A Task Perhaps Not Acknowledged, But Imperative Today on Capitol Hill

Image courtesy of JoeBiden.com

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

When Joe Biden removes his hand from the Bible and officially accepts the greatest challenge offered to an American, he then will present his outlook on the direction the nation will take over the upcoming four years.

Unquestionably, the message will center on healing a nation that during recent days had its very foundation and values plundered, and in fact, Mr. Biden’s inaugural theme is “America United.” Yes, that’s a very simple concept, one that’s somewhat superfluous given that Mr. Biden was elected President of the United States of America.

But when he steps up to the podium, Mr. Biden will have to transcend a message that simply centers on the dire need for national unity; he’ll have to say much more. His rhetoric will have to be profound, memorable and believable.

From another perspective, the new President will have to present “sound bites” that will resonate through the millions of American who voted for him, as well as the millions who did not.

At this hour — with the Presidential Inaugural about to commence — I wonder what specific parables, metaphors and phrases the speech writer (or writers) prepared for Mr. Biden. What words will define four years of the nation’s 46th President?  What words will be quoted in print and shared on broadcast outlets and digital platforms?

The job of the speechwriter certainly is behind-the-scenes.  Acknowledgement is not immediate.

A little while from now, the words prepared by the men and women on Mr. Biden’s communications team will define his presidency, and hopefully guide the nation down a more peaceful and productive path.

I’ll be listening.

 

 

 

Upfront Q&A with Col. Ann Knabe, PhD, APR

Col. Ann Peru Knabe, PhD, APR

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

Reaching the apex of success in one aspect of communications is highly impressive. My friend and colleague Ann Knabe, PhD, APR reached that pinnacle three times. As noted in this first public relations professional profile of 2021, Ann — who I met some 10 years ago while serving on the Universal Accreditation Board — delves into the decision that launched her three-decade career, shares insight on working at the Pentagon, expounds upon the state of modern public relations and much more.

1. You have had a remarkable career that spans military service, instruction at the university level, and more recently, work in the private sector. What inspired you to pursue communications?

I followed my heart! When I started out as an undergrad at Marquette, I was originally pre-law, majoring in history and political science, thinking about a big corporate paycheck. To pay the bills during college, I was a DJ at a night club (with real vinyl records, I might add), and my boss suggested I go into “PR” because he thought I was good a good communicator and knew how to work with the media. So I switched my major and never looked back. After I changed majors, I also switched my part-time role in the Air Force Reserve, from medic to a public affairs role. That’s when I really started getting involved in strategic communication. I now have more than 30 years in Air Force public affairs, and 25 years in PR, including consulting for businesses, teaching public relations at a university, and volunteering in the veterans and public relations communities. The common thread among all of these is building relationships between key stakeholders, and working towards mutual understanding, whether it’s during crisis or a long-term strategic communications campaign. Today my favorite part of PR is strategic planning with an emphasis on research and meaningful evaluation.

2.  You’re the first professional profiled here who has experience in military public affairs. Please share insight on key responsibilities and an anecdote.

When I first started in public affairs with an Air Force Reserve unit in Milwaukee, we broke our work into 4 broad areas: internal communications, community relations, media relations and congressional relations. I was primarily a writer, but also “jill of all trades.” In 1997, one of our planes crashed while attempting to land at Tegucigalpa Airport in Honduras. Three members of our wing were killed in the accident. It was tragic. The crash and resulting public affairs response helped me gain great appreciation of the power of media, the power of words, the importance of media relations, and the importance of being ready for crisis. This would shape my interests in the years to come. After more than 20 years at the local wing, I found my way to the Pentagon, and worked in public affairs for the Secretary of the Air Force. In this role, I participated in more complex strategic communications, including messaging about the nuclear triad, acquisition, personnel and other tough issues. As a Reservist who would fly into D.C. for duty during the summer months (when I wasn’t teaching), it seemed daunting at first, but the military does an excellent job growing their officers and instilling confidence. And, of course, there were many deployments along the way – including several tours in the Middle East, a six-month tour when I served as the Guantanamo War Court’s Pentagon spokesperson, and a tour at U.S. Central Command in Florida where I did public affairs planning for the Middle East and Afghanistan. In every role, I faced new challenges, but added valuable lessons and skills to my strategic communications toolbox. More recently, I’ve parlayed these skills into an emergency preparedness liaison role focused on preparation for disaster within the United States. 

3. Okay, now let’s turn to modern public relations. What are two key ways the profession has evolved since you began? If you’d like to add a third, please do.

The field of public relations continues to mature and become more strategic in nature. When I started out more than 30 years ago, we were largely focused on tactics. In the last 20 years, I have seen both military senior leaders and C-suite executives seek more meaningful, measurable results from their communication teams. And I’m not talking about numbers of press release sent out, instead, measurable effects on target audiences (how much the audience understands, or how their attitudes or behavior have changed as a result of public relations).

Another change — Within the last decade, we’ve witnessed the exponential growth of social media. I recall back in 2009, I put together the first social media conference at the where I taught, and PR practitioners were just starting to  think about the power of social media. I remember one of my students challenging me in class, saying Facebook was just a fad, and I was wasting class time talking about it. Today, social media is included in the vast majority of PR plans.

A third change  —  which is not so good  —  is the rise of disinformation. Americans need to really think about where their information is coming from, and whether or not it is true. In the last 5 years, we have increasingly seen more individuals with nefarious intent deliberately distribute and publish deceptive information.  This is counter to public relations and our Code of Ethics.

4. Your recent leadership role on the Universal Accreditation Board is admirable. How did your service benefit you professionally, and what challenges are ahead for Accreditation?

Serving on the Universal Accreditation Board has always been an honor, and to chair the UAB for one year was amazing. From a professional perspective, I learned how to be an even more agile leader. COVID threw us a curve ball, and, like all of America, we had to quickly learn how to adapt. Within a short amount of time, we had the entire Accreditation process available online, including computer-based testing in a proctored environment. I am also honored to have led the recent efforts to secure an agreement between the Department of Defense and the UAB concerning their commitment and involvement to the credential. But, perhaps most importantly, despite limited travel and pressure from so many directions, we were able to continue our mission uninterrupted — the maintenance and granting of Accreditation. I was blessed to work with and lead a talented team of professionals from across the nation during one of our most challenging years to date.

5. And, as customary, we conclude with an entertaining type of question. My research indicates you are a Wisconsin native — and more than likely — a Green Bay Packers fan. How can I convince you to switch allegiance to another NFL team? The Chicago Bears perhaps?

Great question, Ed! Full transparency (that’s what we like in PR!) — I am married to a Packers fan, and we have raised two Packers fans. I look at the football games as a time for me to focus on myself and let them enjoy the victory (or defeat) while I give myself a little personal time reading, shopping or getting a massage.

Perhaps more concerning to you, we are a bunch of Milwaukee Brewers fans! We consider Christian Yelich part of our extended family. We are really hoping this summer lets us get back to games at the ballpark in person, even if we have to sit with big gaps to remain socially distant. Apologies if you and your readers are a Cubs or White Sox fans, Brewers will dominate in 2021!

* * *

An aside: As noted in this space on many occasions, I am — and will always remain — a Chicago Cubs fan. That will not jeopardize my friendship with Ann, even after the Cubs win the World Series this season. You read it here first.

 

On What Should Have Been a Slow News Day

Image of the U.S. Capitol courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

In the days and months and years leading up to today, did you know that Congress had to officially approve the Electoral College results from the national election held every four years to elect the president of the United States?

Frankly, it was not a subject that ever crossed my mind.

Until today,  of course. Until the simmering madness, mounting discontent and outright fabrication of fact swept across the nation as if guided by the director of a low-budget apocalyptic movie. Until thugs and cowards assaulted the very foundation of this democracy — literally and figuratively.

Yes, today should have been a relatively slow news day. But as I write this post, the news keeps changing, seemingly by the minute.

From what I’ve viewed on television, heard on radio and read online, many are outraged by what’s taking place in the U.S. Capitol. But as I noted in a commentary posted in late December, I refuse to become outraged — especially in this space — over news that could assault the very foundation of what keeps me sane.

No, I will hope and pray for solace, and that our leaders — across all parties — remain steadfast in reuniting the United States of America. I will keep communicating thoughts, opinions and observations based on truth, accuracy and fairness.

Realistically, tomorrow and many days ahead that should be perceived as “slow news days,” will be anything but devoid of breaking developments.  And, yes, I will monitor the news that ushers in outrage and keep it at a distance.

 

A “Recycled” Post to End a Forgettable Year

This image was used in a post earlier this year; but in the spirit of “recycling” here it is again.

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

With some 17 hours left in the most inherently caustic, divisive and painful year in a century, I hope all who read this are physically, financially and emotionally well and sound.

But as we do our utmost to banish the dark aspects of 2020, it’s prudent to remember the brighter moments of this year. Below is a short essay I originally wrote and submitted to the Chicago Tribune, which weeks ago asked readers to share memories or observations on the year.  The editors did not publish my little commentary (well at least in print), so it’s below.  I’ve covered this topic in a post from July 2018.

* * *

The pandemic certainly curtailed many plans we had for 2020, like travel, concerts, festivals and dining out. But it didn’t stop us from taking advantage of an amenity literally right outside our doorstep – the front porch.

As a native Chicago guy, I knew the benefits of sitting on the front porch during the warm weather months, especially in the days before air conditioning.  Back in the day, the front porch provided not only an escape from sweltering summer days and nights but offered a window to the goings on in the neighborhood.

This year, from spring right through the relatively mild days of mid-November, we would often take refuge on the porch of our Avondale home, located on the northwest corner of a quiet intersection of one-way streets. Our outdoor perch was outfitted with wicker furniture and metal tables that needed to be refinished; but that would have to wait until next year.

From this socially distanced perspective, we enjoyed morning coffee or a glass of wine with a book or magazine in the early evening. We watched the linden tree bloom, change from green to yellow, and then shed its leaves. We took in the somewhat symphonic sounds of cicadas on summer evenings and observed robins, cardinals and sparrows venture from tree to tree.  We would witness the arrival of a summer storm before heading indoors.

Within view, we could monitor remodeling work underway on the former storefront across the street and the house down the block. Construction workers would arrive mornings and depart evenings, their trucks loaded with ladders, drywall, tools, and paint.

And we watched the ongoing parade of people, most wearing masks. Long-time neighbors would wave and offer greetings while on strolls. Newcomers to the neighborhood, like the young couple from California here for his residency, introduced themselves and are now friends. Of course, there were many people out exercising their dogs or pushing a baby carriage, and we would follow joggers using the streets as fitness paths.  We even moved to a first-name basis with our hard-working postal delivery carrier, welcoming her with a wave and a smile as she approached.

In essence, the front porch provided the means to engage in a sort of normalcy, much needed these days.  We’ll be back on the front porch next year, hopefully with refinished furniture and hopefully we can safely have neighbors and friends join us.

* * *

To all who read this, I hope you can use the remaining hours of 2020 to identify a moment or two of brightness.  And, to all, a much, much better 2021.

My New Year’s Resolution: Goodbye Outrage

By Edward M. Bury, APR, MA

Raise your hand if news regarding any of the following has resulted in personal outrage since the beginning of 2020:

  • Government mishandling regarding testing, treatment, preventative measures, financial bailout directives and many other actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Rioting and looting equated as being the offshoot of peaceful protests.
  • The unwavering attempts — minus proof — to challenge or change the results of the Presidential election.
  • The rise of armed paramilitary groups that gather in front of state capitols or homes of elected officials.
  • Police actions that result in an innocent person being killed, wounded or violated.
  • Ridiculous propositions or comments from members of Congress.
  • And, bizarre, mean-spirited and outright horrific tweets and re-tweets from the President of the United States.

In the New Year I will figuratively round the bend on topics that bring on outrage.

Of course, there are more examples that could be added to this list, and I understand if many who read disagree — perhaps vehemently — with my suggestions. Some might want to offer me another kind of hand gesture.

Regardless of your perception of what causes “outrage” today, I am using this platform to officially “opt out” in the New Year. Yes, starting January 1, 2021, I no longer will allow any kind of news from print or online sources, social media platforms, or interpersonal communications to raise my blood pressure or prompt me to pound my fist on the nearest hard surface.

For clarification, I will not totally ignore news events of the day, just not allow myself to be consumed.

My tools will include an aggressive use of the delete key and prompt action with the mute or channel change control.  I will purposely stop viewing or reading communications from purposefully provocative news sources that aim to inflame rather than inform.  Should someone want to engage in overly-spirited conversation on a controversial subject, I will change the subject.

More time will be spent on scholarly pursuits (proud to note I have written two book reviews slated for publication in the New Year) and seeking solace in the small stuff, like a just-before-dusk stroll through the neighborhood. Masked, of course.

It’s become clear that regularly reacting to outrage is akin to slowing down to observe a vehicle crash on the expressway: We know it can lead to unpleasantness, but we do it anyway.

From a realistic perspective, my resolve will be challenged regularly in the year that’s just eleven days away.

Was Julia Grant Also the “First Lady” of Public Relations?

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

As noted in my post from November 26, I spent a few days last month in and around Galena, Illinois.  And, yes I did achieve my goal of figuratively hoisting a plexiglass barrier to shut out all the frightening, unsavory, depressing and bizarre stuff going on in the nation and the world these days,.

But I also did learn a few things by reading placards posted outside historic structures during my strolls around Galena and other small towns. One place I visited was the U.S. Grant Historic Site, just up one of the many hills from the bed and breakfast where I stayed.

There I learned about Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States, and a First Lady known for, well, a lot of “firsts.”  For example, Mrs. Grant elevated the role of the First Lady by hosting lavish parties and regular receptions; plus she staunchly defended women’s rights.

What resonated with me can be found in the image below, taken from signage on the grounds of the Grant House: Mrs. Grant was the first First Lady to recognize the value of shaping dialogue. Yes, Mrs. Grant maintained a person to provide communications counsel and issued press releases!

One question: Why is First Lady Julia Grant not recognized in the public relations profession for her groundbreaking achievements?

Through a Google search, I learned from the National First Ladies’ Library site the focus of Mrs. Grant’s debut announcement:

Most notable is another precedent set by Julia Grant by issuing what is likely the first press release to come directly from, and quote a First Lady, although it pertained to a trivial matter. Asked to name which American woman dressed so well that she could lead fashion trends away from the dominant European influence of France’s Empress Eugenie, Julia Grant issued the statement for publication that, “In matters pertaining to good sense and fine tact, I rely upon Mrs. Fish,” said Julia.

Agreed, this message is quite trivial, and the reference is to Julia Fish, wife of then Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, who apparently was more cultured than the First Lady on mid-nineteenth century couture.

But from a strategic perspective, Mrs. Grant had the wherewithal and savvy to avoid commenting on a subject that she apparently did not fully grasp. Yet, she did not dodge the question with a “no comment.”  I wonder if the communication above contained the “For Immediate Release” proviso that became ubiquitous for decades.

I digress.

Over the course of our nation’s history, there have been many remarkable women who served as First Lady, with Eleanor Roosevelt perhaps setting the standard, given her four administrations in the White House and record as a global humanitarian. Given the era of her time in the White House — the years following the end of the Civil War, the start of the Reconstruction and many other momentous developments — Mrs. Grant certainly can be remembered for many noteworthy achievements, including the value behind effective media relations.

Let me conclude with some other images taken from the Grant House grounds:

This bronze statue of Mrs. Grant stands prominently on the Grant site.

Zoom in to learn more about the fascinating 18th First Lady.

Stairs leading from the Historic Site towards Grant Park.

Picturesque scenes like this can be found all around Galena.

Thankful for The Opportunity to Experience Spatial Remoteness

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


On this Thanksgiving Day 2020, one direly curtailed as a result of that still-resilient and deadly virus, I offer positive wishes to all in the days ahead. If you are reading this, I hope you are healthy, safe and focused on staying positive.

Yes, I am thankful today for all that I have and all that I’ve accomplished. And, I’m thankful for the opportunity and means to shelter physically and emotionally from the simmering chaos taking place today.

Indeed, I found distance and peace in this small cemetery off Elizabeth-Scales Mound Road in Jo Davies County.

Like many, I needed an escape, a place to break away from my work and day-to-day routine, a place where I wasn’t tethered to a monitor. I accomplished that earlier this month during a three-night visit to a place that offered solace and distance.

And, it was only three hours away.

That place was Galena, Illinois, the historic town in the far northwestern Jo Daviess County, a part of the state where the landscape undulates across the horizon dotted with farms, open fields, woods and herds of livestock. From my bed-and-breakfast headquarters just across the Galena River from downtown, I made journeys by car down country roads and into small communities along the Stagecoach Trail.

My goal each day was to find a quiet place outdoors and disconnect, just sit alone and not process any further news about the health crisis, the economic upheaval, the summer of political unrest, and the toxic presidential election. Actually, it was pretty easy to reach my goal, given the time of year. The scores of visitors were not present, and even the town was relatively empty, especially at night.

In 2013, I posted this Galena Travelogue report, complete with somewhat grainy images taken with my Blackberry. (Remember those?) My return seven years later reinforced what I found appealing about this remarkable corner of my home state.

For those three days this month, I am thankful for the opportunity to distance myself from all that made 2020 a year to distance from all others, well, at least my lifetime.

Let me leave with the lyrics to a song I wrote in April. The final verse was added during my recent excursion. Hope I don’t have to write another verse.

Distance

By Edward M. Bury

Distance, am I far enough away?

Distance, shut the door, give me space.

Distance, do I have to cross the street?

Distance, should I hide from my beliefs?

Distance, when I’m in the produce aisle.

Distance, beneath the mask, is that a smile?

Distance, are you sure your hands are clean?

Distance, is this only just a dream?

            Should I continue to laugh?

            What choice do we have?

            No one out on the streets of my town.

            Thought pollution all around.

Distance, politicians can’t agree.

Distance, can we wait for a vaccine?

Distance, must we continue to pretend?

Distance, need an answer — will it end?

Distance, now we face a second wave.

Distance, what’s the purpose of this plague?

Distance, clutching only to resolve.

Distance, hoping mankind will evolve.

Distance.  Please give me distance.    Distance. I ask for distance

Copyright 2020, Edward M. Bury

Okay America, Now That We Know the Answer, Some Questions

Image of the most famous residence in America is courtesy of Facebook

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

The answer arrived in mid-morning on Saturday November 7. It’s assumed you know what I’m referring to. But in case you think I’m being too obtuse, please visit this page.

The true pundits will pose the questions related to domestic and foreign policy, how to rebuild the economy and of course, how the new administration will cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But here, we are taking a more left-of-center approach — and I don’t mean “left” as in liberal politics. Here are some questions that may not be asked of the outgoing administration when the planned transfer of power takes place January 20 of next year.

So, without further ado, the questions:

  • As is custom, an American President can establish a presidential library in his name to house documents, images, videos and more. Is there any remote idea as to the architectural design of the Trump Library, its location and contents? Will visitors have to sign in using a Sharpie?

  • Two unabashed teetotalers — Donald Trump and Mike Pence –have held the Executive Office the past four years. Is this unprecedented? Are those who supported the Trump-Pence ticket aware of this well-know quote on this subject?

  • And, as for Mr. Pence, known by some as the Ice Man, does Indiana what you, and can you go back there, now that you’re out of a job?

  • One staple of the outgoing administration is the MAGA-themed swag, especially the red baseball-style cap. Will clothing from this era someday become collectible?  Or just another staple on eBay?

  • A political neophyte — but a pop celebrity with a penchant for fostering media exposure — Kanye West’s presidential bid fizzled miserably, garnering some 60,000 votes according to this Billboard magazine report. Can we expect Mr. West to resurface on the national stage in 2024?  Perhaps a Trump/West ticket?  Or, perhaps West/Trump?
  • And, one final compound question: Did he ever cry, laugh, say “thank you,” admit a mistake, offer a genuine compliment,  or demonstrate empathy or compassion while in office?

Now, what questions do you have?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on WFH Seven Months Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My reasons:

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

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

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

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