Suggestion for Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot: Add An APR (Or Perhaps Several) to Communications Team

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

The recent Chicago mayoral election, which led to the election of attorney and prescribed reformer Lori Lightfoot, would have been an ideal opportunity for this avowed real Chicago guy to share thoughts in this space.

But, for some reason — actually several reasons, including school, work and spring break — I did not publish any commentary.

Flash forward: A column published today by Chicago Tribune commentator Eric Zorn provided inspiration.

Sound communications counsel will prove invaluable to Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot in the years ahead. Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

The focus of Zorn’s piece, “A lesson for Lori Lightfoot in the lingering Jussie Smollett controversy,” centers on communications, and the value and importance of sound media relations practices in helping Mayor-Elect Lightfoot advance her agenda and remain focused during what certainly will be challenging and contentious months ahead.

Navigating the next development in the Smollett controversy is the most top-of-mind issue, given the international coverage the story has received and the local divisiveness it has caused. But Chicago’s unrelenting street crime, reforming City Hall, pension shortfalls, neighborhood gentrification and an increasing lack of affordable housing also will require that Ms. Lightfoot and her team respond to many, many other media and public inquiries.

Open and honest communications from the Lightfoot administration will prove critical to the success during her years as mayor, and to Chicago, to its citizens, organizations and businesses, and to the way the city is perceived around the world.

Mr. Zorn advises the Mayor-Elect to “Hire the best communications team you can find.” He sagely goes on to state: “They will serve as strategists, not just mouthpieces, and will be unafraid to tell you when you deserve the brickbats.”

Should Ms. Lightfoot or her transition team read this post, I offer this suggestion on one criteria that should be considered in making selections on communicators: Consider professionals who hold the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

Okay. Some regular readers may have anticipated my recommendation.  And, yes, I am an Accredited professional, have served on the Universal Accreditation Board and currently am the Accreditation Chair for PRSA Chicago.

With the disclosure out of the way, let me share this one thought about the value of Accreditation. As Mr. Zorn noted, modern communicators must think strategically and not dispense knee-jerk counsel.

Those who earn the APR demonstrate through their personal study, during the Panel Presentation process and when taking the Comprehensive Examination that they can provide counsel based on strategies rather than “no comment.”

Should Mayor-Elect Lightfoot or her transition team need recommendations on who to consider, please respond to this post. And, for the record: This Accredited member would respectfully decline any position offered for the simple reason that I have no real experience in the political arena, aside from be a voter.

 

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What I Learned While on the Road — 877 Miles* Later

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

Well, the BP Motor Club Trip Planner I requested noted that our itinerary would total 877 miles. But side journeys, and getting “lost” a few times added to the total.

Here’s what I’m referring to: For spring break 2019, Susan and I took a road trip — Chicago through Indiana, to Louisville, Kentucky; west from Louisville, back through Indiana, to Carbondale, Illinois; then back to Chicago.

Why? I’ve never been to Louisville, and I’ve been been to the far southern part of my home state of Illinois. So, what happened?

Here are some recollections in words and a few images.

A stroll through Old Louisville offered an uninterrupted presentation of (mostly) well-preserved or restored stone homes.

Awesome Old Louisville. Quick: Name what this Kentucky city on the Ohio River is most noted for. Most people would cite bourbon, baseball bats, KFC and that famous horse race. Let’s add the Old Louisville historic district — a 45-block, 1,000 home treasure of Victorian architecture — to the list. Our three-night stay in a VRBO apartment on Brook Street gave us a first hand perspective of this neighborhood comprised of former mansions and other stately edifices located between downtown and the University of Louisville. I would start my day with a stroll and was always rewarded with seeing something new, something intriguing.

Yes, there are big lakes in Southern Illinois, like Crab Orchard just outside Carbondale.

Outstanding Cuisine in a College Town Setting. Tremendous Thai food and sophisticated entrees in small town Carbondale, home to Southern Illinois University? True. We were advised by a friend to dine at Thai Taste, a popular restaurant a three-minute walk from our hotel. He was right: Exceptional Asian cuisine that was not at all modified to fit American palates. I still have fond memories of the egg drop soup and pad kee mao. Another evening we preferred to go a bit more upscale and had dinner at Newell House, a bistro with entrees that would rival the new eateries that have gained a foothold in restaurant-laden Logan Square. Our meals were served by concerned and engaging staff and were far less expensive than comparable places in Chicago.

This silver sedan was our land ship across prairies, over rivers and through small towns.

The Catharsis of the Road. My average drive most weeks consists of a four-mile round trip to the grocery on Saturday morning. My “hot rod” 23-year-old Toyota Camry serves well for that kind of short trip, but we were on the road for six days and splurged on a rental car — a new Ford Fusion Hybrid. Getting behind the wheel of this modern machine was inspiring, whether we were cruising down an interstate freeway at 70 miles per hour, driving through a sleepy town or navigating the seemingly endless series of switchbacks on our way to Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest. Having Serius Radio with options like Little Steven’s Underground Garage, jazz and country made the miles along the often flat, barren landscape enjoyable.

These days it’s hard to totally detach and disconnect, even while supposedly on vacation.

On our trip, I viewed Facebook posts from friends enjoying spring break in places as far reaching as Italy and Morocco, and closer to home like Miami and Phoenix. Our six-day jaunt across three states was not what one would consider exotic. It was a simple road trip through the American heartland at the end of a long winter.

Yes, we drank bourbon in Louisville, toured Churchill Downs, walked trails and visited the SIU campus. But this trip demonstrated to me that a modest adventure can be rewarded and enriched when the travels are closer to home … if you can find the extraordinary in what some would consider ordinary.

*When I dropped the Fusion off at the nearby Avis rental site, we had driven 1,087 miles. What we did on those extra 201 miles off the prescribed route might be been the best part of the journey.

A # of ?s RE: “AOC”

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

A rebuttal to the headline and the article itself: It’s you, you, you the media that has elevated this freshman legislator to such exulted status!

Without question, abbreviations, grammatical shortcuts and emojis continue to find a strong and increasingly dominant place in today’s communications landscape, especially in the digital and broadcast mediums.

Based on the image at left, a photo capturing an article with photo I read in today’s Chicago Tribune, this practice of somewhat bastardizing the language clearly is fully ensconced in print.

The issue for me here: Since her meteoric rise on the national political scene, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-NY) is now better known by her initials.

Note the copy of the Tribune article displayed. The Congresswoman’s initials are in the headline, and they are used repeatedly throughout the piece!  As a former reporter, I have to scream: Just what the heck is going on here?  How is this being allowed in what I would label “serious” journalism?

Want more? Read the full story from reporter David Bauder, writing for the Associated Press.

As inferred in the headline to this post, I have questions — actually lots of questions — regarding this grammatical cultural phenomenon.

In no particular order, they are:

  • How did the “AOC” abbreviation originate? Who first coined it and perpetrated it?
  • Why is this practice accepted in journalism?
  • Why did Mr. Bauder refer to the Congresswoman as “AOC” multiple times in the article?
  • Why did Mr. Bauder’s editors allow this practice, clearly an assault to sound journalism practices?
  • Does the Congresswoman get preferential treatment because she’s embodied in initials?
  • Is this practice beneficial? Harmful?
  • Can anyone strategically craft a political campaign that results in being referenced primarily by initials or abbreviations?
  • If I’m re-branded as “EMB” or “TPRD,” will my life change for the better?

I wholeheartedly wish Representative Ocasio-Cortez much success in representing her district and serving the American people.  She’s the face of the so-called Green New Deal (or, perhaps GND?), and her future is promising, even if she’ll never be invited as a guest on Fox & Friends or Hannity.

To conclude, throughout our nation’s history, other politicians have been known by their initials — FDR, JFK and LBJ come to mind.  But the aforementioned were elected president, for gosh sake!  They earned it. As of this writing, AOC has held her post officially only since January 3 of this year. That’s a total of 70 days.

Opps. Read what I just wrote.

Homelessness: The True Image of a National Emergency

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

The concept of a “national emergency” dominated media coverage in recent weeks, driven by President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this month to demand federal funding to build the wall on the nation’s southern border.

This controversial use of presidential power certainly raised questions, primarily:

  • Is there, indeed, a crisis along our border with Mexico in terms of illegal entry, drug smuggling and other criminal activity?
  • Does this president, or any president, have the constitutional authority to declare a national emergency and demand federal funds without Congressional approval?

Perhaps there have been true national emergencies taking place here in the United States for a prolonged time in our history; but, they just don’t make headlines.

Note the image within this post. This lady shared a CTA Blue Line car with me, other Chicagoans and visitors one morning this week.  Most passengers on this train probably were headed to work, school, an appointment or home.

From what’s depicted here, this lady was probably going to none of the above.

Look closely, she’s there, behind the glass partition, wearing a brown jacket and maneuvering a cart loaded with sacks containing what’s likely her worldly possessions.

As she was about to exit at the Jackson station platform, I handed her some cash, about what I would spend on two beers these days, minus tip.

She paused, smiled, said thank you and put the bill in her pocket. I sensed dignity in this lady by the way she looked at me, responded to my offer and effectively moved her cart and belongings off the el car and onto the platform.

I hope the President or someone within his administration recognizes that homelessness is a true national emergency, and it’s taking place in many, many other cities and towns across the nation. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 550,000 in this nation are homeless.  Here in Illinois, more than 10,000 experience homelessness.

After my encounter with the lady, I continued on with my work day, then I headed home.

My regret is that I all I did was give this lady some money. My hope is that she finds a true home someday soon.

Does Anyone Else Question Why Jussie Smolette Hired a Public Relations Firm?

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

As of this writing, the afternoon of February 15, the story involving the reported attack here in Chicago on actor and vocalist Jussie Smolette has taken almost as many twists and turns as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Image of Jussie Smolette courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you’re interested in following the story, this report from CNN chronicles what’s taken place to date.

Let’s let the media and Twittersphere follow the story and provide the next update. What I want to shed light to another aspect: The hiring by Mr. Smolette of public relations firm Sunshine Sachs.

(An aside: Sunshine Sachs has perhaps the most spare, unassuming and uncluttered website of any communications firm on the planet.  Must say, the site certainly is easy to navigate.)

When I learned of this development, my initial reaction was straightforward and driven by my experience in public relations: Why does the victim of a crime — albeit a celebrity who told police he was attacked by two men who hurled racial slurs, put a noose around his neck and poured a substance on him — need public relations counsel?

Public relations support, as I comprehend the practice, helps take advantage of an opportunity or mitigate a threat.

One could argue that in the days following the reported attack, Mr. Smolette’s account of what took place that night in the Streeterville neighborhood was challenged and therefore he needed the advice and guidance of public relations professionals to help counter media inquiries and preserve his reputation.

And, from the other perspective, Mr. Smolette and his story was grabbing headlines and media coverage — especially here in Chicago — and he retained counsel to respond effectively to what assuredly was a deluge of interview requests.

A quick Google search of the decision to hire Sunshine Sachs revealed digital reports that shouted “Jussie Smolette Victim? He Hired Harvey Weinstein’s PR Firm” and “Best Drama: Jussie Smolette Hires Harvey Weinstein’s PR Team.”

Now, my perspective.  Mr. Smolette certainly had the right and I trust the dollars to hire a national firm like Sunshine Sachs.

However, I remain concerned that news regarding the enlistment of public relations support was brought into the unfolding story may prove damaging to the profession and practice. Note the reference to alleged serial sexual abuser Weinstein in the examples noted above.

What I read into this: Public relations, which should be based on truth and adherence to established ethical standards, is becoming more equated with pop culture and tabloid headlines.

Would welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

What Joe Ricketts and The Cubs Should Have Done

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

It was the contents of a series of digital communications — email messages — that ushered in the scandal engulfing businessman Joe Ricketts and the iconic sports franchise his money paid for.

Cloudy skies, figuratively ahead, for the Chicago Cubs and Joe Ricketts. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

But it would take an old-fashioned form of communication to help mitigate the embarrassment and loss of respect (and maybe business) caused by this unadulterated and sad mess.

A quick recap: This week, a website called Splinter News revealed that Mr. Ricketts, the billionaire founder of brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, sent and responded to a series of emails that that in essence equated Muslims with being evil and not welcomed in the United States.

Mr. Ricketts, whose offspring run the Chicago Cubs, both issued somewhat static statements of apology, stating the Islamophobic communications were wrong, uncalled for and don’t belong in modern society — or affiliated with a Major League baseball team.

Apologies certainly are required here, without question. But what both the billionaire and his son Tom Ricketts, the Chairman of the Cubs, should have done is made those statements, live and in person, not through the totally controlled process of a statement issued from a corporate suite.

Hold a news conference, admit from the heart the messages were wrong, offer to meet with Muslim leaders, offer to get some kind of behavioral treatment, host a conference designed to build better understanding of different cultures — do more than just apologize, then close the book.

In an editorial published today, the Chicago Tribune (which we subscribe to) offered this rhetorical question: “While Ricketts and the Cubs responded quickly, they didn’t blow anyone away with the passion of their regret. We wondered whether a public relations consultant and a dozen lawyers had signed off.”

Shout out to the Tribune editorial team: Perhaps a seasoned and competent public relations professional for both Joe Ricketts and the Cubs did propose what I stated above. But, public relations counsel is just that — advice provided to the client.

In some cases, the client does not follow the advice.

 

 

 

One Image, One Question: January 30, 2019

By Edward M. Bury, APR

Some topics — sports, politics, popular culture — have widespread interest among the public at large, while others often are relegated to the fringes.

But when extreme weather becomes the focus, everyone takes notice.

A few months from now, this view from the back porch of our Avondale home will be much, much more inviting.

It’s that way here in Chicago and across much of the Midwest. Dangerous, unprecedented arctic cold has descended, dropping air temperatures to minus 20 degrees (or colder) and wind chill factors to minus 50 in some areas.

The technical term is polar vortex.

News reports shout caution — stay indoors, bundle up if you have to go out, help those in need, limit the time spent exercising your dog. We hear lots about the impact of the cold, its dangers, its causes and, unfortunately, its often devastating results on people, animals, buildings, cars, the economy and the environment.

That bring us to the question of this post: What does “cold” sound like?

To answer that question, earlier today (air temperature was minus 18), I ventured outside for around 15 minutes. What I heard this bright, sunny and frigid day was an almost eerie quiet. It was as if we surrendered to something we could not really control.

I recall three cars passed down our block during my short sojourn outside, and I encountered one man walking his dogs, hurriedly, I must add.  That’s it.

To the north, I could see jet planes heading to O’Hare International Airport, but of course, I could not hear any sounds.

Now back in our warm home, I’m encouraged by reports of a nearby laundry staying open to temporarily house those with no warm place to go, and ride share company Lyft offering no-cost rides to the many shelters set up in Chicago.

Later, I may venture out to listen again to the sound of cold.