Thoughts on the Late Betsy Plank, APR

On Sunday, May 23, the public relations profession lost a true standard-bearer. Her name was Betsy Plank, and she worked her entire career here in my home city of Chicago.

Mrs. Plank had an exemplary life and career.  An obituary in today’s Chicago Tribune provides the details:

  • Started at Edelman in 1952 and excelled there for 20 years
  • Led the communications department at AT&T and Illinois Bell
  • First woman president of PRSA in 1973
  • Established the Plank Center at the University of Alabama

Any one of these accomplishments elevates Mrs. Plank to a very lofty level among those of us who practice public relations.

But the one aspect of Mrs. Plank’s career that strikes a very responsive chord for me is her role in the founding of the Public Relations Student Society of America.   Through her efforts and those of others, future generations of public relations professionals have a direct connection to those of us actively working in the trenches and teaching ethical, effective PR.  As I see it, the very essence of PRSSA is to transcend being a mentor, but to be an example.

I never met Mrs. Plank.   But apparently she is an example for all of us to follow.  And, I’m proud to say that Mrs. Plank believed in the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential, which I am proud to hold.  (For the record, I’m on the Universal Accreditation Board, which grants, oversees and promotes Accreditation.)

Public relations is — and should be — an evolving profession.  I’ll use a two-decade-old phrase that’s become a cliche, but still works to underscore what PR should be: cutting edge.  That requires new education, new ideas and new strategists.

Given the never-ending news cycle and digital communications revolution, society needs true public relations professionals today more than ever.  Want evidence?  Read what happened to BP when they did not actively address postings in a phony Twitter account.

Regrets in my life?  To borrow from the lyrics from “My Way,” I’ve had a few.  One regret is that I never met Betsy Plank, APR.

BP Drills Their Way to An Oily PR Mess

From a classic public relations perspective, the seemingly unstoppable oil flow spill in the Gulf of Mexico will cause damage to the reputation of energy giant BP for an undetermined about of time.   The explosion on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig that caused the environmental, economic and political calamity of the first order happened on April 20.

The April accident resulted in an “immediate crisis,” or one that happens without any warning.  Now more than a month later, BP has  on its hands a “sustained crisis” — one with no immediate end in sight.

On this glorious Sunday in Chicago, I reviewed a full-page BP ad in the Chicago Tribune entitled: “Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response.  What we’re doing. How to get more information.”   Kudos to BP for stating, “BP has taken full responsibility for dealing with the spill,” and for providing straightforward information on efforts underway to stop the flow.  There’s no question it’s BP’s problem and the company should accept responsibility.

The ad offers more information through special websites, like this one from BP and another site from the overall response team, and phone numbers to call to report environmental problems or make claims.  As a message, the ad is expertly crafted.   The copy is direct — this is a catastrophe that’s unprecedented, and we’re doing all that’s possible — and free of jargon.   From a design perspective, it’s all business: just a headline, subheads and two rows of copy.  The only graphic is the BP logo at top right.

The BP website — at least on the surface — does an equally effective job of communicating the company’s efforts to contain this oil spill; and, please, there’s no pun intended regarding this offshore environmental disaster.  This site is clean and easy to navigate.  It features some dramatic images, including this one on the home page.

Image on BP Gulf of Mexico Response Page, May 23, 2010.

Scroll down, and visitors can read news announcements posted from May 5 through May 21.   And, BP BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward provides a somewhat convincing video message shot from a port in Louisiana.

Here’s where I have some concerns about how BP’s public relations team is handling this crisis.  Surely BP had a crisis plan in place to address a disaster like this one — an offshore rig it leased causing an uncontrolled oil spill — or another of this magnitude.  Why was the first news announcement post dated May 5 and not April 22?  I would imaging they could have set up a dedicated web site withing a day or two of the April 20 accident.  Why did BP post just 15 news announcements, 10 with the unimaginative headline, “Update on Gulf of Mexico Oil Response” along with the publication date.

In today’s never-ending media environment, it’s hard to imaging that BP could not provide more up-to-date  information and transparency.   Hayword’s video message was shot May 13 — 10 days ago.  He’s the face of BP; he’s the guy in the trenches on site.   Shouldn’t Hayword offer more frequent responses?  I think so.

But the latest posted announcement is especially disturbing.  Dated May 21, the announcement reiterates BP’s commitment to transparency.   It reads in part:  “BP has begun the process of collecting and uploading relevant data to its own website www.BP.com and has committed to work with the US Coast Guard and the EPA with respect to uploading of materials on a rolling basis onto this website.”

Given its resources, why is it taking BP so long to share this relevant data?

Edward M. Bury, APR — aka The PRDude’s — 50th Post

Welcome to the the 50th or “golden anniversary” blog post from me, Edward M. Bury, APR, otherwise known as the PRDude.

I launched this blog last fall, my intention was to have a forum to share ideas and thoughts on public relations and my search for a new permanent position in the industry.  My goal was not to offer education or “how-to” advice; there’s lots of great informative blogs written by public relations professionals.  My goal was to blog about whatever crossed my mind — as long as I could tie the online conversation back to public relations and/or the job search.

Over the months, I’ve addressed current events like politics and politicians (former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich offered lots of great opportunities), PR blunders (the Tiger Woods saga and Toyota recall mess), tragedies (the earthquake in Haiti and Ft. Hood massacre) and local Chicago issues (like loosing the 2016 Olympics bid).   I even called out the Chicago Tribune for what I maintained was misleading and erroneous reporting that put public relations in a negative light.

I’ve used this blog to promote effective, ethical public relations practices and the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), which I am proud to hold.   Must disclose the fact I am a current member of the Universal Accreditation Board, which grants, oversees and promotes Accreditation.

Through my part-time consultancy, I’ve represented Network Mortgage of Chicago, among other clients.  Social media news releases I’ve drafted for Network have been promoted through the blog.   Sometimes, I wrote “random thoughts” about general topics that crossed my mind.  Hey, I even drafted a manifesto against television producers planning a “Jersey Shore” type of program here in my native city.

And, I used the blog to post in four chapters my latest work of fiction,
Snapdragons in November .

These past several months have gone by fast.  Once I got past the anger, the uncertainty, the feelings of betrayal after having my job eliminated, I settled into a productive regimen of job search, volunteer work and paid writing and consulting assignments.   Sometimes, I even take a break to get out of town.

I’ve made a little money, but gained a tremendous amount of self-respect.   Perhaps the greatest experience has been meeting virtually, via phone and in person some impressive people in the real estate and business world.   These new-found friends and colleagues — along with the many people I worked with over the years — continue to offer support and guidance.

Note to Chicago companies seeking public relations support: I believe I’m a better qualified, smarter, better-connected public relations strategist today than I was in fall of 2009.  While many in public relations and other businesses have had to do more with less, I’ve used the past few months to learn, progress and ultimately succeed.

Below you’ll find my “casual” glamor shot and my resume. I welcome any interested feedback or interest in my services.

Looking forward to writing the next 50 blogs; thanks to all who’ve read the thoughts from Edward M. Bury, APR, blogging as the PRDude.

A casual profile image of Edward M. Bury, APR

Below is a link to my resume.

Public Relations Strategist Edward M. Bury, APR

And, to continue with a musical interlude on subject of employment, here’s a link to a song by pretty good band from the ’80s, Huey Lewis & the News. These guys didn’t break any new musical ground, but this song says a lot, especially today. Here’s a live version of  Working for a Living.

My “Other” First Time

Two posts ago, I recounted a pivotal, make that breakthrough, occurrence in my life:  My debut experience earning money to communicate through writing.  (For the record, I got one hundred bucks from a veteran’s group for drafting an essay on something to do with attending college.  It’s a stretch, I know, but technically it’s accurate.)

Now, I’m going to chronicle my “other” first time:  My first “real” communications-related job after graduating college.  There’s a lesson here, one that especially holds true today — to me and lots of others in public relations and just about every other industry.  I’ll even provide a link to a post from a nationally-known public relations leader that puts it all into perspective.

But I digress.

After graduating from Illinois State University during the very cold winter of 1976-1977, I was stymied as to what to do.  I knew what I wanted to do: Become a reporter here in my native Chicago.   After all, I wrote columns and covered student government for the ISU student newspaper, the Vidette.  I was convinced I had the right stuff to be a reporter.  Chicago still had three daily newspapers at the time, the leading wire services maintained bureaus here and community newspapers were probably at their strongest.

There had to be a slot for me somewhere.  Attempts to break in with the dailies and community press proved futile, although I did secure an interview with the Associated Press, thanks to a referral from a guy who once worked there as a copy boy.  (Talk about a position that went the way of the horse and buggy! When did newspapers and wires stop using copy boys?)

Despondent, I scanned the help wanted ads for something — anything — related to communicating through words on paper.  I found an opportunity with one of the largest, best-know, most prestigious media companies in the world — Time-Life!  But, no, I was not given a staff editorial position with one of the magazines.  Didn’t even make it to the copy boy level.   I landed a part-time job making out-bound calls for Time-Life Libraries selling books like “Foilage Houseplants.”   To my credit, I sold two books.

However, an opportunity surfaced — thanks to a referral from the guy who was my scoutmaster.  He referred me to a man who staffed a small financial advertising agency office on LaSalle Street, our financial district.   That man could not hire me, but he reached out to a friend in the advertising department at the Chicago Tribune for advice.  The Trib guy recommended the City News Bureau of Chicago, the renowned local wire service.  I never heard of it, but I learned they hired kids with little to no journalism experience, worked you hard and paid $100 a week.

The Trib guy made a call, I secured an interview with the managing editor and flat out asked for the job — something my ad agency friend instructed me to do.  Imagine how I felt when I road the elevator down from the seventh floor of the 188 W. Randolph St. tower, knowing I got a job as a reporter.

I’ll save my City News stories — and there are a lot of them — for another day, another post.  The lesson, of course, was that I used my network to break into the news business.  When I thanked the ad guy and asked how I could repay his thoughtfulness, he replied: “Someday you’ll have the opportunity to help someone in the business world.  Repay the favor that way.”

I’ve kept that directive close to heart, and I hope I’ve done enough to help others get that proverbial foot in the door.   Last week, I read a post by Gerard Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA,  the Secretary of the PRSA Board of Directors and CEO of Redphlag, a consulting firm in California.

Mr. Corbett pointed out that especially now, when jobs are scarce, public relations professionals should support each other through referrals and requests for advice and direction.  He states it very well in this blog posted on the PRSA blog site.

Let me conclude with this musical suggestion for any job seeker — whether it’s public relations or another industry — who’s feeling a little beat up.  It’s the gospel chestnut, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” performed by two titans of country music.


A New Theme & A New Idea

Gone is the blurry image of Chicago and big headline in its boldface font.  Gone is the Kubrick theme (named after Stanley, I wonder?), and in is this new theme called INove.  It’s described as, “A simple yet very stylish, widget supported, and feature rich theme.”

Kubrick gave users the option to customize the header, which is why I added the Chicago skyline image. Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything else that shouted “public relations” from a graphic perspective when I first launched this blog. But the image was of my home town — the place where I’ve lived all my life.  And, it’s the place where I’ve worked my entire career, and it’s the place where I plan to land that next great full-time position as a professional communicator.  (Relatively soon, I anticipate.)

I supposed I could have inserted an image of a bridge; it would work to some extent because we in public relations build relationships for clients.  In essence, we “bridge” the communications gap between an organization and its publics in order to take advantage of an opportunity or minimize a threat.

But I digress.   Why change the look of the PRdude’s blog? Why not.  Change can be a positive thing.

Too often we get trapped by following a set regimen in our professional and personal lives. That stifles creativity and hastens complacency.  Take the road not taken once in a while, and you’ll see things from a different perspective.  Change the “normal” way of doing things, and you might even find a great opportunity or think of a great idea.

Leave it to some people smarter than me to create an entire new formalized process called “Change Management” that employs the ADKAR model to manage change within an organization.  The definition is courtesy of TopBits.com:

  • Awareness – An individual or organization must know why a specific change or series of changes are needed.
  • Desire – Either the individual or organizational members must have the motivation and desire to participate in the called for change or changes.
  • Knowledge – Knowing why one must change is not enough; an individual or organization must know how to change.
  • Ability – Every individual and organization that truly wants to change must implement new skills and behaviors to make the necessary changes happen.
  • Reinforcement –Individuals and organizations must be reinforced to sustain any changes making them the new behavior, if not; an individual or organization will probably revert back to their old behavior.

Makes sense to me, especially the last aspect.  Why go forward with changes unless they lead to new, positive behavior?

During these past few months, I’ve kept up a relatively set Monday through Friday schedule:  A brisk walk then job search related stuff in the morning followed by work on project related stuff in the afternoon and evening.  In between I grab a sandwich.  Of course, I do have appointments and interviews, and I usually work part of the weekend and catch up on reading and staying on top of industry and social media developments.

Well, I’m going to take a break from the routine.  I’ll still stay focused on my goal of securing another management position; but once in a while, I’ll turn the computer off and pick up my guitar for an hour.  Music is another passion, and one that does have many positives beyond enjoyment.

Music inspires.  So, here’s my new idea:  After each post, I’ll post a link to a song that I find inspirational.  My debut selection is “Why Aye Man,” the first selection off Mark Knopfler’s 2002 solo album, “The Ragpicker’s Dream.”  I found a good live version on YouTube, but buy the CD.

“Why Aye Man” chronicles men from Newcastle in the northeast of England who have to seek work as tradesmen in Germany, where the economy is stronger.  These guys from Geordieland saw an opportunity, and they went for it — integrity and dignity intact.

I can relate.