The USA Still a Work in Progress

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

Yesterday, President Obama delivered the State of the Union address, his final such speech on the condition of the nation and its future.

Actually, I was in Washington while the President delivered the address to Congress, the rest of the nation and world.

And, no, I was not invited to attend and I would have respectfully declined had I received an invitation. I was in the nation’s capital to attend a transportation conference on behalf of the university where I work.

Photography is not allowed inside the National Archives Museum, but I did take this exterior image.

Photography is not allowed inside the National Archives Museum, but I did take this exterior image.

But, I have some thoughts about our nation, thoughts shaped by what I witnessed in Washington between meetings and education sessions on transportation. First, let me share what inspired this post.

During a break on Tuesday, I strolled a few blocks to the National Archives Museum on Pennsylvania Avenue; it was a cold day, and museum was not crowded, save for some school kids on a field trip and a handful of visitors like myself.

Work continues on the National Mall. I found this symbolic to the nation as a whole.

Work continues on the National Mall. I found this symbolic to the nation as a whole.

There, in the museum Rotunda, is the document that set in motion our nation. Yes, the real Declaration of Independence, and I had the honor of spending a few minutes before it alone.

“Is this one of the originals?” I asked a nice man who was a volunteer docent.

“Original — it’s the only one,” he said, and then offered more insight on the Founding Fathers, who are depicted in spectacular paintings in the Rotunda.

Of course, there’s lots of historical sites in Washington, and lots of money is being spent to preserve our heritage. At the National Mall across Independence Avenue, I could see lots of construction underway to repair and improve America’s front yard.

Dressed for a cold late morning at DuPont Circle.

Dressed for a cold late morning at DuPont Circle.

During my visit, I stayed at a hotel on DuPont Circle, a wonderful neighborhood that’s home to embassies, great restaurants and galleries.  Around the Circle and in doorways on Connecticut Avenue, I saw another side of America, one beyond the great monuments and public spaces.

Men and women lived in cardboard boxes, draped in layers of coats and blankets to stay warm in the January cold.  Yes, this tragedy takes place in many other parts of America — including Chicago — besides Washington; but it was more poignant to witness it in the capital of the richest nation on earth.

Back to the State of the Union address: The President discussed what’s right with America and the accomplishments made during his administration. And, from another perspective, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley offered a rebuttal from the Republican party.

This is how politics works, here and in other democracies.

But I wonder if — for the sake of Americans living on the streets as well as those of us who have homes to go to at night — that the politics could be put aside so the problems facing the less fortunate can be solved.

I think that’s what the Founding Fathers meant by the often quoted “pursuit of happiness” segment.



A Public Relations Plan to Help The USA Return to “Normal”

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

Loyal followers of The PRDude know that I believe in the power of public relations to do good.  So, I’m offering the following framework of a strategic public relations plan to our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. as an instrument to help end the current legislative stalemate better known as the “shutdown.”

The people who work here need to do their part to end the government shutdown.

The people who work here need to do their part to end the government shutdown.

I’ll follow the storied four-step process, which I addressed way back in September of 2009.  The communications industry changes rapidly in today’s technology-driven world, but the four-step public relations process should not be one of them.

What follows is, as noted above, just the framework of a plan.  (I’d be delighted to expand upon this further — for a hefty fee, of course — but I don’t believe there’s anyone in Washington still on the job who could cut a check, much less have the funds available!)

Step One: Define the threat or opportunity.  In most cases strategy would guide communications to address one or the other.  With the impasse underway in our nation’s capitol, I maintain there’s the potential to craft messages that address both: a) The threat is continued deterioration of the American economy and way of life, and a decline in the nation’s stature on the world stage. b) The opportunity is to bring to the forefront the fact that the two-party system clearly no longer works and we probably need to fix it.  (Independents, are you listening?)

Step Two: Conduct research. In a real-world situation, we’d conduct primary research and review secondary sources. But based on two online news sources, I maintain that the no one really knows when or how the shutdown will  end, and everyone is blaming the President and Congress for this fiasco.  That’s sufficient research for now.

And, the guy who lives here needs to compromise.

And, the guy who lives here needs to compromise.

Step Three: Develop a Plan and Communicate. Strategic public relations plans are based on realistic goals, sound strategies and measurable objectives.  Here’s what I recommend: Compromise and end the impasse (goal), have each side walk away with something (strategy), get people back to work tomorrow and bring business back to normal (objectives). Communicate this through a joint news conference and issue a news release.  Hey, I’ll write the release and talking points for you. For free!

Step Four: Revisit The Plan and Make Revisions.  Most strategic plans are revisited after several weeks or perhaps months.  But in this case, my proposed plan to help bring the United States back to some sense of “normalcy” should be revisited a lot sooner.  Like tomorrow.

Whether you’re in public relations or some other profession, why not share your thoughts on how the nation’s leaders can do their jobs and govern.  So we all could get back to “normal.”

Here’s Something That’s Truly “Horrific,” and It’s Not a “PR Blunder”

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

In recent posts, The PRDude addressed has addressed decidedly non-public relations type of subjects:

Now, it’s back to basics: commenting on public relations or references to the practice.  An online post that appeared a few days ago sparked my interest, while at the same time brought on borderline rage.

Here’s a link to the post in question, which appeared twice this week in an online newsletter published by The commentary actually is well-conceived and I somewhat agree with the author.  But there are two aspects of the headline that I find offensive, inaccurate and inflammatory:

“Grading Obama: The President Commits a Horrific PR Blunder in His Friday Economics Press Conference.”

The author was offering a critique on President Obama’s comment, “The private sector is doing fine,” in relation to jobs and the economy.  The President made the comment at a news conference June 1.

1.  Let’s start with the use of the word “horrific.” I visited the Free Online Dictionary site and found this definition for the word: “grossly offensive to decency or morality; causing horror.”

Now it’s your turn.  When you think of something that causes horror, does a presidential news conference come to mind?  Not me.  Perhaps a mining disaster, or what’s left of a town following an F-5 tornado, but not some perhaps poorly chosen words from an elected official, even if he’s the leader of the free world.  The author even offers seven reasons why the six words spoken by the President constitutes “a horrific blunder.”

My response to this blatant hyperbole:  “Horse feathers,” but you can fill in another word that means the same thing.

2. The President made the statement in question at a news conference.  He was fielding questions from newsmen and women. That’s part of his job.   He was not practicing “public relations,” at least as I define and envision effective modern public relations to be.

Professional communicators who craft strategies and distribute messages on behalf of the President and his administration practice public relations.  Perhaps the President made a political blunder, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with public relations, which too often gets lumped with anything that goes wrong.  Read my post on the fallout from the 2010 Gulf oil rig tragedy to get another perspective.

Those of us who truly believe in the value of effective public relations should muster our collective resources to comment on situations like this one.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to shake off the derogatory references to “flack” and “spin doctor.”

There. I feel better.  Now, it’s your turn.

My State of Mind on Tonight’s State of the Union Address

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka The PRDude

In around 5 minutes, President Obama will deliver the 2012 State of the Union address to Congress.  This kind of thing happens every year, you know.  But these days, I think it’s more appropriate to call it the “State of Confusion” address.

Not that I’m picking on the President or any particular member of Congress.  Given the challenging times we face today — and will for perhaps generations to come — there’s a lot of blame to spread around.

The big question:  How did this nation, without argument the most dynamic, prosperous and progressive on earth, trip, stumble and fall?

It’s because we’re confused.

We’re confused about what got us into this mess.  At least, that’s what I read and hear from the leaders of both major political parties: “It’s because of the (fill in the blank, which ever party you don’t like).”

“Bipartisanship?”  I don’t think so, although I did read that Democrats and Republicans will in essence have a “date night” at tonight’s address by sitting next to each other when the President delivers his address.  A nice gesture, but hopefully they can sit next to each other at the negotiation table and compromise on legislation that brings the United States back on track.

So, how should lawmakers address the confusion?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Engage in dialogue.  Look up the word if you’re not sure what it means.
  • Be open and transparent.  Hey, it’s what drives effective public relations, should work in Congress.
  • Set realistic, measurable goals.  It took a long time for the nation to fall into this mess. It will take a long time to get back on course
  • And, above all: Put the values of the American people — not the 100 Senators and 435 Congressmen or their lobbyists and special interest groups — at the forefront. We’re the ones who elected you.

What else should we do to end the confusion?  Share your thoughts.

Or, listen to the address live from this site hosted by the New York Times.   I’m taking a break for dinner.



BP Drills Their Way to an Oily Mess, Part III

History is riddled with dumb comments by famous — and infamous — people.  Sometimes the comments were cruel and mean-spirited (at least as recorded by historians), and perhaps sometimes they were taken out of context.

We’ll never know for sure if this seemingly selfish quote was, indeed, uttered by Marie Antoinette when she learned the starving French wanted bread: “Let them eat cake.”  Historical novelist Catherine Delors offers a contrary view and, well, some historical insight.

The fatal explosion April 20 that led to the environmental quagmire in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in a lot of comments we’ll forever relate to BP’s engineering and communications response to this tragedy.   A lot of these statements are billed as “PR gaffes,” but I’ll share some other thoughts soon.

Here’s a quick run down of some of the most “quoted” statements resulting from the spill:

1.  BP CEO Tony Hayward’s, “I want my life back” casual, yet utterly stupid, comment when offering thoughts to a reporter on the devastation caused to by the spill to people and the environment.  Not much room to defend Mr. Hayward here.  Yes, you were tired and frustrated; but your comment was a verbal slap in the face.

2. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s, “We care about the small people” remark at a news conference following a meeting with President Obama.  This seemingly calloused comment was made by a man of Swedish descent, speaking a second language. He later apologized in a statement, more than likely written by a member of the crisis communications team.

3. President Obama’s “whose ass to kick” comment, spoken in an interview to NBC and first reported on the “Today Show.” This statement was made before the President even spoke face-to-face with any BP officials.  Yes, the President had a right to be angry because BP apparently did not have any idea how to stop the leak, or even know how much oil was gushing from the mile-deep well.  But did he have to resort to what amounts to street language?

4. Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s statement in the House during the testimony by Hayward that the proposed BP Gulf relief fund amounted to a “$20 billion shakedown.” To his credit, the Congressman said he was offering his own opinion, and he later apologized — due to pressure from those higher up in the GOP.   Yet making such a remark given the constant stream of bad news simply made no sense.

Okay, time for my thoughts.

Yes, the statements noted above, as well as others, probably should not have been spoken.  Period.  This is especially true in all of these cases because the person who spoke them knew he was being interviewed on camera.  They knew they had time to prepare remarks that wouldn’t serve as lightening rods for the ongoing mess in the Gulf.  The men who made these comments either didn’t think through the full ramifications of their statements.

Throughout this entire Gulf spill tragedy, the media keeps bringing up the public relations profession and relating it to the reason there’s oil covered pelicans, dead fish, crude-covered beaches and shattered livelihoods.  Public relations didn’t cause this problem, and public relations alone can’t solve it. The problem was caused by faulty drilling procedures; the resulting clean up efforts are engineering issues; the program to process claims is a corporate financial issue.

Public relations professionals did not make the dumb statements above or set the policies on how to handle the clean up of the Gulf.  Why keep blasting public relations?

How Obama and Hagar Help the PR Industry

Not a betting man, but I wager this is the first/only/last time you’ll read commentary on how both President Obama and Hagar the Horrible are advancing public relations.

Stay with me.  I’m not trying to be funny, although Hagar is funny most of the time.  These days, the President doesn’t have much to laugh about.

This is being written a few hours before the President delivers his first State of the Union speech.  Rest assured, he will talk about the economy and job creation, cutting spending and healthcare, government reform and last week’s major Supreme Court decision.

The President also will talk about public relations, in a way.  Specifically, Mr. Obama is expected to point out that an Indianapolis-based communications firm, TrendyMinds, has experienced 200 percent growth, is hiring and has given back to the community in the form of in-kind advertising and public relations support to eight non-profits.  The 2009 volunteer effort was valued at $50,000.   They plan to do more this year. The firm is small:  Seven people and two dogs are listed under the Contacts.

TrendyMinds principal Trevor Yager is expected to be in Washington tonight. I learned about this development from the PR Junkie blog posted today.  Paid a visit to the TrendyMinds site, but could not find a reference to the State of the Union speech tonight.  But I’ll be watching.

Now to Hagar.  For those of you unfamiliar, Hagar the Horrible is a long-running comic strip written by Chris Browne and distributed by King Features Syndicate.  It chronicles a roguish Viking who likes to pillage and drink beer.  Hagar has a running battle with his wife, Helga, and keeps a nitwit sidekick named Lucky Eddie.

In the January 26 strip, Hagar, Lucky Eddie and other Vikings are leaving a castle, carrying sacks and chests of loot.  There’s another guy addressing the owner of the just-robbed castle: “We’re conducting a survey, sir … We have a few questions about the quality of our raiding … and if our people were courteous and professional at all times?”  Lucky Eddie asks: “Who’s that guy?” “He’s with a public relations firm I just hired to improve our image!,” Hagar replies.

The payoff for those reading this far:  The President is identifying the tremendous work and spirit of a spirited, growing communications firm.  This sends a positive message — that the industry is vital and remains a valuable part of business.  I’m sure Mr. Obama could have identified lots of small businesses that are bucking the trend in this recession.  He selected a firm that delivers messages.

As for Hagar, I’m impressed that he enlisted his PR firm to initiate research!  All sound, effective public relations plans are based on research. Too often our profession is bundled into pure publicity, or as a leading Chicago agency leader said at a reception earlier this year, delegated “to blowing up balloons.”

Looking forward to tonight’s address, and what Hagar is up to tomorrow.