Building on My Foundation in Non-Fiction Writing: Fall Master’s Class Remembered

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

Another semester. Another class. Another step closer to achieving a milestone in life.

Our little piece of mortgaged America located in Avondale, the focus of my essay.

That summarizes an important part of what took place this fall of 2017. Specifically, I completed another graduate-level class, one more academic chess piece so to say toward earning my Master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This fall, I joined 11 other student scholars in the “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop,” a course that allowed participants to submit essays, memoirs, journal contributions and other written works as part of the required assignments.  Each class, two works were presented, analyzed and read aloud in segments or entirely.

The professor, himself a very successful author of non-fiction, novels and short stories, encouraged discussion and criticism — but primarily the constructive kind.

My classmates presented poignant, compelling stories of growing up in parts of the nation and under familial dynamics much, much different than mine. Some revealed much more about themselves, their lives and personal relationships than I ever would, except perhaps in fiction.

I respected everyone and their abilities, and I believe I grew as a writer after absorbing the works presented each Monday night.  A community of sorts evolved: Writers charged with keeping the craft and art of the written word advancing through compositions centered on our own experiences and abilities, beliefs and perspectives.

My essay contributions were driven by what I know best: Chicago.

The second and more substantial of the two essays is titled The “Greening” of Avondale, a perspective on the Chicago neighborhood we’ve lived in for 17 years.

Your thoughts on this work are welcomed. And, if you want to read more of my “scholarly” works, please visit my website.

By the way, I earned an A this semester!



Wrapping Up 2016: Words and Predictions from Edward M. Bury, APR

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

One of my favorite type of post for the PRDude blog is a Q&A with industry leaders and up-and-coming public relations professionals. Expect more in 2017, as it’s always pleasurable and insightful to tap in to the minds of PR practitioners.


I call this image my “academic profile.” Note the serious eye ware.

As we approach the final hours of 2016, it dawned on me: I’ve not offered the Q&A opportunity to the one professional I know best: Myself, Edward M. Bury, APR.  Featuring my thoughts in this format is somewhat self-serving, I suppose. But, hey, it’s my blog and frankly I wanted to file one more post before midnight.

So, with as much fanfare as I can muster before starting our decidedly quiet New Year’s Eve celebration, here are words and predictions.

1. Let’s start by keeping the focus on public relations. Where is the profession heading and what key developments will surface in 2017?

Without question, public relations counsel will remain very much needed and in demand by businesses, organizations and governments. The seemingly unending expansion of the digital arena and 24-hour news cycle requires constant monitoring of what’s being said, and having the resources in place to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate threats. Efforts need to be accentuated to promote the value of strategic communications practices and point out the difference between public relations, pure publicity and propaganda.

This PESO graphic is courtesy of Arment Dietrich.

This PESO graphic is courtesy of Arment Dietrich.

Regarding the second part of this question, I predict there will be continued integration between public relations, marketing and advertising. The PESO model of communications will only get more widely accepted and practiced. Given this, expect the public relations industry to push harder for measurement standards, and for clients to demand results.

2. That is a good transition into thoughts on the PRDude blog. What can fans, followers and fanatics expect next year?

More of the same: An “eclectic” (in light of a better word) blend of commentary on public relations practices and developments, balanced by observations and remarks on some topics close to home, including Chicago, the media, culture and politics.

I hope to offer more posts that address the value behind effective, strategic public relations and its vital role in modern society. And, I will continue to “defend” public relations as a strategic management communications practice and call out instances where instances of “public relations” or “PR” are mislabeled and misinterpreted.

3. The year 2016 was quite a memorable one in a lot of ways — the national elections perhaps being the most monumental and unexpected. What were memorable moments for you?

This is relatively easy to determine. In fact, I’ll share links for those who want to get more insight.

  • The four days spent in Washington, D.C. this March, my only visit to the nation’s capital for pure pleasure.
  • Our July visit to Green Lake, Wisconsin, where we relaxed, got away from the city and learned firsthand about the value of small town life and the people who live outside a place as big as Chicago.
  • My thoughts on the passing in September of our mother, Sophie V. Bury, a truly remarkable woman and friend to many.
  • The dream that came true for me and millions and millions of Chicago Cubs fans. The Cubs won the World Series in November.
  • And, this just in: I completed my first required course for earning a graduate degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Proud to say I earned an A!  Get educated yourself and read my final paper on affect criticism.

4. When you look out your window, what do you see? Metaphorically, of course.

This retail store on Milwaukee Avenue is becoming an increasingly rare breed in 2016.

This retail store on Milwaukee Avenue is becoming an increasingly rare breed in 2016.

Here in Chicago, I see continued heartbreak driven by the unceasing and uncontrolled violence plaguing many neighborhoods. I wonder why greater awareness of this violence and the general acceptance among many that it’s wrong and crippling to society has not led to more decisive action to stop the shootings.

From another perspective, here in our rapidly gentrifying Avondale/Logan Square neighborhood, I see dramatic changes to the community fabric driven by new (and increasingly expensive) housing, restaurants/bars and retail replacing long-standing businesses. I know this is “progress” and the result of market demands and economic and social developments, but I wonder if the community has lost its true character.

And, looking at the bigger picture, I see the potential for grave circumstances ahead unless we can effectively address the growth of “fake news” designed to disguise the truth.

5. So, some last words on 2016.

Besides, “Happy New Year 2017,” I hope there’s a renewed effort to return to civility in today’s society. Despite our advancements in science and technology, we are stepping backwards if we can’t treat each other with courtesy and respect.

One Image, One Question: July 4, 2016

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

A morning stroll through Avondale and Logan Square this Independence Day was tranquil in its own way.

As you’d expect, I encountered only a handful of people, and there were few cars on normally busy Diversey Avenue and Logan Boulevard. Aside from the occasional barking dog or chirping bird, the only disruption to the quiet were the squawking chickens — yes chickens — owned by a family down the block.

Even with the beverage can discarded in the street, one could find tranquility on George Street this Independence Day.

Even with the beverage can discarded in the street, one could find tranquility on George Street this Independence Day. Unfortunately, that’s not the case on many other Chicago streets.

On George Street, tranquility for me is embodied in the image on this page. Yes, this is not at all bucolic in the conventional sense, in light of the mature trees; but for a thoroughfare in the heart of one of America’s largest and greatest cities, one could enjoy the quiet of a summer holiday morning by sitting quietly on George Street.

From our front porch, we partake in this activity regularly.

Many other blocks in Chicago may look like George Street in the Avondale neighborhood this morning; but many, far too many, are not at all tranquil. Too many streets have become urban battle zones plagued by gun-driven violence that has reached levels not seen in decades.

As noted in this Yahoo news report, the monthly homicide rate this year in Chicago can be equated to the horrific mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

So, on to the question:

What needs to happen to quell the heartbreaking outbreak of shootings that has shredded the very fabric of some Chicago communities?

If this is any sign of “progress,” through enhanced policing “only” two people were fatally shot and 30 have been wounded by gunfire so far this long weekend. An online report from DNA Info provides the details.

Wishing all who read this a safe and Happy Independence Day.  Also, wishing for realistic answers to my question this July 4, 2016.

Is the “Greening” of Avondale a Good Thing?

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

The images that accompany this post are fairly explicit, yet there’s something beneath the surface. They show what once was a modest home under significant renovation, actually a gut rehab.

Whipple two

The homes that flank the one under rehab also were ungraded in the past few years.

In fact, as depicted, the contractors working on this home have literally raised the roof. The dumpster shown is one of perhaps five dumpsters workers have filled with debris removed from this century-old structure the past four months.

Whipple three

Hope they get the roof installed before it rains. We are in April.

Located just a few doors north of our modest home in Chicago’s suddenly hip Avondale neighborhood, this home once was owned by an elderly women; then it sat vacant for a few years.  For the past two or so years, and man and his family lived there.

Now, it’s undergoing renovation that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.  A neighbor estimated the home will be put on the market for around $650,000.  And, I think he’s right.

Whipple One

Ah, the sign of progress: A dumpster.

On the surface, this project is a good thing for the neighborhood, a good thing for Chicago and a good thing for me.  Rehab projects preserve the character of the neighborhood and contribute to the housing stock. The city gets another property back on the tax rolls — at assuredly a higher valuation than before the work was done.  And, the value of our home most certainly will rise.

But I wonder if examples of this type of “greening” or rebirth — okay, call it “gentrification” –is changing our corner of Chicago entirely for the better. Is Avondale now a “destination?” Or will it remain a neighborhood?

Yes, the neighborhood is safer, quieter and cleaner than it was when we moved here 15 years ago. New merchants are opening businesses nearby, escaping the higher rents in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park/Bucktown and West Town — where I lived for the first 19 years of my life. Yes, there’s a growing sense of community here.

Still, I don’t envision the future owners of this home-down-the-block staying in Avondale for the next 15 years.  Perhaps it’s how society is changing, but to me many people today use a place for what it’s worth, then move on.

Perhaps I’m wrong.

I do look forward to meeting the people who will move into this home-down-the-block. I hope they’ll cherish the home, perhaps as much as the elderly woman who lived there for many years.


Breach of Ethics Spans Generations

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

A recent local news story struck a responsive chord with me, and I’m sure a lot of other people here in metropolitan Chicago and elsewhere.  The issue: A breach of ethics and poor judgment among some high school seniors involving a mandatory requirement to perform 24 hours of community service as a prerequisite for graduation.

As I’ll explain, this instance of “kids behaving badly” has another perspective.

Oak Lawn LogoHere’s what happened.  As reported extensively by Chicago media, around 40 graduating seniors from Oak Lawn Community High School allegedly paid a classmate to forge a signature on documents related to the completion of the community service requirement.  View this report from the local CBS television affiliate for more details.

Yes, these kids messed up. They made a mistake, and they’ll pay for it by not being allowed to don the cap and gown with their peers — those kids who actually spent the required hours at a nursing home, pet shelter or local business.  (Sidebar: The reportedly forged signatures were those of a golf course manager; come on!  What’s so hard about helping out at a golf course?)

Clearly, these students tried to get away with something.  But in the end, they violated a standard and brought shame on themselves, their families and their school.

But too often today, it’s mainly the younger generation — the so-called Millennials — that get bashed for lacking the same morals and character as those of us from previous generations. In the case of a handful of the 2014 graduating class of Oak Lawn High School, that’s true.

In an effort to support my contention with more than anecdotal evidence, I ran a variety of Google searches and found lots of reports about kids lacking ethics, especially while online, as found in this Mashable post citing a Harvard University study.

However, a decline or lack of ethics transcends Millennials.  Here’s an ethicsexample.

When Susan and I moved to our home in the Avondale neighborhood 14 years ago, we noticed neighbors two houses west had restricted parking signs in front of the home. The City of Chicago allows this privilege for residents with disabilities — in essence granting that person the right to park there.

The issue: We rarely, if ever, saw a car parked in that spot. Later, we learned that two elderly women lived in the home and secured the restricted designation so their son — who visited a few times a month — could park in the space.

Was this a breach of ethics, an absence of moral principles governing good citizenship and conduct?  Without question, and from two people who were part of the so-called “Greatest Generation.”

As I’ve stated many times in this blog, those of use who are serious about the practice of public relations prescribe to maintaining the highest ethical standards at all times.   Those of us who earned the Accredited in Public Relations credential pledge that we’ll provide ethical counsel.

Hopefully, the Oak Lawn High School students embroiled in this issue learned a lesson.  As for our elderly neighbors, they sold the home and moved years ago. Shortly thereafter, the parking signs were removed from the ground.

Here are two other posts from The PRDude that reference the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago:

1. An August of 2013 post about disturbing messages found outside.

2. A July of 2013 post about sitting on the front porch and enjoying all things natural.


One More Thing About the Pending Closing of Hot Doug’s

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

The news yesterday was stupefying for Chicago aficionados of “encased meats” and those who enjoy long waits to get something to eat: Hot Doug’s, the so-called “sausage superstore,” will serve its last dog this fall.

The legendary Doug Sohn, behind the counter of his soon-to-be-shuttered hot dog "superstore."

The legendary Doug Sohn, behind the counter of his soon-to-be-shuttered hot dog “superstore.”

A collective wail spread through the food-loving community, a demographic that never ceases to amaze me with their quest for edible products that are unabashedly hip, generally expensive and usually requiring a lengthy wait to purchase.    This aptly-named Chicago online source even reports on the “reaction” by Chicago’s food community to the closing on what basically is an upscale hot dog stand.

I pray those who will crave a Hot Doug’s rattlesnake dog topped with fois gras will find a suitable alternative when the establishment shuts for good. (In the full disclosure department: I dined at Hot Doug’s once and recall the dog and fries were pretty good, but not worth the 45-minute wait.)

But back to the purpose of this post: Hot Doug’s is located in Avondale, and fortunately, media reports on the story — from both traditional and digital outlets — identify the establishment as being in Avondale.

This is Avondale!

This is Avondale!

Where’s Avondale?

It’s where I’ve lived the past 14 years, a neighborhood often overshadowed by its sister neighborhood to the south, Logan Square.  Avondale is what  Brooklyn is to Manhattan, what St. Paul is to Minneapolis: Grittier, edgier and perhaps to some, less cultured and less expensive.  Many never heard of Avondale, or just lumped the neighborhood in with its wealthier neighbor.

But perceptions — like real estate values — change over time, and Avondale is now hip. Read this Chicago Sun-Times piece for details.

Not to knock Logan Square: Susan and I lived in a wonderful apartment in a greystone on Logan Boulevard for eight years and were very content.  But it wasn’t ours, and when time came to purchase, we found a wonderful home  in Avondale — just a block north of the formal boundary between the two  neighborhoods.

In fact, we’ve been in our Avondale home a little longer than owner Doug Sohn has held down counter duties as Hot Doug’s.  So, we were pioneers of living in a neighborhood on the cusp of cool even before Mr. Sohn.

So, thanks Mr. Sohn for helping to build awareness for Avondale as the next bastion of hipness.  But remember, we were here first.

Two Messages, Both Disturbing, Neither Digital

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

Today, two messages — both compelling, both literally at my doorstep — prompted me to think about the number of new messages, stimuli or advertisements we receive each day.  First, some quick research:

There’s other statistics like this, I’m sure.  But rest assured, we are bombarded by messages, especially when we go on line and open a browser window.  For the record, The PRDUde does not take advertising dollars; but I might mention you in a future post if you buy me a good beer.

MarlboroOn to the focus of this post.  Today, I found a crumpled, empty pack of Marlboro Gold on the sidewalk in front of our home.  It contained a warning message that’s pretty straightforward, as you can see from the adjacent image.

Most educated people are aware of the dangers of smoking, but they continue to puff away.  Some discard their empty packs and spent butts with reckless abandon, ending up on someone’s lawn.  The warning message on this Marlboro package, in boldface type and right below the brand “logo,” is the result of federal laws that took effect last year.  The objective of this message is to decrease the number of smokers in the U.S.

Now look at the image to the right.  This graffiti, probably sprayed on by gangDSCN0567 punks or wannabe gang punks last night, now adorns a building right across from our home in the Avondale section of Chicago.

What does this nonsense mean?  I have no idea, however it’s a criminal act.

I trust it’s a “warning” message of some kind to alert rivals that our block is turf claimed by some affiliation of punks who believe they “own” or “control” the neighborhood.  For the record, we did have gang activity around our home years ago; it’s gone, thanks to more concerned neighbors and regular police patrols.  And, I called the City of Chicago to request the graffiti be removed.

Before drafting this post, I checked my email accounts, visited Facebook, watched a news program on TV and read parts of the Sunday Chicago Tribune.  I received lots of messages.  But it was two very simple, non-digital messages — the cigarette pack warning and gang graffiti — that prompted me to act.

What messages grabbed your attention today?

More Random Thoughts on Public Relations & Life

Periodically, I like to just let the thoughts flow.  This is one of those days.

What’s a Placement Worth These Days?  Don’t Lie to Me.

There’s been some “spirited” discussion on two public relations LinkedIn groups.

One discussion centers on a “formula” for a contractual “pay-for-placement” publicity program.  It was initiated by a practitioner who operates a web-based service that is “the nation’s premier provider of copyright free content.”  The discussion has been going on for 14 days and to date has generated 145 replies, many by the originator and many over the top in terms of tone.  (Don’t these people have anything else to do? Why do they have to use all caps and multiple exclamation points?)  My perspective?  Any communications program built around media placements is “publicity” only and is not a strategic public relations program.  Pay-for- placement as a concept is ludicrous and an assault on the profession because it addresses only one aspect of public relations.  Advertising is pay-for-placement.

The other discussion topic centered on public relations and lying.  It included a brief survey.  This one did not generate nearly as many replies and the exchange was more reserved and scholarly.  Still, I found the general topic distasteful.  Lying violates ethical standards I support.  Even a “white lie” is a lie. It has no business in public relations.  Period.

Vox Populi is Alive and Well.

Those of us who studied Latin know the translation of vox populi:  “Voice of the people.”  Its origins are from Imperial Rome, I gather, but today it’s more akin to a man-on-the-street interview.  But back when the Empire was flourishing, it was a form of mass communication.  Often, news and information was posted in a public place for the citizens to absorb.

While strolling my Avondale/Logan Square neighborhood on this sunny, yet frosty, January day, I noticed several paper signs affixed to utility poles and adorning the windows of our hipster caffeine center, The New Wave Coffee Shop.  The messages promoted apartments for rent, guitar lessons from a local rocker, the January line up at local rock clubs and more.  One that really stood out: An area resident offered round-trip $5 rides for the auto-deprived to the local Trader Joe’s grocery.  (I applaud this person for their industriousness.)

It’s heartening to know that even in this era of Craigslist, social media and message boards, the most basic form of mass communication — a paper sign in a public place — still has believers.

Something Dim Beneath the Dim Job News.

Like all of us job-seekers, I was hoping for better news on the employment front. But Friday, Washington announced the economy shed 85,000 jobs in December.  This comes after relatively encouraging updated news that we added 4,000 jobs in November — a month when we reportedly lost 11,000 positions.

Continued job losses and minimal to no new job creation is disheartening.  What’s perhaps more disheartening is this projection:  More and more people have dropped out of the labor force and stopped looking for work.  In essence, they’ve given up. This is a sad development.

Since my job was eliminated just more than four months ago, I been busier than ever.  My days center on finding another great public relations position and include:

1. Networking, networking and more networking.
2. Taking on project assignments.
3. Learning more about social media and Web 2.0 applications.
4. Meeting colleagues and contacts for coffee.

This is a time of opportunity for me.  It’s a time for me to reinvent myself and be poised to charge ahead and make a difference.  Yes, it’s been tough. We’ve curtailed many expenses, and I haven’t had a real vacation since April.

Yet, I’m thriving. I’m energized. I’m ready for the next challenge in my life and my career.  If you’re listening: Bring it on!  If I can offer any advice or direction, please reply.  I will respond.

An Average Day: Learning & Enlightenment

Today was a day filled with learning and enlightenment, encapsulated by two events that got me out of the home office and back to downtown Chicago.

The Morning.  A prominent online career company and prominent online educational institution hosted a career fair at a prominent downtown hotel.  I’ve never attended a career event of this type for a key reason:  Decision-makers in the public relations arena more than likely find talent through networking or very specific job postings.

Most of the exhibiting companies offered banking, sales or security jobs; not my industry. But, a very, very prominent Chicago-based advertising agency was listed as an exhibitor, which intrigued me.  And, the event was no-cost and an opportunity to network and learn.

Upon arrival, I encountered people of all types:  Those in tailored suits who clearly had been successful in the business world, and those in denims and sweatshirts, those still searching for a career path.  The mood was relatively upbeat, the organizers encouraging and supportive.

Learning the very, very prominent agency did not send representatives, I sat in on some eduction sessions.  At one entitled, “Building a Wardrobe That Works,” the moderator, an image consultant, asked me to the front to comment on my ensemble: Navy sport coat, dark khaki slacks, brown loafers, blue shirt and red and blue tie with a simple pattern. “What kind of work do you do?” she asked.  “I’m a public relations professional,” I answered.  “You’re dressed very appropriately for an interview in that industry,” she remarked. I liked here immediately.

I felt proud, and somewhat relieved.  Image is everything, to quote a popular campaign, and I’m glad my dress that day hit the mark.  Learned one more important fact from this nice lady: Always wait until the interviewer invites you to sit down before sitting down.  Makes sense.

The Afternoon. In my lifetime living in Chicago, I never stepped into the City Council chambers in City Hall. Today, I not only went inside, I got to speak!

The situation: I spoke before the Community Development Commission in favor of a local development company that bid on redeveloping a landmark manufacturing building in my Avondale/Logan Square neighborhood into apartments and an arts center.  Other members of the community — from those involved with local business groups to artists — spoke in favor of the request by the developer.

The issue will be voted on my the full City Council some day, and hopefully our community will have a prominent — but vastly under-utilized building put to productive use.

This request was one of 10 key agenda items this afternoon.   Champions for these other causes also had their respective turns at the microphone. I felt enlightened that the issue involving my community and nine others within Chicago generated so much passion and support. People took time out of their lives to spend a few hours making their voices heard.