What’s Hot in Chicago? The Weather and Elon Musk’s High Speed Airport Shuttle

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

What’s the hot topic of discussion around Chicago these days — besides the extreme heat this Father’s Day weekend?

Come on: Wouldn’t you want to ride in an electric vehicle that travels in a tube at 125-150 mph? Photo courtesy of the Boring Company.

Of course, it’s the recent announcement that billionaire entrepreneur and boundary-shattering businessman Elon Musk received approval from the City of Chicago to design, build and operate a high-speed underground transit network to shuttle people between O’Hare International Airport and the Loop.

The concept — small autonomous cars traveling at high speeds within a 17-mile tunnel — is revolutionary in the U.S.  The project would be managed by Mr. Musk’s Boring Company and privately funded, tremendous news for cash-challenged Chicago and the entire region.

But, like any bold concept that’s new, daring and unproven, there are detractors –many detractors in fact — who cite engineering challenges, the need to focus transportation development in other areas and the prospect that Chicago taxpayers will eventually have to pay for the project.

So in a laudable effort to help my city, I offer these three suggestions for Mr. Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to strategically communicate plans to build the proposed tunnel transit network.

Build a Coalition of Supporters.  The still-to-be-named network will add another transportation option for people — primarily business travelers — to get to and from O’Hare.  This new mode will have an impact on existing transit options — most notably the CTA Blue Line.  Mr. Musk would be wise to engage the CTA and other transit agencies, taxi and limo services, the ride share companies, metropolitan planning, neighborhood and civic organizations and the hospitality industry. Enlist their input, listen to their concerns. Make the entire public and private community a partner of sorts, rather than an obstacle.

Regularly Share Results of California Project. The Boring Company already is building tunnels under Los Angeles to help alleviate the maddening and chronic auto congestion and even extend existing transit lines.  Regularly communicate the status of this project taking place in another major U.S. metropolitan area — both its successes and stumbling blocks. Do not try to sidestep or hide mistakes because in this digital day and age results of a project of this caliber will get exposed.

Maintain Focus that Groundbreaking Projects Can Work. And, they’ve happened here — 125 years ago.  What I’m referring to is the original Ferris Wheel, which debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yes, an underground pod carrying a dozen and moving at around 125 miles per hour is a much different transportation mode than a 264-foot wheel that carried more than 2,000 passengers fro a pleasure journey.  Still, engineering experts in the late 19th century maintained that Mr. Ferris’ wheel was not feasible.  (Wonder: How many ferris wheels are in operation today?) Given the success of Tesla and Space X, two other transportation conglomerates, Mr. Musk should continue to point out he and his team can conceive and build the once unthinkable.

Now it’s your turn. As this project moves forward, what communications advice and strategic direction would you offer to the builder and the city?

Chicago’s heat wave is forecast to end Tuesday. The O’Hare to the Loop tunnel will remain a hot topic for a much, much longer time.

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What I Learned From Some Amazing 4th Graders

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

Sometimes one encounters an awakening in the most unexpected places. Recently, for me, it came during a visit to a Chicago magnet school where I interacted with a class of 4th grade students.

Amazing 4th grade students, I must point out.

The Walt Disney Magnet School was a lot different than the grammar school I attended.

Here’s some background.

The Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood was planning a program to teach students about industries that would yield employment opportunities in the future. One 4th grade class was addressing the job outlook in the transportation industry. The instructor, Morgan Stumbras, reached out to me at the university where I work and inquired if someone would be free to speak to the students.

I received permission to visit and deliver a short presentation. A scholarly, schooled transportation guy, I’m not. But after some four years leading transportation technology transfer initiatives, I felt confident I could share some relevant and valuable insight.

One concern I shared with Ms. Stumbras: Would the class be able to comprehend much of what I had to say about the work done by our research staff, the value of transportation in modern society, and recent transportation developments in Chicago and around the nation? Rest assured, she said: These kids rank in the 98 percentile.

She was right.

Shortly after I launched my PowerPoint presentation, hands shot up and the boys and girls posed poignant and at times provocative questions. Frankly, I was stunned at their collective interest, knowledge and inquisitiveness. One kid even gave an accurate definition of the so-called “last mile” leg of commute, a challenge society certainly needs to address.

If you need help with identification, that’s me in the red sweater.

They politely inquired about autonomous vehicles, the Divvy bike share program, the difference between freight and transit, the future of hover boards and transportation challenges facing Chicago.

A recent mobility success, the new Chicago 606 trail was of particular interest, and that discussion led to further conversation on the impact The 606 has made on gentrification in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The students sparked when I noted that the transportation industry will always need professionals like engineers to help design transportation networks in the years to come. “My mother is an engineer!” one girl noted enthusiastically. After a comment on safety, another girl pointed out that her mother said she used to ride in the front seat of automobiles as a child, something not done today.

I even gave a shout out about my Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, stressing how it keeps me committed to learning about modern public relations practices.

So, how was I awakened by the 32 kids comprising Ms. Stumbras’ class?

In light of all the challenges — transportation and many others — we face as a society today, there’s a generation ready to meet those challenges head-on, and win.

The 4th grade class at the Disney Magnet School made that quiet clear.

 

 

One Image, One Question: March 6, 2017

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

For nearly four years now, I’ve been somewhat of a “transit guy.” That is, I manage public affairs for a research unit that concentrates in four transportation clusters at the university where I work.

Rest assured friends: There were many, many more fellow Blue Line riders who were not shown in this image.

By leading communications for our center, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for the transit industry, the people who manage and plan transportation networks and what it takes in terms of resources and capital to keep systems operating safely, reliably and efficiently.

Which brings me to today’s topic: You guessed it, transportation.

From the image above, taken on my morning commute on the CTA Blue Line, it’s apparent that I had to share the car with many, many other commuters. (That’s o  ne reason why I hunker down in the operator’s compartment at the end of the car.)

And, to put it all in perspective: This image was taken around 8:15 a.m. at the Western Avenue station, meaning the train had five more stops before reaching Clark/Lake, the first station in the Loop.

As you could ascertain, by Western Avenue most likely every car on that run was fully packed, meaning lots of commuters down the line had to wait, and wait, and wait …

The overcrowding on Blue Line trains is not a new phenomenon these days. It’s being driven by societal factors — more mainly millennial-aged people eschewing auto ownership to take public transit — and a dramatic amount of new development along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in Chicago, as illustrated by a recent report from online site Curbed Chicago.

So, onto the question:

What can be done to alleviate or mitigate overcrowded conditions on the Blue Line?

Your thoughts are most welcome. Being a communicator, my first response would be to build awareness for other modes, like bus and ride share. And, perhaps those will evolve.

And, by the way, I work with some pretty smart transportation research professionals who probably have some thoughts of their own.

Strategist Carolyn Grisko Talks Transportation and Lots More

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

Yesterday, Chicago launched Loop Link, a bus rapid transit (BRT) service designed to move people more efficiently from the commuter train stations in the West Loop to Michigan Avenue a mile to the east. In the many months leading up to the launch, strategic communications were initiated to build awareness for the project and acceptance by stakeholders that included downtown property owners and, of course, Chicago Transit Authority bus riders.

That challenge was given to local communications firm Grisko, founded by former journalist and mayoral press secretary Carolyn Grisko. In this latest Q&A post, Carolyn share thoughts on managing communications for big government-driven transportation projects, recalls a memory from her time at City Hall and provides a perspective on a recent issue that has put the national spotlight on Chicago.

(Sidebar to Carolyn: Does one have to don resort wear to attend the 4:00 p.m. “Tiki time” gathering on Fridays?)

1. Like many now working in public relations (myself included), you began your career in the news business. Was there any single factor that inspired you to transition to public relations?

At WBEZ, I had variously served as political reporter, news director and program host.  Some reporters develop a lot of curiosity about how public policy decisions are really made, and I fell into that category. When I had the chance to work as deputy press secretary to Mayor Daley, I was able to scratch that itch.

Team Grisko CEO and Founder Carolyn Grisko.

Team Grisko CEO and Founder Carolyn Grisko.

2. Grisko has built an impressive client base in the public sector — transportation, education, public affairs, along with healthcare. What particular challenges do you and your team have to address in that segment of the profession?

Actually, our portfolio has always been pretty balanced with government, non-profit and corporate work. In government there is more process, there are more layers of approval. That’s neither wrong, nor surprising—it’s just a different pace. The work is often very rewarding, because you are able to tackle big civic issues and advocate for or explain policy changes that often have a huge impact on people—from expansion of the airfield at O’Hare, to branding the Loop Link—you get to have an impact in big public spaces. And the people you work with are often very committed and passionate about what they do. While we all want government to be watching our tax dollars and making sure they’re getting value, our administrative and account staff are amazed at the hoops we have to jump through. Government work involves a lot of forms. And slow payment—don’t take on government work if you cash flow isn’t strong.

3. Before launching Grisko, you were on the communications team for Mayor Richard M. Daley. What story could you share about your time in the administration that might make a good chapter for your autobiography?

Really, Ed? I still have to work in this town. I guess I can tell you that my kids were pretty young when I joined the Mayor’s Press Office, and I was caught between working long hours at a job I loved and feeling that I was short-changing them—still a familiar story for many women and families today. I ended up accepting a press position from another elected official, where I would have had more flexibility, fewer week-end hours, etc. When I met with the mayor to let him know why I was leaving, he kind of exploded. “What are you going to do over there? Nothing happens over there!” When I told him that was pretty much the point, he said, “Well, go find another position! Do you think everyone works that long and hard around here?” And by the end of the day, I had a promotion and an embarrassing conversation with Elected Official #2. Which I didn’t feel too badly about, because he had previously tried to lure away one of my employees. But that’s another story.

One thing I’ll add is that I really enjoyed the time I spent traveling around with the mayor to every neighborhood in the city, and I was always impressed with his understanding of Chicago’s communities— the challenges, the aldermen’s priorities, the community organizers and the state of the infrastructure.

Cool logo. Don't you think?

Cool logo. Don’t you think?

4. Okay, let’s lighten things up a little. Your online biography states that you like wine (and bourbon). Will Grisko make a pitch for to represent one of the fledgling local distilleries as PR counsel? Or how about a craft brewer? (Think about the beverages that would be offered at strategy sessions!)

We do a lot of things at Grisko besides public affairs and public relations, including marketing, branding and kick-ass creative work. But one thing we’re not is a consumer product agency—however, exceptions can be made for the right opportunity. And you’re invited for our 4:00 Tiki time on Fridays.

5. One thing I learned as a reporter: Always ask the interview subject if he or she has any concluding thoughts. Would welcome any from you on the future of public relations, the political climate in Chicago, or another topics that’s top-of-mind.

The focus on criminal justice and policing in Chicago is important and long overdue. Technology – camera phones, the internet – has brought these videos, and these issues into stark relief in a way that wasn’t possible before.  But it took independent journalist Brandon Smith to pursue release of the Laquan McDonald video in the courts, while more established news outlets gave up after denied FOIA’s. The internet has also weakened journalism, and that’s a real concern.

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Other leading Chicago PR stalwarts have been featured on this blog. Here are three.

  • Ron Culp, now teaching the next generation of public relations counselors at DePaul University.
  • Nick Kalm, leading Reputation Partners to continued success in Chicago and beyond.
  • Chris Ruys, staying active in public relations and making more time for pursuing art.