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.
 

What I Took Away from PRSA 2018 Assembly

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

DATELINE: AUSTIN, TX.

Thought I would incorporate that now bygone phrase and practice as a way to provide a “newscast” kind of perspective to the following, a post about what I learned and observed as a delegate at the 2018 PRSA Assembly on October 6.

Like any organization comprised of passionate, strong-willed individuals, there was often spirited debate during the 2018 PRSA Assembly.

The gathering of Public Relations Society of America leadership, staff and members earlier this month is the Society’s one day to have delegates present thoughts and cast ballots on how PRSA is governed. As this was only my second time as a delegate, I took my responsibility seriously.

(A disclaimer: Please excuse the delay in sharing this post as three things got in the way: Work, school and life.)

Without precedence, here are a few thoughts I scribbled during my time at the Assembly.

Ready, Set, Debate: From a parliamentary perspective, the Assembly opened with a debate on how to debate: Specifically, the time allowed for delegates to address the big issues on the agenda — proposed Bylaw changes.  (More coming up.) Some found this a poor use of time; I found it a reflection of the passion some members have for PRSA and its future.

State of the Society: In his remarks, 2018 PRSA Chair Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA, cited accomplishments made by the Society, including growth in diversity and advocacy issues; but he cautioned that the profession itself was “losing market share” in the communications arena due to factors like apathy and “free stuff” — digital resources. Millennials, he noted, find some forms of governance (like PRSA) irrelevant.

The Bylaw Debate: Prior to the Assembly, five proposals were made to amend existing Bylaws; learn more from this report published in June, but the focus was on ethics. I’ll refrain from much commentary. I had to depart to catch my flight home and missed some of the debate on the Bylaw proposals; however, I provided my proxy decisions to colleagues from PRSA Chicago. Two of the five amendments passed. During his remarks, Mr. D’Angelo noted that the issues were not relevant to the challenges facing the Society. But from this perspective, I’m glad PRSA gives members the opportunity to undertake changes to the way the Society is governed.

APR “Self-Improvement” Project: Of course, I had to comment on news shared that relates to the Accredited in Public Relations credential. What I learned is that there are plans to institute modules in the APR program, award “badges” to candidates, allow for online Panel Presentations and launch an online mentor match benefit. Good — no great — news.  More needs to be done to encourage professionals to seek Accreditation; more needs to be done to keep the credential a vital factor in the growth and development of public relations professionals today.

Other things learned: PRSA has developed a Speakers Bureau database, the Society is on good financial standing, membership (21,550 as of this month) has been static but is trending upwards, and there’s a new Strategic Plan being crafted.  I look forward to following these and other developments in the months to come.

But a final thought on the Assembly: PRSA will only be as vital to public relations as its members contribute to the way the Society functions and the profession is perceived in society.  After leaving Austin, I’m encouraged by the future.

 

 

The PRDude Reaches Another Plateau: Post 400

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

This question has left me in a quandary the past several days: What should be the focus of this post — the 400th published here on the PRDude blog?

Perhaps a retrospective of my “favorite” post over the past (could it really be that long?) nine years? No, who really cares, and I think I’ve already written a post on that topic, somewhere back in the 200 or 300 post library.

Announce some new feature or improvement?  Well, I’ve started to categorize posts, but that job will take a little longer than anticipated.  But stay tuned.

Image courtesy of Geo G Wiki.

Or, maybe a list of the “best 400 moments” in the public relations profession? Of course, this is absurd and who determines what’s “best” in any subject or genre?  (Actually, I addressed this topic with a post way back in 2013.)

So, I’ll take the safe and easy road on this journey:

Appreciation. A sincere thank you to all who have read, commented and shared PRDude posts. Please continue to absorb my thoughts and perspectives, and please share this blog within your network.

Supporting Public Relations. And, a mention that next week I’ll join hundreds of public relations colleagues from across the nation in Austin, Texas at the Public Relations Society of America 2018 Assembly, which precedes the International Conference.

Regarding the latter, I’ll be representing PRSA Chicago, where I serve on the Board of Directors and chair the Accreditation Committee.

For those who follow the workings of PRSA, there’s been a rather “spirited” (emphasis intentional) debate underway related to existing PRSA Bylaws. This topic is on the agenda for the Assembly October 6.

I’ll reserve any thoughts or comments on the Bylaw proposals — which address ethics, a foundation of PRSA and public relations — until I return from the Assembly.

But speaking of ethics, earlier this month I published an article through my LinkedIn account:Leadership in Defending Misrepresentation of ‘Public Relations.'” The premise of my article centers on the need for members of PRSA, especially those who hold the Accredited in Public Relations credential, to address instances where the profession is misrepresented — often equated with propaganda.

Why?  Because the Advocacy component of the PRSA Code of Ethics requires members to be “responsible advocates for those we represent.” I interpret that provision as being at the vanguard for correcting erroneous references to “public relations.”

Thanks again, and watch for post #401 soon.

Hey Virginia Heffernan: What You Apparently Don’t Know About Public Relations

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

Sometimes, I have to gaze up at the ceiling, so to say, to find the subject for a PRDude post. And, other times, the topic surfaces in an expected place and figuratively bashes me across the forehead.

The subject of today’s post lies squarely on the latter.

Photo of Ms. Heffernan courtesy of Wikipedia. Not sure of the name of the four-legged friend.

While reading my print edition of the Chicago Tribune during lunch today, I found an opinion piece that focused on Hope Hicks — the current White House communications director — and offered a commentary on public relations.  You can read the digital version of the article, “Who Exactly is Hope Hicks?, posted on the Tribune’s website and dated February 5.

The commentary, written by  Virginia Heffernan, opens with an account of President Donald Trump’s reported affinity for women models — from his current wife Melania and daughter Ivanka to other women who are currently part of his administration and staff. Then the focus moves to Ms. Hicks, specifically her experience as a fashion model and position managing communications for The Trump Organization.

What follows the introductory paragraphs provided the fuel for this post. Frankly, the piece is an example of myopic, uninformed and outright erroneous interpretations of the public relations practice and an assault on the professionals who adhere to established standards of ethical and strategic communications.

Rather than dissect the editorial paragraph-by-paragraph to unveil all I believe is wrong, fictitious and plain idiotic, here are a few “gems” of sorts that demonstrate Ms. Heffernan’s preconceived perceptions of public relations and the people who work in the industry:

  • “Modeling is not, however, Hicks’ chief qualification for her job with Trump. She’s a publicist to the bone.” Just what the heck does being “a publicist to the bone” mean in this case? That Ms. Hicks is serious about generating or managing publicity, a component of public relations? And, so what if she modeled before switching careers.
  • “Hicks didn’t just drift into her first PR job as some in the sheath set are known to do. Instead, she’s to the manner born, third generation in a family of special-forces flacks.” First, what comprises the “sheath set?” And, this is a new one to me: “Special-forces flacks.” Are they given commando attire, too, when engaging in a strategic communications exercise? Fiunally, so what if her grandfather and father worked in public relations.  I trust this never happens in journalism.
  • “PR at that level takes moral flexibility, callousness and charm.” This nugget was in reference to previous paragraphs stating that Ms. Hicks’ father “ran publicity” for the National Football League and now works for a communications firm that “specializes in — among other things — crisis management and ‘Complex Situations.'” And, Ms. Hicks “was trained by the best: Matthew Hilztzik,” the so-called chief publicist for Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. The take away here, according to Ms. Heffernan:  Public relations professionals shouldn’t develop crisis communications programs or represent professional sports franchises or media companies.
  • “But as Hope Hicks knows — and as her father and her father’s father knew — lying to the media is traditionally called PR.”  This, the final sentence in this garbage of slanted commentary bashes an entire profession and the people who work in it.  My response to Ms. Heffernan: So, I trust that the work published in the New York Times — where Ms. Heffernan worked as a staff writer — by Jayson Blair was credible journalism?

This outright pillaging of all things public relations and equating the profession as detrimental to society and our democracy needs to stop.  Yes, there are “flacks” in the public relations profession.  But as a former reporter, I know  there are “hacks” in the news business and perhaps every profession.

Left unchecked, this type of uninformed commentary propagates total misconceptions about the work of serious, honest public relations professionals.

In an effort to provide some guidance to Ms. Heffernan, perhaps she should visit the Press Contacts page published by the New York Times. There are eight communications professionals listed.

Perhaps one of these colleagues could share some accurate insight on public relations. Otherwise, Ms. Heffernan could visit this page hosted by the Public Relations Society of America.

What Happens When You Put 24 PR Agency Leaders Together in One Room?

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

Well, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, let me provide some background.

Yesterday, long before Halloween trick or treating started for most, I and some 100 other public relations professionals attended the 6th Annual Agency Leaders Breakfast Roundtable hosted by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

This popular fall gathering allowed participants and senior members of many of Chicago’s foremost global and local PR shops an opportunity to launch conversations in a round robin format.

I’m sure many at the Agency Leaders Roundtable were mesmerized by the view.

The event was sponsored by Find Your Influence, an influencer marketing technology platform, and held in a glorious old cathedral-like room at the University Club of Chicago. The views overlooking Millennium Park and Chicago’s lakefront were sublime, the trees alive with fall colors; but the overall focus was on all things public relations related.

As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I was charged with helping to stimulate conversation at table #9. Like most in attendance, I was fueled by coffee and the desire to engage with the many industry colleagues assembled.

Here are abbreviated and paraphrased take aways from the six agency representatives who conversed with myself and two other attendees. Three dominant topics surfaced: The growth of employing influencers, the expansion of multiculturalism, and the resounding need to support ethical public relations practices.

Amy Littleton, Senior Vice President, KemperLesnik: People are getting smarter about recognizing fake news, and people eventually will return to traditional news. Young people digest lots of content on multiple platforms, and they might not be concerned about accuracy. So, we may someday see legislation related to fake news. The public may be making decisions regarding fake news at the ballot box.

Aaron Schoenherr, Founding Partner, Greentarget Global Group: Before the emergence of influencer marketing, public relations campaigns would piggy back on the built-in reputation of the endorser. We’ve determined that some B2B clients are not interested in influencer marketing.  But there is without question a rise in digital: Subscriptions to the New York Times digital edition are up, and Reuters has found that digital use is up. Plus, there’s not as much trust in traditional outlets today.

Stimulating conversation flowed during the 90-minute morning event.

Amy Kennedy, Executive Director, Golin: The question is: Who will own the relationship with influencers today?  PR firms? If so, public relations practices have to be ethical and must include multiculturalism. At Golin, we support multiculturalism and determine ways to find inclusion.  We determine, “How should we talk about that product or service?” It’s the personal responsibility of the influencer to be inclusive.

Christina Steed, Executive Vice President, Flowers Communications Group: Flowers has practiced multicultural communications before it was a well-used term. We would reach out to pastors at local churches to convey messages related to the community, or reach out to the Chicago Urban League regarding economic development. They would help us get the message out.  Some large clients, like McDonald’s, have been slow to catch on with influencers. Current influencers need to put trust in the trust bank.

Maxine Winer, Senior Partner and General Manager, FleishmanHillard: FleishmanHillard has always provided ethics training for our staff. Our policy is, “If you see something that appears to be unethical, say something, even if you’re not sure why it may be unethical.”  We rely on colleagues to be ethical, and we want them to feel comfortable raising any issue.  Multiculturalism is part and parcel in everything we do.

Daniel Pooley, Managing Partner, Finn Partners: Influencer marketing is a craft that has its own heritage. Public relations always has had influencer marketing because it’s another way to create brand connections. There’s a shifting DNA on influencer marketing that demands it to be more scientific with scalable results that are better measured. Bold, smart strategies are needed.

A side note: I have met and worked with some of the leaders on the agenda, but was thrilled to meet new fellow professionals committed to ethical public relations.

Looking forward to next year’s Roundtable. And, if it happens to fall again on Halloween, perhaps costumes should be required.

Perhaps Ad Age Should Stick to Covering Advertising

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

On this last day of September, the month that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) makes a concerted effort to promote ethical practices among members, I was inspired by an article that was published online by Ad Age, a leading industry publication that (you guessed it) primarily covers the advertising business.

Here’s what drove me, a long-standing member of PRSA, to share the following thoughts.

The article, “PR Implosions: How Four Marketers Answered Calamity,” certainly has merits.  Four authors each address a recent product or service crisis and offer analysis on how the crisis was managed.

Image courtesy of the Public Relations Society of America.

You’re probably familiar with each crisis, as the companies profiled are global brands and the resulting breakdown from each crisis generated lots of news coverage and commentary; so there’s no need for an extensive recap.

What stood out to me was — and I’ve addressed this topic before — how “public relations” was given the focus of the “crisis” problem. This is exemplified in the headline and in lines like “the onslaught of PR disasters” and “Talk about a PR blunder.”

Shout out to the Ad Age copy editor and the authors whose writing I just referenced: “Public relations” practices did not initiate these crisis situations!  “Public relations” did not cause electronic devises to malfunction, and “pubic relations” did not forcibly remove a man from an airliner. These were design and manufacturing errors, human and management blunders.  When will those who write about public relations get that concept right?

Okay, where does ethics enter the discussion here?

One principle of the PRSA Code Provisions of Conduct is Enhancing the Profession.  Under the list of guidelines for this principle is this:

  • Acknowledge that there is an obligation to protect and enhance the profession.

So, as a public relations professional who takes what I do seriously, it’s my ethical responsibility to call out situations where the practice of public relations is wrongly equated with failures in manufacturing, service, production or operations.

There, I feel better.

From October 8 to 10, PRSA will hold its 2017 International Conference in Boston. Unfortunately, I can’t attend. But I hope those in attendance debate the topic addressed here.

 

Rob Goldstone, Ethics and Public Relations

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

Updates continue from news sources world wide regarding the recent disclosure regarding Donald Trump, Jr. and his meeting in June of 2016 with an attorney reportedly tied to the Kremlin.

This report published earlier today from Reuters provides the President’s comments on this (as it’s known in the industry) “developing story.”

We’ll let the global news organizations continue their respective investigation.

Rob Goldstone. Photo courtesy of dailyentertainmentnews.com

In this space, we’ll put some analysis toward the actions of Rob Goldstone, the celebrity publicist who initiated the meeting between Mr. Trump, Jr., his brother in law Jared Kushner, and one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A July 11 report from the New York Times provides an account of the email exchange, which Mr. Trump, Jr. shared with the world yesterday.

Upon reading the initial email message from Mr. Goldstone, those of us dedicated to the practice of ethical public relations had to share a collective “what the hell is he doing?” thought.

This passage from the June 3, 2016 email sent by Mr. Goldstone violates values and standards of conduct established to elevate public relations beyond propaganda and hucksterism:

“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Read this part again: “…official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary…”

Poor grammar and run-on sentence aside, this sinister communication is plain wrong for the founder of a New York-based communications firm and a person one would think would be removed from this kind of unsubstantiated messaging.

Mr. Goldstone opened the door violations of perhaps four Provisions of Conduct set by the Public Relations Society of America:

  • Disclosure of Information
  • Safeguarding Confidences
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Enhancing the Profession

Review these PRSA provisions and share your thoughts on Mr. Goldstone’s communications practices — practices that may have had an impact on the 2016 presidential election.

And, if you’d like to pose a question or offer a comment to Mr. Goldstone about his actions, his firm’s website includes his contact information.