Hey Chicago Tribune: Let’s Clarify What Defines a “PR Nightmare”

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

Or on second thought, perhaps the subject of this post should be: “Hey Chicago Tribune: Please Comprehend the Difference Between Public Relations and Media Exposure Generated by News Reports of Bad Things Happening to People, Companies or Brands.”

Chicago_Tribune_LogoWell, this alternative is a trifle wordy and probably would not rank too well with the search engines. So, I’ll stick to the title above.

Here’s the crux behind today’s commentary: The lead story of the Sunday, December 27, Chicago Tribune Business section centered on news from 2015 that led to negative publicity for some of the largest and most recognizable companies and individuals in America.

The story headline: “2015’s PR Nightmares.”

I beg to differ.  The 12 examples cited chronicles news reports of bad things that happened to businesses and people, not examples of poor execution of strategies or tactics by public relations counsel during a crisis or disruption of business.

PR NighmareYou’re probably familiar with stories cited: Findings that Volkswagen engineers developed software to cheat emission standards, the arrest of longtime Subway spokesperson Jared Fogel on child pornography charges, reports of an unsavory work environment at online retail giant Amazon, and the nine others.

Note: Three of the 12 examples put the spotlight on Chicago — Blackhawks star Patrick Kane (who was embroiled in rape allegations), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, (who’s facing continued scrutiny resulting from the Laquan McDonald shooting by police) and Wrigley Field (where promised facility improvements were not delivered on opening day).

Yes, these stories caused significant damage to reputations and possibly changed perceptions. But they were not the result of lousy public relations work, which is how many readers might interpret the article. From another perspective, effective public relations counsel could not prevent — in most cases — these “nightmares” from happening.

(An aside: One of the year’s “dirty PR dozen” examples is Martin Shkreli, the recently arrested pharmaceutical executive featured in this PRDude post from September 29 on the practice of doxing.)

It should be pointed out that the introduction to the Tribune article, written by Greg Trotter, states “there were some clear winners and losers among the worst PR disasters of 2015.” I’ll interpret that as meaning strategists were successful on some occasions on helping to mitigate the fallout of a crisis.

Another point of contention centers on the research used to compile this “survey of the worst of the worst in this year’s brand name fails,” as stated in the article sub headline.

The chief source for Mr. Trotter’s report was Tim Caulkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  I’m not questioning Professor Caulkins’ credentials, but perhaps an academic professional who teaches public relations would have been a better choice. And, it would have been prudent to seek more than one opinion in order to have a true “survey.”

Finally, throughout the article (and in the headline), “public relations” is not mentioned, only “PR.” Shouldn’t a formal reference be made to the practice before using the abbreviation? I think so.

Public relations and marketing are both communications disciplines — but they clearly are different.  Please click on the respective links to learn the difference.

Finally some disclosures:

  1. We subscribe to the daily delivery of the Chicago Tribune print edition, and I relish my time reading the city’s broadsheet.
  2. I could not find a link on the newspaper’s website to the “PR Nightmare” article, so I included a link obtained through my subscription.

There. I feel better and will sleep well tonight. Not anticipating any nightmares — PR or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chilling With PR Peers: Skyline Awards & DePaul Graduate Showcase

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

Last week culminated in two outstanding events that featured some of the smartest, most engaging and fascinating people I know (or got to know).  At both events, I refreshed relationships with old colleagues and nurtured relationships with new ones.

I’m referring, as you may ascertain, to gatherings of fellow public relations professionals.

The similarities continue.

Both were held in cool venues, both had excellent food and beverage and both reinforced to me something about public relations and those of us who are in this business.  Want to know more?

Here are capsulized reports.

PRSA Chicago 2014 Skyline Awards.

The evening of Tuesday June 10 was a rainy one in Chicago. But that didn’t damper the enthusiasm of the more than 250 attendees at this annual awards gala and dinner. From the Grand Army of the Republic hall at the historic Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago PR community met to recognize excellence, network and socialize. prsa chicago

My big takeaway: Collectively, PR professionals know how to work together and execute a tremendous event driven by volunteer time, energy and spirit.  (As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I played a small role in the event: I provided music for the Cocktail Hour.  No, not me on guitar and vocals, but cool modern and traditional jazz via CDs.)  A round of applause to all who made the evening a success, especially event co-chairs Lauren Brush and Sarah Siewert, who worked very hard and speaking of cool, were just that under pressure — even during those last minutes before the crowds arrived.

DePaul University Graduate e-Portfolio Showcase.

DePaulTwo days later, I was honored to attend the Graduate e-Portfolio Showcase sponsored by the DePaul University College of Communication.  Held on the rooftop deck of a vintage building that once housed a department store on State Street, the event provided an opportunity for 19 graduate students from the University’s Public Relations and Advertising program to present their creative work and projects in an informal setting to senior PR professionals.   For the record, I would have attended even if the agenda did not include hors d’oeuvres and an open bar because the invitation to participate came from Ron Culp, professional director of the program and a titan in Chicago’s public relations community.  (Full disclosure: Ron has re-posted a few PRDude blogs on his awesome Culpwrit blog, an outstanding resource for PR careers.)

My big takeaway: As a guest, I was invited to meet with the graduates and view their online portfolios. Clearly, by the talent and work presented, academic institutions are developing people who clearly are ready to lead the communications industry in the future.  I met with eight young professionals who demonstrated the knowledge, skills and abilities demanded to excel and sculpt communications programs in our digitally-driven world.  Frankly, I’m glad I won’t have to compete with these men and women in the future.  Wish I had time to meet them all.

Tomorr0w, I’ll join Chapter Board members for a rare afternoon meeting. APR 50thI’ll learn about how well the Chapter did financially from the Skyline Awards, hear reports from committees and provide an update on the training program I’m leading to help members earn the Accredited in Public Relations credential.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I really enjoy the public relations profession and the people who are part of it.

 

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.

 

 

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:

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?

A Few Things I Will Miss Doing Each Morning Since …

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

This summer has been delightful here in Chicago, especially from a weather perspective.  That makes for ideal conditions to take advantage of all things relaxing and outdoors.

These past few weeks, I’ve started my day on the front porch, lounging on the wicker furniture Susan restored.  I leisurely enjoy my coffee and can read as many articles as I want from the Chicago Tribune, which we still have delivered.

Here's a street in Avondale. It's not the street I live on, but it's representative of our neighborhood.

Here’s a street in Avondale. It’s not the street I live on, but it’s representative of our neighborhood.

I’m accompanied by birds — cardinals, robins and sparrows — and am serenaded by their calls.  The morning sun, filtered by the linden trees to the east, is warm and inviting.  From our front porch, I greet neighbors — retired folks like Joanne, long-standing friends like Bree, Hispanic kids, hipsters sporting tattoos and straw fedoras — heading to work, off to school or walking their dogs.

In essence, I see the neighborhood come alive; it’s peaceful and tranquil, and a reflection of how Avondale has evolved from one sometimes plagued by gang punks, loud cars and graffiti to one of tolerance, quiet and normalcy.

This is the view from outside the office building where I now work. Can you guess where it is?

This is the view from outside the office building where I now work. Can you guess where it is?

Well, my cherished morning routine is over.  Now, I’ve joined my neighbors. I now have someplace to go.  I landed a new full-time position.

Thrilled to be back in another great public relations position? Without question.  Excited about the challenges ahead?  Bring them on. Looking forward to continue growing and learning?  As my friends from Wisconsin would say, “You betcha!”

To those who offered support during my search, sincere thanks.  (A special shout out to my friends at PRSA Chicago for the opportunity to stay active in the profession through my volunteer work coaching APR candidates.)  To those who are searching for the next career opportunity, I offer this advice:

  • Always preserve your integrity.
  • Always remember you have value in today’s job market.

And, as for my coffee-and-newspaper routine: There’s still Saturday and Sunday, and there’s half of summer left.

Remembering the Reinvention of The Tribune Comany

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

Shortly after this blog was launched, The PRDude had the honor of attending a reception hosted high above the Chicago city streets  in a tower where for decades great men and women sought the truth and then shared that information through the earliest form of mass communication — the newspaper.

That September gathering was held on the outdoor patio at the top of the iconic Tribune Tower.

That September gathering was held on the outdoor patio at the top of the iconic Tribune Tower.

As reported in this post from September of 2009, I learned about the “reinvention” as I called it of the storied Tribune Company, producer of The Chicago Tribuneits namesake daily newspaper — as well as other major market dailies, television and radio stations and other communications companies.   The event was sponsored by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and held in the upper floor outdoor patio at the Tribune Tower, 435 North Michigan Avenue, an address every public relations professional from Chicago should know by heart.

At the time, the Tribune Company was going through a reorganization after being taken over in a complex leveraged buyout led by a very famous real estate tycoon from Chicago named Sam Zell.  The Tribune executives at that September event offered a fresh perspective on what was to come, how the company would embrace digital communications and be relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Well, the company filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy around a year later.  That stuff happens when any type of corporation changes hands, I guess.  (I’ll let analyzing multi-billion-dollar corporate sales to some other blogger, maybe someone called The FinanceDude.  Actually, there is a FinanceDude blogger. No relation.)

What’s prompting this post are some revelations stemming from what unfolded since that warm evening in September some three years ago.  Starting on Sunday January 13, the Chicago Tribune has published an outstanding series that chronicles its proposed “reinvention.”  As a print subscriber, I read the first three reports the old fashioned way:  In the broadsheet edition that gets delivered to our home each day.

The January 15 story, written by Steve Mills and Michael Oneal, addressed the new “corporate culture” ushered in by Mr. Zell and those he brought in to run various Tribune

Were these guys running the "reinvented" Tribune Company?

Were these guys running the “reinvented” Tribune Company?

divisions. It includes several passages that startled me.  One states that a “news release” distributed to announce the head of the Tribune Interactive Division listed these credentials, among others:

  • “president of buying crap” at eBay.
  • “senior executive vice president of technology and stuff” at Microsoft.

Yes, it sounds like the guys from the Delta frat in the “Animal House” film were running the company, not businessmen. Read the full piece to get a better perspective of the alleged nonsense that took place.  As an ethical public relations professional, I’m insulted that this kind of juvenile garbage was distributed as a personnel news announcement.  As a former journalist and long-time subscriber and reader of The Chicago Tribune, I’m thrilled the editors decided to publish such a compelling and necessary series. As someone who embraces open communications, I hope lessons learned from the Tribune Company sale debacle will prompt others to follow a different path.