PR Firms and BBB Accreditation: Questions

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

Along with the usual main news, business, sports, and arts sections, the June 22 issue of our home delivered Chicago Tribune also included a tabloid publication.  No, not the rival Chicago Sun-Times, but a Consumer Resource Guide published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

BBB two

Think I’ll hold onto this publication; just in case.

The purpose of the insert was to celebrate the BBB’s 90th anniversary of providing service to people and businesses here in metropolitan Chicago. The contents contained BBB rated businesses, and a reasonable amount of display ads.  (Hey, print publication ain’t cheap.)

Let me offer my most sincere congratulations. I wholeheartedly support the work of this organization, which “sets high ethical standards for business conduct.” Learn more by scanning the BBB Business Partner Code of Conduct.

Now, on to the focus of this post. I scanned the 40-page report and learned that the mortgage broker we’ve used to finance and re-finance our home was listed, as was the company that replaced the roof on our garage last year.

BBB one

Note the two public relations firms, right between Public Opinion Analysts and Publishers.

But, what I found somewhat puzzling was the fact that there were only two public relations firms listed: GreenMark Public Relations, Inc., a firm headquartered in the north Chicago suburb of Mundelein, and FLEISHMANHILLARD, a global firm with offices in Chicago.  (Note: All caps with no space is how the firm was listed in the BBB report.)

For the record, the BBB report had 30 listings for Advertising/Marketing firms or Agencies/Counselors and five for Communications firms.  And, there were lots and lots of mortgage brokers and roofing companies

This prompted some questions:

  1. Most obvious, why are only two Chicago firms BBB Accredited?
  2. What value do public relations firms — companies that in theory are charged with strengthening client’s reputations — find in earning third-party endorsement, like from the BBB?
  3. Should organizations like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) champion BBB Accreditation?

As a public relations professional who earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, I support and value voluntary initiatives that substantiate my ability to deliver sound, ethical communications counsel.  This, I maintain, is especially true for public relations, a profession not licensed in this country.

And, yes, I did check the BBB list for bloggers. Not a category they list just yet. But I’ll keep checking.

 

 

 

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On This Last Day of April, Thoughts on Participation on the Universal Accreditation Board

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

Cold, bleak and rainy here in Chicago, this last day of April. Perfect conditions to take on lots of productive tasks indoors, like publishing a post.

But what topic?

Ah, April is Accreditation month, the 30 days when many in the profession charge forward to promote the value behind the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

Well, The PRDude has commented on Accreditation quite extensively, including in past Aprils, as noted in this post from April of 2014.

tactics_large_bannerAnd, I had an article published in PRSA Tactics in April of 2010 on APR mentoring best practices from Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapters around the nation.

But, this space hasn’t shared enough thoughts on the board that administers, markets and confers the APR, the APR+M for military public affairs officers and the new Certificate for Principles in Public Relations for college graduates.

I’m referring to the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), the appointed body of Accredited members from eight public relations organizations, including PRSA, of which I’m a member.

Source: The Universal Accreditation Board web site.

Source: The Universal Accreditation Board web site.

From 2006 to 2011, I served as a member of the UAB. To say is was an honor is an understatement. The same goes for how my experience on the UAB elevated me personally and professionally.

All self-deprecation aside, I was kind of  a PR mutt when I was appointed to the UAB. I earned Accreditation in 2004, and had served on the newly formed PRSA Accreditation Marketing Committee (of which I later chaired.) During my many years at agencies and with an association, I had not been and active participant — much less a volunteer — in the public relations profession.

For the record, I was not a “joiner,” unless one would count being a Chicago Cubs fan and beer aficionado.

Serving on the UAB elevated me as a business communicator because I got to actively participate and make decisions on something I cared about and something I believed in. At each meeting, I had to hold my own with a body comprised of smart, experienced PR strategists from academic, agency, military and non-profit disciplines.

Frankly, during my first block of meetings held at PRSA headquarters on Maiden Lane in New York, I was a little intimidated. Hey, I was the new guy and lacked the pedigree of most — okay, perhaps all — of my colleagues!

Soon I became acclimated to procedures, and after a while, understood the acronyms that often surfaced in Board meetings. (KSAs — yes, the knowledge, skills and abilities tested in the CBE, the Computer Based Exam.) And, I contributed, first conducting an audit of the old UAB website, then co-chairing the MarCom (marketing communications) work group.

Perhaps the most lasting reward from my UAB service: The bonds and friendships I forged with many colleagues, many who remain my friends still.

From another perspective, that’s what public relations is all about: Building mutually beneficial relationships.

 

 

 

 

D.C. PR Pro Joe Kovacs, APR Shares Thoughts on Accreditation, the Profession, D.C.

How cool is this: A few years ago, a fellow public relations professional who was planning to pursue the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential reached out for advice.  He was living in Denver at the time, and he learned about my passion for the credential by reading some articles I wrote that was published in PRSA Tactics, perhaps this one.

I was, of course, flattered, and of course, I offered my assistance. The guy in question, Joe Kovacs, APR, is the subject of this question and answer post from the PRDude.  Since our initial  communication via phone, Joe and I have met in person during business meetings I’ve attended in Washington, D.C., most recently chronicled in this recent “travelogue.”

Here’s what Joe — Director of Marketing for a Bethesda, Maryland-based CPA firm — had to say about his career, Accreditation and what’s taking place on the national political scene and his burgeoning career as a fiction writer.

Joe Kovacs, APR

Joe Kovacs, APR

1. What are the biggest challenges you face when managing communications for Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman, CPAs, which has a large, diverse client base?

You have to do the best job possible segmenting your communications. That’s a huge challenge. You can send ANY client helpful information about personal taxes, since everyone has to pay Uncle Sam. But business owners won’t benefit or even find interesting the same material as nonprofit executives. So you really do need to dig deep into the demographics of EACH of these distinct audiences, think about what matters to them and develop customized messages for distribution that will help them find solutions to their problems or build on success they already enjoy.

Another huge challenge is bridging internal communications gaps. Every professional in a fast-paced work environment tends to focus on their personal work and goals, and may not sufficiently consider the importance of sharing information internally among various stakeholders for a project. This can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and tension. I see one of my jobs as keeping an eye out for those gaps and providing communications to stakeholders whom no one thought to contact about some new item of interest to our firm. It’s a small thing, but when you can keep everyone on the same page, it really does work miracles.

2. How has earning the APR and what you learned during the process contributed to crafting strategies to meet the firm’s communications goals?
One book I read when I was studying for my APR was Strategic Planning for Public Relations by Ron Smith. I think that book, more than any other, pushed me from being a tactician to a strategist. It really broke down all the different roles of communications professionals within an organization, which gave me a vivid sense of the different between someone who just does something and someone who thinks about what is the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t studied for my APR.

The other factor that turned me into a strategist for my firm is the APR test itself. It was an amazing test. Anyone who is going the route of accreditation should prepare themselves for the reality that it isn’t about rote memorization. You have to absorb knowledge and learn to think like a strategist because the APR test essentially gives you various fictional scenarios and it’s the “thinking” you developed during the study process that will serve you when you choose your answers. Really, I can’t say enough about the resources that PRSA encourages you to study or the intelligence behind the testing format, which helped me grow into a strategist.

Earning the APR credential helped elevate Joe Kovacs, APR, to become a strategist.

Earning the APR credential helped elevate Joe Kovacs, APR, to become a strategist.

3. Speaking of Accreditation, we became acquainted when you reached out for guidance on the APR process after reading article I wrote for the PRSA Tactics magazine. Have you inspired others in your market to pursue the APR?

I don’t know that I have directly inspired anyone to say okay, yes, I’m going to go for it. But I have had some friends who decided to pursue Accreditation and one of the first things they told me they did was reach out to me for advice because they knew I had already gone through the process. I will say, though, that I think any communications victories you achieve on your employer will reflect on the value of the APR.

Not long after I became Accredited, I joined the public relations committee of a membership association. The following year, I was asked to be chair. The year after that, I was asked to be on the organization’s board of directors. That was an incredibly flattering experience, and I attribute whatever success people think I may have had, to my accreditation training. When the board launched a strategic communication committee late last year, guess who was selected to be the board liaison to that committee? And we have had some successes in media relations since then that I know have got some people excited. I regularly list the APR after my name (including on my LinkedIn profile) so whenever people look at how I’ve become more involved in the association, I hope they also notice the APR and think…hey, I wonder if that can help me out, too. I would be excited if anyone did that and ended up pursuing accreditation.

The U.S. Capitol, the symbol of D.C. to many. Photo Credit: jointblog.com.

The U.S. Capitol, the symbol of D.C. to many. Photo Credit: jointblog.com.

4. You work in metropolitan Washington, D.C. — the center of the national debate on all things taking place in the nation. Do you get very involved in the conversation? And, who do you plan to vote for in November?

Yeah, you know, this city doesn’t have the best reputation. Washingtonians are often considered rude, short and ambitious, and they’re only interested in you if you can help them get where they want to go professionally. I wish I could say that’s completely untrue, but there is some truth to it. With that said, though, a lot of the fiery personalities are individuals with big hearts pursuing some fantastic causes. D.C. is a nonprofit mecca simply because with Congress here, you have a lot of groups that send their government relations people up to Capitol Hill to advocate for this and that. I did that; I worked for several nonprofits, including once as the media relations coordinator on the government relations team of an educational nonprofit. The other side of that coin then is that you may have some cold, ambitious people, but many of them are committed to making the world a better place, and that’s the side of D.C. that people should consider more often, in my humble opinion. As for who I would vote for, I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal politics. But two candidate who are NOT running who it would have been interesting to see are Joe Biden on the left and Paul Ryan on the right.

5. And, when we visited last you shared some insight into your fiction writing. Would you care to share some further insight about you chief character and why you’re taking on this “second career?

Wow. Second career may be too strong a word at this point. But yes, I did just publish a literary novel independently. My main character is a Border Patrol agent in Arizona. I intentionally chose someone very different from me–meaning, I’m not from Arizona and had little knowledge about the Southwest when I first started this project–so that the writing wouldn’t become derivative and end up as some barely disguised autobiography. I think I succeeded in that regard. I am well into the first draft of another novel that takes place in Wichita, Kansas in the early 1900s. Again, I think by choosing a different location and time period, I can focus on how to build a good story rather than by writing about myself. I have always had a vivid imagination. That hasn’t gone away with time and I enjoy being excited about a lot of things and being child-like occasionally. One should never lose one’s zest for life and personal creation is a great way to keep the fires burning.

Chicago Cubs: Here’s Who Should Throw Out the First Pitch at NLCS

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

An open letter to the Chicago Cubs (and anyone else who wants to read this post):

After careful consideration, this life-long Chicago Cubs fans is making an unbiased recommendation on who should throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the team takes the field the evening of October 20 to face the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field:

Me, Edward M. Bury, APR.

Want some reasons why? Please keep reading.

  1. Long-Time Fandom: As noted, I’ve rooted for the Cubs as long as I can remember. There were good memories, and some not-so-good.  (Think 1969, 1984, 2003 — forget it; that’s ancient history.) At the end of the game, my allegiance never faltered.
  2. Color Blue: People have told me I look good in blue. Something about bringing out the green in my eyes. And, there will be lots of blue and green at Wrigley Field the evening of the first NLCS game.
  3.  Vintage Cap: The cap that accompanies this post was
    One of my most prized possessions.

    One of my most prized possessions. Note the “Ball” pin on the brim.

    purchased back in 1984. Or perhaps it was 1985. It’s “the same kind the players wear.” I’ve worn it only to games and while watching the Cubs during playoffs. I promise to wear it next Tuesday.

  4.  I’m an APR. Okay, so why should holding the Accreditation in Public Relations count toward my qualifications? Simple: I don’t have a ticket, and having the honor of throwing out the first pitch would get me a seat. I think.  I’m demonstrating open disclosure, a sign of ethical public relations practices.
  5. Not a Hater. If you’re like me, you’ve had enough of the references in the media and by fans to “the hated Cardinals” and now, “the hated Mets.” Get over it! It’s a baseball game and the Cub fans need to demonstrate positive energy.

As the Cubs prepare to take the field in tonight’s NLCS game in New York, I’ll be rooting for an opening series win. And, of course, I’ll be hoping to get the honor to stand on the mound and throw that first pitch Tuesday.

One more thing: I promise to throw a strike.

Go Cubs!

 

 

 

 

September is PRSA Ethics Month, But There’s More

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

Given the fact this blog is about public relations (well, most of the time) and published by a guy who holds the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential and writes under the PRDude moniker, I’ll bet you think the focus of today’s post (given the title) is on PRSA Ethics Month.

Well, you’re right.

Sort of.

prsa_logoThat’s because other organizations have joined the Public Relations Society of America in dedicating a month to focus the spotlight on ethics.

Want some examples? Here’s what a quick Google search revealed.

  • The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) has designated September as Ethics Awareness Month, and its leadership encourages its 92 chapters to promote adherence to established standards for commercial property management.
  • The International City/County Management Association gets a head start on the ethics front, dedicating March Ethics Awareness Month for its membership, comprised of professional city, town, and county managers.
  • And, as reported in this English language newspaper fr0m the state of Jharkhand, India, the Tata Steel company celebrates ethics in July to commemorate the ethical standards of its founder.

    The team at Tata Steel.

    The team at Tata Steel holds an ethics celebration in July to honor its founder and the standards he established.

I’m sure a more aggressive search would reveal many other examples of organizations and companies that recognize the value of ethics today.

But in the spirit of PRSA Ethics Month, I challenge these entities to uphold to ethical standards all year round:

  • Elected Officials. Just think think of how much better our lives would be if every man and woman elected by voters to office would make decisions based on honesty and the public good, versus decisions driven by campaign contributions, party affiliation and political ideology.
  • Wall Street. Yes, banks, exchanges and brokerages are in the business of making money. As evidenced over the years, sometimes ethical standards are tossed out the window like confetti, and greed and more greed drives financial practices that bash the little person.
  • Everyone Online. That’s right. Every man, woman and child who communicates digitally should do so ethically and not cowardly, like the growing army of internet trolls masked by user name disguises.

Who or what organization/company/body would you add to this list?

Let me conclude this ethics-themed post with a link to the PRSA webpage that details accepted ethical standards for public relations professionals and a link to an Ethics Month Survey being undertaken by Marlene Neill, APR, PhD, a professor at Baylor University and a former colleague of mine on the Universal Accreditation Board.

Want more on ethics? Then visit this 2014 post featuring a “pop quiz” on ethics in public relations, then follow up with a companion post where the questions are “deconstructed.”

 

 

 

 

“Digital PR?” I Don’t Think So

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

Like many of us in the public relations profession, I subscribe to Help a Reporter Out (HARO), the online resource that provides those in the news media with a platform to enlist expert sources for their stories.

haro_90x78My goal: To identify media members seeking commentary on issues involving transportation, because that’s industry I work in at the moment. (An aside: Haven’t read any transportation-centered inquiries yet, but I’ll keep an eye out.)

Earlier this week, there was a public relations-related HARO message — one that caught my attention. The reporter was seeking insight on the use of “digital PR.”

That stopped me right in my tracks, and as an Accredited public relations professional who takes the profession seriously, I felt compelled to respond.

My message stated that there is no such thing as “digital PR.” There’s public relations — the communications practice — and there’s the use of digital resources as part of a strategic public relations program.

Apparently, there are practitioners who disagree with me, as I easily found online reports about “digital PR.” This commentary offered a definition:

Digital PR is all about combining traditional PR with content marketing, social media and search.

And, I found an agency that has “digital PR” in its name. However, I really can’t ascertain exactly what services this firm provides, because the content is in Italian.

Digital PR logoFinally, I identified a Florida marketing agency that has branded “digital PR” services. (NOTE: If the folks from this agency read my post, please check your website because the content under the “Born Digital” headline is clashing with the image of the hand holding the tablet.)

I could go on with examples, but here’s my concluding thoughts:

  • The public relations profession, which is based on building relationships through effective, ethical communications, will only get marginalized if those of us in the industry allow phrases like “digital PR” to become part of the lexicon.
  • Clients who enlist public relations professionals should be made aware that yes, digital communications has dramatically changed the playing field; but digital communications practices should be guided by the same principles and standards that guide “traditional” public relations.

Now it’s your turn: Is “digital PR” a separate management communications practice?

 

 

Thoughts on Accreditation from Anne O’Connell, APR: A Q & A

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

For the past few years, one way I gave back to the public relations profession was to help nurture professionals who were pursuing the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential through my volunteer work on behalf of PRSA Chicago.

I’m pleased and proud to share these thoughts from Anne O’Connell, APR, a Chicago area communications professional who participated in the Chapter training program in 2014 and earned the APR earlier this year.

Here’s Anne’s unedited replies to my questions regarding the APR challenge.

1.   Congratulations again on earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential. What was the most challenging part of the APR process?APR 50th

Thank you, and again, I appreciate your help. It’s hard to pick just one most challenging aspect as the overall process is taxing.  At first, I was worried about the timing of the research and my case study.  How would that mesh with my readiness review and the timing, based on the year, during which to take the examination?  Michael Henry (of Online2Learn, producer of the APR online study program) also was helpful in reassuring me that my timeline was doable. The case study does require a lot of mental energy, but it’s worth it. 

 2.   How do you plan to use the knowledge, skills and abilities learned from the APR process in your work?

I already have been using the KSAs in my current position.  I have been informally mentoring my staff in the best practices I’ve learned.  I work at an all-girls private high school and have started a club for students interested in public relations, journalism, graphic design and related fields.  I have shared some of my new knowledge with these students, as well.

ChgPRSA150325EdwardBuryAnneO'Connell-1

Anne O’Connell, APR, was recognized for earning Accreditation by PRSA Chicago at the Chapter breakfast March 25. Oh, and that’s me at left.

 3.   Can you provide a brief overview of the experience at the ProMetric Testing Center? Were you intimidated in any way by the rigid testing process?

I checked out the ProMetric center prior to my testing day.  The staff were helpful and explained how things would work.  I wasn’t intimidated.  In fact, one thing I found slightly amusing, on the morning I took the exam, was the staff told me if I went into the testing center with my zip-up sweatshirt on (over a T-shirt), I’d have to keep it on for the duration of the test.  Other tidbits were I could not take Kleenex into the testing area, nor could I take a couple of cough drops I had in my sweatshirt pocket. Now, I would not cheat, but even if I were so inclined, there is no way one could put cheat notes on a cough drop wrapper! 

All that aside, the test itself was situation after situation – very much process based, as all had indicated.  Each screen gives you a scenario and then multiple-choice answers.  I took a break to get a drink of water about half-way through.  The time seemed to go quickly, though I did not feel rushed and had extra time than I needed to finish.  I found some of the answers to slightly contradict what I had learned, but I chose the most logical answers that were closest to being what I considered being correct. I only marked a few questions to return to ponder further, but when I did so, I left the answers as I originally had them.

4.   The numbers tell the story: The APR program has been in decline, and PRSA has launched a concerted program to boost participation by professionals. What do you think needs to be done to get more professionals to pursue Accreditation?

I’m not up on what has been considered or done, but perhaps college/university professors could be engaged to help encourage students to pursue the APR once they are eligible. It occurs to me, though, having just met a young professional that the timing is interesting.  Once graduating from college, s/he needs five years in the profession.  That timing roughly puts people around the age of getting married and then perhaps having children.  Maybe there is a way to quantify that the APR enhances one’s earning potential, and that could be promoted extensively.

5.   In 50 words or less, give a shout out on why all serious PR professionals should consider earning the APR.

I highly recommend that serious PR professionals earn the APR.  I am much more strategic, valuable and confident.  I wish I would have pursued my APR earlier in my career. One of my goals now is to directly encourage colleagues I know and then mentor them through the process.