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.

COVID-19 and the Role Played by Communicators: PRSA Chicago Webinar Recap

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

Controversy continues to surface regarding just about every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in these waning days of April, it’s readily apparent that controversy related to the virus and its impact on society and our way of life will continue for the foreseeable future.

From another perspective, one can argue that the virus has become the most talked about, most written about, most analyzed, most disputed topic in human history to date.

Regardless of the what takes place in the months ahead — whether we can resume what once were “normal” activities — this remains certain: We’ll need accurate and regular communications on what’s happening next week, next month and next year.

Yesterday, PRSA Chicago hosted a Zoom webinar, “Leading Through Crisis and Establishing a New Normal for Communicators After the Apex.” A long-standing member of the Chapter, I took in the presentation, which featured three senior communications professionals:

Chandler Goodman, Director at Gagen MacDonald, moderated the program and PRSA Chicago President Dane Roth provided welcoming and closing thoughts.

Here are summarized and bulleted recollections from the panelists:

  • Avoid being opportunistic when issuing communications.
  • Unlike other crisis situations, developments in the COVID-19 crisis often change hourly.
  • Communicators must update messages on a continual basis — both to internal and external audiences.
  • What was not considered newsworthy in the past may be newsworthy today.
  • Regularly try to demonstrate progress on communications to stakeholders.
  • Senior leaders should reach out to employees on a regular basis.
  • Maintain credibility, honesty and transparency when addressing a competing interest.
  • Listen to feedback from all audiences.
  • The virtual workplace will be in place for a long time; get accustomed to managing teams, media and internal communications remotely.
  • CEOs now have to respond to stakeholders and the media via Zoom or an online platform; this may require additional coaching.
  • Grasp how relationships with business partners have changed during the advent of the crisis.
  • Demonstrate the value of effective public relations during these unprecedented times.
  • Collaboration between other business or organizational units has been positive during the pandemic.
  • Recognize that a greater segment of society now recognizes the value of effective communications.
  • Some organizations now field many, many more media inquiries than prior to the pandemic — some up to 100 per day.  And, some organizations issue multiple news announcements daily.

One great feature of Zoom is the ability to pose a question. I’m proud to note that my question — “What have you learned during the pandemic that can be employed in the future?” — was the final query addressed. The responses:

Rodrigo: Communicate often and be as transparent as possible, both to internal and external audiences.

Heather: Be transparent and be human; let the world see you without wearing a tie.

Jim: You can’t over-communicate today. Be prepared to manage a long list of FAQs.

And, I’ll conclude with one other suggestion from a panelist: Communicators need a day off, which I wholeheartedly support.


Learning About and Some Concerns Related to the PESO Model 2.0 Certification Program

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

One constant in a progressive communications practice like public relations is this: Nothing is constant anymore. Not in this digitally-driven integrated communications landscape.

The PESO 2.0 image is shown courtesy of Spin Sucks, which holds the copyright. If you use this image, please share the above. You don’t want Gini Dietrich or her colleague Laura Petrolino coming after you.

That’s why I was excited and enthused to participate in the PESO Model Masterclass webinar held Wednesday, hosted by the team that publishes the Spin Sucks blog, offers online education and has been an integral force in advancing the public relations profession.

First, let me present this disclosure: Spin Sucks is the digital communications entity founded by my friend Gini Dietrich.

So who’s Gini Dietrich? Read this PRDude post from 2015 for a profile. And, what’s the PESO model? Read this post from 2017 on participating in what then was called the Arment Dietrich Challenge.

Back to the Masterclass webinar, which you can download here.  The presentation included the unveiling of the updated PESO 2.0 model and an announcement of the PESO Model Certification, an online education program developed by Spin Sucks and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

In the conversation led by Gini, these two topics clearly resonated:

1. Effective PR is rooted in strategy. It was reinforced that effective modern public relations is based on sound strategies and measurable objectives.

2. Modern PR transcends media relations. Without question, there’s much more to the profession today than securing print, broadcast and digital placements.

The PESO Model 2.0 was unveiled (see image above), showing expanded definitions or examples of the four PESO categories — Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned.

So far, I was on board with what was being presented. But towards the end of the webinar, two elements of the segment on the PESO Certification struck me the wrong way.

It was stated that those who complete the education earn their “PESO Model PhD.” That’s more than a misnomer, that’s totally inaccurate, misleading and an affront to those who do pursue and receive what’s acknowledged as the high level of academic scholarship. Earning a doctoral degree is a very challenging, expensive and time consuming endeavor. For example, it takes six years of education and teaching to earn a PhD in English at the university where I work — plus you have to submit and defend a dissertation.

And, it was noted that the public relations profession is “notorious” for not offering certifications. Please note that the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, which I have held since 2004 and have lauded in this space frequently, was established in 1964. Furthermore, the International Association of Business Communicators, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, offered the Accredited Business Communicator credential from 1973 to 2013. It continues to offer online certification and certificates.

Wishing Spin Sucks and Syracuse much success with the PESO Certification. Will I engage in the program? Well, I’m two months away from completing my Master’s degree in English, so perhaps in the fall.

But I have a final question for the team: Is it pronounced “Pea-so” or “Pay-so” model? Perhaps that will be answered during the next webinar.


Seeking Inspiration For The Future of The PRDude

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

Okay, for clarification regarding the title of this post: I’m not referring to myself, but this blog — thoughts, observations and commentary I’ve published for more than a decade.

Over the years, I’ve addressed a lot of topics, public relations being the focus, of course. But this space also has tackled politics, Chicago, sports, the media, travel, holidays, the employment market, and what’s happening in the media.

Ideas for posts come from what I read or learn about in the world around me, from adventures in and around Chicago and abroad, from experiences and observations.

Looking north from a bridge in the Harms Woods Forest Preserve, I sought inspiration.

But lately, I’ve struggled. The passion and desire to dash out a provocative and compelling post remains, however, I’ve not been inspired as much as in the past.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve written mostly about public relations (misinterpretations of the profession and misrepresentation by the media), Chicago (the politics and the people), development in the media (the decline of print media) and the other categories noted above.

I need some new inspiration.

So, that’s why I pose this question to you, kind reader:

What subjects should the PRDude address in the months to come?

Yesterday, on a spectacularly sunny and mild mid-winter day, I sought inspiration through a morning hike in a local forest preserve. The image posted here, with the snow covered banks of the North Branch of the Chicago River, reminded me of a blues song I penned many years ago. So I felt it was fitting to share the lyrics below.

Back to my question: All suggestions are welcomed. Please reply to this post or send me an email:

Sun Shines on the River

Sun shines on the river
On a cold, cold winter morn
Sun shines on the river
On a cold, cold winter morn
I’ve been on this road for 13 miles
And I must keep travellin’ on

Me and my ole hound dog
We’re hungry and we’re tired
Me and my old hound dor
We’re hungry and we’re tired
I could use me a shot of whiskey
And, a warm, warm raging fire

Got thrown out by a woman
She really done me wrong
Got thrown out by a woman
She really done me wrong
So I guess I’ll just keep on keepin’
Keep on, keepin’ on.

Copyright Edward M. Bury, 2020

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.

Questions! I Have Questions to Ponder in the Year Ahead

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

“As we pull back the curtain on 2019 …” No, that’s contrived, outright hokey.

“With another decade on the horizon …” Been done, a cliche.

“The countdown to a new year begins!  So let’s reflect …” Perhaps appropriate for a television program.

Okay, enough.  I’ll dispense with trying to deliver a clever, inspiring and provocative lead to this post.  What follows are three questions I hope to have answers for in 2020.

Will Public Relations Continue to Remain Vital in Society?

To offer an answer based on my personal perspective, a resounding “Yes!” However, there are, of course, caveats to posting such a declarative response. The public relations profession, in my opinion, needs to continue to define itself as the source of ethical, strategic communications counsel to help build brands and minimize threats in the increasingly digitally-driven landscape. And, as I’ve tried to champion over the last few years, it’s the responsibility of those of us in  public relations to challenge misrepresentations of the profession.

This 2018 LinkedIn article presents my perspectives. Just google “2020 PR trends,” and the results will reveal lots of articles and prognostications.  But take note: My search included this 2015 Inc. magazine article on 10 “bold” projections on public and advertising for the year 2020. The author swung and missed on a few selections, especially the first prediction.

This parcel on Diversey at Francisco avenue once housed a row of modest storefronts. Now, it’s slated for what assuredly will be branded as “luxury” condos.

Will Upscale Real Estate Development Continue Unchecked?

Real estate development is a sign that a market is vital and ready to accommodate growth. But will the preponderance of new apartment, office and mixed-use projects now under development, planned or under consideration in metropolitan Chicago meet market needs or result in over-building?

According to this cool interactive report from Curbed Chicago, there are 33 high-rise projects being built in the city.  Think about that: 33 new “luxury” projects in a city that’s struggling to maintain population, in a city that’s becoming increasingly expensive. The site doesn’t include the more modest projects out in the neighborhoods. Let me conclude this segment by noting, that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, my state of Illinois has lost people for the sixth consecutive year.

Will The Actions of Some People Continue to Leave Me Baffled?

Why, why, why do some people ignore collecting U.S. mail?

Now, something on the less serious side. For a perspective on this question, please note the image showing mailboxes — the old-fashioned kind, the kind that holds the original means of mass communication.  This trio of mailboxes is located at a home just north of where we live. It’s been this way for days, possibly weeks. Who knows: Maybe months. Why don’t the occupants retrieve their mail!

Yes, this is anecdotal, but I’ve observed receptacles full with U.S. mail in other buildings around the neighborhood. I also wonder why so many people these days don’t wear gloves in the winter time, or why some fellow passengers on my morning Blue Line commute think it’s acceptable to stand in the entrance to the el car (on their handhelds, naturally) rather than move into the car.

Perhaps in 2020, which arrives here in a few hours beyond a full day, I’ll learn the answers to these three questions; and hopefully, many, many more.


Was Martin Luther Among the World’s First “Publicists?”

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

To provide some background into the question noted in the title to this post, let me share thoughts on the latest course I completed in my scholarly pursuit of a Master’s degree in English.

Was this guy really a “publicist?”

Since late August, I and a dozen or so colleagues focused studies on British literature from the early seventeenth-century, a period fraught with a civil war between royalist and republican forces and a half-century following one of the most divisive and explosive movements in western civilization — the Protestant Reformation.

We read primary texts (mainly poetry, epic poems and longer prose works) written by some of the English language’s foremost writers and poets like John Milton and John Donne, along with works by writers new to me.

And, there were the assigned secondary texts, scholarly essays and chapters from books and journals that center on philology and hermeneutics.  Big words, I know. Look them up if you need to.

For my first required paper, I wrote an essay that focused on the writings of the architect of the Reformation — Martin Luther. (You can read the essay here, but I must point out that this version has excellent comments and notes provided by my professor.)

My thesis centered on elements of propaganda in the crude and banal pamphlets Luther wrote and had published early in his role as a stalwart opponent of the Catholic church, which I contrasted with the more elegant, refined and — in my opinion — biased introduction to a collection of the scholar’s Latin works, a relatively short document laden with self-deprecating prose that chronicles his “Reformation breakthrough.”

The point I attempted to make: With the introduction of the printing press in around 1450, Luther and others who believed in the Reformation and its principles were able to disseminate printed messages across much of Western Europe. He started with cheap and simple pamphlets featuring with wood carved images that put the Pope and Catholicism in a negative perspective; this allowed the message to be presented to the common folk, many being illiterate. A few decades later, Luther elevated the message through his scholarly prose geared to the learned class.

In both cases, he followed a sound strategy: Craft compelling, definitive messages targeted to a specific audience and employ an effective communications medium. The same strategy is used by strategic communicators today, of course, but the medium includes broadcast and digital.

Now, back to my initial question. One of the sources I referenced for the paper is an excellent book, Printing, Propaganda and Martin Luther, by Mark U. Edwards, Jr. In this scholarly work, Edwards defined the printed works that promoted the Reformation cause as the world’s “first large-scale ‘media campaign,” and Luther as the the most prominent “publicist.”

My perspective: The Reformation was not a media campaign because the sources of the communications were not media companies; nor was Luther a publicist because the messages he and other Reformists (by the way, the Catholics issued their own anti-Luther/Reformation messages) shared in in the sixteenth century were clearly propaganda in nature.

As I maintain, a legitimate and honest media organization is predicated on ethical standards; and, the role of a publicist — which falls under modern public relations practices as media relations — is to generate positive media coverage for the client.

So, to summarize, the communications practices followed Martin Luther and others more than four centuries ago don’t equate to publicity, and those who originated the messages were not publicists. But the plans and courses of actions put into motion back then clearly have relevance today.

Okay: Your thoughts.