What Samuel Gompers Said and the State of the America Today

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

The bronze Samuel Gompers Memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The litter in the foreground is not an official part of the memorial.

For the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of attending the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, always held in Washington, DC, and always in early January.

My key tasks there are to participate in the meeting of the Technology Transfer Committee (where I proudly serve as Communications Task Group chair) and manage a reception hosted by the transportation research unit that’s part of the university where I’m employed.

During my brief — three days, two nights — sojourn to the capital, I try to come away with some new perspective on the nation: Where we’re headed, what remains good in America, where are roadblocks to overcome.

I’ve shared my thoughts in past PRDude posts. For example, in this January 17 post from last year, I offered insight on the impact the government shutdown that lasted into early 2019 had on mobility in the District.

The impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump has been at the forefront of things taking place in Washington over the past few weeks. So, I looked for a something else to capture my attention, to provide inspiration.

I found it in the image above, the memorial to organized labor giant Samuel Gompers, while walking along Massachusetts Avenue.

Yes, the District is home to many compelling memorials to men and women, military heroes and leaders from other parts of the world. What struck me about the Gompers Memorial– aside from the striking representation of the seated Gompers flanked by figures of the labor movement — was this statement on the southwest side of the pedestal. It reads in part;

No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force,
we but tear apart that which united is invincible.

These words by Gompers (who I learned was English by birth and a cigar maker by trade) encapsulated the labor movement he helped forge.

But I wish the members of Congress, those in the Executive Office and members of he Supreme Court would take these words to heart in regards to what’s taking place in Washington today.

We as a nation would be on firmer ground if we heeded the wisdom of an English cigar maker.

Rick Aspan, APR, Talks of Future Following Career in Technology Communications

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

So, what’s next for a public relations leader who forged a very successful three-decade-plus career in the technology industry and decided to seek a new direction in life? Rick Aspan, APR, will find an answer in the days to come. The first public relations pro to be featured in 2020, Rick shares thoughts on his work at a multi-national firm, the value of earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential and the professional baseball team he’s rooted for all his life.

1. You recently retired after 15 years as VP and global head of Corporate Communications for North Carolina-based CommScope, and you did so based in their Westchester, IL office. On the company website, CommScope is described as a leader “in innovating the network infrastructure of the future.” Please describe your role and responsibilities with the company.

I led a global team of nine talented people, and we provided the media relations, employee communications, social media, industry analyst relations and executive communications support for CommScope around the world.  The company now has approximately $10 billion in annual sales and 30,000 employees, with manufacturing, sales, engineering and administrative facilities in numerous nations. Needless to say, we stayed very busy, but I’m proud of all we did—we consistently outperformed and delivered results that enhanced the company brand, perception and performance.

2. How did you gain the experience required to lead communications at a publicly-traded technology company?

Rick Aspan, APR

Since my dream was to be a sportswriter, clearly there was an early fork in the road and a ton of experience gained along the way! I was fortunate to work at companies and for people who appreciated aggressiveness and creativity, which provided countless ways to learn by doing.  And, as a non-technology guy who has worked in technology for 35 years, I quickly realized I’d never be the smartest person in the room, but I sure can be the best business communicator they’d ever seen by being open to learning and developing. It never hurts, either, to have worked with some great leaders—my direct managers and company executives—who trusted me and from whom I’ve benefited tremendously.

3. What were some of the challenges you encountered? Did you ever have to mitigate a crisis?

With a relatively small team and budget, it felt every day presented some sort of challenge just to keep our collective heads above water! And I’m thankful that I never had to manage through a big-scale, headline-generating crisis.

But in the spirit of your question, I’ll point to two specific challenges.  First, as a supplier to all of the world’s top networking companies (think AT&T, Telefonica, Comcast, Microsoft, etc.), we serve industry giants and compete against some well-known brands.  But CommScope isn’t as well known, especially outside of our industry and because of its rapid growth via acquisition. So the communications team embraced this great opportunity (er, challenge) to make stronger connections to our customers and potential customers via PR and social media, while also building greater brand awareness outside of our traditional industry markets where we’re already well known. So far, good progress that I’m confident will continue after I’ve left.

Secondly, in employee communications, I’ve always joked that CommScope represents the perfect storm of employee communications challenges by nature of its workforce. For example:

  • 30,000 or so employees in numerous countries and nearly every time zone
  • Approximately 50% of those employees work in manufacturing, distribution or transportation functions where they are “non-connected,” or without workplace access to computers and Internet
  • More than 10,000 employees don’t speak English

So every global communication requires additional levels of planning and creativity to ensure that our diverse set of employees have a relatively equal chance to receive it, understand it and embrace it. We’re always translating copy, voicing-over videos, adjusting for time zones, and coaching regional and local leadership to boost our chance of success.

4. We met way, way back in 2003 when you were a panelist on my APR panel presentation. (Thanks again for advancing me!) How did earning Accreditation contribute to your success in public relations?

Wait, we let you through?  Haha. Earning Accreditation certainly helped me and was one of the most meaningful steps I took in my career in terms of personal development. And I emphasize “personal.” No one makes us do it, but choosing to take on this challenge and earn APR made it that much more significant to me. I did it for me, while it also helps advance our profession. Sure, I learned some new things even though I was mid-career when I did it. More importantly, the Accreditation process helped me take what I already knew and structured it in a way to be more meaningful and actionable for the rest of my career. Sort of like a guy who has played golf for several years and is good at it, then decides to take his first series of golf lessons. (If you’ve ever done that, you’ll know what I mean!)

5. Now, on to a less serious topic. From your Facebook posts, I see you are die-hard Chicago White Sox fan. The team made some significant off-season moves.  So, how will the Sox fare in 2020?

I’m stoked by the team’s progress and changes, but like a true South Sider, I will always be restrained in my optimism and fearful of the worst happening until I actually see good things unfold on the field. There was considerable energy and enthusiasm in the stands last season, despite the lousy team record. So yes, I’m excited. Let me put it this way….for the first time in years, I’m already blocking out my calendar for October.

Will Public Relations Score on the Legal Weed Boom in Illinois?

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

New Year’s Day 2020 was a day highly anticipated by many of my fellow Illinoisans. A definite, palatable buzz permeated across the Land of Lincoln. In fact, when the smoke cleared, there was outright euphoria among segments of the population.

Okay, enough with the silly puns and intended hyperbole.

Mild temperatures and bright sunshine greeted the scores of cannabis customers New Year’s Day at a dispensary on Milwaukee Avenue in the Logan Square neighborhood.

You know what I’m referring to: On January 1, Illinois became the 11th state to allow the sale and recreational use of cannabis to people 21 years and older.  Leading up to legal weed day, there was the expected media frenzy of stories regarding the impact of state-sanctioned sale of a product that remains illegal on a federal level. Would cannabis vendors run out of product? Would a rush by recreational weed patrons result in a diminished supply of medical cannabis? How much revenue will legal weed bring to the state? Where can pot possessors puff legally? Would there be a mad rush to stock up?

As noted in the image at left, on January 1 marijuana connoisseurs of all types waited in long lines at dispensaries across the state to score flower, edibles and tincture without fear of prosecution.  And, the rush for the green stuff has continued in the ensuing days. The result: the projected shortfall of product has happened.

And, in the “this just in” department, this recent Chicago Tribune story reports city has set up “cannabis amnesty boxes” at our two major airports for passengers who want to discard weed products before boarding to avoid the prospect of violating federal law.  My advice: Get high before you fly!

So many questions, so much uncertainty, so much still to unfold surrounding the debut of recreational marijuana; but I have a question of my own.

Back in November of last year, I published a post asking fellow public relations professionals if they would provide counsel to e-cigarette manufacturers, companies that produce another legal smoking product. Given the landmark events of last week, let me follow up with a new query:

Would you represent a cannabis company as public relations counsel?

If first-week sales statewide is an indication, legal cannabis is on track to reach major highs … I mean heights.  Cannabis shops sold nearly $11 million worth of product over the past seven days, a figure that assuredly would have soared had there been more product available and more dispensaries open.  So, the industry is legitimate, at least from a financial perspective.

It would be prudent for PR firms now representing cannabis companies to jointly share strategies and tactics. It blows my mind (figuratively, of course) to contemplate how account teams learn more about the product.

So please: Don’t bogart your comments and pass opinions and insight. Or, whatever.