Partner and General Manager, FleishmanHillard: FleishmanHillard has always provided ethics training for our staff. Our policy is, “If you see something that appears to be unethical, say something, even if you’re not sure why it may be unethical.”  We rely on colleagues to be ethical, and we want them to feel comfortable raising any issue.  Multiculturalism is part and parcel in everything we do.

Daniel Pooley, Managing Partner, Finn Partners: Influencer marketing is a craft that has its own heritage. Public relations always has had influencer marketing because it’s another way to create brand connections. There’s a shifting DNA on influencer marketing that demands it to be more scientific with scalable results that are better measured. Bold, smart strategies are needed.

A side note: I have met and worked with some of the leaders on the agenda, but was thrilled to meet new fellow professionals committed to ethical public relations.

Looking forward to next year’s Roundtable. And, if it happens to fall again on Halloween, perhaps costumes should be required.

My Turn: Thoughts About Amazon and Chicago

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

For the past several weeks, one story has dominated business news here: Chicago’s efforts to lure online retail behemoth Amazon to build its “second headquarters” on a site in the city.

Led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Bruce Rauner and local business and civic leaders, Chicago has offered Amazon 10 potential sites — eight in the city and two in the suburbs — to consider for the proposed complex. Marketing messages have highlighted the city’s strong points, like central location with two international airports, world-class cultural and educational institutions, strong (well most of the time) infrastructure, vibrant neighborhoods (well, many but certainly not all), dynamic business community and many others.

Thankfully, I have not read any nonsense about the attraction of real deep dish pizza or Chicago style (hold the ketchup) hot dogs.

Although, I anticipate a continued barrage of business stories about the Amazon bid well into 2018, when Chicago will learn where it ranks among the 238 North American cities bidding for HQ2 and its proposed 50,000 employees.

A few weeks ago, the former CEO of the city’s chamber of commerce published a rather compelling “open letter” to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, offering several reasons why Chicago should land this so-called “once-in-a-generation” corporate and economic plum.

And, a few days ago, the Chicago Tribune published a news story announcing proposed plans by Chicago real estate concern Sterling Bay to offer Amazon naming for a stadium within the newly-designated Lincoln Works property on the North Side. Great idea, but I’m not sure what team would play games at the stadium since the city’s professional franchises already have homes.

So, now it’s this life-long Chicago resident’s opportunity to share some thoughts behind making Chicago Amazon’s HQ2.

Retail Legacy. Without question, Chicago can boast a retail history unparalleled in the nation. The mail-order industry, led by Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, was founded here and thrived for a century.  On a related note, the meatpacking industry was born and thrived here for decades. Chicago knows how to host groundbreaking commerce and industry.

Non-Profit Powerhouse. This fact often is lost when listing metropolitan Chicago’s economic and civic strengths: The size and scope of its non-profit and association organizations, some of the largest in the nation. As noted from this page on the Chicago Association Forum’s website, the region’s associations — some 1,600 total — contribute billions to the economy. Associations also function as advocates for culture and commerce, generate research and stimulate dialogue. This is a benefit other cities simply can’t match.

It’s Been Done Here Before. I won’t tread on that quote about dispensing with minuscule ideas. Yet its message rings true here in Chicago, which gave the world the first true skyscraper, which hosted an international exhibition two decades after a devastating fire, which nurtured and lost and rebuilt great industries, which emerged from many catastrophes still strong and ready to take on new challenges.

Amazon and other online retailers may be (and deservedly so) blamed for putting bricks and mortar retailers out of business. Montgomery Ward no longer exists, and Sears is facing challenges to remain profitable.

Should Mr. Bezos decide on Chicago as the next step for the online empire he created, I maintain the city would rise up to the challenge.  And, by the way, along with pizza and hot dogs, we have are home to Italian beef.

 

 

 

What Needs to be Done for the Chicago Cubs to Win the 2017 NLCS

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

The four-hour-plus National League Division Championship deciding game October 12 between the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals will long be remembered as one of the most bizarre, event-filled, exciting, error-prone and entertaining games ever played in recent times.

Yes, Bill Murray is a funny, funny guy and true Cubs fan. But what about the rest of us? Image courtesy of CNN.com.

One game in the same league: The November 2, 2016 World Series clinching game between the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

As a life-long Cubs fan, I’m glad the Cubs won both contests.

Today, the North Siders (is that name still used?) will begin the 2017 National League Championship Series against the very powerful Los Angeles Dodgers at that mid-century ballpark located in a neighborhood called Chavez Ravine.

Cub fans world wide are rooting for a repeat of this scene November 2, 2016 in Cleveland. Image courtesy of CNN.com.

If you are a Cubs fan, you probably are thinking about what the team needs to do to win what should be another engaging series. I mean, besides score more runs than the Dodgers, throw more shutout innings and commit fewer errors.

To help my beloved Cubs, I offer these three directives.

  1. Stop the Fan Trolling Nonsense. I’m referring to the low-class practice demonstrated by fans at the October 11 game against the Nationals — the wearing of surgical masks by some (including kids) as a way to mock the Nationals after Coach Dusty Baker said some players (including starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg) were ill due to mold reportedly present at the hotel housing the visitors.  How does this action demonstrate support for the Cubs? How does this promote sportsmanship? What this kind of garbage does is this: Gives the opposition an incentive to win, as demonstrated by Strasburg’s masterful shutout pitching performance in Game 4.
  2. Shut Out Excessive Celebrity Camera Shots and Interviews. Yes, we all know Bill Murray, Eddie Vedder and John Cusack are Cub fans. But so are millions of other people. Showing images of these millionaire celebrities in choice seats or a corporate skybox is kind of a slap in the face to those of us who aren’t on the A, B or C lists and lack the discretionary funds to purchase seats to every playoff or World Series game. Here’s a suggestion: Give me great tickets to the games at Wrigley Field next week. I’ll act funny like Murray, bring my guitar and play the National Anthem as Vedder might do, and stare and look cool like Cusack.
  3.  Find that Pivotal, Binding Experience. In 2016, it was the famous “rain delay” locker room speech by outfielder Jason Heyward during Game 7 in Cleveland. What will surface in this post-season? A walk-off homer? Dramatic come-from-behind extra-inning W?  Who knows. Actually, it might have already taken place. As noted in this Chicago Tribune column by David Haugh, the Cubs had to make an emergency landing in Albuquerque en route to Los Angeles, leading to a lengthy delay. Coach Joe Madden maintained the experience helped build camaraderie among the team.

Finally, a prediction: The Cubs in six.  Yes, six.