My Favorite Christmas Memory, Before There Were Computers

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

This time of year is a great time for lots of things. Most people relish the holidays for the opportunity to visit with family and friends. Others revel in the pageantry. And, of course, there are those who like to give an receive.

Me, I like the opportunity to reflect on the year that unfolded and what made it memorable, different or poignant.

As a student at Illinois State University, I recall attending a presentation by iconic author Truman Capote. This true man of letters was diminutive, as you may know, but a giant when putting words on paper.  Mr. Capote read a delightful Christmas themed short story, “A Christmas Memory,” then answered questions.  I recall he was very, very engaging.  And, I recall he did not have anything pleasant to say about Gore Vidal.

Here’s one Christmas memory that will resonate with me forever.  It took place way back in 1978.  For those unfamiliar with that time in history, there were no computers.  I worked as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago, a place I’ve blogged about before.

That Christmas I was fortunate enough to have been “promoted” to the day shift after 12 months working overnights, which is not something I would trust on anyone, aside perhaps those celluloid vampires that apparently are well en vogue these days.

Back to the story at hand.  My assignment on Christmas Day 1978 was to visit the Salvation Army facility just west of downtown Chicago to do a feature piece on those who had no place to go for a Christmas meal.  The Salvation Army was their only option.

Here’s what I remember.  The facility, located on Ashland Avenue at Adams Street, was clean, bright and inviting.  I walked into a large room and was greeted by a Salvation Army “officer” type of guy in uniform and a stunning woman who was volunteering that day. I told them the purpose of my visit, and they welcomed me to stay for a meal and speak to those unfortunate souls who had no place else to go.

The woman said she was new to Chicago and wanted to do something positive for those in need. As someone who spent every previous Christmas with family, I admired this lady for her generosity.

I spent the next hour speaking with a red-faced man named John and a native American named Fabian Bennet, who later took a turn at a piano in the room and impressed me with his ability to play ragtime music from memory.  And, I stood in line, took a paper plate and plastic utensils and enjoyed turkey, dressing and vegetables.  I recall the food was pretty good.

Normally, I would be having Christmas dinner with my family.  This year, I dined with what used to be called “bums.”  That Christmas Day, in that brightly lit room, everyone had dignity. Everyone was part of an informal family. No one was a bum.

It was a very cold Christmas Day that year, and the desk sent me to cover a fire nearby before I could write the Salvation Army piece. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, and I had the good fortune of spending some time in a mobile unit sent by the Red Cross, a place where firemen — and cold reporters — could get some warmth. I called in details of the fire from a pay phone, giving a rewrite guy the information he needed to file the story before it went over the wire.

Back at the City News office at 188 West Randolph Street, I filed my story.  I recall the lead was something like this: “They filtered into the West Side facility cold, hungry and a bit disillusioned about Christmas. They left warm, well fed and with a gift under their arm.  They were the poor and downtrodden of Chicago who spent Christmas at the Salvation Army.”

My editor applauded my work, and I was pretty proud of it.  I wrote it on a manual typewriter, which is what we used back then before there were computers.  The memories of that Christmas Day in 1979 spent with those who had a lot less than me were conveyed into one of the best stories I ever filed.

If you have a Christmas memory to share, please do so.  If not, have a Merry Christmas from the PRDude.

Why I Love Wisconsin in Winter

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

The tourism board for our neighbors to the north had a slogan that really resonated with me, especially this time of year, with the madness of holiday cheer and crass commercialism at its zenith.  It beckoned me to “Escape to Wisconsin.”

So that’s what I did this weekend:  Packed up the Camry, drove north and spent two nights just over the border from Illinois, but worlds away from a mindset perspective.  Besides, I had vacation days to use up and didn’t want to just hang around the house.

Wisconsin has been in the national spotlight lately with the efforts underway to recall Gov. Scott Walker, and the Governor’s push to reduce the power of unions.  The PRDude addressed the latter in this February post.  But despite its new-found national prominence, Wisconsin remains for me a pretty cool place to visit, especially with the crowds gone, the roads empty and the air fresh and crisp.

My Wisconsin sojourn is illustrated by the images that follow.  But let me share a few thoughts about the Dairy State:

Me and Wisconsin.  We go back a long way. To the beginning, in fact. Family legend has it this way: My late uncle Eddie (who I’m named after) and aunt Helen (a truly wonderful person) ran a small resort on Silver Lake, a quiet little town an hour-plus from Chicago. My older brothers would spend parts of the summer at the resort, Happy Bill’s it was called, when my parents announced they were bringing up a surprise.  They thought it would  be a new bicycle. It was me.

Wisconsin Bars.  The center of any small Wisconsin town is the local tavern. Or, make that taverns.  There must be some kind of law that requires a specific number of bars per hundred or so persons.  The good ones have not jumped on the microbrew bandwagon just yet, and brands like Old Style and that western transplant Coors are all you can get.  There’s usually a few musky, walleye or Northern pike on the walls, a 10-point buck above the door and lots of knotty pine.  I stopped at one in New Munster for an Old Style.  I felt at ease.  The Packer game was on TV, but they were losing.  But there was conversation, and the patrons made this F.I.B (expletive Illinois Bastard) feel welcomed.

The Natural State.  My home state has some nice lakes, rivers, streams, woods and prairies.  But there’s something more “exotic” about the natural stuff in Wisconsin.  I spent time hiking along the Fox River and ended the day watching the sun set over Geneva Lake, a clear, deep lake that’s home to members of the Wrigley family, other billionaires, millionaires and even some common folk. They all can take in the same natural splendor that I remember from decades ago.  Things change in Wisconsin, but a lot of what nature provides stays the same.

Now, on to the show:

Horses in the barn of my friends Tom and Mary Jane at their home in Union Grove.

My friend Tom in the driveway of his home.

"There is beauty in the sliver, singing river..." Bob Dylan.

St. Alphonses Catholic Church in New Munster, Wisconsin.

The corner of Main Street and Wrigley Drive in downtown Lake Geneva.

One of the grand homes overlooking Geneva Lake.

This view was taken along the hiking trail that rims Geneva Lake.

All dressed up for the holidays was this former mansion, now a hotel and restaurant.

Do you have any “Wisconsin memories” to share?  Have you “escaped” someplace this holiday season? Let’s start a dialogue.


Three More Things I’d Like to Put Into a Time Capsule

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

Those of us who take public relations seriously have a great respect for the written word and the work we do.  Print and online communications is all about using words effectively; and, serious public relations professionals have great respect for the communications business and those who work in the business.

Today, I continue with what more than likely will be an infrequent post on stuff I’d like to see gone from our vocabulary, popular culture and the industry.  The 0nline community is filled with bloggers and commentators begging for contributions to “buzz words we’d like to see die” polls and other such nonsense.

The PRDude don’t need no stinkin’ poll.  Or no stinkin’ badges, for that matter.  He’d like to see the following just go away.

Stop the Debasement of “Vegetables.”  Here, I don’t mean the edible plants that grow in the ground and end up (although not often enough for some) on dinner tables.  I’m referring the awful bastardization of the word — “veggies.”  Why did this happen?  When did it become appropriate to use “veggies”  indiscriminately?  And, what can we do to reverse the course back to the fine word called “vegetables?”   The nice folks at Wikipedia offer this on the etymology of the word:

“”Vegetable” comes from the Latin vegetabilis (animated) and from vegetare (enliven), which is derived from vegetus (active), in reference to the process of a plant growing.”   That’s all I need to keep supporting the proper name for many edible things that end up on my plate a few times a day.

Would you refer to this as a "bunch of carroties?"

This nice ear of corn is a "vegetable!"

J-Lo, A-Rod, E-Nuff.  Call me an old fuddy-duddy.  I’ve been called worse.  But the time is now to put a halt to the abbreviation of names given to some celebrities.  Perhaps it’s an integral part of the hip-hop culture; and, many corporations — banks and other financial institutions come to mind — use abbreviations all the time.

But someone, please tell me where this policy got started and who determines which celebrity gets to have the initial-hyphen-shortend last name moniker.  And, if there’s a policy for singers and athletes, is there one for plumbers and grocery clerks?

This man's name is Alex Rodriquez. He plays for the New York Yankees and hits a lot of home runs.

This gorgeous woman is named Jennifer Lopez. She has acted in several films, sells lots of records and now is featured in a TV commercial for Fiat autos.

Man of God or Man of  Marketing?  One relatively new development in communications today is the word of mouth marketing movement.  It’s basically getting people who like your product, service, cause or organization to tell others to like it.  It’s fueled through social media, and there’s even an association based here in my home town of Chicago, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, that does a tremendous job of promoting the practice of ethical word of mouth marketing.

Now to the issue: Some who take on these tasks have been given the title of “brand evangelist.”  Really? Do they shout fire and brimstone from the pulpit while thumping on an iPad?  Do they hold divinity or some related degree along with schooling in one of the communications disciplines?  Will they put “Brand Evangelist” on their resume when it’s time to find a new job?

St. Luke was one of the first evangelists. He looks pretty serious in this painting.

This man is a modern evangelist. Note the microphone.

Do you have “time capsule” ideas?  Share them with me and others.

Three Thoughts on a Saturday Afternoon in December

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka The PRDude

Three topics perked my interest recently, prompting me to spend part of this early December Saturday afternoon here, preparing to add more thoughts to the blogosphere.  In this quiet time before the dinner hour, I will offer insight on the economy, an international movement rooted in the First Amendment and public relations.  (I am the PR Dude after all.)

When I’m done, please feel free to offer replies to any or all. As Ed Schultz, host of the CNBC news show The Ed Show  says after his intro, “Let’s get to work.”

  1. Another Meaning Behind Latest Job News.  Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the national unemployment rate dipped to 8.6% from 9.0%.  The White House claimed a victory, and economists maintain this is a small — but positive — step forward for the economy and nation.  On the other side of the aisle, however, Republicans and conservatives clamored the numbers weren’t good enough.Long time followers of The PRDude may recall I launched this blog after my position of nearly 12 years was eliminated due to declining funds at the association where I worked. I was a statistic.  I was part of the “9.0%” or whatever the number was in September of 2009.  During my search for the great position I now hold, any positive news on the job front was welcomed. It gave me — and assuredly many others — that extra impetus to keep charging ahead.  I think this news is tremendous, and I hope all lawmakers in Washington will put partisan views aside on this issue.  Wonder what their perspectives would be like if they were part of the unemployment statistics?
  2. OWS Has Truly Gone Main Street.  Unconvinced about the validity, legitimacy, power, value or purpose of the Occupy Wall Street movement? Try this: Do a Google search of “OWS.”  The OWS website will lead the list of the estimated 37 million search engine results. I know a few things about search engine optimization, which has to do with something called algorithms.  (Hey, I’m a blogger who publishes this nice blog thanks to the folks here at Word Press; not a technician by any means.) That’s pretty impressive for a “movement” without any real central leader or major sources of funding. Regardless of your perspective on the Occupy (fill in the blank) developments here and abroad, it ain’t going away.  Personally, I’ve interacted frequently with those who are occupying my home city of Chicago. The “occupiers” hold court on LaSalle Street at Jackson Boulevard, right across from the Federal Reserve Bank.  (If you’ve seen the most recent Batman movie, you know the intersection.) Here are a few images:

The Occupy folks set up their own commissary. And, they keep the area litter free.

A variety of cylindrical objects are used as drums.

The Occupiers include the expected (Gen X-Y-Zers) and the unexpected (60-something ladies who reportedly bring homemade cookies daily.)

Hand made signs help deliver the message in this digital age.

3.  Dialogue! Public Relations Today Requires Dialogue!  Like many of those reading this, I’m a strong proponent of LinkedIn.  I check my profile regularly and enjoy keeping up to date on what my contacts are doing. Occasionally, I’ll post an item and send it to all contacts and selected groups.  That’s what happened yesterday after I read this piece that originally was published in the Media Daily News.

The article focuses on small PR firms getting bought by big ones; but this comment is what prompted me to broadcast the piece:  “Miles Nadal, CEO of MDC Parnters, said that PR is becoming increasingly vital to the marketing communications mix. While the discipline once focused on getting reporters to say good things about clients, today, he added:  ‘PR is about managing a dialogue — customers, businesses, and influencers discussing the merits of a product, the economics of a big company initiative, or why a company failed in some way, all on the same platform with equal voices.’”

Bravo Miles!  Yes, good readers:  Effective public relations today demands dialogue to help nurture the relationships that help reach established goals.  Mr. Nadal’s final thought — “same platform with equal voices” — is another way of saying “transparency” and “open communications,” aspects of public relations this proud APR lives by.

So, it’s dinner time. When you’re done with dinner — or whatever — let me know your feelings on these three thoughts from a Saturday evening in December.