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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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.

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.

 

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.

Bravco Conjures Memories of the Old Rush Street

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

Cities evolve and grow or fade into obscurity. But oftentimes, little parts of the urban fabric refuse to change, clinging to what made them special or memorable in the first place.

The Rush Street district on the Near North Side of Chicago has evolved and grown dramatically since I first was exposed to the area as a high school kid in the early 1970s.

The name, the two aisles, the fireplace, the ambiance, the permanence. Much the same as when I first arrived at Bravo as a high school stock boy in 1971.

The once bohemian quarter ran roughly from Chicago Avenue on the south to Division Street on the north and was home to cabarets and night clubs in the 1940s through the 1970s — legendary places like Mr. Kelly’s, Faces and Rush Up. In the decade or so that followed, Rush Street evolved to become Chicago’s disco scene — mirrored balls and lots of polyester included.

But there was more of a neighborhood back then. Along with the nightlife and denizens of party goers, Rush Street also housed small shops and restaurants, most decidedly Chicago in nature, and even modest apartments above the retailers.

Today, it’s a much different scene; the narrow streets are lined with soaring modern high-rise apartments and internationally-known designer stores, with just a few longstanding clubs and bars still in business.

And then, there’s the Bravco Beauty Centre at 43 E. Oak St.

The sweetest pension one could imagine.

I first walked into the unassuming two-aisle store one day in 1971, joining my neighborhood buddy, Steve, as a stock boy. It was my first real job, one I held after school and during the summer months for two years. Back then, the store was run by an engaging retailer named Milton Brav and his partner Jack Finley.

Working at Bravco put money in my pocket, and I got to experience the waning years of a now-gone pocket of Chicago history and culture.

Last week, while attending an awards reception at the Drake Hotel, another iconic presence on the North Side, I strolled into Bravco and met current owner Howard Gordon, who purchased the shop in 1980. Outwardly, not much has changed in the two-aisle store, shelves full of health and beauty aids.

“I used to work here!” I told Mr. Gordon, who commanded the cash register. “But that was in the early 1970s, when Mr. Brav owned the store.”

We engaged in a spirited conversation, waxing nostalgically about long-gone establishments like BurgerVille, the Acorn on Oak and even the scary-from-the-outside strip clubs on State Street; and I noted how I would try to flirt (mostly unsuccessfully) with the often stunning women customers seeking exotic hair and beauty products.

“I need to buy something,” I told Mr. Gordon, placing a package of Juicy Fruit gum on the counter. “This is on the house,” Mr. Gordon said. “Think of this as your pension.”

Now, one might wonder: How does this tiny specialty establishment remain in business in an upscale location during this era of online retail options and dominant national chains?

Through a quick Google search, I found a Crain’s Chicago Business article on Bravco from 2000 and learned the store’s continued success is the result of Mr. Gordon’s business savvy and selection of desirable beauty products. And, I’d like to think, Mr. Gordon’s personality and character. Why else would customers still patronize Bravco?

As I left the shop that Friday evening, I was proceeded by an elderly couple, both toting shopping bags branded by Treasure Island. I trust they had lived in the neighborhood for decades and been around when Rush Street was a thriving urban strip, less sanitized, more truly Chicago.

Like Bravco, the man and woman are still grasping to the remnants of what once was a truly singular part of the city.  I made my way east on Oak Street, quite happy at what I had discovered.

 

 

 

Coming Soon From Dick Wolf: Chicago PR?

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

Fans of the Chicago-centric evening television dramas aired on NBC have had to opt for other entertainment sources the past few days; that’s because the network gained the rights to broadcast the many kinds of athletic endeavors taking place on snow and ice halfway around the world during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Who knows? Perhaps Mr. Wolf was using this downtime to conceive a new program set in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

So those of us (me included) who enjoy hour-long programs like Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Chicago Med — all developed by the indefatigable executive producer Dick Wolf — now must focus on ice dancing, curling and the luge competition during the 9 to 10 p.m. hour or switch to one of the hundreds of other viewing options available to cable subscribers these days.

This entertainment quandary prompted these questions: What’s Mr. Wolf and his team doing during this hiatus of his very popular and successful Chicago dramas?  Perhaps plotting a new “Chicago” program, one with an ensemble cast and plot lines that are “torn from the pages” of real news happenings, with our fine city as a backdrop?  If so, what would be the focus, the industry, the profession?

I have a suggestion: Chicago PR!

Yes, an hour-long perspective into the lives of the men and women who craft strategies and manage communications for companies, businesses, governmental agencies and associations across our great metropolitan area.

Think about this for a moment.  The name, Chicago PR is succinct, memorable and easily recognizable, like the names of the other dramas produced by the team at Wolf Films.

In terms of worthy characters, I’ve known plenty of public relations professionals who would serve as models for a fictional Chicago PR agency: The stalwart and decisive founder and leader, the old-school senior VP who’s grappling with the ever-changing digital arena, the progressive young account supervisor who just earned in integrated marketing communications degree from a leading university.

Granted, Chicago PR plots won’t involve catching bad guys, rescuing people from burning buildings or saving the life of an accident victim; but anyone who’s worked in the high-pressure public relations business knows there’s always the potential for drama to be found inside the office and outside of it.

Anyone who’s been part of a new business RFP could certainly relate to the drama that usually unfolds.

And, in the full disclosure department, this blog has addressed public relations as depicted in Chicago Fire. As I noted in my final post of 2017, the profession was grossly misrepresented in an episode involving a lead character from Firehouse 51.

So, should Mr. Wolf read this commentary, please consider the program suggestion just noted; but if you do, please confer with real public relations professionals from the onset. Get it right this time.

As for me, I’m switching on the Olympics coverage. Linsey Vonn is going for gold. The balance of the evening, I trust, will be all downhill.

 

My Turn: Thoughts About Amazon and Chicago

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

For the past several weeks, one story has dominated business news here: Chicago’s efforts to lure online retail behemoth Amazon to build its “second headquarters” on a site in the city.

Led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Bruce Rauner and local business and civic leaders, Chicago has offered Amazon 10 potential sites — eight in the city and two in the suburbs — to consider for the proposed complex. Marketing messages have highlighted the city’s strong points, like central location with two international airports, world-class cultural and educational institutions, strong (well most of the time) infrastructure, vibrant neighborhoods (well, many but certainly not all), dynamic business community and many others.

Thankfully, I have not read any nonsense about the attraction of real deep dish pizza or Chicago style (hold the ketchup) hot dogs.

Although, I anticipate a continued barrage of business stories about the Amazon bid well into 2018, when Chicago will learn where it ranks among the 238 North American cities bidding for HQ2 and its proposed 50,000 employees.

A few weeks ago, the former CEO of the city’s chamber of commerce published a rather compelling “open letter” to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, offering several reasons why Chicago should land this so-called “once-in-a-generation” corporate and economic plum.

And, a few days ago, the Chicago Tribune published a news story announcing proposed plans by Chicago real estate concern Sterling Bay to offer Amazon naming for a stadium within the newly-designated Lincoln Works property on the North Side. Great idea, but I’m not sure what team would play games at the stadium since the city’s professional franchises already have homes.

So, now it’s this life-long Chicago resident’s opportunity to share some thoughts behind making Chicago Amazon’s HQ2.

Retail Legacy. Without question, Chicago can boast a retail history unparalleled in the nation. The mail-order industry, led by Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, was founded here and thrived for a century.  On a related note, the meatpacking industry was born and thrived here for decades. Chicago knows how to host groundbreaking commerce and industry.

Non-Profit Powerhouse. This fact often is lost when listing metropolitan Chicago’s economic and civic strengths: The size and scope of its non-profit and association organizations, some of the largest in the nation. As noted from this page on the Chicago Association Forum’s website, the region’s associations — some 1,600 total — contribute billions to the economy. Associations also function as advocates for culture and commerce, generate research and stimulate dialogue. This is a benefit other cities simply can’t match.

It’s Been Done Here Before. I won’t tread on that quote about dispensing with minuscule ideas. Yet its message rings true here in Chicago, which gave the world the first true skyscraper, which hosted an international exhibition two decades after a devastating fire, which nurtured and lost and rebuilt great industries, which emerged from many catastrophes still strong and ready to take on new challenges.

Amazon and other online retailers may be (and deservedly so) blamed for putting bricks and mortar retailers out of business. Montgomery Ward no longer exists, and Sears is facing challenges to remain profitable.

Should Mr. Bezos decide on Chicago as the next step for the online empire he created, I maintain the city would rise up to the challenge.  And, by the way, along with pizza and hot dogs, we have are home to Italian beef.