Now, Thoughts from a Real Chicago Guy on CNN’s “Chicagoland” Series

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

Those who get paid to comment have had their say.  Now, it’s my turn.

The topic: The controversial CNN series “Chicagoland,” an eight-part documentary of sorts about my home town.  Although with eight installments, “documentary” probably is a misnomer.  Perhaps “real-life urban mini-series” is more accurate.

chicagoland.twoIn the days before an after the debut episode March 6, the program generated the expected flurry of commentary.  After watching “Chicagoland” last week, I shut the TV off with these four thoughts in mind.

The Politics. Unquestionably, Chicago is known for politics, and with good reason. It’s well documented that for decades our elected officials have elevated politics to a high art.   From the onset, the first installment of “Chicagoland” centered on politics as it relates to two of our biggest problems:  Violent, often gang-driven crime in some neighborhoods and a financially strapped, under-performing public school system.  These two subjects were explored in footage featuring Mayor Rham Emanuel, Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy and a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger High School.  There was high drama, and there were poignant moments last Thursday; but I seriously question why the initial episode of “Chicagoland” focused so heavily on two topics and three people.  This set a tone of helplessness and despair.

The Problems.  Problems, Chicago has them, certainly, as depicted in Episode 1.  Headline-grabbing crime and a broken education system assuredly rank way too high on the scale.  But there was no mention in the first episode of the kind of problems that don’t make for combustible television and commentary.  Underfunded pensions, soaring taxes, gridlock-at-times traffic, the continued erosion of some outlying neighborhoods, out-of-control open-air drug markets — these and other issues plague Chicago .  Perhaps these will be covered later in the series, as they should, along with what’s being done to make things right.cnn-logo

The Good Stuff.  Politics and problems aside, a lot of good is taking place in Chicago. There’s tangible, big-picture stuff like a flurry of new downtown developments and revitalization — okay, gentrification — of some neighborhoods.  A new manufacturing sector — driven by technology — has emerged.  Cultural amenities and restaurants — and some professional sports franchises — are world class.  Like the other problems the city faces, maybe the producers of “Chicagoland” will address these later.

The Name. Reportedly, the name “Chicagoland” was coined by the legendary Col. Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago TribuneTo me, it’s a silly title.  This metropolitan region has a lot of entertaining and attractive attributes.  But let’s leave the “land” monikers to all things Disney.  Besides, I never heard anyone from Chicago refer to the city or the region as “Chicagoland,” except in TV commercials hawking carpeting.

Clearly, the 60 minutes of “Chicagoland” Episode 1 got me and a lot of other people to take notice.  I plan to watch tomorrow’s installment, and perhaps I’ll have four more thoughts.

Here are some other thoughts from the PRDude on Chicago and politics:

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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.

Hey PRSA: Here’s What I’d Do to Advance The Profession

By Edward M. Bury, APR

Rains and wind pummeled much of Chicago Sunday, stripping away the fall colors from many trees here in my neighborhood.  The middle of October kind of signals the start of the end of the growing season around here.

Looking North on the 2900 block of North Whipple Street — before the fall.

For example: The scene adjacent to this image — taken just a week ago — shows trees in full fall display. It doesn’t look like that now around here, and probably in lots of other places.

And, that’s okay, because that’s what’s supposed to happen.  Things change.  It’s part of the “natural order of things,” you know.

This may be mixing metaphors, but something similar took place on the other side of the continent from here.  At the 2012 Assembly  of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) held in San Francisco, a slate of candidates was nominated (and I trust later elected) to serve the interests of the 20,000-plus members of the Society.  They’ll be entrusted with guiding the Society and replace other leaders who served admirably the year before.

For the record, I know some of these folks personally, having worked with them on the Universal Accreditation Board.   I’m confident they’ll do a fine job, and I maintain that men and women who volunteer and are elected to national office for the public relations profession probably do so for three key reasons:

1.  They believe in the mission of PRSA, which is to “Advance the Profession and the Professional.”

2. They gain value in serving the Society and working with top-level professionals from across the nation.

3. It’s cool to tell colleagues you’re part of the PRSA national hierarchy.
Okay, just kidding about the last one, although there may be some truth there.  Back to reality.  I applaud the incoming national leaders and wish them much success in 2013.  If any of the new officers read this post, please accept my congratulations.  And, when you have the time, please consider these suggestions on how to Advance the Profession.

Stress Ethical Practices.  There’s no place in modern public relations for stretching ethical guidelines.  It doesn’t matter if  it’s a colossal ethical campaign blunder committed by a national firm or poor judgment from a sole practitioner, this nonsense has to stop if public relations is expected to be respected in the C-Suite or on Main Street.  Last month, PRSA held Ethics Awareness Month.  Those uncertain of how ethics applies to public relations should learn.  Now.

Continue to Define What We Do. For some reason, the world does not comprehend the difference between public relations and other types of communications.  In March, PRSA used crowdsourcing to engage professionals to define public relations.  I wholeheartedly agree with the definition, and I do my best to promote it.  The one word within that drives it home: Strategic.  Without a program strategy, we’re delegated to be the people who blow up balloons at parties.

Drive Home the Value of Accreditation.  In the “full disclosure” department, I served on the UAB for six years and have been passionate about promoting the merits of earning the Accreditation in Public relations credential.  The credential has been under fire, probably since it was founded.  But in a profession without licensing, it’s one tangible way to identify a professional who has demonstrated at least competency in the fundamentals necessary in modern public relations.

So, here’s a virtual toast to the 2013 PRSA Leadership Team.  If you could share thoughts on how to improve the profession, what would they be?

A Sort of Homecoming*, or Yes, You Can Go Home Again

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

First, in the spirit of ethical public relations, let me disclose this: The first part of the title of this post* was borrowed directly from a U2 song of the same name.  It’s a track from the the Irish quartet’s fourth album, An Unforgettable Fire. This atmospheric body of song was the first step in U2’s unwavering decision to explore and tread in new musical waters.  Plus, view the video: It’s probably the last time you’ll see Bono with a mullet and sans sunglasses; also, The Edge still played that cool Gibson Explorer guitar and did not yet take up the ski cap he wears all the time these days.

Enough.  Except that I witnessed U2 during the War tour and was enthralled by their energy, creativity and sincerity.

Celebrating another year with a pint of Staropramen, a great Czech pilsner, at the Chipp Inn.

A few days ago, The PRDude celebrated a birthday.  It was a quiet, unspectacular affair, just Susan and I enjoying a quiet dinner and nightcap.  But the location was very special.  We opted for a hip new “American bistro” called Branch 27.  It’s located in a neighborhood of Chicago called West Town, and it’s the place I spent the first 19 years of my life.

This is the home where I spent the first 19 years of my life. It’s one of the few “vintage” houses still left on the 1300 block of West Walton Street.

Yes, the meal was delicious and the conversation wonderful. But what stood out to me was how the old neighborhood that so much sculpted the person I’ve become had evolved from a place where so many of us want to get away from to one that attracts those who now call Chicago home.

From our table, overlooking the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Noble Street, I saw some of the familiar: The #66 Chicago Avenue bus, people swimming at the Ida Crown Natatorium in Eckhart Park and Hispanic families with kids in tow.  I rode the #66 bus many times, swam in the pool at Eckhart Park on hot days and had many Hispanic kids as friends and classmates.

After dinner, we strolled west a few blocks on Chicago Avenue to get a better perspective on the unfamiliar. The shops that housed Jewish-run department stores, butcher shops (with sawdust on the floors), stores that sold live poultry and a liquor store run by a Polish guy named Casey Koleta were gone. In their place were wine shops, a restaurant named after an heirloom tomato, a nightclub that doubled as a beauty shop and, you guessed it, more restaurants.

But Holy Innocents parish, one of the predominantly Polish churches that defined the neighborhood for generations, is still there.  The big Romanesque Revival bell towers dominate the horizon south of Chicago Avenue, and I trust on Sundays mass is said in Polish and Spanish.

The Chipp Inn, looks pretty much the same after all those years. But the beer selection is better.

Another constant from that “bygone” era was The Chipp Inn.  There on the corner of Greenview Avenue and Fry Street, the small working-class bar looked pretty much the same as when me and my buddies would hang out there in the late 1970s, drinking Old Style and other mass-produced beers that sold for around a buck a can. (They have a much bigger beer selection now, including the excellent Staropramen from Czech Republic on tap.)

It was a time when West Town still was the home of some  Poles, Ukranians and other people of Eastern European heritage; it was those people — factory workers and foundry workers, like my late father — who settled West Town and helped build Chicago.  Many never “got out,” like my family did to find safer, greener streets.

We now live around three miles from West Town, in a neighborhood called Avondale.  (Read my “travelogue” about our sister neighborhood, Logan Square.)  It’s a fine, relatively leafy place that, like West Town, had its struggles but has turned the proverbial corner.

Growing up, West Town was not always a pretty place.  There were gangs, drugs and advancing urban decay.  But somehow, the old neighborhood survived and is home to new Chicagoans and their children, to new entrepreneurs and to new ideas.  Unlike some parts of Chicago, West Town is still somewhat intact. Hey, there’s even a chamber of commerce.
In the weeks to come, I think I’ll have more “homecomings.” I’d like to think that in some miniscule way, me and many others who were born and raised in a place like West Town contributed to its evolution. Have you had a similar homecoming?  Please share your story.

A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs

Some people are born entrepreneurs, and some are made. Let me explain.

Across from our home, a classic neighborhood corner store — like the thousands that once anchored neighborhoods throughout Chicago and elsewhere — is now open after being shuttered a year ago. Our neighbor now operates the establishment, having held a “soft” opening last week. A “grand” opening is planned for November. Our neighbor has been through this before. She operated a successful breakfast/lunch restaurant for almost six years, with some catering jobs on the side. Fourteen hour days and the economy prompted her to shut the doors and seek a new way to earn a living. Opening the store — literally across from her home — was a natural progression for this lady, who has been her own boss and tasted success as an entrepreneur.

Her life is now less complicated, and her commute reduced to a 30-second walk. She has devoted time, resources and lots of energy to the store. It’s a long-term commitment, an entrepreneurial endeavor. Her goal is to run a successful neighborhood grocery and offer customers fresh food options, not just pre-packaged food. It’s a great concept, and we wish her all the best.

(In fact, I’m donating my time gratis to help generate awareness.)

Switch gears to me. My goal is to secure another full-time position in public relations, a profession I take very seriously. I uphold ethical standards and provide sound counsel.

But until that tremendous job offer is made, I’ve reached out to contacts and generated others to take on project work. I really don’t want to be an entrepreneur. Being part of an in-place team appeals to me.

Entrepreneurs have to cope with incorporation, licenses, letterhead, etc. — stuff I don’t want to address. But, I’m being totally realistic: It more than likely will take a while — into 2010 — before a position is offered and I accept. Until then, I will continue to network, complete paid assignments, learn and progress.

I plan to be a reluctant entrepreneur for as short a time as possible.