Dear Chicago Tribune: Since You Won’t Publish My Letter, I Will

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

Perhaps it’s time The PRDude blog was branded with a tagline. What do you think of this one:  “Staunch Defender of the Public Relations Profession.”

Regular follows may recall that I’ve addressed situations where the PR profession was bashed, slandered and subjected to libelous prose.  To defend public relations, I used this digital pulpit to challenge the wrong-doers and set the record straight.

In late May it happened again.

The Chicago Tribune, a newspaper I read daily and still support with a home delivery subscription, published a piece in the Sports section that grabbed my attention for two reasons:

1. It concerned the Chicago Cubs and management’s clumsy efforts to get city approval to revitalize venerable Wrigley Field.

2. It connected what I maintain was a management decision to poor public relations counsel.

So I dashed off a Letter to the Editors on May 30.

They haven’t published it, so I will:

Dear Editors:

tribuneAs a public relations professional, I take great offense in the subheadline, “Emanuel embarrasses franchise’s inept PR team,” which accompanied the May 30 column by David Haugh on the efforts by the Chicago Cubs to get approval for modernizing Wrigley Field.

Public relations counsel, whether in-house or contracted, are charged with developing and executing communications programs built upon research driven by sound strategies and measurable results. These actions must be — or certainly should be — approved by management.

Did the headline writer and Mr. Haugh know for a fact that it was the “Cubs’ corporate PR team” that made the decision to charge ahead with plans for a new bullpen and other improvements before conferring with the Mayor’s office? Or, is it possible that the management of the Cubs insisted on unveiling the news?

Admittedly, the Cubs are in need of serious damage control given the circumstances surrounding their plans and efforts to bring their landmark ballpark into the modern age. But it’s troubling that the team’s public relations staff gets lambasted for decisions that may have been beyond their purview.

Sincerely,

Edward M. Bury

It’s this type of inaccuracy about the profession that all of us who are serious PR practitioners need to address quickly and forcefully.  For the record, I would include a link to Mr. Hough’s complete column, but I can’t find it online.

Rest assured, I’ll keep an eye out for future written or verbal barbs slung at public relations and address them whenever I can.  If you’re serious about public relations, serious about its value in modern society, serious about accuracy, perhaps you will too.

* * *

So, now you’re asking: “Back it up, PRDude. Demonstrate how you’ve defended public relations.”  Here are two examples.

1. In a January 2013 post, I fired a shot across the bow of a well-known essayist who mixed up public relations and social media.

2. Back in 2010, I questioned a writer — yes from the Chicago Tribune — who mixed in public relations counsel with the legal counsel defending a man who once was governor of Illinois.

 

 

Okay Mr. Ricketts: I Want to Buy a Piece of the Chicago Cubs

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

News last week from the corner of Clark and Addison streets made big headlines here and across the nation.  Unfortunately, the headlines didn’t boast of a dramatic win by the team that plays baseball in the park at that fabled Chicago intersection.

416x31_partyofthecenturyThe news in question: The Ricketts Family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, are contemplating selling minority shares of the ball club.  The extra dollars, or hundreds of millions of dollars actually, would be earmarked for fixing up venerable Wrigley Field, now in its 100th year.

Note to company Chairman Tom Ricketts: Count The PRDude in on this deal. My confirmed contribution amount is below.

$5.

I know, that’s not much.  Won’t buy a beer at the ballpark, much less a CubsFrosty Malt if those delicious frozen confections are still sold by vendors.

But, I have added value as a minority investor: I am the PRDude after all and a well-known blogger; and I’m an Accredited public relations professional.

My skills as a seasoned communicator — and long-standing, long-suffering — Chicago Cubs fan most surely will come into value, if not this season then in the years to come.

Like all chronic Cubs fans, my century — make that millennium — would be made if the team won the World Series.  And, like all chronic Cubs fans, I’ll cheer and root through another disappointing season, which 2014 is turning out to be.

(As of this writing, the Cubs are in last place with a 2-5 record; but they are ahead of the Pirates at the moment.)

WrigleyShould the Ricketts family secure the funding they need to rebuild Wrigley, with my $5 included, I would be an ideal fan/investor/counselor to handle communications for the renovation work.  Most of my PR career was representing real estate concerns or associations, I’ve been to the park hundreds of times since the mid 1960s and I have handled a crisis or two.

For credibility, I’ll wear my vintage 1984 Cubs cap and APR  pin during gatherings with the media.  Could any big shot investor bring that kind of credibility?

So what do you say, Mr. Ricketts?  Do we have a deal?  Tell you what: I’ll up the ante to the amount below.

$10.

What else has the PRDude had to say about the Cubs?  Here are two posts.

A PR Game Plan from 2010 and a post from last year on a concerted “public relations push.

Another Perspective on the Chicago Cubs’ “Public Relations Push”

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

Headlines that include “public relations” or “PR” usually grab my attention. When the headline includes a reference to public relations and the Chicago Cubs, it’s like someone grabbed me by the lapels and said, “Read, then offer some insight.”

That brings us to today’s post.  In the May 15 issue of The Chicago Tribune — which I read “old school” or in print form — I was drawn to a sidebar piece that referenced public relations.  The sidebar accompanied a larger story, part  of the newspaper’s ongoing coverage of efforts by the billionaire Ricketts family to raise money for two iconic assets: The Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team, and the place they play baseball, the nearly century-old Wrigley Field.

An artist's rendering of proposed renovations to the venerable Wrigley Field.

An artist’s rendering of proposed renovations to the venerable Wrigley Field.

Back in 2010, the Ricketts were hoping to use state funds to help pay for $300 million in renovations to the Friendly Confines.   That development sparked another so-called “public relations” effort, one The PRDude chronicled in this post.

These days, the Ricketts are pushing for plans to fix up the old ballpark in large part by getting approval for much more advertising signage, a proposal that owners of nearby rooftop adult playgrounds claim is the same as a bean ball to their revenue streams.  Read more in this Trib article.

But it was the sidebar, the one with “PR effort” in the headline, that has prompted this discussion.

restore-wrigleyThe piece, written by business reporter Ameet Sachdev, states: “The Cubs have stepped up a public relations campaign to build support for Wrigley Field renovations …”   The renovations are need to preserve the venerable park and modernize it. The plan includes an online petition on this web site where fans (or anyone with a computer, I guess) can endorse renovation plans that will be realized by revenue from increased signage, as well as more night games and a 6,000 square-foot video screen.  The Cubs also enlisted “a consulting firm” (not identified) to conduct research from area residents to gauge their support for proposed renovations.

On the surface, I applaud the Ricketts family for the petition program, for initiating a survey and for hiring communications consultants.  This falls under primary research, and solid research drives all effective public relations programs — or any initiative that starts with a sound strategy.

But let’s not lose sight of what’s really happening here:  The Ricketts family made its fortune through smart business decisions.  A crumbling ball park with outdated amenities can only attract fans — even Cub fans — for so much longer.  The team is employing public relations strategies and tactics to help build awareness and acceptance for the need to get approval for its revenue-generating proposals.

Do you really think they’re number 1 goal is to preserve the league’s second oldest ballpark?  Or, to preserve the “Wrigley Field experience?”   I think it’s to make money.

There’s nothing wrong with making money.  And, there’s nothing wrong with employing sound, ethical public relations practices to realize that goal.

Reasons to be Cheerful, Parts 1, 2, 3 …

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

4, 5, 6.

And perhaps more reasons, many more.

As I continue with my next challenge — finding that next great job in public relations (and/or a similar communications position) — I decided to spend a few minutes on this glorious spring Sunday in Chicago taking stock of life as of today.

I was inspired by a song from the 1980s (remember that decade?) from a U.K. band called Ian Dury and The Blockheads.  The song in question is entitled Reasons to be Cheerful. It’s kind of a sing-song composition featuring a rapid-fire recitation by Mr. Dury of a few dozen, well, reasons to be cheerful.  One could make an argument that Mr. Dury may have had some influence on the many forms of rap and hip hop, but that’s the subject for another day and time.

The late Ian Dury, British band leader, artist and cultural icon.

The late Ian Dury, British band leader, artist and cultural icon.

Mr. Dury, who fronted the band, certainly lived life on his own terms.  This is illustrated by the image that accompanies this post.  The Blockheads are probably best known for a tune — Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll — that encapsulated reasons lots of people were cheerful in the 1980s, and probably are still today.

(NOTE: The PRDude is not endorsing or offering any commentary on sex, drugs or rock and roll at this time.  Remember: This is a blog about public relations and “other stuff.”)

Back to reasons to be cheerful, here are some to share:

1. Support from Friends: Since I began my current search for a new position, I’ve received dozens of messages and calls from old friends, new friends, online friends and family offering support and encouragement.

2. Project Work: In the past few weeks, I’ve landed some terrific writing assignments, including a major article on commercial real estate and assisting an organization develop and execute an effective social media strategy.

3. APR Training: Through my involvement with PRSA Chicago, I and a colleague are nurturing three local public relations colleagues on the process required to earn the Accreditation in Public Relations.  We’ve held four classes and our candidates are really grasping what strategic public relations is all about.

4. Blood Pressure Drop. With more time to focus on my future and relax, my blood pressure has dropped to a “normal” 120 over 80.  Plus, I’ve started to exercise more and cook healthy meals most nights for Susan and I.

5. New Web Site Project: You heard it here first:  I’m in the process of launching a new web site that will let me pursue two of my passions: Online communications and enjoying a particular beverage that will remain nameless at the moment. Work is underway, and I’m projecting a late June unveiling. Stay tuned.

6. The Future: I’m optimistic about my future, the future of my city and our nation’s future. (As for my beloved Chicago Cubs, I’d say “wait until next year AND the year after that.”)  The Labor Department just released a favorable jobs report. While Chicago still has many problems, I think we’re becoming more aware of ways to solve them.  And, I sense that the President and Congress are ignoring the extremist views from both the right and left and want to meet on common ground.

I could add more, but six is plenty for now.

As for reasons not to be cheerful, I can’t think of any. How about you?

A (Somewhat) Subtle Switch & Reflections on the Chicago Cubs True Leader

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka the PRDude

My loyal readers — you’re out there, aren’t you? — have probably wondered what happened to the PRDude.  No posts for weeks, none so far this month.  Did he run out of opinions and ideas? Did he just give up blogging? Did he abandon public relations?

The answers: No, no, and no.

There are two reasons why I’ve been remiss in adding posts to my blog:

  1. I’ve been busy with my “real” job. As chronicled in my October 17 post, I landed an outstanding new full-time position.  The past seven weeks have been enlightening and fulfilling, and to some extent challenging and exhausting — all in a good way.  I hit the ground running.  This left little time to conceive ideas and post them here.
  2. I found it’s really hard to develop and execute ideas based on my new theme, “The Lighter Side of Public Relations, Marketing & Communications.”  It ain’t easy trying to be funny.  My deepest respect to Mark Twain, who pioneered humorous prose, and more modern masters like the late Art Buchwald and P.J. O’Rourke, who have kept the craft alive and well.

The Classic Mark Twain -- Looking East.


The Pensive Art Buchwald.

The Jester, P.J. O'Rourke.

So, I’ve decided to augment the theme of this blog with “other stuff.”  Very obtuse, I know.  But I’ll try to offer perspectives on politics (can’t wait f0r the retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to start next year) and popular culture (there will always be Lady Gaga, the Situation and Real Housewives to tackle).

This is a fine segue into thoughts on the late Ron Santo, former Chicago Cubs legendary third baseman, radio baseball color commentator, perennial shutout from the Baseball Hall of Fame and champion for raising money and awareness for research into juvenile diabetes.

Ron Santo, Iconic Chicago Cubs Third Baseman, at Wrigley Field.

Mr. Santo died December 2 from cancer. But he battled diabetes and other health problems all his life with the same ferocity as an at bat against a mean hurler like Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson.  Sportswriters have offered lots of words on Santo as a player, broadcaster and human being. He’s been heralded for his outstanding statistics on the field of play, for playing pro ball for 15 years with diabetes, for his scrappy, combative at times attitude on and off the field, and for his heartfelt, if at times loony, commentary in the WGN-AM radio booth.
As a North Side Chicago kid and life-long Cubs fan, I followed Santo his entire career (except for his final season with the White Sox; but that’s another topic).  I have memories of rooting for Santo and the Cubs at games played only in sunshine at Wrigley Field during the 1960s, when 12,000 was a big crowd.
One thing stood out: Ron Santo was a leader.  In fact, he was the last true leader the Chicago Cubs have had between the baselines.
He was not afraid to stand down a fellow player, an umpire, the manager or an opposing pitcher.  And, as I’ve learned, from another perspective, Santo was the guy you wanted to watch your back.  Along with the Gold Gloves (five), batting average (.277), hits (2,254), homers (342) and RBIs (1,331), Ron Santo knew a team — like a company, a cause, a country — needs a leader, one who can make a decision and live with the consequences.
Santo was a character who had a lot of character.  Perhaps the keepers of the Baseball Hall of Fame will now finally recognize that and enshrine Santo in Cooperstown posthumously.  True, Santo never led the Chicago Cubs to the World Series, or even the post season.  But he won just about every day of his life.

PR Game Plan to Help Chicago Cubs

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka the PRDude

The headline from an article in today’s online Chicago Tribune was as resounding as a tape-measure home run:  “Cubs striking out in PR fight over Wrigley plan. ” For the record, the print edition of the Tribune featured a different headline for the same piece: “Cubs swinging away in Wrigley plan PR fight.”

Regardless, the news from both mediums is the same: The Chicago Cubs are embroiled in some kind of problem, and regardless of the nature of the problem, it somehow involves public relations.  As a loyal and life-long Cubs fan and public relations professional, I’d like to help.

On the surface, this entire scenario is strange because the 2011 Major League Baseball season is around six months away, and no one in the Cubs front office — as far as I know — is under indictment.  The only inebriated people staggering around the intersection of Clark and Addison these day are the denizens who frequent the many bars nearby; so the PR issue can’t be tied to a contest on the field, someone in the front office or overly zealous and overly served baseball fans.

Upon reading the piece, I learned the fully story. The issue  is tied to what makes the world go round. And, that, of course is money.

Here’s what’s going on: The new owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family, are asking for a loan from the state of Illinois to pay for some  improvements to the venerable Wrigley Field. These improvement include making sure what was once known as the Upper Deck (now billed and sold as Upper Level and Terrace Reserved) does not come crashing down on those sitting the Field Box seats.  Actually, they’re asking for a lot of money — $300 million in the form of bonds from the State of Illinois — to complete proposed renovations.

The near-century-old ballpark needs renovations that will cost an estimated $300 million.

Terms of the bond proposal are the stuff only guys in gray suits can decipher, but the owners want to repay the bonds through future amusement tax revenues paid by Cub fans who purchase tickets . And, one more thing: They’re seeking money from a state that is facing a $14 billion budget crisis.

As the Tribune reports: “The team’s proposal is complicated, and that’s part of Ricketts’ public-relations problem.”  Excuse me, but I think this really is more of a financial problem.

But as the PRDude, a Cub fan who saw Ernie Bank play and remember ticket prices of 90 cents — yes, 90 cents — in the bleachers, I’m here to offer effective public relations counsel.  Here are two definitive, attainable objectives with the goal of keeping the Cubs financially viable until they win a World Series or Chicago elects a Republican mayor:

1. Increase awareness by 50 percent by year-end 2011 among season ticket holders that the price of their treasured seats will continue to escalate for the foreseeable future.

2. Increase acceptance by 100 percent among all baseball fans from the 2011 season until the Cubs win a World Series that every trip to Wrigley Field is an historic event:  Witnessing the athletic competition of the professional sports franchise with the longest consecutive streak of not winning the ultimate championship.

Best of success to the Ricketts family in their quest to secure the funding needed to keep Wrigley Field open for another generation or two of fans who continue to have faith that “this year will be the year.”  Or, maybe next year. Providing of course, the old Upper Deck stay where it’s suppose to be.

Here’s a PR-Related Story With Some Teeth in It

Local headlines the past few months in Chicago have been dominated by some pretty disturbing, and often plain bleak, news.

Kids skipping rope on the sidewalk in front of their home were shot and one killed in a drive by gang-related shooting.  The August 24 housing sales report from the National Association of Realtors revealed that existing home sales plummeted across the nation last month; in Chicago, sales fell by 25.1 percent in July, which put a damper on relatively robust sales activity during the first half of 2010.  And, of course, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was convicted on one of 24 felony counts in Federal Court; he plans to appeal the conviction, and federal prosecutors plan to retry him.

But this week, we were treated to some good news.  The story lead the evening television news reports and even generated a fine editorial in the Chicago Tribune.

The story?  A three-foot-long alligator that apparently had been dumped by its owner into the Chicago River was finally captured unharmed.  The gator, obviously not a native species to these parts, will be kept under observation here for a few months, then released where it belongs — in a Florida swamp.

For a few days, Chicagoans watched as a volunteer from the Chicago Herptological Society paddled his canoe along the river near Belmont Avenue in search of the elusive lizard.  The volunteer would only describe himself as “Alligator Bob.”  He reportedly shied away from the limelight to protect his privacy;  too many people, he said, would seek him out to extract renegade gators abandoned in area ponds and rivers.

“I’m a volunteer,” Bob said.  His intention is to capture big lizards so they can be relocated, not generate more headlines and exposure.

From a pure publicity or press agentry perspective, Alligator Bob just walked away from some potentially lucrative opportunities.  Think about it:  This guy has success in extracting slimy creatures that crawl around in the shadows.  Based on Chicago history, there are a lot of creatures around here that fit that description; and, many wear nice suits and work close to the Chicago River.

But enough political satire and sarcasm.

I’m impressed that Alligator Bob eschewed potential to build awareness for himself during his humble and diligent efforts to save a poor gator that surely would have died once fall and cold weather arrive in the next several weeks.   Lessor men or women would have hired a battery of public relations and marketing professionals to secure appearances on TV and radio and build the Alligator Bob brand.  Imagine him on “Oprah” and the made-for-TV-move rights.

This guy just wants to help alligators.  Compare his actions, his character and his conviction to others who have been in the news lately, and I find Alligator Bob to be a true hero.   An example: Former Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa complained that the team “disrespected” him by letting other players wear his jersey number — 21.  Right.  A showboat player embroiled in the steroids mess who walked out on his teammates the final game of the 2004 season. And, he was found using a corked bat.

For the record, Sosa did hit a lot of home runs, and he’s the only player in history to have three 60-plus homer seasons.  But were they all “legal” roundtrippers?

I can say this with a lot of confidence:  Alligator Bob netted our rogue gator using just a regular net.   And, when the job was done, he packed up his canoe, minus the fanfare.

Snapdragons in November, Part IV

What’s a sure sign of spring?  The start of the baseball season.

Today is opening day for Major League Baseball and my beloved Chicago Cubs are already taking it on the chin in Atlanta.   As any baseball fan knows, the Cubs have had their share of public relations nightmares, due in large part to a century and a year drought in winning the World Series.  Ah, but maybe this year.

Regardless, despite the absence of winning the big one, inept play on the field, boneheaded front office decisions and some purported curse caused by a goat, the Cubs remain one of the best brands in all sports.  Sold out crowds at Wrigley Field and lucrative TV contracts attest to that.   Hey, I’d take a public relations job with the Cubs, if for the sake of getting into the ballpark to see a game now and then.

But, for you loyal readers, enough talk of the Cubs.  Here’s the fourth and final installment in my work of fiction, “Snapdragons in November.” Thanks to all who’ve read it; I’d welcome any comments.

The door opened and he could smell the cleansing rain for a moment. A couple, mid-twenties, somewhat reserved and looking slightly rumpled in their torn dark denims and faded leather jackets, took seats to his right. They studied the food menu – burgers, sandwiches and wings, mainly — for what was a long time and scanned the chalkboard that listed the dozens of beers available. He tried to listen to their conversation and heard the guy offer thoughts as why the pale ale was a better choice than the kolsch. The girl, almost pretty in a gaunt way, listened intently.  For some reason, he liked these two. They probably are artists, or want to be artists, but have to work at some crap retail job to afford a one-bedroom flat in one of the buildings that line this once working-class neighborhood on the upswing.  They had conviction, even in ordering a beer and food from a bar menu.

He wanted to talk to them, and find out more about their lives and what brought them together and to Wellington’s on that early Sunday evening in late fall.  He wondered: What will their conversation be about a year, five years from now? Will they find a common bond built upon something so everyday like what kind of beer to drink?  He sort of envied them. Together, life was unfolding and could take any direction they pursued.

Finishing his fifth Metropolitan, he gestured to Sam for a check. “Hey good lookin’. What’s the damage today?” he asked. “It’s time I started dinner. Otherwise I might get to like this place and stay here all night.”

“Don’t wear out your welcome,” she said. “You could walk out of here for sixteen.”

“I always knew you were a cheap date,” he said, leaving a $20 bill and some singles on the bar. “When’s your swan song shift?”

“Oh, you mean when’s my last shift here?”
“Uh huh.”

“Next Sunday.”

“Well, I’ll plan on being here and plan on being thirsty.”

“It’ll be a little emotional, you know?  I’ve been in Chicago for four years, and I’ve been here three years. Tried to make it work here, but I’ve got to put down new roots where I think they’ll have a better chance to grow. Sometimes, you gotta take that first new step.”

“And, I’m ready to step out and navigate my way home. Goodbye for now, California girl. You ain’t seen the last of me,” he said, pushing open the heavy door.

Damn the rain, he thought, walking at a deliberate pace home. Like the old lady said, it washes the bad crap away.  So what if he got wet.  So what if he stayed at Wellington’s longer than he planned.  So what if dinner would be ready a little later.  So what.

He knew she was not home when he unlocked the back door.  The lights were off and the shades were not drawn. The house was dark inside save for the yellow glow from the street lights. It looked warm, welcoming.  And there, on the kitchen counter, were the snapdragons.  She neatly pruned away the nearly dead leaves and blossoms to create a small beautiful monument to the end of a long, long season.  Little bursts of color in a vase against the black counter top.

There was no note, but he knew where she went, off to buy her milk and probably lots more stuff they didn’t need.  Her unpredictable spirit.  That’s part of what defined her, part of what made him fall in love those seemingly simple years and years ago.  There was goodness in her soul, and perhaps he was too inflexible to recognize this.  Perhaps he had better reap whatever good things – big and small – he could gather.

Keeping his wet jacket on, he went back outside in the rain to wait for her to return. He would inspect every car that drove up their street, toward the home they built together, and hope the next car would be her’s. He would rush to help her carry the groceries they didn’t need. He didn’t care how long he had to stand in the rain.

The End