Rick Aspan, APR, Talks of Future Following Career in Technology Communications

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

So, what’s next for a public relations leader who forged a very successful three-decade-plus career in the technology industry and decided to seek a new direction in life? Rick Aspan, APR, will find an answer in the days to come. The first public relations pro to be featured in 2020, Rick shares thoughts on his work at a multi-national firm, the value of earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential and the professional baseball team he’s rooted for all his life.

1. You recently retired after 15 years as VP and global head of Corporate Communications for North Carolina-based CommScope, and you did so based in their Westchester, IL office. On the company website, CommScope is described as a leader “in innovating the network infrastructure of the future.” Please describe your role and responsibilities with the company.

I led a global team of nine talented people, and we provided the media relations, employee communications, social media, industry analyst relations and executive communications support for CommScope around the world.  The company now has approximately $10 billion in annual sales and 30,000 employees, with manufacturing, sales, engineering and administrative facilities in numerous nations. Needless to say, we stayed very busy, but I’m proud of all we did—we consistently outperformed and delivered results that enhanced the company brand, perception and performance.

2. How did you gain the experience required to lead communications at a publicly-traded technology company?

Rick Aspan, APR

Since my dream was to be a sportswriter, clearly there was an early fork in the road and a ton of experience gained along the way! I was fortunate to work at companies and for people who appreciated aggressiveness and creativity, which provided countless ways to learn by doing.  And, as a non-technology guy who has worked in technology for 35 years, I quickly realized I’d never be the smartest person in the room, but I sure can be the best business communicator they’d ever seen by being open to learning and developing. It never hurts, either, to have worked with some great leaders—my direct managers and company executives—who trusted me and from whom I’ve benefited tremendously.

3. What were some of the challenges you encountered? Did you ever have to mitigate a crisis?

With a relatively small team and budget, it felt every day presented some sort of challenge just to keep our collective heads above water! And I’m thankful that I never had to manage through a big-scale, headline-generating crisis.

But in the spirit of your question, I’ll point to two specific challenges.  First, as a supplier to all of the world’s top networking companies (think AT&T, Telefonica, Comcast, Microsoft, etc.), we serve industry giants and compete against some well-known brands.  But CommScope isn’t as well known, especially outside of our industry and because of its rapid growth via acquisition. So the communications team embraced this great opportunity (er, challenge) to make stronger connections to our customers and potential customers via PR and social media, while also building greater brand awareness outside of our traditional industry markets where we’re already well known. So far, good progress that I’m confident will continue after I’ve left.

Secondly, in employee communications, I’ve always joked that CommScope represents the perfect storm of employee communications challenges by nature of its workforce. For example:

  • 30,000 or so employees in numerous countries and nearly every time zone
  • Approximately 50% of those employees work in manufacturing, distribution or transportation functions where they are “non-connected,” or without workplace access to computers and Internet
  • More than 10,000 employees don’t speak English

So every global communication requires additional levels of planning and creativity to ensure that our diverse set of employees have a relatively equal chance to receive it, understand it and embrace it. We’re always translating copy, voicing-over videos, adjusting for time zones, and coaching regional and local leadership to boost our chance of success.

4. We met way, way back in 2003 when you were a panelist on my APR panel presentation. (Thanks again for advancing me!) How did earning Accreditation contribute to your success in public relations?

Wait, we let you through?  Haha. Earning Accreditation certainly helped me and was one of the most meaningful steps I took in my career in terms of personal development. And I emphasize “personal.” No one makes us do it, but choosing to take on this challenge and earn APR made it that much more significant to me. I did it for me, while it also helps advance our profession. Sure, I learned some new things even though I was mid-career when I did it. More importantly, the Accreditation process helped me take what I already knew and structured it in a way to be more meaningful and actionable for the rest of my career. Sort of like a guy who has played golf for several years and is good at it, then decides to take his first series of golf lessons. (If you’ve ever done that, you’ll know what I mean!)

5. Now, on to a less serious topic. From your Facebook posts, I see you are die-hard Chicago White Sox fan. The team made some significant off-season moves.  So, how will the Sox fare in 2020?

I’m stoked by the team’s progress and changes, but like a true South Sider, I will always be restrained in my optimism and fearful of the worst happening until I actually see good things unfold on the field. There was considerable energy and enthusiasm in the stands last season, despite the lousy team record. So yes, I’m excited. Let me put it this way….for the first time in years, I’m already blocking out my calendar for October.

Would You Represent an E-Cigarette Manufacturer as PR Counsel?

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

Several years ago, a friend and I were discussing our careers. My friend held creative positions in advertising and back in the 1970s worked on a major cigarette brand.  A non-smoker, I asked my friend whether she faced any personal issues by helping to sell a product that caused serious ailments and death for generations.

“Well,” my friend said, “It’s still legal to manufacturer and sell cigarettes.”

Two images of vaping today: The outcome for some, and the “cool factor” embodied in a cloud. Image courtesy of Metro UK.

Fast forward to today, and the focus is on another kind of legal smoking product — e-cigarettes.  Over the past several months, the manufacturers of e-cigarettes have been embroiled in controversy regarding their products and the impact on people.

This recent news story reports about lab tests that revealed toxins were found in people sickened by vaping; nationally, the grisly fallout from vaping is sobering: More than 2,000 sickened and at least 39 killed.

Manufacturers of vaping products claim e-cigarettes help adult tobacco smokers quit cigarettes, which on the surface has merits. Yet, given the now regular news coverage of the harmful fallout vaping has created for some users, perhaps that contention is way, way misguided.

For this post, I wanted to learn more; so, I visited the American Vaping Association for insight on the health concerns related to vaping.  I found an article on the “facts” related to illness and death, which cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cite a high percentage of those who got sick used illegal THC vaping products.

There is a Contact page for the AVA, but it’s a little challenging to find because the link is within a drop-down menu accessed by three small horizontal bars to the right of the masthead.  And, the AVA site does have pages devoted to news, testimonials, how to donate and more, all accessed from the somewhat hidden drop-down.

The question to the AVA: Why almost disguise the way viewers reach critical pages on your site?

Back to the anecdote that started this post: Vaping remains legal in the United States. So, to colleagues in the public relations and other communications mediums:

Would you represent the AVA or a vaping products manufacturer as a client?

I’ll start: No.

Public relations should be predicated on doing something beneficial for society. I don’t agree with the vaping industry’s altruistic mantra that their products help adult smokers kick the tobacco habit.

Your thoughts are highly encouraged.

 

 

 

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.

 

What I Took Away from PRSA 2018 Assembly

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

DATELINE: AUSTIN, TX.

Thought I would incorporate that now bygone phrase and practice as a way to provide a “newscast” kind of perspective to the following, a post about what I learned and observed as a delegate at the 2018 PRSA Assembly on October 6.

Like any organization comprised of passionate, strong-willed individuals, there was often spirited debate during the 2018 PRSA Assembly.

The gathering of Public Relations Society of America leadership, staff and members earlier this month is the Society’s one day to have delegates present thoughts and cast ballots on how PRSA is governed. As this was only my second time as a delegate, I took my responsibility seriously.

(A disclaimer: Please excuse the delay in sharing this post as three things got in the way: Work, school and life.)

Without precedence, here are a few thoughts I scribbled during my time at the Assembly.

Ready, Set, Debate: From a parliamentary perspective, the Assembly opened with a debate on how to debate: Specifically, the time allowed for delegates to address the big issues on the agenda — proposed Bylaw changes.  (More coming up.) Some found this a poor use of time; I found it a reflection of the passion some members have for PRSA and its future.

State of the Society: In his remarks, 2018 PRSA Chair Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA, cited accomplishments made by the Society, including growth in diversity and advocacy issues; but he cautioned that the profession itself was “losing market share” in the communications arena due to factors like apathy and “free stuff” — digital resources. Millennials, he noted, find some forms of governance (like PRSA) irrelevant.

The Bylaw Debate: Prior to the Assembly, five proposals were made to amend existing Bylaws; learn more from this report published in June, but the focus was on ethics. I’ll refrain from much commentary. I had to depart to catch my flight home and missed some of the debate on the Bylaw proposals; however, I provided my proxy decisions to colleagues from PRSA Chicago. Two of the five amendments passed. During his remarks, Mr. D’Angelo noted that the issues were not relevant to the challenges facing the Society. But from this perspective, I’m glad PRSA gives members the opportunity to undertake changes to the way the Society is governed.

APR “Self-Improvement” Project: Of course, I had to comment on news shared that relates to the Accredited in Public Relations credential. What I learned is that there are plans to institute modules in the APR program, award “badges” to candidates, allow for online Panel Presentations and launch an online mentor match benefit. Good — no great — news.  More needs to be done to encourage professionals to seek Accreditation; more needs to be done to keep the credential a vital factor in the growth and development of public relations professionals today.

Other things learned: PRSA has developed a Speakers Bureau database, the Society is on good financial standing, membership (21,550 as of this month) has been static but is trending upwards, and there’s a new Strategic Plan being crafted.  I look forward to following these and other developments in the months to come.

But a final thought on the Assembly: PRSA will only be as vital to public relations as its members contribute to the way the Society functions and the profession is perceived in society.  After leaving Austin, I’m encouraged by the future.

 

 

As April (APR Month) Winds Down, a Thought on the Value of Accreditation

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

The unseasonably cold temperatures (at least here in Chicago) of late certainly did not proclaim “April.”  But baseball is underway, flowering bulbs are in bloom and restaurants are inviting patrons to dine al fresco. So then, April, that “cruellest month,” is indeed here.

This image needs no explanation. Courtesy of the Universal Accreditation Board.

Of course, April also is recognized as APR Month, a time to put more emphasis on the value of the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

In previous years, I’ve waited until the waning days of April to offer thoughts on Accreditation.  This post from last year is a case in point, published hours before the calendar ushered in May.

Well, I’m following suit with this post — a day before the final day of APR Month.  As for the subject, I’m inspired by an email sent last week by PRSA 2018 National Chair Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA.  The message encapsulates an often overlooked value of the APR credential.

Here’s the email message:

Dear Edward:

As we come to the end of April (APRil is APR Month), I’d like to thank you for the professional commitment you’ve demonstrated in earning and maintaining your Accreditation. While the majority of professionals pursue Accreditation for personal and professional development, it’s important to realize that this pursuit is actually linked to PRSA’s Code of Ethics. One of the Code’s Provisions of Conduct is “enhancing the profession,” and that entails acknowledging “an obligation to protect and enhance the profession,” and keeping “informed and educated.”

Your Accreditation signals your personal dedication to the Code of Ethics and this Provision in particular, and connects you with like-minded professionals who uphold standards for the entire industry. Like PRSA itself, you’re committed to advancing the profession and the professional, and I’m grateful for that. Thanks again.

Best regards,

Yes, enhance the public relations profession — a vital and necessary responsibility to be championed by Accredited members and all serious practitioners.

We need to remain diligent in adhering to ethical standards and sound, strategic practices, especially today, given the continued misinterpretation and misinterpretation of pubic relations by the media, the business world and public at large. We need to identify and condemn instances of unprincipled and dishonest communications initiated as part of a “public relations” program.  We need to encourage all public relations professionals to continue to learn and progress to keep pace with modern practices.

Earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential puts one on a career-long guideway to improving the profession. This holds true in April, as well as the 11 other months on the calendar.

 

 

With September on the Horizon, A Time to Savor What’s Left of Summer

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

It’s true.

The three months of summer — purported to be a reflective time to relax, regroup and recharge — does go by fast.

As of this writing, September is three weeks away, prompting the question: Did you get the most out of the summer of 2017?

After all, the fall back-to-school messages will soon become as prominent and prevalent as those get-out-and-enjoy summer messages communicated in May.

Yes, that’s me, second from left, during the PRSA Chicago YPN panel discussion on continuing education.

Now that the topic of schooling is on the table, let me share a recent event on the subject. Earlier this week, I had the honor of participating as a panelist during a PRSA Chicago Young Professionals Network after-work gathering on “Exploring Continuing Education in PR.”

My fellow panelists addressed the challenges faced by working professionals who make the decision to pursue master’s degrees in business administration and communications, along with the long-term professional career benefits of an advanced degree.

As you would expect from the PRDude,  I promoted the value behind earning the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential and how it made a measurable impact by elevating me to a strategist.

And, I subtly noted that I also was in pursuit of my master’s degree in English, although reaching that goal is a good three years away.

What ensued was an often lively and informative exchange between the panelists and the YPN members in attendance. I learned how my fellow panelists balanced work, school, play and other aspects of life in their quest for a master’s degree, and realized:

  • I’m on my 13th year as an Accredited professional; regardless, the continued evolution of public relations will require that I continue to evolve, too. That means continuing to learn.
  • Earning an advanced degree means more these days than in generations past. The era of the publicist driven by placements has been eclipsed by a professional who can comprehend and strategically employ the PESO model.
  • And, yikes! Summer was waning and I would have to start school again soon. Actually, my next class — “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop” — starts August 28.

With that note, I’ll conclude this post and step outside with a glass of wine to enjoy the balance of this early August evening.

After all, the two ladies on the panel with me both stressed that it’s imperative to maximize time spent outside the classroom and away from the books.

I wholeheartedly concur.

 

 

 

April is APR Month, So What Should I Do?

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

Certainly, it’s appropriate that April is APR Month. After all, April is a time of awakening, a time to invigorate, a time to take on new personal challenges — an ideal time to showcase the leading public relations voluntary mark of distinction.

(From another perspective, as a student of English literature — and with no disrespect to T.S. Eliot — I never accepted the claim that April is the cruelest month.)

The message here is one I wholeheartedly support.

Back to APR Month, the 30 days when an emphasis is placed on the value behind the Accredited in Public Relations credential. Loyal followers of the PRDude blog certainly are aware of my dedication to Accreditation and the impact its made on my practice of public relations.

As noted in this post from February, I’ve had the honor to get elected again to the Board of the PRSA Chicago Chapter as APR Chair. The challenge: Re-energize APR initiatives within the chapter by:

1) Building awareness for the importance of earning the credential.

2) Launching a structured training program later this year.

To gain insight, I participated in a conference call hosted by PRSA last month. APR chairs from various chapters shared thoughts on programs and initiatives underway. Here’s what I learned.

  • Word of mouth, blogs, and regular testimonials are invaluable.
  • Mentoring programs for APR candidates keep them engaged.
  • Cash scholarships are great incentives.
  • Generate acceptance for the credential by reaching out to top 50 employers.
  • Contact the local SHRM chapter and suggest they recommend “APR preferred” on help wanted notices.
  • Engage current APRs to contribute and point out that they can earn maintenance points through volunteer and leadership efforts.

Without question, very solid and rational ideas and directives.

So, now it’s your turn: What suggestions do you have to help PRSA Chicago jump start the APR program?

I welcome responses throughout April and the months to follow.