Catching That Perfect Wave, And More With Marisa Vallbona, APR, Fellow PRSA

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

Since her “media debut” as a child decades ago, Marisa Vallabona, APR, Fellow PRSA has led an extraordinary life. To start, she speaks four languages! Decades ago Marisa founded CIM Inc PR, an award-winning public relations firm that continues to thrive in today’s challenging communications market.

She’s held national positions with the Public Relations Society of America and served on the Universal Accreditation Board, where we first met. A Californian, she engages in a challenging water sport popularized in the Golden State. And, Marisa battled and beat a foe that has altered society around the world.  Below are Marisa’s responses to questions in this latest PRDude profile of public relations leaders.

Marisa Vallabona, APR, Fellow PRSA

1.  Your website profile states you became enamored with communications as a child following a news story involving you frying an egg on the sidewalk. Can you please elaborate how this developed?

I was 12 years old and it was a super hot day in Houston to the point we could see steam rising from the asphalt. As kids usually do at that age, I was hanging around with my sister and a group of friends from the neighborhood. She had the idea to see if we could fry an egg on the sidewalk. We were surprised to see it actually fried, so we called the local newsrooms to tell them. One of the news stations sent out a crew and I went on camera. I fell in love with news from that moment forward. It was thrilling.

2. CIM Inc PR provides a wide range of services for a wide range of industries. How has client service changed over the years you’ve been in business? What has remained constant?

Service is the hallmark of any successful PR firm. We’ve been in business 30 years (since 1990) and client service has changed dramatically in the sense that so much more is done electronically and clients expect much more availability. The more business gravitates toward texting, email and Zoom, the more I make it a point to meet in person with my clients. I find that personal touch makes a massive difference in our relationship and success. Over the 30 years we’ve been in business, I’ve found that there are unrealistic expectations for delivery and there’s a lot more stress as a result. It’s also frustrating when some start ups think they can do their own PR because they found a do-it-yourself PR kit online; then they come running back asking for help because they realize it’s a lot harder than they thought. They don’t realize that established relationships make a significant difference in outcome. What has remained constant? Expectations of quality, consistency, news coverage, sound and strategic counsel, and creative ideas have remained constant. Key though is that while anyone can start a business in today’s electronic era, they’ll quickly fail if they don’t have solid and sound knowledge of the industry and if they don’t keep up with professional development. And, our industry is evolving so fast that keeping up requires constant effort and discipline.

3. We met way, way back in 2005 through our service on  the Universal Accreditation Board. Does the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential hold the same value today?

I do believe the APR holds value because it tests and asserts that the professional who holds Accreditation has the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for the profession. However, it’s not necessary. I know countless non APR PR professionals who are equally if not more qualified than some APRs. Earning the credential is a matter of personal preference and should be something one strives to achieve for their own mastery and self and career confidence. I did it for that reason and I used the opportunity to raise my consulting rates. It should not be seen or used as a reason to say one professional is better than another because that is simply not true.

4. Now, must get to a somewhat serious question. Over the past few weeks, you shared a video and commentary on battling a serious illness. Can you please elaborate and share insight and advice on how you coped?
My doctors diagnosed me with COVID-19 and it was horrible. I’ve never been sicker in my life, struggling with shortness of breath, dry cough and fever for over five weeks. I rarely left my bed and if it had not been for my boyfriend, who stayed by my side the entire time, I don’t know what I would have done. There were two instances where I choked and gasped for air and if it hadn’t been for the inhaler my doctor prescribed me at the onset of my difficulty breathing, I truly believe I would have choked to death. It’s been over 10 weeks and I am now left with Reactive Airway Disease. I just started surfing again a few days ago (with a rescue inhaler in a waterproof fanny pack) and my lungs are shot after an hour of surfing, which is something in the past I never would have thought possible. I used to be a marathon runner, have never smoked a cigarette in my life and rarely ever get sick. This has been a tremendous struggle and continues to haunt me daily. 
5. Okay, let’s conclude on a lighter note. You’re a surfer girl. You live in greater San Diego. What advice can you give a Chicago guy who has aspirations to surf the wilds of Lake Michigan?
Take a surf lesson before you try it and get ready to fall in love with the sport. Your life will never be the same in the best way you could ever imagine. I promise! 
* * *
An aside: Way back in 1982 (or thereabouts), I visited some friends who moved to Southern California. Off on my own, I drove my rental car to LA, then took Highway 1 south, stopping in Newport Beach.  My objective was to surf!  Hey, man, I passed the lifeguard test and was an excellent swimmer.  I could do this.
Well reality took over as I encountered waves higher than the home I lived in and water that was really, really cold. I watched the surfers for a while, then headed south to San Diego.
 

Nineteen Questions Regarding COVID-19

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

We all have questions regarding some aspects of life as we know it. In fact, raising an occasional interrogative challenge is part of human nature. And, questions comprise the subject of this post.

Don’t know about you, but this graphic of the COVID-19 is plain creepy. Go away! (Image courtesy of the CDC.)

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has dominated lives around much of the world since March, without question prompts many people to utter statements verbally, in print or within their own mind and seek answers to the impacts made by this global development.

Below are 19 questions that have crossed my mind related to the pandemic.  Some questions are serious, some perhaps can be perceived as being silly. They are in no particular order of importance, however #19 is the most poignant, I think.

But for all, the answers have yet to be determined.

  1. Will people want to pursue careers in industries like hospitality, given the large number of chefs, servers, bartenders, hostesses and hotel employees now out of work?
  2. Will entrepreneurs – especially those in the creative fields – be reluctant to launch new ventures?
  3. How will the impact of the virus and pandemic influence the presidential and other elections this fall and in the years to come?
  4. Who will be viewed years from now as “heroes” and who will be viewed as “villains” once the pandemic is history?
  5. When will the pandemic be “glamorized” by Hollywood in a film?
  6. On a similar note, when will the first book be published on the pandemic?
  7. From a personal perspective, will barbers charge men more for cutting longer hair?
  8. What is the most significant aspect of coping with this pandemic that we have learned so far?
  9. Many, many people have lost savings and livelihoods from the pandemic, but who will benefit financially?
  10. When will we stop seeing the virus depicted as that creepy red sphere?
  11. Will the efforts to finding a vaccine demonstrate future cooperation between government and the private sector?
  12. Will selecting a mask in a particular color or print be part of one’s daily wardrobe decision?
  13. Will more people comprehend and appreciate the value of accurate, timely communications now that we receive daily updates on the virus?
  14. Will the phrase “social distance” be replaced with a less pragmatic phrase like, “Just stay the heck away from me!”?
  15. Given its value during this crisis, will the practice of ethical, strategic public relations — my profession — gain respect, stature and relevance in C-suites, boardrooms and conference rooms?
  16. Will trips on public transit trains and buses ever be standing-room-only again?
  17.  When will it be inappropriate to take a stroll or run down the middle of the street?
  18. Are people as productive working at home than from the office?
  19. And, of course, what can we do to prevent this horrific episode from happening again?

So there. Now it’s your turn. What questions do you have?

Those First Steps Toward Earning My Master’s Degree

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

It was on a late August day in 2016 when I strolled — somewhat intrepidly, but perhaps incredulously — down the walkway shown in the image below.

My destination was Stevenson Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. My purpose was to participate in the first class required to earn my Master of Arts degree in English.

On that August day in 2016, this walkway on the UIC campus was filled with people just like me — people wanted to learn and grow.

Since that class, the ENGL500 Masters Proseminar, I’ve successfully completed three writing workshops and four seminars, or courses based on literary genres or eras; plus I submitted a thesis (60 pages of a novel still-in-the works).

The outcome: I’ve earned my Master’s degree through the Department’s Program for Writers.

Today would have been the official commencement for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but the condition of the world in this place in history meant the in-person ceremony would have to be postponed. A virtual Commencement is scheduled for May 16.

In this space, I first announced in a “creative” July 2016 post my intention to earn an advanced degree.  Since then, I’ve chronicled my experience in the classroom over the semesters in several posts, including a May 2017 report on what I learned in a class focused on the works of author Vladimir Nobokov and “candid” perspectives on some classmates.

So, what did I learn?

Well, along with the subject of the required readings, I learned how to interpret literature, authors and theories and present a (somewhat) cogent thesis that later evolved into a scholarly paper. And, I learned that there are few, if any, absolute or definitive perspectives in the analysis or interpretation of literature: Your thoughts are valid, providing you can support them.

So, what’s next?

I certainly plan to continue reading fiction and non-fiction works, but now I want to explore works from other authors. For example, I’m now reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which at 695 pages requires a commitment. Also on the agenda: Completing my novel and revising short stories from my recent Fiction Writing Workshop.

So, who do I thank?

Of course the professors who prepared and led class and provided direction when I was at a crossroads, my classmates who challenged me and shared my commitment to learning, the administrators in the English Department who provided much-needed guidance, and my UIC colleagues, family and friends who offered encouragement when I felt overwhelmed. But most of all, I must thank my dear Susan, for her steadfast belief that I could, indeed, earn a Master’s degree in English.

So, what am I most proud of?

From an academic standpoint, I maintain a paper exploring modern poetry completed in 2018 for a course on modern and contemporary literature represents a high-level of achievement. Also, there’s a soft spot for this short essay on a street I called “a bastard thoroughfare,” still my favorite street in the world.

And, there’s one more thing: I only missed one class over the entire eight semesters, and that was on September 28, 2016, when I learned that afternoon that our dear mother, Sophie V. Bury had passed away.

On this Mother’s Day 2020, I’m confident our mother also is proud of what I accomplished.