Two Corporate Blunders That (Fortunately) Were Not (In All Instances) Labeled “Public Relations Disasters”

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

This space has remained stalwart in addressing occurrences of corporate operational or administrative mistakes that were unfairly categorized by the media as “public relations disasters” or better yet, “public relations nightmares.”

In a sound strategic move, Papa Johns will remove its founder from print marketing materials. Image courtesy of the New York Post.

The rationale, as I comprehend it: A company gets grilled when news breaks (and these days, news often is accompanied by a video account) that results in an embarrassment, loss of business or possibly a fine or legal action. This constitutes unfavorable media coverage or “bad PR.” Hence, the correlation — albeit inaccurate and unfair — to public relations.

Well, any reference to a “public relations disaster” was, remarkably, absent in some news reports I read in print or online of two recent corporate blunders:

  • Papa John’s International.  On a conference call, pizza chain founder John Schnatter uttered a racial slur, leading to his resignation as chairman of the board from the publicly traded company.  As a way to mitigate this crisis, the company also is removing Mr. Schnatter’s image from its marketing materials.  I’ll also bet Mr. Schnatter will no longer be featured in TV spots.
  • Build-A-Bear.  Yesterday, this company that allows kids to design and build their own stuff animal created pandemonium — and left a lot of kids and parents unfulfilled — when a “Pay Your Age Day” promotion drew overflow crowds at shopping malls across the nation.  Parents received $15 vouchers as an appeasement, and the company CEO promptly issued a video apology.

But, doing a Google search, yes, I found some references to “public relations crisis” in both stories noted above.

I had hoped the media would dissolve an instance of outright stupidity and callousness (Mr. Schantter) and one that failed to comprehend the consequences of a marketing initiative (Build-A-Bear) from the realm of having anything that originated with a strategic public relations plan.

Assuredly, the public relations teams for both organizations — departments that did not initiate what led to the negative publicity in both instances — will marshal its crisis communications plan in the days to come. Perhaps both companies will get some “good PR” in the future.

 

 

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My Favorite Summer Place

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

The front porch of our Avondale home is where you’ll often find me these months of summer.

The summer, at least here in Chicago, has been sultry and scorching, the sun frequently scintillating from the blue sky often void of clouds.

Yes, the days of June and July of 2018 have been marked at times by record heat, tropical dew points and often fierce, drenching thunderstorms that swept across the metropolitan area, leaving flooded roadways, shattered tree limbs and a reminder that the forces of nature can often prevent the even emboldened from venturing out from the safety of a covered roof and air conditioning for very long.

And, it’s only the first week of July.

Still, there’s much to revel about in summer, much to savor. Like finding a favorite summer place.

Mine is depicted in the image above, the front porch of our Avondale home.  There, on the corner of two one-way streets, I can observe or appreciate:

  • The evolution of our neighborhood, from decidedly diverse and middle class to increasingly youthful, Caucasian, artsy and professional.
  • People in motion, on foot, on bicycles, on skateboards, on scooters and pushing carriages. People walking dogs, people with arms outstretched, their eyes and attention directed to a handheld.
  • The flight and calls of all sorts of birds — robins, cardinals, sparrows, grackles, crows, finches and, this being Chicago, pigeons.
  • The emergence of fireflies and the symphonic sounds of cicadas, unseen but yet there.
  • Vendors selling frozen desserts from push carts, including the Hispanic man with the tanned skin who knows I prefer the lime popsicle.
  • Peaks from the sun coming through the trees to the east in the morning, and the remaining rays of light to the east at dusk.
  • The opportunity to read without a light, not caring if my mind wanders off the page, the result of a distraction by the world around me.

In essence, simple things, aspects of the world around me punctuated by the perspective provided by positioning my posterior on my modest perch.

Bring on more heat. I don’t care. It’s always cool in my favorite summer place.

Now, what’s yours?

* * *

Have a little more time? Then read my essay, “The Greening of Avondale,” written in fall of 2017 for a Non-Fiction Writing Workshop class.

 

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Three Salient Thoughts from Arthur W. Page Society President Roger Bolton

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

Without question, thoughts from the president of the leading international society for senior public relations professionals across the corporate, agency, non-profit and academic disciplines would prove noteworthy, enlightening and compelling — especially for those of us who remain passionate about the state of public relations today. Well, that accurately encapsulates the casual presentation made by Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society.

Bridget Coffing, Maril Gagen MacDonald and Roger Bolton at the PRSA Chicago Senior Leaders presentation June 26.

In Chicago June 26 at the invitation of PRSA Chicago (where I serve on the 2018 Board), Mr. Bolton shared insight on the direction modern public relations is heading, the results of studies on corporate CEOs and CCOs, the mounting impact of technology and much more.

(Shout out to the PRSA Chicago Senior Leaders committee for organizing the event, securing great sponsors and of course, locking in Mr. Bolton.)

Before a packed and attentive audience in a second-floor hall at the classic Women’s Athletic Club of Chicago, Mr. Bolton provided way, way too much to chronicle in its entirety in this space. So, here are three comments that were especially poignant to me.

  • On the role of communications professionals: Defining the organization and its mission is a key role of corporate communicators. Mr. Bolton followed that thought with this equally important comment: The communicator’s job responsibility is to “not burnish the image of a flawed client.” Bravo, bravo!  Learn more from “The Authentic Enterprise” report produced by the Page Society in 2007 based on C-Suite interviews and research.
  • On coping with disruption caused by modern society: A 2016 report, “The New CCO,”  addressed the dramatically evolving role of the men and women charged with directing and guiding corporate communications. All industries, Mr. Bolton said, experience disruption from technology and many other forces; to address this within a corporation, CCOs must navigate ways to change the corporate culture to adapt to the inevitable instances of severance from the norm.
  • On the impact of artificial intelligence in modern communications.  Mr. Bolton noted that the results of some political races are being covered by machines due to a lack of live reporters on the scene. Artificial intelligence is a reality, but communicators should not be dissuaded from employing technology “to make human lives better.” He augmented that thought by stating that communicators today need “to use digital technology in an authentic way.”

The discussion was moderated by Maril Gagen MacDonald, founder of the strategic Chicago communications firm that bears her name.  My colleague on PRSA Chicago, Bridget Coffing, gave the introductory remarks.  Following Mr. Bolton’s unscripted commentary — which he delivered standing up, rather than from the comfy chair provided — there was a robust Q&A session that addressed diversity, the changing corporate culture and the arrival of the Millennial generation within the profession.

Riveted by the conversation and dialogue from fellow communicators, I headed home that rainy evening energized and emboldened. Clearly, the public relations profession will continue to maintain its position as a critical component of modern society.  Watch out AI: We ain’t going away.

What’s Hot in Chicago? The Weather and Elon Musk’s High Speed Airport Shuttle

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

What’s the hot topic of discussion around Chicago these days — besides the extreme heat this Father’s Day weekend?

Come on: Wouldn’t you want to ride in an electric vehicle that travels in a tube at 125-150 mph? Photo courtesy of the Boring Company.

Of course, it’s the recent announcement that billionaire entrepreneur and boundary-shattering businessman Elon Musk received approval from the City of Chicago to design, build and operate a high-speed underground transit network to shuttle people between O’Hare International Airport and the Loop.

The concept — small autonomous cars traveling at high speeds within a 17-mile tunnel — is revolutionary in the U.S.  The project would be managed by Mr. Musk’s Boring Company and privately funded, tremendous news for cash-challenged Chicago and the entire region.

But, like any bold concept that’s new, daring and unproven, there are detractors –many detractors in fact — who cite engineering challenges, the need to focus transportation development in other areas and the prospect that Chicago taxpayers will eventually have to pay for the project.

So in a laudable effort to help my city, I offer these three suggestions for Mr. Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to strategically communicate plans to build the proposed tunnel transit network.

Build a Coalition of Supporters.  The still-to-be-named network will add another transportation option for people — primarily business travelers — to get to and from O’Hare.  This new mode will have an impact on existing transit options — most notably the CTA Blue Line.  Mr. Musk would be wise to engage the CTA and other transit agencies, taxi and limo services, the ride share companies, metropolitan planning, neighborhood and civic organizations and the hospitality industry. Enlist their input, listen to their concerns. Make the entire public and private community a partner of sorts, rather than an obstacle.

Regularly Share Results of California Project. The Boring Company already is building tunnels under Los Angeles to help alleviate the maddening and chronic auto congestion and even extend existing transit lines.  Regularly communicate the status of this project taking place in another major U.S. metropolitan area — both its successes and stumbling blocks. Do not try to sidestep or hide mistakes because in this digital day and age results of a project of this caliber will get exposed.

Maintain Focus that Groundbreaking Projects Can Work. And, they’ve happened here — 125 years ago.  What I’m referring to is the original Ferris Wheel, which debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yes, an underground pod carrying a dozen and moving at around 125 miles per hour is a much different transportation mode than a 264-foot wheel that carried more than 2,000 passengers fro a pleasure journey.  Still, engineering experts in the late 19th century maintained that Mr. Ferris’ wheel was not feasible.  (Wonder: How many ferris wheels are in operation today?) Given the success of Tesla and Space X, two other transportation conglomerates, Mr. Musk should continue to point out he and his team can conceive and build the once unthinkable.

Now it’s your turn. As this project moves forward, what communications advice and strategic direction would you offer to the builder and the city?

Chicago’s heat wave is forecast to end Tuesday. The O’Hare to the Loop tunnel will remain a hot topic for a much, much longer time.

Merkel vs. Trump at G7: How One Image Can Distort the Bigger Picture

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

Checking my Twitter feed this gloomy, rainy morning in Chicago, and the image noted below grabbed my attention.

Well, obviously.

And, as you would expect, this image has been viewed, discussed, tweeted and re-tweeted who knows how many millions of times in the hours since it surfaced last night. Without question, the image and the global scenario behind it will continue to inspire commentary for a few days and provide fodder for political and entertainment commentators.

Predictably, this image from the G7 Summit has sparked lots of commentary, from serious to humorous. What’s yours?

You know who the key people are — world leaders at the G7 Summit in Quebec.  So, I won’t bother to identify them.

But as noted in this report from The Hill, the so-called Twittersphere has captured some of the witticisms communicated by those amused, enraptured, bewildered or enthused by this single image, shared on Instagram by the woman in the light blue jacket who’s postured somewhat defiantly while being surrounded by men.

(If we did not know the subjects in the photo, it’s still a rather compelling image, I think.)

What’s underscored, however: A provocative image like this one — distributed instantly and available to billions around the world — has the ability to inform and inspire relevant debate, yet it also has the ability to deflate and discount the importance of the subject.

How many who view the G7 Summit image will remember it primarily for its immediate initial “shock value,” showing obvious disharmony among two world leaders, rather than the more serious, long-term ramifications of economic discord among the United States and its strongest allies, including our neighbor to the north?

Within the next few minutes, I’ll click on the “publish” button to share this post with the world.  On the other side of the world, two leaders will meet Tuesday at what assuredly will be another monumental summit gathering, but with much higher stakes — demilitarizing a part of the world that has been technically at war for some 70 years.

Yes, there will be attention-grabbing images from the meetings in Singapore shared early and often. Hopefully, the true substance of the outcome will transcend the short-term impact derived from a single static depiction of just one occurrence that took place.

Skilled, Savvy Communicator Debbie Harvey Charges Ahead with New Integrated Marketing Agency

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

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the modern business world today, and that includes the integrated marketing communications arena. Our subject for today’s Q&A post is a prime example. Debbie Harvey, MS, APR, recently decided to transition from a senior position with the American Medical Association to form a boutique Chicago-headquartered business, DHW Executive Consulting, LLC. In this engaging conversation, Debbie shares thoughts on what prompted her decision to launch a new company, the state of communications in 2018 and a subject dear to her heart — domestic and international travel.  For the record: I have known and worked with Debbie for nearly a decade through our volunteer participation in PRSA Chicago.

Entrepreneur and savvy communicator Debbie Harvey.

1. The first and most pressing question: What were the factor(s) that compelled you to leave the association management world to start your own business?

After nearly 20 years leading brand strategy and corporate communications both in-house and on the agency side in healthcare, I founded DHW Executive Consulting LLC based on the concept that businesses and brands need smart, experienced integrated marketing and communications executive support often without the hassle and expense of big agency commitments. At DHW Executive Consulting LLC, you’ll get breakthrough integrated marketing communications solutions through executive level insights. I have the savvy know how and creative chops to help build brands winning strategies – and then make them happen!

My focus is on brand/rebranding strategy and campaigns, marketing and communications planning, executive/leadership communications, event marketing, internal communications, product launches, and corporate communications.

I’m building a company that is dynamic, thoughtful, experienced…and fun! That’s what an ideal partner brings to the table, and that’s what you’ll get if you partner with me. So, let’s pull up some chairs to this proverbial table and chat!

2. You have an impressive curriculum vitae, including leadership positions with a global public relations firm and marketing leadership at the largest national physician association. How will you transfer skills and experience cultivated in these larger environments to the new consultancy? 

Currently I’m helping select organizations with leveling up their brand strategy and storytelling, and others with their integrated marketing and communications planning, both in the healthcare space and beyond. Launching a consultancy is something that has been intriguing, exciting and scary all at the same time. But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Do something that scares you every day.”

My background is in integrated marketing communications, which, for the early to mid-2000s, this kind of approach felt like screaming into a hurricane. There were so many silos among communications and marketing ownership, really to a client’s detriment. Times are finally evolving, and it’s critical for successful C-suite executives to bring a holistic perspective to the marcom landscape. I believe successful integrated marketing communications professionals can help pull back the lens on brand planning and ensure channels work more seamlessly together for greater impact and success.

3. Now, let’s explore the state of public relations and communications. What are the greatest challenges facing the profession today, given the continual claims of “fake news,” unceasing amount of uncontrolled and unregulated digital messages, and gradual decline of traditional news sources? 

You’ve hit the nail on the head with some of the biggest challenges in the communications world today. With an attack on the entire public relations profession given today’s political environment, to an attack on data security and how people engage with social media given the Cambridge Analytica crisis, PR/comms professionals face an uphill battle in effecting positive change – for themselves and the brands they represent. That said, it is still an exciting time for those professionals who commit to this profession – and commit to doing it well. A recent Sprout Social study revealed that two-thirds of consumers now expect brands to have a stance on political and social issues, making it all the more critical for communications professionals to guide and develop a brand and/or corporation’s story and how it shows up, where it shows up and what it means to its stakeholders.

4. We met through our involvement with the Chicago Chapter of PRSA, where you served as President in 2012. How did your participation in PRSA (and other volunteer activities) contribute to your growth and development as a modern communications professional?

I have been a member of PRSA and its Chicago Chapter for more than a decade, and was first attracted to joining the Chicago Chapter board due to its board members’ passion and dedication to advancing the profession and helping local practitioners. I began as the sponsorship chair, and after increasing sponsorship revenue for the chapter 25 percent in a year, became the president elect and subsequently, the president. During my tenure, I had the privilege of leading both seasoned and mid-career professionals and together we developed and launched the first-ever PRSA Midwest Conference, which included 13 regions.

The PRSA experience gave me a platform to hone my leadership skills, business acumen, and energy and drive to “get things done efficiently.” There’s a great Forbes article on entrepreneurship and increasing productivity.

This experience catapulted the progression of both my career and confidence to launch a business, and I am thrilled that many of my former PRSA colleagues and friends have reached out. It is a true community.

5. Okay, time to lighten things up. You and your husband are avid travelers. (Note: I appreciate your sage insight on Charleston, SC.) What destinations are on the proverbial horizon for 2018 and beyond?

I get the travel bug fairly often, whether it be jaunts to our favorite U.S. city (Charleston) or back to my hometown in NYC, but we also look to have an international adventure once a year. Traveling to new places is a great reminder that life is more than your job and your city (or country) – it’s important to continuously learn about other cultures, history and customs to be a well-rounded person.

I’m heading to the Amalfi Coast and Montenegro to celebrate a milestone birthday in a few weeks, and excited about experiencing each country’s personality…and food, of course! Beyond this year, I’ve been reading more and more about Latvia and its fascinating culture. Latvia is known as “the singing nation,” singing being the country’s most unifying force. As a lover of music (and food), it’s climbing higher and higher on my “must do” near term list.

But for now, arrivederci!

 

 

Another Kind of “Memorial” on Memorial Day 2018

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

On this Memorial Day 2018, with weather in Chicago much more suited to Independence Day, I struggled for a relevant commentary, for some poignant message to communicate in this space appropriate for this national holiday.

I have experience in this subject.

Is the owner of this cart, photographed along the 2900 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, a veteran? Really, does it matter?

Last year, I wrote about a small monument in the Logan Square neighborhood, a community in the midst of revitalization and change now best defined as gentrification. And, in 2015, the PRDude reported on a memorial to Polish service men from St. Hyacinth parish in Avondale.

One thread between those two posts and this one: Milwaukee Avenue, my favorite street in the world.

Here’s why: Yesterday, I came across the shopping cart noted in the image above on the 2900 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, an arterial thoroughfare that connects Logan Square to Avondale and beyond. I have no idea who controls this rag-tag device, filled with aluminum cans and personal possessions.

Could this be the belongings of a U.S. serviceman?  Or a servicewoman?

Today, I read a news article that reported servicemen and women who get discharged for non-serious offenses are discriminated against when trying to return to the workforce.

That led me to search for some insight on those U.S. veterans who — despite serving their country — have not been able to land meaningful employment, find a place to live and assimilate into civilian life and society.  On the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans site, I learned staggering statistics on the plight of too many veterans today.

That led to this thought: On this day when we honor the men and women who served in our armed forces to let us live in a free land — one facing challenges, but fundamentally free — too many veterans are discarded and compelled to homelessness.

Perhaps some maintain their possessions in a shopping cart along a stretch of some  street in America, like Milwaukee Avenue.

So, on Memorial Day 2018, I offer thoughts of honor to those veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. But I also think we should do more — much more — to honor those veterans searching for the road that leads to the America they fought for.