AI Programs Like ChatGPT: Should They Have a Role in Modern PR?

Image courtesy of German photographer Marcus Winkler.

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

The title of this post contains three acronyms, perhaps a first for The PRDude.  Most — if not all readers — surely will ascertain the meaning of the acronyms that open and close the line above.

But let’s delve into the abbreviation right before the colon, which actually describes a digital resource that has the capability to dramatically alter the world as we know it. On second thought, it already has.  A bold statement, yes. But read on.

If you haven’t learned already, ChatGPT stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, a relatively new computer program that can write an essay, article, poem and other written works just by sharing a few words on a particular subject. As I draft this final post of January 2023, a growing number of news reports online and from print and broadcast sources have crossed my desk on this new tool available for free.

That’s right: ChatGPT can “write” an assignment from an English teacher, or as depicted in this Doonesbury comic from January 15, 2023, can draft a news story — at least in the cartoon world.  At no cost to the user.

An obvious concern is the potential cost to society: Students taking courses in English and other subjects that require putting original cogent thoughts together on paper, okay, on a screen, could employ the tool rather than actually research and write a class assignment.

But my immediate concern centers, as you can guess, on the impact ChatGPT and similar programs — one can predict there will be others — will have on the future practice of modern, strategic public relations. As noted in this Burrelles post from last year, artificial intelligence programs already have been employed across many aspects of strategic communications and can be valuable resources for PR practitioners.  Furthermore, a PR Daily story from January of 2020 cites seven ways AI will impact public relations.

This technological development raises questions regarding its role in the future of public relations.  Here are a few:

  • Can ChatGPT be used to prepare a strategic communications plan? How about a crisis communications plan?
  • Will this digital tool eliminate jobs?
  • What are ways ChatGPT can be misused?

Our world has been flooded with things and services that are “artificial” for quite some time. Think of “artificially flavored” beverages and “artificial insemination,” to cite two drastically different examples. In the examples just referenced, one can argue that neither is superior over the real thing.

I’ll conclude that compositions of any kind prepared by ChatGPT will not rank with those prepared by a human being because the soul and passion that goes into a profound written work can’t be replicated by a computer code. At least I hope it can’t.

Before I conclude, one final question: Can ChatGPT be employed to write The PRDude?  Perhaps, but not while I control the publish button. .

NOTE: Like the image that accompanies this post?  Contact photographer Markus Winkler at hello@viarami.com.

 
 
 
 

Given the News Today, What View do You Have of the USA?

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

For this debut PRDude post for the calendar year 2023, I’m going to employ some creativity, embodied in the two images shown within this commentary.

As I have for the past several years, my first post of the New Year was inspired by a recent visit to the nation’s capital, where I participated in the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

(An aside: One key topic at TRB 2023 was how to rebuild public transit ridership to pre-pandemic levels. Many options were presented, but the transit experts I heard from agreed we are years away.)

This first out-of-town trip is always a pleasure. When I’m not in a meeting or lectern session, the short visit to Washington offers the opportunity to view some of the structures that define the District of Columbia from an architecture perspective. But from a more encompassing perspective, many edifices symbolic of Washington also can be perceived as how the nation is perceived.

Stay with me, and employ your own perceptions of the two images taken early last week. One was shot at night from my eighth floor room at the classic Hamilton Hotel (located around the corner from The Washington Post offices on K Street; yes, I tried to visit the newsroom but was turned away) looking down 14th Street; the other was taken the following morning steps from the monument on the National Mall honoring our first president. 

Look closely at the image above and you’ll see the top of the Washington Monument. Taking an imaginative perspective, this view of our nation is minimized, diminished, stunted, overwhelmed, overpowered. 

Now, scroll to view the this iconic symbol of America below. The obelisk is bold, undaunted, unchallenged, clearly defined, highly visible. 

Given the challenges the nation faces as this year unfolds — the former president under multiple criminal and civil investigations, the current president embroiled in a scandal over top secret documents, a newly-elected member of Congress charged with communicating multiple erroneous facts regarding his life and career, an economy still shaken by the pandemic, the House engaged in a days long battle to name a Speaker, rising crime in many cities, unresolved direction regarding asylum seekers and migrants  — what is your perspective? 

Is the nation a fragment of what it once was? Or does it remain a solid pillar of a nation, the birthplace of democracy?

I know there will be developments to the challenges noted above; and I remain confident that in light of how the balance of 2023 unfolds, that the perception America will remain depicted in the second image that accompanies this post. 

 

 

Things I Used to Do: A Backwards Glance

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA (aka The PRDude)
Commentaries like this one — published on the final day of the calendar year — sometimes includes a reference to “the clock ticking down …” But in this digital age, how many people still have a clock that actually ticks?

That question could be the metaphor of sorts that defines the focus of this post. Rather than address important or relevant accomplishments or memories of the year about to end, I will point out three things I used to do over the past few decades but no longer do. Or in some cases, do less frequently or in some modified state. I’ll follow up each category with thoughts on what’s on the agenda for 2023 and perhaps beyond.

Let’s get started on this journey.

Listen to the Music: If memory serves correctly, I received my first guitar when I was 12 (or thereabouts). Since then, I’ve had eight guitars, some of which I strummed only at home and some were strapped on during practices and gigs with the two rock cover bands I performed with over the past 40-plus years. Since I unplugged (figuratively and literally) three years ago from the band noted in this 2016 post, I’ve not performed in front of a crowd, aside from a birthday celebration two summers ago; and, haven’t plugged in my Strat Plus for more than two years.  Why? Well as a line noted in this 1960s classic song, “I ran out of songs to play,” or from another perspective, I wanted a rest.

Rest assured, currently my fret board chops and the callouses on my left hand are not what they once were; but I’ve made a commitment in the New Year to: a) Play at least 15 minutes per day. b) Join an ensemble course offered by the Old Town School of Folk Music. c) Write at least one new song per quarter.  Stay tuned.  (Couldn’t resist the pun.)

Because the Night: Ah the memories of reveling in late-night music at a packed rock nightclub and later hearing the bartender yell “last call!” Over the past two decades or so, my club hopping routine has shifted to listening to music at sit down venues where performances end well before midnight and last call. Susan and I have even subscribed to a concert series at the Chicago Symphony Center! Yes, I miss the vibe, the drama, the excitement, the people. But I don’t miss waking up drained and somewhat disillusioned about how to get through the day ahead.

In the year ahead, I’ll make a commitment to catch an early set — even on a weekday — at local music venues that feature rock and roots music. One that stands out is the Montrose Saloon, an awesome, no-frills tavern that includes a spacious outdoor patio; what’s more, it’s just two miles away from home and they have a great beer selection. Plus, I’ll lock in tickets to catch another form of evening entertainment — live theater, especially shows that feature music.

You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole: My first memory of fishing was with my family at Aunt Helen and Uncle Eddie’s small resort on Silver Lake, Wisconsin. (Loyal readers know I’ve visited the Dairy State regularly, and as noted in this 2011 commentary, am a fan of the state in all seasons.) That was more than 60 years ago. Since those first casts, hoping my submerged bobber would let me land a perch or bluegill, I’ve fished all four seasons in Wisconsin, as well as here in Chicago along the river downtown, back before the development of the successful Chicago River Walk and invasion of tour boats. And, I have fond memories of trips to Ontario, where I landed a magnificent five-pound smallmouth bass. For some reason, I failed to throw a cast in 2022.

This is no fish story: On the first mild day in spring 2023, I’ll cast a line in the closest body of water near our home; no, not the Chicago River or Lake Michigan, but the Humboldt Park Lagoon, a mile-plus directly south. This modest body of water does hold fish, and as noted in this news story from earlier this year, once was home to a reptile named after a famous musician. And, I will commit to regular visits to — you guessed it — Wisconsin, where my good friend Tom and I will take excursions to the small town known as the “White Bass Capital of the World.” 

As a counter-point to the thoughts above, I also could project thoughts on things I plan to do or want to do in 2023 and beyond. These are better known as “new year’s resolutions.”

But hey, I prefer to take the road less taken.

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So, This is What Constitutes “News” These Days

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

Got a few minutes? Open a browser and google “what is news?”

You’ll get lots of results, of course, from a general dictionary definition to this more inclusive article that offers eight solid “factors of criteria” designed to guide development and dissemination of news.

As a former newsman and public relations professional bound by ethical standards, I’m distraught and bewildered by what’s presented as news today.

An analysis of recent news reports led to the conclusion that in these digitally-driven days, virtually any action by some individuals, most notably celebrities of some sort, becomes “news,” regardless of the lack of significant or notable newsworthy aspects presented. 

Or from another perspective, how how hurtful, untrue or bizarre.

Some examples include:

Let me offer an analogy to the incidents cited above: There’s something wrong when a person of note — an elected official, an entertainer, a business person, or an athlete — make more news outside of politics, the stage or screen, the board room, or the court or field of play than inside the venues and examples cited.

So, what’s the solution? What can rational people do to address what can be considered by some highly irrational activities as not worthy of being called “news?” Why does a clearly egregious tweet or disparaging comment uttered at a conference become “news?”

If you have an answer, please share. I don’t.

But I, like everyone, has the ability to click the delete button, switch to another channel, or turn the page.

 

On This Thanksgiving Holiday, Here’s What I Would Like to be Thankful For

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

A wonderful dinner at a famous downtown Chicago seafood restaurant has been the highlight of Thanksgiving 2022 for this writer.  (Yes, a seafood restaurant. Turkey, which I opted for, was on the menu; so I started with a bowl of clam chowder and enjoyed a adaption of “surf and turf.”)

From another more encompassing perspective, I have very much to be thankful for — friends, family, relatively good health, a career that’s not over yet, a relaxing home in my home town of Chicago and lots more.

But, someday I would welcome the opportunity to add a few items to the “what I’d like to be thankful for” list. Here are some considerations:

  • Peace in Ukraine. And, let me add the same request to the other needless, senseless wars that take place in many other parts of the world.  Ending war is perhaps a fallacy; yet we should never stop moving the bar toward peace. While I’m on the subject, let’s add swift justice for those monsters responsible for some of the reprehensible actions that lead to death and destruction.
  • A Halt to Vitriol. From statements delivered in the halls of the U.S. Congress to exchanges made on many social media platforms, people across all demographics continue to use language and demonstrate behavior that embodies hatred and promulgates bitterness and pain. Rational, respectful communications between parties would help build a much better world.
  • Automatic Weapons Ban. On the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday, a deranged man used a weapon made for warfare to kill five people and wound many others. I won’t link to the story about the carnage; I trust you can ascertain the event I’m referring to. But I will link to this post from May of this year, where I argue for a nationwide ban on the kind of firearm legal and readily available in the United States, a weapon that continues to be used in horrific shootings across the nation.
  • Return to Common Courtesy. I’ll site a recent example. Last week, I visited Chicago’s Millennium Park on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It was a beautiful late fall day, and there were scores of people enjoying the park, views of Chicago’s magnificent skyline, Lake Michigan and the Park’s star attraction, the Cloud Gate sculpture.  (Don’t get me started on why so many refer to the sculpture by that silly nickname, “The Bean.”) But along Michigan Avenue, some morons in modern hot rods were revving their engines between stop lights. Why? Why sully the experience for people enjoying the afternoon by showing off?
  • Accurate Representation of Public Relations. As I’ve proclaimed in this space before, the practice of public relations frequently is misstated, misrepresented and misinterpreted within the media, on digital platforms and in general conversation. Back in November of 2018, I sought an answer, but the question still remains.

By now you’re wondering about the image above. It was taken earlier this month during a short visit to Lake Como, Wisconsin. I was thankful for the opportunity to catch the sunset, and as depicted in the image here, the early morning grandeur of the lake, sky and clouds.  Yes, I was thankful for this simple pleasure.

 

 

    The Simple Way I Spent Election Day 2022

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

    First, full disclosure regarding this post on Election Day 2022, a day that assuredly will shape the future of both houses of Congress, result in changes in many gubernatorial mansions, and perhaps even alter democracy as we have known it for more than 200 years. With so much controversy leading up to today, I had intended to draft a fictional humorous “conversation” between myself and a character named Joe Magaman. 

    (Use your imagination to determine Mr. Magaman’s perspective on the state of the nation and which way he’s leaning politically.)

    But after pondering the scenario — meeting Mr. Magaman while at the newly-remodeled Logan Square Starbucks — I opted for another, less caustic and more optimistic focus for today. Besides, it’s pretty challenging to blend politics and humor, at least for me.

    The university where I work declared today a holiday, so my agenda was uncharted. Rising in the wee hours of the morning, I ventured to the rear porch and took in the stunning blood moon to the west, the last lunar eclipse until 2025. The sky across our part of Chicago was clear, providing a stunning lunar display and views of stars and planets rarely seen these days in the city.

    Later, I did hike the eight blocks along the quiet streets of Avondale and Logan Square to Starbucks with today’s print issue of the Chicago Tribune to enjoy a small Pike Place roast (little cream, little sugar), reading news stories, and the balance of this fall  morning in November. Most trees had shed their leaves and there was a cool, fresh scent of fall in the air. Back home, I climbed the extension ladder and removed remaining leaves from the gutters; a final fall home care preparation.

    Earlier this week, I voted on campus; but a short time ago, I accompanied Susan while she voted at the Chicago Public Middle School three blocks west. The gymnasium was converted into a polling place for the day, and there was a steady — but not overwhelming — number of voters. Election officials had things well under control, and there were no signs of voter intimidation.

    So far, Election Day 2022 in Chicago was for me a very pleasant and relaxing day, one built upon enjoying simple things in life afforded by being an American citizen. Based upon who wins, will these freedoms be taken away tomorrow? I don’t think so.

    While I do believe the persistent campaign messaging vitriol, outright fabrication of facts by some, and growing national schism will continue, tomorrow will be another pretty good day; certainly from my perspective, and hopefully for all Americans, regardless if they lean left or right. In fact, the forecast here calls for very mild days ahead before a cold snap this weekend.

    As I prepare to publish, there are just under four hours left to vote in Illinois. So, if you are a registered voter and have not cast your ballot, please do so. Voting is simple, voting defines our American democracy.

     

     

     

    So, How Do You Define the Elon Musk & Sink “News Story?”

    One may wonder if Mr. Musk is preparing for a career in the home building or plumbing industry.

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

    By now you’ve seen or perhaps heard about the action by the world’s richest man to carry in a porcelain object found in many homes and structures around the world as a way of “defining” his acquisition of one of the world’s most well-known and valuable social media platforms.

    Yes, I’m referring to the news October 26 with an image showing Elon Musk, dressed in a black t-shirt and grinning somewhat pervasively, entering the San Francisco headquarters offices of Twitter, his arms wrapped around a white bathroom sink.

    Questions? Yes, I have questions on why Mr. Musk employed the sink as a prop, unless of course, he planned to install it in the Twitter offices in the South of Market district; but first a perspective on the times we live in today. 

    The world — and what’s been customary in business, culture and general behavior — continues to change, and at a much more rapid pace. From a broad perspective, change can be beneficial for society, laying the foundation for improvement and efficiency, sharing of new ideas and discoveries. 

    Now back to the focus of this post. I trust in years past significant corporate acquisition proceedings were consummated by guys in well-tailored dark suits and held in spectacular office conference rooms, followed by a fabulous dinner with steaks and martinis. The soaring growth and value of technology companies, mostly led by guys sporting hoodies and jeans, is eroding some time-honored business practices.

    For Mr. Musk to forge ahead with a novel decision to wrap both arms around a sink while entering the Twitter offices is an example of how we’ve changed. For better or worse? That’s not my immediate concern.

    But, looking at this scenario from the perspective of a public relations guy, I’d say the “Musk Sink Incident” is nothing more than a publicity stunt.  Yes, one of the best-known and storied communications tactics designed to generate exposure and commentary was behind a tactic involving one of the most talked about men on the planet. The Twitter sale would had generated exposure if Mr. Musk entered the building with just a smile and left the sink in the shipping container.

    As for my questions:

    1. Was the decision to carry a sink part of a strategic communications or corporate strategy?
    2. Were Mr. Musk’s communications team members on board with the tactic?
    3. Didn’t the exposure brought on by the purchase of Twitter generate enough exposure for Mr. Musk and his brand?
    4. Will Mr. Musk leverage the exposure brought on by the incident to build awareness for future business activities?
    5. Will other firms resort to having the top executive carry a sink — or perhaps a stove or microwave oven — during a major corporate event?
    6. Will a sink replace the little blue bird as the new Twitter logo?

    Okay, just kidding on the last two questions. But, I find it disconcerting that a icons of  business, sports, political and entertainment often resort to clearly somewhat childish initiatives to increase their presence in the world today. Are their egos really that inflated?

     

    Reflections from Portugal’s Second City: A Late September Visit to Porto

    A captivating evening scene along the Douro River from our hotel. This is one of the features that makes Portugal’s “second city” a first rate destination.

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

    Sometimes, a general perception of a place you first visit comes true. That was the case for Susan and I late last month following a week in Porto, Portugal’s “second city,” a scenic, historic, welcoming and maddeningly hilly river town best known as the place where — you guessed it — port wine originated.

    In preparing for our trip, I read some guidebooks and studied online reports of Porto, learning from multiple sources:  “Braga prays, Coimbria learns, Lisbon shows off and Porto works.”

    A second city that works. Sounds like a place I know well, and a place we would find captivating.

    Our headquarters for this seven-day adventure to Europe, our first since the 2019 journey to Dublin, was the smart and stylish Neya Porto Hotel, located right on the Douro River. A short walk to the restaurants, entertainment venues, and other and activity in the Riberia district, the Neya Porto also had this cool feature: The Porto tram literally ran in front of the hotel on its route to the Atlantic Ocean.  This transit guy became enthralled by this century-old transit mode, and of course I did take a ride.

    What follows are some general observations, followed by images.

    Porto vs. Portugal’s First City.

    Both Porto and Lisbon offer the visitor great culture and outstanding value, especially when compared to other metro areas on the continent. While Lisbon clearly boasted more grand museums, plazas, and parks, Porto offered more grit and reality.  We sensed people lived in the same apartments for generations, and had no intention of leaving.  Small restaurants and two-aisle grocery stores added a sense of permanence, plus were places to get ridiculously inexpensive snacks and meals. (An aside: In August of 2017, I posted this Narrative on Lisbon, followed by this Travelogue.)

    Preserving What Made Porto, Porto.

    From the terrace of the hotel and during strolls through town, we observed and encountered restoration and reconstruction. Construction cranes dotted the hillsides where century old or older homes were being rebuilt.  Along the Douro, tour boats mostly replaced the rabelo boats, used for centuries to transport people and wine. But a few of the old flat-bottomed sail boats were docked across the river on the Vila Nova de Gaia side, which brought a sense of history to visitors.

    The Hop On, Hop Off Perspective.

    Doubledecker city buses and the aforementioned tram provided comfortable and inexpensive transit throughout Porto and its environs. But we also opted for the ultimate tourist excursion: Taking the Yellow Bus tour. On its two routes, we gained a much better perspective of the city and its environs; but we also gained a great respect for the men and women behind the wheel.  They had to navigate exceedingly narrow, hilly, and winding roads, doing so with poise and aplomb. Plus, the tour buses had to share the roads with other cars, cycles, scooters, and throngs of tourists.

    A Final Thought on the People.

    Most of the people we met in and around Porto — from the pleasant hotel staff to the friendly owner of the nearby restaurant Papavinhos — demonstrated simple courtesy and offered us welcome. There was a genuine sense of respect for your fellow human being. One incident stood out: As we waited for the Yellow Bus to take us on the Historical Porto route, we observed an elderly lady with a cane, her back hunched over, trying to walk up a hill toward the Porto Cathedral. A young man approached, offered his arm, and helped the lady on her route.  How did she return? We don’t know, but we ascertain that another Porto resident provided help. 

    In Porto, they don’t raze old buildings; they make them new and useful again.
    This self-described transit guy had the entire Porto Tram Museum to himself one afternoon. All aboard!
    Need directions in Porto? Ask its favorite son, Henry the Navigator. He’ll point you in the right direction.
    Here’s another example of how Porto works: A new metro station is under construction right across from the Sao Bento train station.
    Yes, they do also pray in Porto. The Porto Cathedral, shown here, is a Romanesque monument in the heart of the city.
    The riverfront in the Riberia district is the happening place in Porto; the port wine lodges are across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.
    Each cobblestone street offered an adventure of sorts. Remember to bring good walking shoes if you visit Porto.
    Porto offered unparalleled dining value for your dollar; I mean Euro. Our delicious meal of octopus, wine, bread, olives and soup was under 30 bucks. I mean Euros.
    Porto is quite a walkable city; but be prepared to walk uphill a lot. Up many streets, you’ll find music, outdoor cafes, and yes, lots of opportunities to enjoy a glass of wine.

    The aerial tram in Gaia provided a picture-postcard perspective of the riverfront. Note the historic rabelo boats docked at left. Wine lodges are to the right.

    On Its Upcoming 75th Anniversary, Reflecting on my 20 Years as a PRSA Member

    This three-quarters-of-a-century logo is pretty cool. Don’t you agree? What thoughts do you have about PRSA on the eve of its silver anniversary?

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

    Without question, it’s certainly appropriate — and perhaps even beneficial — to reflect on an upcoming anniversary. 

    As noted in this 2017 article from the Harvard Business Review: “Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning.”

    So, with that presumption established, and with the 75th Anniversary of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) beginning in 2023, the following is a retrospective of sorts on my career in public relations and the role PRSA played in shaping me into the “modern strategic communicator” I claim to be. 

    Silly, of course I am.  Right? What’s more, as I noted in this post from last month, I’m also a “storyteller.”

    But enough levity, so back to business.

    For the record, 2022 marks my 20th as a PRSA and PRSA Chicago member and the 18th year since I earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation.  Like many in the profession of a certain demographic, I started out as a reporter.  But from the mid 1980s up through today, I worked in public relations, marketing and even outside sales, now better known as “business development.” (I think.)

    During my early years managing accounts for small to medium-sized agencies, my work — and just about everyone else’s on the team — centered around media relations, media training, managing special events, and some marketing communications. There were very few communication plans built upon sound research and strategic direction. 

    Success was based primarily on the number of media placements, which back in the day did certainly build awareness for the client’s product or service.  An example: An early 1990’s Sunday Chicago Tribune real estate front page story on a new upper-end equestrian-themed residential development in Lake County resulted in a “traffic jam” at the sales office — and probably led to lots of deposits for houses with spacious lawns and wrap around porches.

    It wasn’t until I joined PRSA, which was required to pursue Accreditation, did I gain a better understanding of modern and strategic ethical public relations practices and standards, and how to apply this knowledge to my work.  After all, I was a newsman who accepted an internal communications job with a Chicago-area community college because I could not land a position with a daily newspaper in Chicago.

    Membership in PRSA initially brought me in contact with other Chicago-based professionals through chapter meetings, social events, and educational offerings; after earning Accreditation, I was honored to be accepted to represent PRSA on the Universal Accreditation Board and later served on two national committees. Those experiences as a volunteer greatly expanded my comprehension and understanding of public relations and its role in modern society. Plus, I met and worked with some outstanding professionals from various disciplines in markets from coast to coast; many remain my friends to this day.

    As the public relations profession evolves, driven mainly through unfettered expansion of digital forms of communication, I’m confident PRSA will provide members the tools and resources to keep pace and succeed.

    Come 2023, I’ll be prepared to celebrate what PRSA has given me and thousands of other communicators over the past three quarters of a century.

    Reconnecting with Colleague and Friend Debra Bethard-Caplik, MS, MBA, APR

    A candid image of Debra and her late husky friend, Cheyenne.

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

    If memory serves correctly, my first encounter with Debra Bethard-Caplik, MS, MBA, APR came in the fall of 2004.  (Or, perhaps it was 2005?)  Debra asked me to participate in a day-long session with area public relations professionals who were planning to pursue the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.  As a newly-minted APR, I was thrilled and honored to share thoughts and offer support on navigating the then-new Computer Based Examination program.  Since then, Debra and I have connected at various industry events around metropolitan Chicago; earlier this summer, we visited at the DePaul University PRAD graduate  student portfolio showcase, where we were able to catch up on our lives and careers.  In this latest PRDude Q&A post, Debra reflects on her diverse career, the public relations profession, and fondness for large breeds of dogs bred for the outdoors. 

    1. Your career certainly has been diverse — spanning agency, non-profit and academic. What launched your interest in public relations?
     
    I usually tell the story of being an English literature major in the ’80s, when my career choices were to be an editor, a reporter, an English professor, a lawyer, or a starving writer. I’d transferred from a small private college as a failed biology major, and I discovered I hated working with specimens preserved in formaldehyde. I was mulling over the options that didn’t involve asking “would you like fries with that?” at the start of my junior year at Illinois State University, when I walked past a table for a student group called PRSSA.

    They probably had cookies or some other giveaway to get people to stop. Finding out that there was a profession where I could write and work with nonprofits without having to be a journalist was an eye opener. It let me do a variety of different things with writing, photography and special events that a classic journalism career wouldn’t. Marketing was never an option, because of the sales component. As a classic introvert, I react negatively to pushy, insincere people, and unfortunately, you ran into a lot of those types of people in marketing in those days. They’re still there to a degree, but they’re in all professions. Marketing hadn’t evolved to consider customers’ needs back then.

    2. For more than a dozen years, you’ve served as an adjunct instructor at institutes of higher education in metropolitan Chicago. How has teaching evolved over the years?
     
    The most obvious is the use of technology in teaching. I don’t regret the demise of bluebooks for final exams.  The English lit major in me will always remember those two-hour exams where we wrote essays by hand. But mostly, I’m so envious of the education that PR majors get these days. A sophomore today is more experienced than I was as a senior. Experiential learning, connecting in-class lectures and theory by applying it to real world activities as part of the class — that’s invaluable experience. I didn’t really make the mental connection between theory and real world applications until I studied for my Accreditation exam in 2001.
     
    3. Along with both of us being Illinois State University alums, we both hold the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential. How did earning the APR contribute to your success?
     
    Preparing for the APR exam gave me an understanding of the profession and practice of public relations in a way my education never could. It made me take the time to think through situations and evaluate options from a strategic standpoint. To be honest, I get more strategic business value from my APR than I do from my MBA.
     
    4. The practice of public relations has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Please share thoughts on this statement. 
     
    I never, ever, ever thought that PR would evolve as it has. The advent of social media has made PR more of a perpetual scramble, as the ways we can communicate have exploded. It’s made PR more reactionary than ever before, and that’s not a good thing, because you don’t have time to think. It’s also made it much more difficult to engage in two-way communication, because for many, just getting the information out there is all consuming. 
     
    The other thing that isn’t so surprising is that marketing continues to co-opt public relations practices in its attempts to reach more customers. There’s the potential for major problems because the focus on making the sale can damage the long term relationship. To see how, just take a look at all the marketing emails purporting to be newsletters coming from companies you have to do business with. I get roughly 50 a day, and I delete all of them without reading them. Take one retail company I have a “loyalty” card with. I get emails from them Every. Single. Day. And I delete them all. I have a separate Gmail account set up and all of those emails go there; a few times a year I delete them all. All that is doing is damaging whatever relationship I have with that company. Perhaps if we reconsidered the marketing relationship, and treated marketing as a subordinate discipline within the overall public relations practice, along with social media, publicity, etc., it would be easier to build customer loyalty.

    5.  And, I know you have a fondness for friends of the canine species. What sparked your love of dogs?

    I can’t remember not having dogs as a child. Growing up in the country, they were always around, along with cats and farm animals. The only time I didn’t have a dog was the period when I left for college and then lived on my own in apartments before getting married. I could have had a small dog, but I have this love for my big “floofs,” and my preferred breed is Siberian Huskies, although I’ve had other breeds, including mixes, as well.  I’m always amused that someone who is so cold natured that I start shivering when the thermometer drops to 50 degrees has arctic breed dogs. 

    Even though I’m the youngest of six, there’s a large age gap between me and my siblings, so I essentially grew up an only child, out in the country with no other children around. Dogs and books were my only companions, and they didn’t mind my social reticence. Dogs will love you no matter what, and they have gotten me through rough times when people let me down. We even had a dog as a guest at our wedding. I can’t imagine not having dogs, but I also realize the responsibility that comes with having them isn’t for everyone. I currently have two huskies and a border collie-lab mix, all rescues. I also support several rescues, like Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, Free Spirit Siberian Rescue in Harvard, Illinois, and Peace and Paws Dog Rescue in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. I highly recommend having a dog in your life; they keep you grounded.