One Image, One Question: June 6, 2019

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

The conversation at the DePaul PRAD showcase was spirited as guests intermingled with the master’s students who effectively presented their work and themselves.

The challenge: Which of the 30 members of the cohort group should I speak to during the showcase and networking event.

The potential impediments: There was a time factor — just an hour or so. There were people I knew, other Chicago public relations professionals, who I had to engage with. And, this being early evening, there was that great buffet table, its contents the antidote to my hunger. Consequently, my time had to be allocated strategically.

Now for the situation: I was a guest at the DePaul University Future Leaders Graduate ePortfolio and Networking Event, held yesterday at an the Chicago Connectory, an appropriately-named co-working space on the fifth floor or the Merchandise Mart.

This now annual event provided a showcase for those who recently earned the Master’s in Public Relations and Advertising.  The recent graduates were billed as “future leaders,” but I maintain they are today’s leaders.  I visited with six, but would have welcomed the opportunity to meet them all.

I was impressed by their poise, understanding of communications and creativity — and not just because some shared gummy bears and chocolates.  They were practiced and straightforward, savvy and skilled in conversation, even when I posed a challenging question.

One graduate was balancing a few job offers, another maintained social media platforms for a lifestyle company as a freelance account. And, one participant highlighted her athletic prowess in her presentation, while another graduate showcased photography skills.

Again, I was impressed.

Now to the Question:

Will these skilled modern communicators have the right stuff to help keep communications advancing, to navigate the unceasing era of negativity, “fake news” and whatever modern society and technology ushers forward?

I enthusiastically say they do. Your thoughts are welcomed.

Aside: A shout out to my friend Ron Culp, PRAD Professional in Residence and a truly iconic figure in public relations, for inviting me to the showcase.

 

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A Perspective on Public Relations and Leadership During a Tech Conference

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

Photo credit: Edward M. Bury, APR.

The opportunity to keep learning is one of the benefits of working for a major university. That’s why I was excited to participate in an IT-centered conference yesterday at the great institution of higher learning where I am employed: The day-long event provided breakout sessions that focused on available tech tools and project management resources, along with presentations on shall we say “softer” subjects.

One session that stood out for me was titled: “Leadership Through Collaboration, Communication and Cooperation.”

I and those in the room gained insight into the nature of what makes a good leader today and learned there are four genres:

  • Transformative
  • Democratic
  • Laissez Faire
  • Autocratic

(For the record, my perceptions on leadership were more on the cut and dry side: Those who were effective and forthright, and those who were worthless and duplicitous.)

The session leader, a former Navy officer who earned a doctorate after leaving the service, was engaging and shared other perceptions on leadership, including this one: Good leaders know how to balance hard and soft skills.

I wholeheartedly agree.

But what captured my attention came during an analysis of the “communications” segment of the talk.  Our leader said, and I paraphrase somewhat: “Clear communication is the key to establishing and maintaining relationships.”

Sound familiar?

Perhaps some echoes from this definition of public relations presented in 2012 by the Public Relations Society of America?

I think so.  What I take away from this portion of the 45-minute presentation is that the very essence of modern public relations — effective communications — also should be among the foundation of good leadership characteristics.

Hopefully, leaders across all spectrums of society today will agree with me and adhere.

 

What the LinkedIn Workforce Report for May 2019 Reveals to Me

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

According to my profile, I have 1,085 connections on LinkedIn, which I believe is pretty good. In the interests of full disclosure, I really haven’t met, collaborated on a project. or communicated in person with a sizeable number of these connections.

Image courtesy of LinkedIn.

Regardless, LinkedIn is a platform I visit daily to monitor visits to my profile, participate in groups and to learn.

One more factor behind why I appreciate LinkedIn: It’s generally void (at least during my visits) of troll-centered, profanity-laced, celebrity-driven, mean-spirited and outright idiotic posts and messages often found on Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, I learned the folks at LinkedIn produce a monthly Workforce Report, covering the U.S., the U.K. and India.

After scanning the May 2019 U.S. report, which I found to be an excellent compendium of analysis and insight and today’s workforce, I focused on Table 1. Here, the data presented was on hiring shifts — or from another perspective, job growth by industry.

These three industries recorded the “most notable hiring shifts” in April when analyzing non-seasonably adjusted year-over-year statistics:  Hardware & Networking (15.3% higher); Corporate Services (14.9% higher); and Public Administration (14% higher).

But in “fifth place” and among the five categories — and with a double-digit increase — was Media & Communications, which saw an increase of 10.1%. (For the record, Wellness & Fitness nudged out the aforementioned with an 11% increase.)

So, what’s my interpretation of this impressive showing by Media & Communications — which according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes jobs in public relations?

1. Businesses, governmental bodies and non-profit organizations continue to recognize the value skilled (and I hope ethical) communicators bring to modern society.

2. Job growth in this sector should remain robust and competition will be strong to recruit and retain solid performers.

3. Ongoing education will be needed to keep new communicators (and more “seasoned” ones like me) up to date on new developments in the years ahead.

At this time of year, those who have earned degrees in public relations, advertising, marketing, journalism or some integrated communications discipline should be positive about job prospects. My advice:

  • Follow your passions and your interests if possible when seeking a place to work.
  • Pursue jobs with agencies and in the corporate sector, but also consider non-profit and associations.

Finally, a note to the folks in the Wellness & Fitness industry: Watch out because we communicators ain’t far behind.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

If Michael Cohen Practices PR, Can I Practice Law?

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

Well, it was about time, and frankly, I’m not surprised.

President Donald Trump spoke to Fox News from the White House.

The issue? The proclamation yesterday by President Donald Trump that Michael Cohen, his former attorney, actually spent more billable hours practicing strategic communications than law.

So, again, the practice of public relations gets communicated as a non-sequitur, again gets tossed into the national spotlight, again gets misrepresented — this time during a televised conversation with the President of the United States, who actually was doing his best to distance himself from his long-time attorney.

Yes, the President made that statement in an interview Thursday with Fox News broadcaster Harris Faulkner. It comes up early in the conversation, shortly after Faulkner raised a question about the President’s professional relationship with Cohen — who as you may know, was sentenced Wednesday to 36 months in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance laws.

Here’s the full statement by the President:

“He did very low-level work. He did more public relations than he did law. You would see him on television, and he was OK on television.”

Yes, participating in media interviews can be part of a public relations program, but I really don’t think that’s what the President intended.

A quick check of Cohen’s background reveals lots of work as a barrister, businessman and so-called “fixer,” but I could not find any references to his “public relations” capabilities.

In researching this post, I had hoped to find other public relations professionals concerned about the President’s Thursday comment and misrepresentation of the profession, but none surfaced.

Yet.

I did find this CNN report on the “29 most surreal lines” uttered by the President in the Fox News Faulkner interview.  You guessed it: There was no specific reference to the Cohen practicing public relations comment.

Sigh.