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.

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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?