Time Unplugged: Perhaps the Best Part of Summer 2018 Vacation

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

It’s the third week of August of 2018, and this is the first post of the PRDude blog.

Wonder why?

Striking a somewhat pensive pose before boarding Lufthansa flight 434 to ORD.

Well, from the attached image showing a pending flight from a foreign nation — and my somewhat disheveled and unshaven appearance — perhaps you ascertain that I have a solid reason for not contributing thoughts on public relations and other stuff: I’ve been away from Chicago.

Munich, the capital of Bavaria and a truly fascinating German city, has been my abbreviated home the past several days.

As you can expect, I’ll contribute a few “travelogue” posts on our vacation to this historic city, known for its culture, architecture, museums, parks and public spaces, food and — you guessed it — beer gardens, or more precisely biergartens.  (Yes, we visited a few.)  Along with our time in Munich, Susan and I boarded the local trains for day trips to Nuremburg, Saltzburg and Augsburg, fascinating destinations of their own.

But along with the sights, people, places and atmosphere, all enjoyable, enlightening and full of personal enrichment, one of the best aspects of our Summer of 2018 trip was this: I basically unplugged from digital communications.

Well, I sent a few emails from the hotel computer and kept up on how my Chicago Cubs were faring in this pivotal month of the 2018 Major League Baseball season.  But I stayed off of work email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. (Just realized that I really don’t use Instagram much anyway.)

My handheld spent its time in the hotel safe, and it still worked when we got back to Chicago last night.

For more than a week, I was able to experience marvelous Munich and its surroundings untethered to technology, free from the now incessant and seemingly unrelenting bombardment of instantaneous news, information and stimuli, now part of the world as we know it.

While many around me snapped selfies with centuries-old structures in the background, I just soaked in the charm of Munich. I not only plan to follow this unplugged vacation regimen during the next pleasure trip out of town, and hopefully on many, many days in between.

 

 

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Masi Brothers Guide Creative Agency Torque Digital to 25th Anniversary

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

What’s stronger than one outstanding creative communications professional? Well, how about two?

That’s the case at Torque Digital, a Chicago-based integrated marketing agency that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a summertime-themed party at the company’s way-cool loft style offices in Chicago’s rapidly evolving West Loop Fulton Market neighborhood.

Torque was founded by brothers Eric Masi and Kevin Masi, creative guys steeped in the fine arts and balanced by strong business skills and dedication to their wide roster of clients.

This Q&A conversation, edited slightly, was conducted earlier this month. A short disclaimer: While managing marketing and communications for a Chicago-based association, I worked with the Torque team and was very pleased with the quality and caliber of the work produced, as well as the dedication of the account staff.

So, let’s get started.

Here are thoughts from Co-Founder and President Eric, and Co-Founder and CMO Kevin.

1. What was the impetus behind the formation of Torque?

Eric: Kevin and I went through the same fine arts training at the University of Illinois; we’ve been artists since we were toddlers. After we graduated, Kevin went into real estate and I ended up at an agency. But we are artists at heart. That was the catalyst. We are visual artists, marketing thinkers and designers. This compelled us to start an agency that embraced all three disciplines.

Kevin: Eric and I started Torque when we were young enough to still be casting about to decide what direction to take in life, in terms of profession and gainful pursuit. We were inspired by the vastness of the marketing and advertising world and the access to business in general. We were inspired by the chance to build our creative skills, critical thinking and craftsmanship. Knowing as little as we did back then, we were industrious and undaunted enough to plunge in and work diligently.

2. After 25 years, what is the most significant change in the marketing industry?  (Besides the rise of digital, of course.)

Torque Co-Founder and President Eric Masi

Eric: Digital is an easy thing to point to in terms of change in the marketplace. The outcome that is more interesting is the decentralization of small agencies, these micro agencies of two and three people. These firms are able to manage large accounts by putting together virtual teams. Another change that we’re seeing now: Digital and the web has democratized creative and facilitated a lot of services. You can buy a logo by posting a request and ask designers to bid on the project. You can hire a photographer anywhere in the world.  This is really changing delivery and capacity costs. And now, Google is digitizing its algorithm and programs, so you can almost remove the strategist.

Kevin: So much has changed in the way we all live. We started the business on the basis of being able to buy a Macintosh computer and learn “desktop publishing” as a lightweight way to start a business in an otherwise more capital and material intensive industry. The biggest thing to change is the increase of complexity. You can see this in three big areas: 1) Mature business and product categories need to work much harder to compete and grow. This is both an opportunity as companies need more help and also a challenge as the problems also increase exponentially. 2) The second consequence of complexity is the opposite, in the form of an exploding niche marketplace. We are constantly taking a deep dive into some subtle, detailed business model that must be decoded for the world to understand. It’s often hard to tell if they are brilliant or wacky. 3) Lastly, complexity has driven us to diversify our offerings and to be constantly learning about new aspects of technology, marking channels and more. And of course hiring a wider array of people and skills to do the work. And with talent has come a steady rise in labor cost as well as honing of skills to manage and lead Millennials.

3. Torque has a specialty in real estate marketing. And, you’re located in the on-fire Fulton Market District. What strategies and tactics are real estate companies employing to remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving market?

Eric: It’s almost more fun to talk about what’s not working. In many cases, real estate is 10 to 15 years behind the curve in terms of marketing, and the industry is now starting to wake up. Developers are now renovating old warehouse spaces.  And, with all the space available, the big difference in marketing is how well it connects to the brokerage world. The point of difference often is the marketing. With all this massive renovation, the developer wants to appeal to Millennials and convey a lifestyle. This has to be communicated in a compelling way. It’s not enough to say, “Our property has a tenant lounge and a rooftop deck.” There’s all kinds of shades of grey in this type of promotion. It clutters the experience. We’re in the middle and help articulate what’s unique about the property. One way we do this is through a process called Brand Bedrock®, which allows us to help build a brand around a property. It’s a fairly involved process, but it’s at the core of what we do.

Torque Co-Founder and CMO Kevin Masi

Kevin: We love real estate! Yes, we live in an exploding market which doesn’t seem to need much help to lease, sell or otherwise deploy and stabilize assets. However, in mature markets, the ones being bled dry by new exciting developments, companies are working hard to remain competitive first through the usual means of making capital improvements to their properties and of course taking marketing more seriously. For new and exiting properties we know its an amenity war. The developers and owners who are succeeding are doing so by dialing into the building experience and needs of potential leasing companies (for commercial properties). This comes down to digging deep to understand what users want and showing companies how they can attract and retain talent as well as support their productivity within the given property. This happens when owners can bring to life the right qualities of a property experience: Health, transit, education, collaboration, aesthetic, entertainment, discovery, status. And so on. Another emerging approach is to develop brand meaning and purpose for the company, as well as for their individual properties. It’s an exciting time for marketing to be able to develop strategy and insight for companies going through this process.

4. Other brothers have been successful in the advertising/marketing industry. Saatchi and Saatchi come to mind. What are the benefits and challenges of working with a sibling?

Eric: It works both ways. There’s lots of challenges, and a lot that we’re not entirely conscious of. The classic model of good business partners for entrepreneurs is that one has the vision and is the creative person, while the other manages implementation and logistics and is grounded in the reality side of the business. Kevin and I are both visionaries. But when it gets down to it, he is more of the implementer than I am. Recently, we brought my wife, Jennifer into the business and the three of us are partners, and the three of us implement our visions.

Kevin: The biggest benefit we’ve enjoyed is the ability to exchange and build ideas quickly because we have such a long shared past and a way of communicating. Trust has been an enormous benefit as well. The challenge with both of these is to translate our qualities to a broader team so they can participate as well. Intuitive and innate skills are hard to pinpoint and teach.

5. Torque is know for outstanding strategic communications campaigns. But it’s also known for  hosting outstanding themed holiday parties. Who handles the creative side, and who handles the logistics?

Eric:  Our staff actually does most of the work. They just tackle the planning and joke and aspire to host the craziest parties. We’ve hosted tropical goth, medieval Christmas, white trash on the farm — all kinds of parties. If the theme is politically incorrect and crosses the line, we’ll say no to a concept. Otherwise, we give them a budget and we let them make it happen. For us, it’s great to watch them enjoy themselves. It’s as much for them as it is for us.

Kevin: Well we used to say that I lead strategy and Eric lead creative. We definitely both delegate logistics! But really it doesn’t separate that cleanly as we see a great deal of creative thinking in our strategic process so really we are always applying creativity and strategic rigor. For sure the era of arbitrary creative ideas is gone and the creative must service the business in specific ways…while also entertaining or creating sensation and engagement.

The Chicago Cubs and a Reflection on the World and Society Today

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

Let’s leave the current on-field performance of the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 National League Championship Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers to those communicators who get paid — and know a lot more than I do about sports — to offer commentary.

Rest assured Mr. Kaminsky, your childish actions may come back to haunt you.

Rest assured Mr. Kaminsky, your childish actions may come back to haunt you.

As of this writing, the Cubs are down two games to one, have been shut out the past two games and appear to have lost heart and how to win. But there’s a game tonight!

Anyway, this post will focus more on the state of our world and society today, rather than Chicago’s National League baseball franchise.  What prompted this post is an article from the Redeye, a free tabloid published by the Chicago Tribune Media Group and geared to the Millennial demographic.

The article centers on a “fan” of the Chicago White Sox, a Chicago area native named Frank Kaminsky, who is taking his self-professed hatred of the Cubs to an extreme, childish level. As noted in this Redeye piece published today, Mr. Kaminsky — a professional basketball player with the Charlotte Hornets — promises to wear a custom-made Cubs jersey bearing the name of a man who was never a Cubs player until the team is eliminated from the playoffs.

Providing of course, that happens.

As noted in the Redeye piece: “It’s my stance, how I feel about the Cubs this year. I don’t want them to win.” He also has launched an “attack” of sorts in the Twittersphere.

So what do Mr. Kaminsky’s actions have to do with the much larger perspective?

It’s a demonstration of a lot of things that are wrong with the world today.  Here are a few:

  • It’s Okay, No Cool, to Hate. Rarely a day goes by when we don’t hear of an atrocity in war-torn places overseas and in my home city of Chicago. To me, it’s hate that drives people to kill and hurt others. Why should hate be part of sports? Because, apparently to some, it’s appropriate and it’s become part of “cheering on” your team.
  • The “Power” of the Digital Arena. This blog, is, of course, part of modern online communications. I’ve published what I believe are informative, fair and ethical posts.  Others use the digital arena to spread lies and inflame hatred.
  • The Ability to Change the Conversation.  What’s happening in baseball today? The NLCS and the ALCS. With garbage news like Mr. Kaminsky’s rants, part of the focus of real sports news gets mixed up with nonsense that’s taking place off the field of play.
  • Continue to Bash Bartman. I can’t believe that anyone with any sense of scruples would continue to slander Steve Bartman, a fan who tried to catch a foul ball in a game 13 years ago. He did nothing wrong, but weak, petty cowards still hold him responsible for a Cubs collapse.

Cub fans and many in Chicago fly the “W” flag to promote and support the team.  So, fly the “L” flag Mr. Kaminsky, if you want.

But in my mind you’re the loser.

 

Staying Connected, But @ What Price?

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

DATELINE — Someplace Outside Chicago.  People have asked what inspires me to write this blog. Well, there are three fundamental reasons:

1. Need to Communicate:  I’m a communicator by profession and this is a platform to do just that.

2. Because I Can: Need I say more?

3. The World Around Me: I get inspired by what I see and hear.

This post was triggered by #3.

Perhaps someday, the Smithsonian Institution will want these digital relics to show future generations what portable devices were like many years ago.

Perhaps someday, the Smithsonian Institution will want these digital relics to show future generations what portable devices were like many years ago.

Earlier this week, a chance encounter at O’Hare International Airport prompted me to wonder: In this world now and forever changed by digital sources of communications, just how connected to we have to be?

Case in point: The young man with the stylish Mohawk (or was it a Faux Hawk?) haircut sitting near me at Gate L8.

This gentleman was communicating –sometimes simultaneously, sometimes not — on three devices: A laptop (Macbook, of course), tablet (iPad) and (you guessed it) iPhone.

What he was communicating and to whom, I did not ascertain.  However, he was good at it. Wish I could tweet that fast.

Note from the image at left, that I, too have embraced technology while traveling.  In the photo you’ll see my four-year-old Dell Studio (with srs PREMIUM SOUND!), a first-generation iPod Shuffle (with metal carrying case and original ear buds) and my trusty  BlackBerry Curve.

A slave to the “must-have-the-latest” technology, I am not.

But I recognize the value and need to communicate and be kept informed these days. I do, however, question is it really necessary to be connected all the time.  Not sure about Mr. Mohawk, but I was heading out of town on vacation.

That raised other questions.

Do I really need my laptop? (Well, you wouldn’t be reading this if I failed to lug it along.)

Where am I? No, it's not Normal, Illinois.

Where am I? No, it’s not Normal, Illinois.

Will I actually work?  (I’ve checked office messages and replied to work-related stuff many times.)

Is because of the preponderance technology plays in our lives today, will those who grew up with a handheld or tablet know what it’s like not to have one?

Will the “art of conversation” be a lost art to future generations?

I don’t know the answers to the above, but I do know I’m going to stop this online communication now, stroll by the waterfront and later have some sushi and a beer.  Maybe two beers. I don’t plan to tweet about it or post images on Instagram.

And, I won’t have this laptop tethered to my arm.

One more thing: Where am I? Check out the photo at right and guess.  No fair if you follow me on Facebook.