Catching That Perfect Wave, And More With Marisa Vallbona, APR, Fellow PRSA

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

Since her “media debut” as a child decades ago, Marisa Vallabona, APR, Fellow PRSA has led an extraordinary life. To start, she speaks four languages! Decades ago Marisa founded CIM Inc PR, an award-winning public relations firm that continues to thrive in today’s challenging communications market.

She’s held national positions with the Public Relations Society of America and served on the Universal Accreditation Board, where we first met. A Californian, she engages in a challenging water sport popularized in the Golden State. And, Marisa battled and beat a foe that has altered society around the world.  Below are Marisa’s responses to questions in this latest PRDude profile of public relations leaders.

Marisa Vallabona, APR, Fellow PRSA

1.  Your website profile states you became enamored with communications as a child following a news story involving you frying an egg on the sidewalk. Can you please elaborate how this developed?

I was 12 years old and it was a super hot day in Houston to the point we could see steam rising from the asphalt. As kids usually do at that age, I was hanging around with my sister and a group of friends from the neighborhood. She had the idea to see if we could fry an egg on the sidewalk. We were surprised to see it actually fried, so we called the local newsrooms to tell them. One of the news stations sent out a crew and I went on camera. I fell in love with news from that moment forward. It was thrilling.

2. CIM Inc PR provides a wide range of services for a wide range of industries. How has client service changed over the years you’ve been in business? What has remained constant?

Service is the hallmark of any successful PR firm. We’ve been in business 30 years (since 1990) and client service has changed dramatically in the sense that so much more is done electronically and clients expect much more availability. The more business gravitates toward texting, email and Zoom, the more I make it a point to meet in person with my clients. I find that personal touch makes a massive difference in our relationship and success. Over the 30 years we’ve been in business, I’ve found that there are unrealistic expectations for delivery and there’s a lot more stress as a result. It’s also frustrating when some start ups think they can do their own PR because they found a do-it-yourself PR kit online; then they come running back asking for help because they realize it’s a lot harder than they thought. They don’t realize that established relationships make a significant difference in outcome. What has remained constant? Expectations of quality, consistency, news coverage, sound and strategic counsel, and creative ideas have remained constant. Key though is that while anyone can start a business in today’s electronic era, they’ll quickly fail if they don’t have solid and sound knowledge of the industry and if they don’t keep up with professional development. And, our industry is evolving so fast that keeping up requires constant effort and discipline.

3. We met way, way back in 2005 through our service on  the Universal Accreditation Board. Does the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential hold the same value today?

I do believe the APR holds value because it tests and asserts that the professional who holds Accreditation has the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for the profession. However, it’s not necessary. I know countless non APR PR professionals who are equally if not more qualified than some APRs. Earning the credential is a matter of personal preference and should be something one strives to achieve for their own mastery and self and career confidence. I did it for that reason and I used the opportunity to raise my consulting rates. It should not be seen or used as a reason to say one professional is better than another because that is simply not true.

4. Now, must get to a somewhat serious question. Over the past few weeks, you shared a video and commentary on battling a serious illness. Can you please elaborate and share insight and advice on how you coped?
My doctors diagnosed me with COVID-19 and it was horrible. I’ve never been sicker in my life, struggling with shortness of breath, dry cough and fever for over five weeks. I rarely left my bed and if it had not been for my boyfriend, who stayed by my side the entire time, I don’t know what I would have done. There were two instances where I choked and gasped for air and if it hadn’t been for the inhaler my doctor prescribed me at the onset of my difficulty breathing, I truly believe I would have choked to death. It’s been over 10 weeks and I am now left with Reactive Airway Disease. I just started surfing again a few days ago (with a rescue inhaler in a waterproof fanny pack) and my lungs are shot after an hour of surfing, which is something in the past I never would have thought possible. I used to be a marathon runner, have never smoked a cigarette in my life and rarely ever get sick. This has been a tremendous struggle and continues to haunt me daily. 
5. Okay, let’s conclude on a lighter note. You’re a surfer girl. You live in greater San Diego. What advice can you give a Chicago guy who has aspirations to surf the wilds of Lake Michigan?
Take a surf lesson before you try it and get ready to fall in love with the sport. Your life will never be the same in the best way you could ever imagine. I promise! 
* * *
An aside: Way back in 1982 (or thereabouts), I visited some friends who moved to Southern California. Off on my own, I drove my rental car to LA, then took Highway 1 south, stopping in Newport Beach.  My objective was to surf!  Hey, man, I passed the lifeguard test and was an excellent swimmer.  I could do this.
Well reality took over as I encountered waves higher than the home I lived in and water that was really, really cold. I watched the surfers for a while, then headed south to San Diego.

Nineteen Questions Regarding COVID-19

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

We all have questions regarding some aspects of life as we know it. In fact, raising an occasional interrogative challenge is part of human nature. And, questions comprise the subject of this post.

Don’t know about you, but this graphic of the COVID-19 is plain creepy. Go away! (Image courtesy of the CDC.)

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has dominated lives around much of the world since March, without question prompts many people to utter statements verbally, in print or within their own mind and seek answers to the impacts made by this global development.

Below are 19 questions that have crossed my mind related to the pandemic.  Some questions are serious, some perhaps can be perceived as being silly. They are in no particular order of importance, however #19 is the most poignant, I think.

But for all, the answers have yet to be determined.

  1. Will people want to pursue careers in industries like hospitality, given the large number of chefs, servers, bartenders, hostesses and hotel employees now out of work?
  2. Will entrepreneurs – especially those in the creative fields – be reluctant to launch new ventures?
  3. How will the impact of the virus and pandemic influence the presidential and other elections this fall and in the years to come?
  4. Who will be viewed years from now as “heroes” and who will be viewed as “villains” once the pandemic is history?
  5. When will the pandemic be “glamorized” by Hollywood in a film?
  6. On a similar note, when will the first book be published on the pandemic?
  7. From a personal perspective, will barbers charge men more for cutting longer hair?
  8. What is the most significant aspect of coping with this pandemic that we have learned so far?
  9. Many, many people have lost savings and livelihoods from the pandemic, but who will benefit financially?
  10. When will we stop seeing the virus depicted as that creepy red sphere?
  11. Will the efforts to finding a vaccine demonstrate future cooperation between government and the private sector?
  12. Will selecting a mask in a particular color or print be part of one’s daily wardrobe decision?
  13. Will more people comprehend and appreciate the value of accurate, timely communications now that we receive daily updates on the virus?
  14. Will the phrase “social distance” be replaced with a less pragmatic phrase like, “Just stay the heck away from me!”?
  15. Given its value during this crisis, will the practice of ethical, strategic public relations — my profession — gain respect, stature and relevance in C-suites, boardrooms and conference rooms?
  16. Will trips on public transit trains and buses ever be standing-room-only again?
  17.  When will it be inappropriate to take a stroll or run down the middle of the street?
  18. Are people as productive working at home than from the office?
  19. And, of course, what can we do to prevent this horrific episode from happening again?

So there. Now it’s your turn. What questions do you have?

COVID-19 and the Role Played by Communicators: PRSA Chicago Webinar Recap

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

Controversy continues to surface regarding just about every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in these waning days of April, it’s readily apparent that controversy related to the virus and its impact on society and our way of life will continue for the foreseeable future.

From another perspective, one can argue that the virus has become the most talked about, most written about, most analyzed, most disputed topic in human history to date.

Regardless of the what takes place in the months ahead — whether we can resume what once were “normal” activities — this remains certain: We’ll need accurate and regular communications on what’s happening next week, next month and next year.

Yesterday, PRSA Chicago hosted a Zoom webinar, “Leading Through Crisis and Establishing a New Normal for Communicators After the Apex.” A long-standing member of the Chapter, I took in the presentation, which featured three senior communications professionals:

Chandler Goodman, Director at Gagen MacDonald, moderated the program and PRSA Chicago President Dane Roth provided welcoming and closing thoughts.

Here are summarized and bulleted recollections from the panelists:

  • Avoid being opportunistic when issuing communications.
  • Unlike other crisis situations, developments in the COVID-19 crisis often change hourly.
  • Communicators must update messages on a continual basis — both to internal and external audiences.
  • What was not considered newsworthy in the past may be newsworthy today.
  • Regularly try to demonstrate progress on communications to stakeholders.
  • Senior leaders should reach out to employees on a regular basis.
  • Maintain credibility, honesty and transparency when addressing a competing interest.
  • Listen to feedback from all audiences.
  • The virtual workplace will be in place for a long time; get accustomed to managing teams, media and internal communications remotely.
  • CEOs now have to respond to stakeholders and the media via Zoom or an online platform; this may require additional coaching.
  • Grasp how relationships with business partners have changed during the advent of the crisis.
  • Demonstrate the value of effective public relations during these unprecedented times.
  • Collaboration between other business or organizational units has been positive during the pandemic.
  • Recognize that a greater segment of society now recognizes the value of effective communications.
  • Some organizations now field many, many more media inquiries than prior to the pandemic — some up to 100 per day.  And, some organizations issue multiple news announcements daily.

One great feature of Zoom is the ability to pose a question. I’m proud to note that my question — “What have you learned during the pandemic that can be employed in the future?” — was the final query addressed. The responses:

Rodrigo: Communicate often and be as transparent as possible, both to internal and external audiences.

Heather: Be transparent and be human; let the world see you without wearing a tie.

Jim: You can’t over-communicate today. Be prepared to manage a long list of FAQs.

And, I’ll conclude with one other suggestion from a panelist: Communicators need a day off, which I wholeheartedly support.


Finding This Worker “Essential” During COVID-19 Pandemic

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

Let me echo the tributes to the first responders — the healthcare workers, the police, ambulance and firefighters, the elected officials, and the other courageous women and men — on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in my home state of Illinois, across the nation and around the world.

This is how I found the Sunday April 19 edition, just outside the front door.

Same goes for those deemed essential to our lives and the economy — like mail carriers, grocery store workers and truck drivers, transportation staff, farmers and food processors.

If I’ve neglected a category, my apologies. There are many people out there day-after-day away from the safety of their homes and families doing their jobs so many of us can shelter, work at home and battle the virus remotely.

Now, let me propose adding another category to the list of essential workers: The newspaper delivery people, those unheralded part-time workers who cruise streets in the early-morning hours and fling a folded print publication onto porches and doorsteps.

For years, we’ve subscribed to the daily and Sunday editions of the Chicago Tribune. And, each day (with a few exceptions) the newspaper is delivered on our front porch. Usually by 7 a.m.

I’ve never formally met the lady who delivers our newspaper each day, but we’ve exchanged waves on occasion. I know her name is Yeimi, because around the holidays (remember those?) she includes a note in the Sunday edition offering greetings. I respond with a some words of holiday cheer and thanks and a modest gratuity.

The delivery of the newspaper is part of what makes my day “normal” and “predictable,” factors I appreciate.

It’s been hard to find normalcy and predictability for the past month-plus, and it’s uncertain when they again will be within our grasp.

Thanks to Yeimi and the unheralded working members of our society, a seemingly minor comfort provides welcomed respite.

When Will …

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

When will the “proper distance” we can have with friends and strangers becomes three feet?  Then no distance at all?

When will the drone from the nearby Kennedy Expressway fade during most of the day because of the return traffic that normally builds from early morning and lasts well into the evening?

Looking forward to the day I can take my widow seat and engage in what I call “malt therapy” at Small Bar. (Image courtesy of Small Bar.)

When will I be able to scan the eastern sky from our back porch and count five or six jet airliners heading toward O’Hare International Airport most evenings?

When will I not have to look both ways more than one time when planning to cross a street?

When will I be able to read the main news section of the Chicago Tribune and not read an article on the subject that has dominated our world over the past few weeks?

When will I find trash dumped on the sidewalk near our home, evidence that more people are carrying on with life in the way they had before all this happened?

When will I find enjoyment in listening to loud rock and roll again, when now I only find true enjoyment and solace in jazz and classical music?

When will I be able to take my favorite window seat at my neighborhood tavern, the Small Bar, and enjoy a beer and an honest welcome served by Katy?

When will I wake up and not have to say a silent prayer thanking God that I’m not sick?

When will television commercials again center on candidates running for office or political issues?

When will acronyms like “PPE” and words like “surreal” and “uncertain times” be gone from our everyday lexicon?

When will I be compelled to not write about this subject anymore?

Answers and thoughts are welcomed.



The Front Line is at My Front Door

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

And, it’s at your front door, and your neighbor’s front door.

It’s the line between today and tomorrow, between what was “normal” and what will be the “new normal.”

The line divides those who demonstrate compassion, civility and decency from those ghouls, fiends and cowards who attempt to capitalize.

The line will provide a demarcation of sorts to identify the brave, the resilient, the heroes who stand firm against the silent aggressor.

Every day, or sometimes every hour, the line moves, often radically, causing uncertainty and even terror.

Regardless of when the line is obliterated, it will have permeated your psyche and your soul.

Actually, no one knows who drew the line, but perhaps history will come to a decision on who did, on why it crossed oceans and crossed demographics.

The line is insidious, and it will be erased some day.

I wish that day was tomorrow.

Questions on COVID-19 Aftershocks and Three More Ways to Stay Safe

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

As this post is about to be published, developments related to the COVID-19 outbreak here in Chicago and around the nation evolve at a rapid pace, literally sometimes by the minute.

If you’re like me, you own glasses and contact lenses. Wear the former until further notice.

So, no need to provide any linked references to news reports. Just google to learn updates if you prefer.

The purpose of this post is twofold: 1) To pose questions on how our society, our way of interacting with each other, our lives will change once this pandemic has concluded. 2) To offer three ways to help keep the virus at bay.

And, the pandemic will end. It will end.

Questions I have are:

  • Interpersonal Greetings: People interact physically as a matter of custom. Will handshakes, hugs, double pecks on the cheek and other physical forms of greeting be halted forever?
  • Crime and Disobedience: Authorities are calling for people to stay confined as much as possible. Will there be fewer robberies, burglaries, physical assaults and other criminal activities?
  • Making an Entrance. Door handles and knobs are potential harbors of bad stuff, like the virus. Will using your elbow, hip or foot replace using your hand to open a door?

What suggestions can you add to this list?

Last week, I published a post on the importance of responsible communications to help mitigate the crisis ahead and provide the sharing of accurate information. In that post I also provided a simple suggestion on keeping the virus off your hands.

Now, onto three more ways to help reduce the chance you’ll get the virus by contact.

1. Go to Glasses. A long-time contact lens wearer, I also own several pair of eye glasses. Until this pandemic is history, I’ll wear glasses — one way to prevent touching my eyes.

2. Care When Using Digital Menu Boards. Yes, these relatively new devices may make ordering food and other stuff or buying a ticket easier and quicker. But think about this: Lots of people touch the screens! Wear gloves or use a napkin. Or, enter the field with your knuckle.

3. Plastic Coated Restaurant Menus. From a similar perspective, many casual restaurants offer guests a menu that’s coated in plastic. Use sanitizer or wash your hands immediately after handling one of these menus.

Stay safe. Stay calm. Stay focused.