Washington D.C. Revisited, at the Onset of 2018

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

The woman was deliberate, methodical and efficient. Her task was to shuttle three shopping carts, presumably containing all her worldly possessions, one after the other a short distance uphill north on 21st Street NW in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Where the woman was headed along the streets lined with embassies, row houses and hotels, I don’t know.  But I admired her diligence and perseverance on that day, Tuesday January 9, a day when the temperatures finally warmed up to the mid-40s following the cold snap that impacted much of eastern half of the nation since 2018 began.

The encounter with the woman took place on my final day of a two-day visit to the nation’s capitol to participate in the 2018 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, a five-day conference that draws some 14,000 transportation professionals and scholars from around the world.

So, why recount this brief episode?

For me, the woman somewhat encapsulates and embodies the nation today in the second year of a new administration: Steadfastly trying to move forward but unsure of what’s the right direction to take.

Regardless of your party affiliation (should you have one), personal perspectives on the state of the union or observations on America at the dawn of the New Year, the past year unquestionably was unprecedented in many ways.  Yet, in light of charges, investigations, allegations and non-stop news gathering and reporting, the republic endured.

Back to my 48 or so hours in Washington. During recent visits over the past five years, I found many things I’ve grown to like and admire about the city.  Below is a short perspective through images and captions.

Looking south on 16th Street NW. The architecture is a blend of classic and modern, the scale human and walkable. Although misty during my morning stroll, this road leads to Lafayette Square and the White House.

 

Washington may be set in its ways from a political perspective, but the city is home to a relatively new transportation option: Dockless bike share. I found dockless bikes throughout the city.

 

Yes, Washington has cutting-edge restaurants. But they also have excellent long-standing places like Cafe Tomate on Connecticut Avenue. I felt welcomed while enjoying a nightcap.

 

Looking like a disheveled rec room, The Big Hunt attracts locals and visitors for conversation and good beer. A haunt that’s rough around the edges in all the right places.

 

During a break, I strolled to the National Portrait Gallery, where visitors can take in new exhibits (Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image, The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers) or view portraits of the men who have led our nation for the past 242 years.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I did not include an image of the lady noted at the onset of this post.  That would be demeaning and unfair, and an affront to her integrity.

However, I do hope the lady found a safe place and will remain safe through the balance of this year; same sentiment for our nation.

 

 

A Public Relations Resolution for Practitioners in 2018

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

In researching this post, the final of 2017 (a momentous year from a global perspective, but hey, aren’t they all “momentous” these days?), a quick Google search led to an online report from two years ago.

My subject: New Year’s resolutions.

Image courtesy of Wonderopolis.

What my search revealed: According to this article, “The History of New Year’s Resolutions,” the concept of committing to a practice or initiative in the upcoming 365 days  may have roots with the ancient Babylonians way, way back 4,000 or so years ago.  And, two millennia later, Julius Caesar somewhat formalized the practice when he established January 1 as the start of the new year.

Well, public relations (you knew I’d get to this eventually) is not quite 4,000 years old, but I recall learning that the Roman concept of vox populi, Latin for “voice of the people,” may have cemented the foundations of what’s known today as “public relations.”

In the centuries before books and eventually newspapers or almanacs, public discourse in the town square served as a way to share opinions and information. Broadcast, and later, digital forms of disseminating information changed public relations and society significantly and forever. (Well, seemingly on that last point.)

Today, regardless of how effectively the practice of public relations is defined, it’s all too frequently mislabeled.  From the most egregious perspective, what’s clearly propaganda (think jihadist online messages originated by ISIS) has been inaccurately labeled as “public relations.” And, from a less erroneous viewpoint, “public relations” is equated purely with publicity and press agentry.

And, then there’s the often blatant total misrepresentation of the profession. Here’s an example.  The October 2 episode of the popular NBC drama “Chicago Fire,” featured this scenario: Firefighter Stella Kidd (portrayed by actress Miranda Rae Mayo) receives a suspicious transfer from Firehouse 51 to the Chicago Fire Department’s “public relations department.” After reporting to said department, Kidd — who apparently has no formal communications experience — meets her new colleagues, is shown her small work station, then is immediately thrust into a “media event” of sorts, complete with inquisitive reporters and TV cameras.  All this action takes place in around 90 seconds.

Quite an absurd portrayal? Certainly, even for fictionalized television drama.  But it’s an example of how public relations is bantered about unfairly and inaccurately as a catch phrase.

Two more thoughts about the “Chicago Fire” portrayal of public relations:

1. Visit this organizational chart, and you’ll see the CFD has a department that addresses Media Affairs/Public Education/Special Events, but not “public relations.” Perhaps the show writers could have had Kidd moved over to “media affairs.”

2. And, the title of the episode in question is “Down is Better.” From my perspective, dumbing down the public relations profession is bad, bad, bad.

So, as the hours left in the year 2017 continue to expire, I make this resolution — and I encourage fellow public relations professionals to do the same:

I (name) resolve to address instances where the practice of “public relations” is misinterpreted, misidentified or misconstrued online, in print or broadcast, or during interpersonal communications. Furthermore, I resolve to correct  misconceptions through firm and measured discourse.

There, I feel better already.

Strategic, ethical public relations contributes to and helps guide modern society by fostering the free flow of news and information; I’m convinced the role of public relations will continue to expand in these digitally-driven times. Those of us who practice public relations need to be diligent and commit to rectifying blatantly wrong references or portrayals.

Let’s make 2018 will be the year public relations gets acknowledged fairly and accurately.

And, a shout out to the producers of “Chicago Fire,” a show we watch regularly: Should you incorporate public relations into future episodes, I would gladly offer my counsel to ensure accuracy and fairness.