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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Balancing the National Chaos: Two Images of Washington

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

A short visit to the nation’s capital this week provided a first-hand perspective on the chaos taking place in Washington and across the nation as the federal government shutdown over a planned boarder wall drags on and on, without a glimmer of an impending resolution.

To illustrate this perspective, note the two images — both taken from my room at the DuPont Circle Hotel — that accompany this post.  It’s my intention that these perspectives will somewhat metaphorically provide insight into the nation today.

Metro Washington was battered by a significant winter storm that impacted travel, but also left the city — and nation — blanketed in indecision.

The top image was taken Sunday in mid-afternoon as bands of snow fell across the city and surrounding areas.  The weather created challenges for travelers arriving at Reagan National Airport, people taking the Washington metro transit system and pedestrians, as the snow and ice made it difficult to walk, much less pull a suitcase across sidewalks that had yet to be shoveled.

In town to attend a transportation conference, I learned firsthand of travel nightmares, closed museums and attractions, and lives of federal workers and many others disrupted. An Italian restaurant near my hotel, where I had planned to enjoy a light dinner and glass of wine, had closed early. Other restaurants in the normally bustling neighborhood were open but not crowded. There was a sense that evening that Washington was hunkering down, that it almost was under siege due to the forces of nature and a government that did not fulfill its obligation to its citizens.

But on Monday morning, the bands of snow moved east, resulting in clear skies. Crews had been dispatched to clear away snow and ice, making basic mobility much easier and less dangerous than 12 or so hours before.  The WMATA Red Line train I took to the Convention Center was crowded, efficiently transporting people to jobs, appointments and events.  Later that evening, crowds descended on the Capital One Arena to take in a hockey game.  As noted in the second image here, the city had shrugged off obstacles and stood resilient. Things appeared to be “back to normal.”

As the shutdown enters its 27th day, the question remains: How many times can Washington figuratively brush off winter snow and clear sidewalks while some 800,000 workers wait for resolution and a paycheck?

Brilliant blue skies over the mid-rise office buildings across DuPont Circle made for a more inviting and optimistic perspective on Monday morning.

Other recollections on my 48 hour sojourn:

  • My Tuesday morning trip on the Yellow Line back to Reagan Airport offered a glimpse of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial as the train crossed the Potomac River. My thoughts turned to the nation these Founding Fathers built, and whether the ideals they formulated were crumbling.
  • From the American Airlines concourse, I counted around a dozen construction cranes in the distance, testimony that new developments, business and commerce will continue while the government stalemate dragged on.
  • The lines to get a cup of coffee at the Starbucks near the TSA checkpoint were longer than the lines required to pass through security. Was this an anomaly? A result of fewer travelers due to the shutdown?  Luck?

And, finally an aside of sorts. While at a reception Monday evening near the Convention Center, a colleague noted that Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren was present, dining with her husband, glasses of beer before them. As unobtrusively as possible, I approached their booth. The Senator smiled, turned and extended her hand.  She demonstrated a firm handshake.

“Hello Senator,” I said. “Wishing you success in the campaign ahead. We’re here for a transportation conference.”  “Transportation is very important to the nation,” she said. I wholeheartedly agreed, bid the couple farewell, and they quietly enjoyed their dinner and evening together.

What’s On My Calendar in 2019

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

This handy calendar offers motivation, prompts, wisdom and more. Who knows: Maybe one of my quotes will be on the 2020 edition.

Looking back at the holiday season passed, I was fortunate to receive some outstanding gifts, from the intangible (moments shared with family and friends) to the tangible (a couple of six packs of some really good beer).

But assuredly, the most poignant — and hopefully most useful — gift found under the proverbial tree was a desk calendar.

As noted in the accompanying image, my calendar will offer “Inspiration, writing prompts & advice for every day of the year.”

By reading this post, it’s readily apparent that I write stuff, from commentary on public relations, politics and popular culture to travelogues and people profiles. With a career in public relations, marketing and journalism spanning (yes, hard to believe) four decades, there are a lot of other genres I could include within print digital and broadcast.

Back to the present, the most challenging writing projects completed recently were required assignments in my pursuit of a master’s degree in English. For the Theory, Rhetoric and Aesthetics course completed in December, I submitted a paper, “The Growth of a Post-Truth World in Modern Society.

To summarize the essay: Exceptionally challenging and equally rewarding, as I had to analyze early twenty first century perceptions of truth and falsehood while balancing beliefs presented by Plato and a twentieth century thinker. Heady stuff, indeed.

For the spring 2019 semester, I pivot resoundingly in another direction: Novel workshop.

Yes, I will begin — and hopefully finish — a novel by May. What’s the plot? Who are the characters? What do I hope to accomplish?  We’ll find out in a few months.

Should I need inspiration, I will read, savor and gain from the messages displayed on the little calendar on my desk. Then, I’ll get back to work.

 

Questions in Search of Answers in 2019

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

Will the Mueller investigation lead to more indictments? What will happen in the Middle East once the U.S. pulls out armed forces? Does the recent volatility of the financial markets mean another recession is on the horizon?

Heady questions, yes. So, I’ll let people who are a lot smarter offer projections.

Here, in this final PRDude post of 2018, I pose questions of a much more pedestrian nature. Dull and trivial perhaps to many, but the following topics have been on my mind recently.

Brim Backward Hat Wearing. Initially, I thought the practice of wearing a baseball-style cap or other headgear backwards was a fad. I even addressed the topic in a 2014 post and include a poll seeking answers as to why someone would adhere to this (in my opinion) silly concept.  An online source offers a tangible reason for the occasional reverse-brim option: To keep the brim out of the way while performing a task. Yet, based on anecdotal evidence and regular day-to-day perceptions, the trend continues unabated virtually everywhere and by anyone.

Question: Why the heck do people continue to wear caps backward, especially those with the plastic adjustable device that resembles a racing stripe across one’s forehead? And, furthermore: Why is this “cool?”

“Thank you” to canacopegdl.com for use of this image. It was “no problem” to download.

“No Problem.” No, “You’re Welcome.” Assuredly you’ve been responded to with the colloquial phrase, “No problem,” during interactions with retail clerks or just during everyday conversation. I find this phrase maddening, because it’s eclipsing the proper and more sincere, “You’re welcome.” Through a quick online search, I found a linguistics blog that attempts to address the origin of “no problem,” and I found references of disdain for the phrase’s use going back to 2013.  Plus, it’s equated to the Millennial demographic.  A personal occurrence: Last weekend I called a restaurant to make a dinner reservation. I asked for 7:30 p.m. The lady on the other end of the phone replied, “No problem!”  Why not just say, “Yes, we can seat you at 7:30 p.m.”  Exclamation points!

Question: What factor(s) led to the preponderance of the phrase, “No problem,” in society today?  And, furthermore: When will it stop?

Vape, Vape, Vape That… More than 70 years ago, a country and western novelty song addressed the bad stuff that can happen by smoking cigarettes.  Yes, people still smoke ciggies and cigars today — but use of vaping pens and vapor devices made by companies like Juul Labs (rechargeable via a USB port, I learned) has grown exponentially in the past five or so years. Perhaps you wonder why grown adults (and reportedly lots of kids) inhale from what looks like a thumb drive, then exhale a cloud that would rival that of a dragon.

Question: Will vaping replace cigarette smoking in the immediate future? Furthermore: Who will produce the first pop song that expounds on the joys (or dangers) of vaping?

There.

I eagerly will monitor developments on these three issues in the 365 days ahead.  Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged.  And now, with 2019 some eight-plus hours away, I’ll have no problem adjusting my baseball cap backwards while I step outside to enjoy a few moments to contemplate and vape.

“And Who’s Gonna Pay For It?”

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

“And who’s gonna pay for it?”

That rhetorical question helped define the 2016 presidential election.  As often uttered by then candidate Donald Trump, the throngs at his rallies shouted in unison: “Mexico!”

This overflowing trash can embodies much of the impact felt by the current government shutdown. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Well, as it turned out, our neighbors to the south have no intention of ponying up the estimated $5 billion to pay for the subject of that question — a wall designed to halt illegal entrance to the United States, curb criminal activity and eradicate the import of narcotics.

Today, the 2018 government shutdown driven by now President Trump’s refusal to sign a spending package needed to fund many federal departments and agencies enters its fifth day.  And, there’s no projected end in sight.

The issue behind the shutdown, of course, centers on the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for — a flimsy campaign promise unsubstantiated by any facts or agreements.

But the compelling question has prompted me to ponder the following:

  • Who’s gonna pay for the damaged lives that assuredly will follow should this impasse drag on for days and days? As noted in this report from Time magazine, furloughed federal workers don’t know how they’ll pay rent, medical bills and car payments.
  • Who’s gonna pay to restore the pride and dignity of members of the federal workforce who are on furlough? Those sent home may now view their once stable jobs with tremendous uncertainty. Will they seek new opportunities?
  • Who’s gonna pay to rebuild the nation’s standing on the world stage if the shutdown continues well into the new year? To our allies and adversaries, the United States is a nation divided.
  • Who’s gonna pay for the shattered vacation plans made by travelers who planned to visit national parks and monuments, now closed because of the government shutdown?

Yes, there certainly are many, many other “who’s gonna pay” type of questions that can be pondered.

One answer to them all: It ain’t gonna be Mexico.