By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
In its essence, public relations is a communications discipline, right? In public relations, we communicate with a target audience to build awareness, acceptance and ultimately action for a product, cause or service.
For decades, Judi Schindler excelled in the public relations profession as founder/owner of a namesake boutique agency and stalwart businesswoman. A few years ago, Judi partially retired from public relations to pursue a different profession — acting. (Hey, actors also are communicators who interact with a target audience, but in a more controlled environment.)
Now for the disclosure: From 1988 to the early 1990s, I had the honor of working with Judi as a member of her account team. We developed and managed public relations programs for some leading Chicago real estate companies and great B2B clients. I learned a great deal about public relations, as well as new-business generation and account management.
What follows are Judi’s responses to questions sent via email.
1. You built your successful career and business in public relations, then transitioned to another field. (More on that in a moment.) What inspired you to initially pursue public relations as a career?
When I was a journalism student at the University of Illinois, I dreamed of being a police reporter so I could follow in the footsteps of my two role models: Lois Lane and Brenda Starr. It was not to be, however. The only job I could get was at Jobber Topics, “The Bible of the Automotive Aftermarket.” My job consisted primarily of rewriting press releases. Somewhere between the manifolds and ignition systems, I decided I’d rather write the press releases than rewrite them.
From there I had jobs with a public relations agency, a major fund raising campaign, a real estate developer and a small telecommunications firm. Eventually I turned the latter into a client and began building my firm, first as Schindler Public Relations, and later as Schindler Communications.
2. Digital communications, of course, has changed — forever — the way we communicate. Do you keep current on digital strategies and practices today?
Can anyone keep current? The landscape shifts every time Google changes its algorithm. In February, I resigned my last client, The GO Group, an international consortium of airport transportation companies. For the last several years, I oversaw their social media strategy as well as their pay-per-click campaign and web marketing. I had worked with this client for 10 years and with the Chicago partner company for more than 30 years. One of the reasons I resigned is that I didn’t feel I was bringing new technology driven tactics to the table.
Aside from technology, the underlying practice of public relations is unchanged. We use our client’s knowledge, experience and history to create content. How we deliver that content is the only thing that changed.
3. While you managed Schindler Communications, you also were a strong advocate for women in business. What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs today?
I still maintain my affiliation with the Chicago Area Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which I helped found. For the most part, I think today’s women entrepreneurs are more sophisticated that we were. While most of us started businesses as a means of self-employment, many of the women I meet today are starting companies as investments, hoping to build equity and sell out. I know several who could be called serial entrepreneurs. I would advise any women starting a business today is to find a supportive network of peers, like NAWBO. Women are extremely generous with each other and are a great resource.
4. Now to the question regarding your current career: How did your decades in public relations contribute to the skills and challenges required for success in your new career as an actress?
Running an agency taught me not to take rejection too seriously. Casting agents say the same thing as clients, “we decided to go in a different direction.”
I started taking acting classes after I merged my business with Sally Hodge (operating as Hodge Schindler for five years.) No longer the “boss,” I felt I needed another outlet, and acting was something I enjoyed as a kid. Classes eventually led to auditioning and doing plays. When I no longer worked full time, I got an agent. In the last several years I’ve done several plays, local commercials, voice-overs, short films, museum exhibits and one Onion video.
A few year ago, the entrepreneur in me took over and I decided to write a performance piece that could be delivered as entertainment at women’s groups, bridal showers and entertainment venues. Titled “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual,” it’s based on my 50-plus years of marriage. I explain how to select a husband and how to maintain him in good working order including such topics as warranties, exchanges and replacement parts.
I am currently working on the book of the same title.
5. Let’s finish up with some questions on the book. What inspired you to take on this project? And, has your husband, Jack, read it yet?
People who’ve seen the show have been encouraging me for years to turn it into a book. My original intention was to use the book as a way to monetize and promote the show. But it’s taken on a life of its own. Right now, it is in the hands of a designer who is creating fun, colorful pages that contribute to the humor and viewpoint of the text. I hope to go to press by the end of October and have copies by the end of November.
I am currently working on my PR/marketing plan for the book launch, which includes my blog, “The Toilet Seat Must Go Down,” where I answer such vital questions as “why men can’t find the pickles behind the mayonnaise.”
And to answer your question: No, Jack Schindler has never read the book or seen the performance, even though everyone tells him that it’s an homage. It does keep him on his toes, however. He’s afraid everything he says or does will turn into a new chapter.