The Value of Communications in Times of Emergency: Harvey and Irma

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

This image of Irma is somewhat surreal. A beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, yet what further devastation will be in the wake of this storm.

Outside today, it’s overcast and cool for early September in Chicago. The skies are not threatening, the winds placid.

Wish the same could be said for parts of the Caribbean and the state of Florida.

Okay, you know where this is going: Commentary on the massive Hurricane Irma as it approaches the continental United States and the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in late August.

Well, let’s let the experts, the pundits, the forecasters and the government officials provide analysis on subjects like:

  • The potential for lives lost and property destroyed.
  • The exact course of this latest Category 5 storm.
  • The exodus of people seeking safety via highways and air.
  • The analysis of how continued development along coastal areas will exacerbate damage from the storm.
  • And, the role of global warming in these storms and others to follow.

Here, I’ll share a thought on the value of communications — and those responsible for accurate, timely and ethical communications — in helping to mitigate what’s to follow from Irma when it reaches Florida later this weekend.

In researching this post, I googled “Hurricane Irma and public relations advice.”  Yes, the search yielded a lot, as there were more than 150,000 findings.

In reading some of the results, I found links to reports on how to prepare for the hurricane (from the Federal Trade Commission), travel insurance claims advice from a company called Squaremouth, and a USA Today article on how to prepare your smartphone for a catastrophe.

Of course, there were many more articles and links to websites offering direction and insight that perhaps has little value to the tens of thousands who may be displaced over the next few days.

Or suffer more substantial losses.

The point here: These messages were drafted and distributed by communicators — public relations consultants, marketing professionals, content experts. They were playing a role in disseminating potentially valuable information in a time of need.

These messages won’t stop the winds and the rain from making landfall. But in times like these, communications on how to lessen or avoid the impact of a potential tragedy do count.

Expect more hurricane-related communications to come, as Hurricane Jose  was building strength, becoming a Category 4 storm, in the Atlantic Ocean.  The good news: Forecasters predict Jose may head north and may not reach land.

Let’s hope.

* * *

As a true weather wonk, The PRDude has addressed weather and natural disasters before. Here are two posts:

 

 

 

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Could It Really Be 40 Years?

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

That’s not a misprint.

Yes, I’ve been part of the communications industry in Chicago for 40 years this month.

I’ll spare the melancholy and pathos about “where did all the time go?” Like everyone on this earth, I live and breathe 24 hours each day, arguably some days spent more productively than others.

So where did it all begin?

city-news-bureauIf memory serves me correctly, on one day in late February of 1977 I reported to the City News Bureau of Chicago for my first day as a reporter. The job meant covering homicides, assaults, thefts, fires and other bad stuff taking place in the city back then. Unfortunately, lots of bad stuff continues to happen here.

It was my first job after graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in English and minor in Journalism. I wanted to be a reporter — and now I was a reporter!

Couldn't find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

Couldn’t find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

My first day, I recall, was spent with a more seasoned journalist at the old 18th District Chicago Police Department station on West Chicago Avenue, where we followed up on pending investigations. We also did some reporting related to the aftermath of the horrible CTA elevated train wreck that took place February 4 of that year; 11 people were killed.

In the 14,600 days (give or take a few) since my introduction to the real world I’ve held a few other positions; well, actually quite a few other positions.

I left journalism in the early 1980s to pursue an in-house communications position with a community college, my first exposure to the public relations arena. Although I consider myself a newsman at heart and relished those opportunities to cover a breaking story, my path for the remainder of my professional career has centered on public relations.

And that’s where it will stay.

But perhaps not for another 40 years.

One Image, One Question: June 5, 2016

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

Like many around the world, I was saddened to learn of the passing Friday of Muhammad Ali — the greatest in a lot of ways.

This print, "Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston," hangs above our vintage radio-phonograph.

This print, “Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston,” hangs above our vintage radio-phonograph.

Yes, he was the boxing heavyweight world champ three times.  And, he was equally a champion in battling against injustice and for equality and human rights here in the United States and across the globe.

But what intrigues me to this day was Ali’s mastery of communication surrounding his boxing career and life outside the ring. Punctuated by poetry, driven by honesty and framed in braggadocio, Ali could drive home a message much more effectively and convincingly than most who were trained and scripted to do so. Then and especially today.

I’m not sure if Ali received any formal counsel from public relations professionals, but he clearly was in a class by himself when prompted  to share his thoughts, or speaking spontaneously, which of course happened a lot.

Now, onto today’s image and question.  The image at left shows a charcoal print titled, “Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston.” It’s from 1999, and it hangs in our living room above, appropriately enough, a vintage Grundig Majestic radio-phonograph.

The print is signed, but I can’t make out the name of the artist (Martin Ivy, perhaps); Google and eBay searches did not reveal any results. If you’re unsure of the symbolism, the work depicts the dramatic 1964 Ali victory over Liston in a match held in Maine. Neil Leifer, a photographer for Sports Illustrated, captured an image of Ali towering over a downed Liston.

The word “iconic” perhaps doesn’t do justice to all that’s captured in this one frame shot by Mr. Leifer. So, for the question:
What other iconic photographic images have inspired artists to create paintings, sculpture or literature?

Champ, rest in peace. You lived life on your own terms, and you touched many, beyond that mean left hook or right cross.

And, one more question: Who is the artist behind the print?

 

 

 

My First Time

No, not that first time.  This is a blog about public relations and my quest to get back into the profession on a full-time basis.  I’m sure you could find a lot of commentary to the “that first time” topic many, many other places online.

I’m referring to the first time I ever got paid to communicate.  Here’s what happened.

In the summer of 1973, I learned of an opportunity to receive a $100 grant that would be awarded to a high school graduate who wrote the most compelling essay on some subject relating to higher education.  I honestly don’t recall the exact theme.  I do recall putting a lot of effort into the essay, then typing and retyping it on my trusty Smith Corona manual portable typewriter.  The word count was probably less than 500 words.

The organization granting this (at the time) quite princely sum was a Chicago chapter of the Polish Legion of American Veterans Ladies Auxiliary, of which my Aunt Stella was an officer.  Aunt Stella encouraged me to contribute an essay, as I had aspirations of becoming a journalist.

I could do this.  I was editor of my high school newspaper, the Holy Trinity Gold and Blue, after all!  And, for the first five or so years of my professional career, I was a newsman, including three years with the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago.   (My City News years should be the subject for a future post or posts; there are lots of memories.)

Anyway, my essay won.  I made myself and my family proud, especially Aunt Stella who always encouraged me to read and study; and it was Stella’s ancient manual typewriter that I first typed on.

The Ladies Auxiliary recognized me at an event, at which time I was awarded the $100 check.  I was featured  in an item in the group’s newsletter — my first exposure to personal publicity.

Since then, I’ve been paid quite a few times for communicating. In fact, being a professional communicator has let me live a rewarding, fulfilling and comfortable life.  No mansions or fleet of exotic cars yet. That will happen after Hollywood buys the rights to  my still-under-development novel and gets Damon or DeCaprio to star in the film version.

It’s a privilege and honor to have the skills, resources and drive to compile thoughts and ideas and deliver them in an effective, persuasive way.  And, I remain steadfast in my belief that society today really needs skilled public relations professionals to deliver ideas and invite discourse.

The Public Relations Society of America drives home this contention in the Business Case for Public Relations, its current advocacy campaign:  “Public relations is more vital than ever before, given the explosion of consumer engagement through new and social media, the collapse of reputation and trust in major institutions and the evolving needs and concerns of corporate CEOs.”  Let me augment this statement to include “the evolving needs of every business, organization and government entity.”

Good public relations transcends the so-called C-suite; it’s needed by the line manager, the non-profit professional and local bureaucrat.

I had no concept of public relations when I wrote that winning essay on a manual typewriter a long time ago. A lot certainly has changed — for me and society — since then.  But good written communications had value then, and it has value now.

Do you recall your “first time?”  If so, please feel free to share.  Just keep your thoughts to the subject of this blog, please.