A Conversation with Major PR Dude Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA

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

Back in the summer of 2010, The PRDude — actually, it was Edward M. Bury, APR –had the honor of serving on the Nominating Committee for the Public Relations Society of America. The NomCom group, as it’s called, meets in Chicago each August to approve candidates seeking elected leadership positions on PRSA.  I was a last-minute replacement from the Midwest District, but thrilled to have the opportunity to play a role in how the Society is governed and work with fellow APRs and industry leaders from across the nation.

Plus, I knew the food would be good, as well as the conversation.

218_redphlag_llc_largeOne of the candidates on the slate that year was Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA.  Gerry, as he’s better known, went on to be elected Chair and CEO of the Society.  At the NomCom gathering, I recall that Gerry was engaging, outspoken and very passionate about the Society. With his year leading the world’s largest public relations organization in the rear view mirror, Gerry now has time to focus on Redphlag, LLC, the strategic consultancy he founded.

Last week Gerry and I spoke via phone.  He was at home in California doing what many Californians do: Driving.  I was here in Chicago.  Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

1. Reflecting on your term as CEO and Chair of PRSA, What the single greatest achievement accomplished for the membership?  The roll out of the MBA Initiative, followed by an extremely successful advocacy effort and a successful international conference.  And, let me add engagement with colleagues in Australia, China, Croatia, the Middle East, Philippines, Russia, Thailand and the UK.  I was invited several times to speak at PR events overseas.  I went to Moscow twice . On on trip, I helped the Russian Public Relations Association celebrate its 20th anniversary.  I participated in a two-and-a-half day conference where I spoke several times. I was pleasantly surprised by the many questions that were posed regarding ethics and integrity. 296_20100929a_gcorbett_024Small

2. What is PRSA doing to make sure it’s going to be relevant to the next generation of public relations professionals? PRSA has instituted programming that’s focused on social media through the free webinars available to members, and there’s a grassroots initiative to broaden the “young professional” movement at the Chapter level.  A good portion of PRSA’s 22,000 members are 25 to 45 years of age, so there’s a strong effort to help young professionals gain the skill sets they’ll need.

3. Can you share some results or achievements for The Business  Case for Public Relations? We’re starting to see that there’s a higher proportion of business professionals who have a better understanding of the value and impact public relations has to the business enterprise.  I’ve done a great deal of advocacy work regarding the importance of public relations to the enterprise.  The MBA initiative and advocacy work are part of the Business Case efforts.

4. Can you share thoughts on the future of the APR credential? PRSA members represent around 80 percent of those practitioners who earn the APR, and we still own the intellectual property.  The APR is critically important to PRSA and to those members who have earned it.  The UAB is working on an entry-level credential for college graduates that we envision will be a feeder program for the APR. I earned my APR back in 1982 when I was with the Chicago Chapter.

5. What will life be like for you, after a year as PRSA CEO and Chair? I’ll support my successor (Mickey G. Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA) in carrying our programs that support and add value to our members.  And, I’ll continue to mentor and coach and rebuild my consulting practice.  People may not realize that as chair and CEO of the organization,  I might have spent 40 to 60 percent of my time on PRSA business.  I probably traveled 200,000 miles last year to speak to chapters and around the world. I’ll still be active on the Board for another year, because there are still some things I want to accomplish.

Thanks, Gerry, for your time and candor. What questions would you like to offer Gerry Corbett?


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Three Recent Black Eyes in the World of Sport (And What Should be Done to Fix What’s Broken)

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

In the past 10 days, three blockbuster stories surfaced in the world of sport.  Each story involved a different sport.  Each — to date — has (or should) shaken the very foundations of their respective sport.  And, sadly, each scandal allegedly was wrapped up in “mistruths” or better known as “lies.”

Let’s start with the first story to surface.

Baseball Hall of Fame Prospects Strike Out.  On January 10, the Baseball Writers Association of America, the men and women who determine who enters the Hall of Fame, did not elect one former recent player into the Hall for 2013.  (Well, the Veteran’s Committee did elect three guys who were involved with Major League Baseball — but 80 or so years ago.) And, this was in light of players who hold record-break statistics for pitching and slugging.  You probably know who I’m referring to, and you probably know the underlying reason: The prospect that for a few decades, some ballplayers used performance-enhancing drugs.

Fans of baseball, which endured a strike in 1994 that canceled the World Series, were thrilled to watch a game that evolved from speed and defense to home runs and more home runs. I applauded like everyone else. Yet I — nor the League, the owners or the sportswriters — really questioned why some ballplayers sported Herculean physiques and knocked out 50 or 60 homers a year. We watched this happen and did nothing but cheer, and perhaps hope to catch a foul ball.

Lance Armstrong Peddles Into a Brick Wall. In his recent television interview with a famous former talk show host — okay, Oprah Winfrey — cyclist Lance Armstrong Lance Armstrongadmitted he — like some Major League ballplayers — was juiced when he cycled to seven Tour de France titles.  And, the story takes an even more disgusting hairpin turn when considering Armstrong denied doping allegations for a decade and reportedly pressured colleagues to do the same.

What were the officials of the cycling world doing?  Fixing flat tires? Along with cycling through the French countryside, Armstrong also made millions as a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service and a founder of Livestrong, the non-profit that helps those with cancer, in 1977. Didn’t the folks who deliver our mail and the directors at Livestrong want to investigate the doping concerns when they surfaced a decade ago?  Or did they not want to know?

And, the Manti Te’o Love Story That Wasn’t. This bizarre blemish to the college sporting world continues to unfold.  For the uninitiated, star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, a runner up for the Heisman Trophy, suffered a loss beyond the pummeling his team suffered in the Bowl Championship Series game against Alabama: He lost his girlfriend to an auto crash and cancer.  The issue: The girlfriend was fabricated, and Te’o only communicated with her via phone and online.

notre_dame_te_o_football_14811187-f1b79521771010adb67c15144481bff69b286467-s6-c10Lots of fingers are being pointed here: At Te’o, his family, the Notre Dame athletic department and others. But in a close-knit structure like a big name college football squad, didn’t his coaches or teammates suspect there was something odd about this “relationship?”  The media, of course, swallowed the whole story until it was revealed last week as a hoax.

So what to do? Here are a few thoughts:

1.Recognize that athletes are fallible, but hold management responsible. They’re human and they make mistakes. Yet, today, they’re paid exorbitant sums of money to play games that many of us play for, well, the sport of it all. Hold those responsible for managing and overseeing sports to a higher level. Perhaps those responsible for pro baseball, cycling and college football should be held responsible for some of the blemishes that have soured the game.

2. Incorporate sound public relations strategists to help rebuild trust. This is not blatant self-promotion for the profession. The sports mentioned, and others, should be concerned about their immediate and long-term future. Fans and sponsors are — or should be — very concerned about continuing to follow and allocate marketing dollars at athletic competitions that are fundamentally flawed.

3. As fans of professional or college sports, we should not stand for any further scandals centered on cheating or lies. Period.

Your thoughts on the above?

Remembering the Reinvention of The Tribune Comany

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

Shortly after this blog was launched, The PRDude had the honor of attending a reception hosted high above the Chicago city streets  in a tower where for decades great men and women sought the truth and then shared that information through the earliest form of mass communication — the newspaper.

That September gathering was held on the outdoor patio at the top of the iconic Tribune Tower.

That September gathering was held on the outdoor patio at the top of the iconic Tribune Tower.

As reported in this post from September of 2009, I learned about the “reinvention” as I called it of the storied Tribune Company, producer of The Chicago Tribuneits namesake daily newspaper — as well as other major market dailies, television and radio stations and other communications companies.   The event was sponsored by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and held in the upper floor outdoor patio at the Tribune Tower, 435 North Michigan Avenue, an address every public relations professional from Chicago should know by heart.

At the time, the Tribune Company was going through a reorganization after being taken over in a complex leveraged buyout led by a very famous real estate tycoon from Chicago named Sam Zell.  The Tribune executives at that September event offered a fresh perspective on what was to come, how the company would embrace digital communications and be relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Well, the company filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy around a year later.  That stuff happens when any type of corporation changes hands, I guess.  (I’ll let analyzing multi-billion-dollar corporate sales to some other blogger, maybe someone called The FinanceDude.  Actually, there is a FinanceDude blogger. No relation.)

What’s prompting this post are some revelations stemming from what unfolded since that warm evening in September some three years ago.  Starting on Sunday January 13, the Chicago Tribune has published an outstanding series that chronicles its proposed “reinvention.”  As a print subscriber, I read the first three reports the old fashioned way:  In the broadsheet edition that gets delivered to our home each day.

The January 15 story, written by Steve Mills and Michael Oneal, addressed the new “corporate culture” ushered in by Mr. Zell and those he brought in to run various Tribune

Were these guys running the "reinvented" Tribune Company?

Were these guys running the “reinvented” Tribune Company?

divisions. It includes several passages that startled me.  One states that a “news release” distributed to announce the head of the Tribune Interactive Division listed these credentials, among others:

  • “president of buying crap” at eBay.
  • “senior executive vice president of technology and stuff” at Microsoft.

Yes, it sounds like the guys from the Delta frat in the “Animal House” film were running the company, not businessmen. Read the full piece to get a better perspective of the alleged nonsense that took place.  As an ethical public relations professional, I’m insulted that this kind of juvenile garbage was distributed as a personnel news announcement.  As a former journalist and long-time subscriber and reader of The Chicago Tribune, I’m thrilled the editors decided to publish such a compelling and necessary series. As someone who embraces open communications, I hope lessons learned from the Tribune Company sale debacle will prompt others to follow a different path.

In Defense of Public Relations: Take That Meghan Daum

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

Ah, the New Year.  We wipe the slate clean. We enthusiastically embrace new challenges. We gang tackle the roadblocks thrown haphazardly before us.

Okay. Enough senseless hyperbole.

Columnist and person who needs to get a better grasp of "public relations," Meghan Daum.

Columnist and person who needs to get a better grasp of “public relations,” Meghan Daum.

Today, The PRDude will address an all-too-often misuse of the way “public relations” is employed in written and spoken communications.  The culprit this time is columnist Meghan Daum, a terrific writer and essayist based in California whose work I read regularly in the Chicago Tribune.  (Print edition, of course, as regular followers will attest.)

In a column published Friday, January 4, Ms. Daum takes on one of the world’s most popular social media platforms — Facebook, known for being founded by a guy who likes to wear hoodies and for frequently changing its privacy settings.  She bashes the site over the course of 722 words (thanks Microsoft Word), claiming Facebook has devolved into an online resource that let’s its users:

“Brag brag brag. Bait for compliment. Self-promote. Promote someone else so as to be able to self-promote later. Brag.”

I trust you have grasped the thrust of Ms. Daum’s perspective: Facebook today can be defined as the online equivalent of that Beatles’ song from Let it Be, I Me Mine.”220px-LetItBe

And, The PRDude certainly respect’s her opinions and even supports some in this piece. But, let’s get to the focus of this post.  As, stated by Ms. Daum:

“(Facebook) used to make you feel connected to the world, but now it makes you feel bad about yourself. That’s because it’s becoming less a place for exchanging ideas and more an unmitigated, unapologetic opportunity for public relations.”

Gloves off time, Ms. Daum!

“Public relations” has been defined in many ways by many people.  The Public Relations Society of America (of which I’m a long-time member) has posted a definition of the practice to meet the modern times.  And, there’s definitions printed in textbooks and espoused by those of us who practice public relations.

At its essence, public relations involves communications.  (So far, Ms. Daum is on target.) But at its core, public relations is driven — or it should be — by sound strategies.  I don’t envision a Facebook user who publishes  a “look at the cake I baked today” post being guided by a strategic process.

I’ll stop picking on Ms. Daum, because there are plenty of instances where “public relations” is thrown into the modern lexicon because it seemingly fits. Well, most of the time it doesn’t.  And, it’s up to those of us who practice effective, strategic and ethical public relations to set the record straight.

I welcome comments, including those from Ms. Daum.