What I Learned From Some Amazing 4th Graders

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

Sometimes one encounters an awakening in the most unexpected places. Recently, for me, it came during a visit to a Chicago magnet school where I interacted with a class of 4th grade students.

Amazing 4th grade students, I must point out.

The Walt Disney Magnet School was a lot different than the grammar school I attended.

Here’s some background.

The Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood was planning a program to teach students about industries that would yield employment opportunities in the future. One 4th grade class was addressing the job outlook in the transportation industry. The instructor, Morgan Stumbras, reached out to me at the university where I work and inquired if someone would be free to speak to the students.

I received permission to visit and deliver a short presentation. A scholarly, schooled transportation guy, I’m not. But after some four years leading transportation technology transfer initiatives, I felt confident I could share some relevant and valuable insight.

One concern I shared with Ms. Stumbras: Would the class be able to comprehend much of what I had to say about the work done by our research staff, the value of transportation in modern society, and recent transportation developments in Chicago and around the nation? Rest assured, she said: These kids rank in the 98 percentile.

She was right.

Shortly after I launched my PowerPoint presentation, hands shot up and the boys and girls posed poignant and at times provocative questions. Frankly, I was stunned at their collective interest, knowledge and inquisitiveness. One kid even gave an accurate definition of the so-called “last mile” leg of commute, a challenge society certainly needs to address.

If you need help with identification, that’s me in the red sweater.

They politely inquired about autonomous vehicles, the Divvy bike share program, the difference between freight and transit, the future of hover boards and transportation challenges facing Chicago.

A recent mobility success, the new Chicago 606 trail was of particular interest, and that discussion led to further conversation on the impact The 606 has made on gentrification in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The students sparked when I noted that the transportation industry will always need professionals like engineers to help design transportation networks in the years to come. “My mother is an engineer!” one girl noted enthusiastically. After a comment on safety, another girl pointed out that her mother said she used to ride in the front seat of automobiles as a child, something not done today.

I even gave a shout out about my Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, stressing how it keeps me committed to learning about modern public relations practices.

So, how was I awakened by the 32 kids comprising Ms. Stumbras’ class?

In light of all the challenges — transportation and many others — we face as a society today, there’s a generation ready to meet those challenges head-on, and win.

The 4th grade class at the Disney Magnet School made that quiet clear.

 

 

Inspired by St. Patrick’s Day: A Perspective on the Irish Academy of Public Relations

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

On this day before the “official” St. Patrick’s Day — that is March 17 — much of the nation, including Chicago, equates the holiday to all the things one would expect: Parades, lots of people wearing green, performances by Celtic step dance troupes, and of course, consuming malt beverages at pubs with Irish-sounding names, as well as at those without.

Here in Chicago, the popular downtown parade is always held the Saturday before the real St. Patrick’s Day, and the one held March 11 drew thousands along the route in Grant Park; and, yes, the City poured green dye into the Chicago River to turn an already greenish body of water emerald.

Logo courtesy of Irish Academy of Public Relations web site.

But I’m re-purposing St. Patrick’s Day for another reason; and it doesn’t involve anything green. I’m inspired by the holiday to learn more about something else that comes from Ireland.

The Irish Academy of Public Relations is a company based in — you guessed it: Dublin, but there’s a New York office, too — that offers online courses in public relations, media, events planning and broadcasting.

For the past few years, I’ve received email messages promoting the various diploma and certificate program

“Green River” image courtesy of Choose Chicago web site.

s and other courses. So, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to investigate a little further. Of course, the Diploma in Public Relations was of most interest.  It’s comprised of 11 modules on topics like the history of public relations, drafting “press and media releases,” managing events and sponsorship opportunities, working with photographers and more. There’s even a module on crisis management.

Based on just a cursory evaluation of the Academy and the Diploma program, I must conclude that this kind of education has some merit and value today. (Hey, the IAPR must be doing something right because they’ve been in existence for 24 years.)

If the folks at IAPR read this, I strongly suggest that the PR course be expanded to include modules on digital communications, ethics and the business aspect of public relations; but overall the knowledge shared here is fundamentally sound.

Given how public relations is so often misaligned and misunderstood in society today, perhaps certificate programs can provide the first step toward a university course of study and eventually programs like the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

(Yes, I’m guilty of shameless, self-absorbed promotion of Accreditation. So what: It’s my blog.)

What’s your perspective on programs like the one just referenced? Share your thoughts here, or let me know if you want to meet at an Irish pub and discuss over a beer.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

* * *

Footnote: Back in 2012, the PRDude offered some other thoughts inspired by St. Patrick’s Day.

One Image, One Question: March 6, 2017

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

For nearly four years now, I’ve been somewhat of a “transit guy.” That is, I manage public affairs for a research unit that concentrates in four transportation clusters at the university where I work.

Rest assured friends: There were many, many more fellow Blue Line riders who were not shown in this image.

By leading communications for our center, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for the transit industry, the people who manage and plan transportation networks and what it takes in terms of resources and capital to keep systems operating safely, reliably and efficiently.

Which brings me to today’s topic: You guessed it, transportation.

From the image above, taken on my morning commute on the CTA Blue Line, it’s apparent that I had to share the car with many, many other commuters. (That’s o  ne reason why I hunker down in the operator’s compartment at the end of the car.)

And, to put it all in perspective: This image was taken around 8:15 a.m. at the Western Avenue station, meaning the train had five more stops before reaching Clark/Lake, the first station in the Loop.

As you could ascertain, by Western Avenue most likely every car on that run was fully packed, meaning lots of commuters down the line had to wait, and wait, and wait …

The overcrowding on Blue Line trains is not a new phenomenon these days. It’s being driven by societal factors — more mainly millennial-aged people eschewing auto ownership to take public transit — and a dramatic amount of new development along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in Chicago, as illustrated by a recent report from online site Curbed Chicago.

So, onto the question:

What can be done to alleviate or mitigate overcrowded conditions on the Blue Line?

Your thoughts are most welcome. Being a communicator, my first response would be to build awareness for other modes, like bus and ride share. And, perhaps those will evolve.

And, by the way, I work with some pretty smart transportation research professionals who probably have some thoughts of their own.

Could It Really Be 40 Years?

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

That’s not a misprint.

Yes, I’ve been part of the communications industry in Chicago for 40 years this month.

I’ll spare the melancholy and pathos about “where did all the time go?” Like everyone on this earth, I live and breathe 24 hours each day, arguably some days spent more productively than others.

So where did it all begin?

city-news-bureauIf memory serves me correctly, on one day in late February of 1977 I reported to the City News Bureau of Chicago for my first day as a reporter. The job meant covering homicides, assaults, thefts, fires and other bad stuff taking place in the city back then. Unfortunately, lots of bad stuff continues to happen here.

It was my first job after graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in English and minor in Journalism. I wanted to be a reporter — and now I was a reporter!

Couldn't find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

Couldn’t find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

My first day, I recall, was spent with a more seasoned journalist at the old 18th District Chicago Police Department station on West Chicago Avenue, where we followed up on pending investigations. We also did some reporting related to the aftermath of the horrible CTA elevated train wreck that took place February 4 of that year; 11 people were killed.

In the 14,600 days (give or take a few) since my introduction to the real world I’ve held a few other positions; well, actually quite a few other positions.

I left journalism in the early 1980s to pursue an in-house communications position with a community college, my first exposure to the public relations arena. Although I consider myself a newsman at heart and relished those opportunities to cover a breaking story, my path for the remainder of my professional career has centered on public relations.

And that’s where it will stay.

But perhaps not for another 40 years.

Remembering Ruth L Ratny: A True Chicago Iconoclast

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

Earlier this week, I learned the sad news regarding the passing of Ruth L Ratny.

Note there is no period after the “L” in the name above.

That’s not an error, it was the way Ruth spelled her name. I’m not sure why, but I can ascertain that the minor punctuation issue was another reflection of just who Ruth was: A person who grabbed life by the lapels and decided to live it according to her rules.

First, some background.

For some reason, I've kept this March 21, 1994 issue of Screen. Perhaps because the focus was music and I had four articles published.

For some reason, I’ve kept this March 21, 1994 issue of Screen. Perhaps because the focus was music and I had four articles published.

From the mid 1980s until the mid 1990s, I contributed to Screen magazine, a then weekly print publication that covered Chicago’s film and audio/visual production industry.  (I trust “audio/visual,” also known as “A/V,” is a somewhat antiquated term in these digital days.) Ruth founded the publication and ran it out of her “penthouse” apartment on Wabash Avenue on the Near North Side.

I think there’s a highrise multifamily building on the site today, but back in the day that part of downtown was still sort of edgy.

Back to Ruth and my work for Screen. 

I got the opportunity to write for the publication after pitching Ruth a story regarding a client that retained the public relations firm I worked for at the time. I don’t recall the nature of the pitch, nor the client for that matter; but I do remember that Ruth referred to me as “that publicist” and invited me to contribute to Screen.

This E. M. Bury piece centers on the opening of a new recording studio in Wicker Park, identified as "one of the trendiest parts of town."

This E. M. Bury piece centers on the opening of a new recording studio in Wicker Park, identified as “one of the trendiest parts of town.”

To somewhat distance myself from my agency career, we decided to use “E.M. Bury” as my byline; that suited me because lots of famous writers incorporated initials for their first and middle names, but mostly I appreciated the opportunity to get some freelance assignments and earn extra money.

My beat was music, and that led to opportunities to meet and interview musicians, commercial music producers, studio owners and other creative people who comprised the then thriving A/V commercial production industry in Chicago.

Over the years, I came to know Ruth as someone who was always tough and challenging as an editor, but fair and generous as a person.

But what struck me most was Ruth’s tenacity, her work ethic and her dedication to championing the Chicago film and production industry. Without question, she clashed with stalwarts from the film community, the advertising agencies and production houses, and with her staff and writers, me included.

(Why did she change my copy that read, “commercial music producer” to read “jingleer” on occasion?”)

Yet, I never encountered a situation where Ruth demonstrated mean-spirited actions or duplicity. At least not during our working relationship, and I contributed dozens of pieces over the years.

Ruth L Ratny came from humble beginnings and built a thriving business that chronicled and perhaps contributed to the growth of an industry.

As I noted in this 2014 post, Chicago, and I trust much of the nation if not the world, is losing those willing to chart their own way, a path that circumvents the rules. We’re losing the unique, the characters, the people like Ruth.

Rest in peace Ruth.

 

I’m Back! (Well, Sort Of)

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

On December 8 of last year, I had the privilege of attending the Senior Leaders reception hosted by PRSA Chicago.  (Hard to fathom that I’m a “senior” anything, but I trust the term is accurate.)

The annual event provides an opportunity to shine the spotlight on a local public relations professional who made a significant, positive and measurable impact on the profession through her or his work and within the community.

Michael Jordan I'm BackThe 2016 honoree was John LaSage, who for decades distinguished himself through his work at the Chicago office of Burson Marsteller. Read details on the reception in this report on the Chapter website.

During his outstanding comments, Mr. LaSage recalled momentous occurrences from his career, including one that basketball fans from Chicago and across the world will long remember: Michael Jordan’s return to the Chicago Bulls in March of 1995, some two years after the icon “retired” following three consecutive NBA championship seasons.

I recall Mr. LaSage recounting his participation in crafting the announcement. If memory serves correctly, a “formal” news release was prepared, but apparently Mr. Jordan opted for a message simple, compelling and memorable:

“I’m Back.”

Well, to borrow the phrase above, I’m back, too.

Specifically, I’ve been elected to the Board of Directors of PRSA Chicago, where I served for some 10 years.  My responsibility: Re-energize the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) program within the Chapter.

First, let me stipulate that my return to the Board does in no way equate with Michael Jordan’s return to the Chicago Bulls.  (And, not to sound snarky, but they should could use him this season.)  After all, Jordan-led teams won three more NBA championships.

My goals for 2017 are more modest:

  • Establish a viable program to nurture local public relations professionals through the APR process.
  • Nurture three or four colleagues on to earning Accreditation by early 2018, or sooner.

Some primary research revealed the vast majority of those earning Accreditation in recent years come from associations, healthcare, governmental organizations and the corporate world. Very few, if any, are from big agencies.

This was the same trend when I served on the Universal Accreditation Board from 2006-11.  So while our supportive efforts will be open to all, history has shown that we may not gain candidates from the marquee PR shops.

That’s okay. Because as noted, I’m back and ready to help anyone up to the Accreditation challenge.

 

 

Did I Meet the Arment Dietrich Challenge?

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

Back in late December, I agreed to take on a new challenge. No, not announce that I’m in training for the 2017 Chicago Marathon, although I hope to build the stamina needed to run a 5K this year.

There's many graphic depictions of the PESO model. This one is courtesy of Mashable.

There’s many graphic depictions of the PESO model. This one is courtesy of Mashable.

As noted in this December 15 post, I accepted the 30-Day Communications Challenge hosted by Arment Dietrich.  The goal was to complete tasks daily in order to develop a PESO Communications Plan.

What an opportunity: Learn through a structured, online, at-my-own-pace program how to incorporate the PESO model — an acknowledged standard for modern public relations and marketing — into my work.

I was inspired! I was dedicated! I faithfully completed my assignments! I learned a lot!

Then, I got bogged down. Then, I got busy. Then, I made excuses.

One “legitimate” excuse of sorts: In mid January I did start a new

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Studies into works from Russian master Vladimir Nabokov occupied time this semester. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

literature course in my quest for a Master’s degree. Lots of reading — 10 novels this semester with the focus on works by Vladimir Nabokov.

By Day 14, halfway through the Challenge, I failed to do my daily “homework.” Yes, I did not complete the Challenge on time. But, I did revisit all the messages, found time to analyze the content and want to share the following thoughts and observations.

First, some parameters.

  1. The site I employed for the Challenge is this one — The PRDude blog. It’s not really a website, but a forum for my thoughts on public relations and other stuff.
  2. Consequently, some of the homework tasks were not applicable, although I did learn something valuable and may incorporate newfound knowledge in the future.

Now, as promised, three takeaways.

Strategy Drives Everything. Challenge content and tasks drove home the message that effective, modern public relations starts with a sound strategy. Wholeheartedly concur.

Tactics Within Reach. The homework from Day 9 inspired potential tactics that could help build the PESO plan. Yes, I can reach objectives of building more awareness and visits to The PRDude through simple tactics like visiting leading PR blogs more often to gain insight on the industry.

Grow That Content Hub. With 333 posts published since September 4, 2009, The PRDude is a repository of content related to public relations, politics, Chicago, popular culture and more. Perhaps I could strengthen the blog by adding categories.

Other lessons from the Challenge — analyzing the site’s domain authority through Moz and launching an email drip campaign — were fascinating and informative; but I think these lessons will have to wait until I complete my paper on Nabokov in May.

One more thing: If you read this, please don’t share with my friend — the one, the only Gini Dietrich.  Don’t want her mad at me.