Washington D.C. Revisited, at the Onset of 2018

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

The woman was deliberate, methodical and efficient. Her task was to shuttle three shopping carts, presumably containing all her worldly possessions, one after the other a short distance uphill north on 21st Street NW in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Where the woman was headed along the streets lined with embassies, row houses and hotels, I don’t know.  But I admired her diligence and perseverance on that day, Tuesday January 9, a day when the temperatures finally warmed up to the mid-40s following the cold snap that impacted much of eastern half of the nation since 2018 began.

The encounter with the woman took place on my final day of a two-day visit to the nation’s capitol to participate in the 2018 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, a five-day conference that draws some 14,000 transportation professionals and scholars from around the world.

So, why recount this brief episode?

For me, the woman somewhat encapsulates and embodies the nation today in the second year of a new administration: Steadfastly trying to move forward but unsure of what’s the right direction to take.

Regardless of your party affiliation (should you have one), personal perspectives on the state of the union or observations on America at the dawn of the New Year, the past year unquestionably was unprecedented in many ways.  Yet, in light of charges, investigations, allegations and non-stop news gathering and reporting, the republic endured.

Back to my 48 or so hours in Washington. During recent visits over the past five years, I found many things I’ve grown to like and admire about the city.  Below is a short perspective through images and captions.

Looking south on 16th Street NW. The architecture is a blend of classic and modern, the scale human and walkable. Although misty during my morning stroll, this road leads to Lafayette Square and the White House.

 

Washington may be set in its ways from a political perspective, but the city is home to a relatively new transportation option: Dockless bike share. I found dockless bikes throughout the city.

 

Yes, Washington has cutting-edge restaurants. But they also have excellent long-standing places like Cafe Tomate on Connecticut Avenue. I felt welcomed while enjoying a nightcap.

 

Looking like a disheveled rec room, The Big Hunt attracts locals and visitors for conversation and good beer. A haunt that’s rough around the edges in all the right places.

 

During a break, I strolled to the National Portrait Gallery, where visitors can take in new exhibits (Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image, The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers) or view portraits of the men who have led our nation for the past 242 years.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I did not include an image of the lady noted at the onset of this post.  That would be demeaning and unfair, and an affront to her integrity.

However, I do hope the lady found a safe place and will remain safe through the balance of this year; same sentiment for our nation.

 

 

Advertisements

A Public Relations Resolution for Practitioners in 2018

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

In researching this post, the final of 2017 (a momentous year from a global perspective, but hey, aren’t they all “momentous” these days?), a quick Google search led to an online report from two years ago.

My subject: New Year’s resolutions.

Image courtesy of Wonderopolis.

What my search revealed: According to this article, “The History of New Year’s Resolutions,” the concept of committing to a practice or initiative in the upcoming 365 days  may have roots with the ancient Babylonians way, way back 4,000 or so years ago.  And, two millennia later, Julius Caesar somewhat formalized the practice when he established January 1 as the start of the new year.

Well, public relations (you knew I’d get to this eventually) is not quite 4,000 years old, but I recall learning that the Roman concept of vox populi, Latin for “voice of the people,” may have cemented the foundations of what’s known today as “public relations.”

In the centuries before books and eventually newspapers or almanacs, public discourse in the town square served as a way to share opinions and information. Broadcast, and later, digital forms of disseminating information changed public relations and society significantly and forever. (Well, seemingly on that last point.)

Today, regardless of how effectively the practice of public relations is defined, it’s all too frequently mislabeled.  From the most egregious perspective, what’s clearly propaganda (think jihadist online messages originated by ISIS) has been inaccurately labeled as “public relations.” And, from a less erroneous viewpoint, “public relations” is equated purely with publicity and press agentry.

And, then there’s the often blatant total misrepresentation of the profession. Here’s an example.  The October 2 episode of the popular NBC drama “Chicago Fire,” featured this scenario: Firefighter Stella Kidd (portrayed by actress Miranda Rae Mayo) receives a suspicious transfer from Firehouse 51 to the Chicago Fire Department’s “public relations department.” After reporting to said department, Kidd — who apparently has no formal communications experience — meets her new colleagues, is shown her small work station, then is immediately thrust into a “media event” of sorts, complete with inquisitive reporters and TV cameras.  All this action takes place in around 90 seconds.

Quite an absurd portrayal? Certainly, even for fictionalized television drama.  But it’s an example of how public relations is bantered about unfairly and inaccurately as a catch phrase.

Two more thoughts about the “Chicago Fire” portrayal of public relations:

1. Visit this organizational chart, and you’ll see the CFD has a department that addresses Media Affairs/Public Education/Special Events, but not “public relations.” Perhaps the show writers could have had Kidd moved over to “media affairs.”

2. And, the title of the episode in question is “Down is Better.” From my perspective, dumbing down the public relations profession is bad, bad, bad.

So, as the hours left in the year 2017 continue to expire, I make this resolution — and I encourage fellow public relations professionals to do the same:

I (name) resolve to address instances where the practice of “public relations” is misinterpreted, misidentified or misconstrued online, in print or broadcast, or during interpersonal communications. Furthermore, I resolve to correct  misconceptions through firm and measured discourse.

There, I feel better already.

Strategic, ethical public relations contributes to and helps guide modern society by fostering the free flow of news and information; I’m convinced the role of public relations will continue to expand in these digitally-driven times. Those of us who practice public relations need to be diligent and commit to rectifying blatantly wrong references or portrayals.

Let’s make 2018 will be the year public relations gets acknowledged fairly and accurately.

And, a shout out to the producers of “Chicago Fire,” a show we watch regularly: Should you incorporate public relations into future episodes, I would gladly offer my counsel to ensure accuracy and fairness.

Building on My Foundation in Non-Fiction Writing: Fall Master’s Class Remembered

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

Another semester. Another class. Another step closer to achieving a milestone in life.

Our little piece of mortgaged America located in Avondale, the focus of my essay.

That summarizes an important part of what took place this fall of 2017. Specifically, I completed another graduate-level class, one more academic chess piece so to say toward earning my Master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This fall, I joined 11 other student scholars in the “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop,” a course that allowed participants to submit essays, memoirs, journal contributions and other written works as part of the required assignments.  Each class, two works were presented, analyzed and read aloud in segments or entirely.

The professor, himself a very successful author of non-fiction, novels and short stories, encouraged discussion and criticism — but primarily the constructive kind.

My classmates presented poignant, compelling stories of growing up in parts of the nation and under familial dynamics much, much different than mine. Some revealed much more about themselves, their lives and personal relationships than I ever would, except perhaps in fiction.

I respected everyone and their abilities, and I believe I grew as a writer after absorbing the works presented each Monday night.  A community of sorts evolved: Writers charged with keeping the craft and art of the written word advancing through compositions centered on our own experiences and abilities, beliefs and perspectives.

My essay contributions were driven by what I know best: Chicago.

The second and more substantial of the two essays is titled The “Greening” of Avondale, a perspective on the Chicago neighborhood we’ve lived in for 17 years.

Your thoughts on this work are welcomed. And, if you want to read more of my “scholarly” works, please visit my website.

By the way, I earned an A this semester!

 

 

Public Relations and #MeToo Revisited: The Morgan Spurlock Statement

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

Well, as of this Saturday afternoon, there’s been no new reports of an elected official, celebrity, business executive or other man of note being charged by women with improprieties in the workplace.

Who knows what tomorrow (or later today) will bring in the seemingly unbridled and growing national movement identified as #MeToo.

Image courtesy of CNN.com.

Earlier this month I published a post seeking commentary from public relations professionals on strategies for counsel to clients who in confidence state that they are, indeed, guilty of sexual harassment of some kind.

One question I posed: Should this scenario unfold, would you advise the client to come forward as a way to mitigate the situation.  So far, I’ve not received any responses.  (Hey, this happens, but I’d welcome thoughts from the public relations community at any time on the #MeToo post and any PRDude post published over the past eight years.)

But on Thursday, a man well-known in the film making industry did announce in a statement from his production company that he was an abuser of women and a philanderer.

The man is Morgan Spurlock, noted for his documentaries like “Super Size Me” and even a reality television series, “Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man,” where he “tells compelling stories from an insider’s perspective.”

Mr. Spurlock’s statement is titled: “I am Part of the Problem,” and over 961 words he recounts quite a lot about a sexual encounter during his college years, verbal abuse to workers under his employment, his own childhood abuse, a life of alcohol abuse and more.  He tempers the narrative with statements of acknowledgement regarding his actions and recognition of sexual abuse against women as a pervasive national problem and embarrassment.

Six times during the statement he reiterates the message: “I am part of the problem.”

I won’t pass judgment on Mr. Spurlock’s decision in this space. But I will push out a few more questions to the public relations industry in regards to his action and statement.

  • If you were providing counsel to Mr. Spurlock, would you have advised him to come forward as he did?
  • Given his decision to make the announcement, would you have advised Mr. Spurlock to present the statement online (as he did) or at a live news conference?
  • What are your thoughts on the content, structure and tone of Mr. Spurlock’s statement?
  • What can Mr. Spurlock do to rebuild or resurrect his career now that he’s come forward?
  • Do you anticipate Mr. Spurlock’s action will prompt other men to come forward and confess past indiscretions?

One concluding thought: Further news regarding #MeToo allegations most assuredly will continue in the weeks and perhaps months to come. Ethical public relations practices should be at the forefront of the national conversation ahead.

 

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?

 

 

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.