Thoughts on Accreditation from Anne O’Connell, APR: A Q & A

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

For the past few years, one way I gave back to the public relations profession was to help nurture professionals who were pursuing the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential through my volunteer work on behalf of PRSA Chicago.

I’m pleased and proud to share these thoughts from Anne O’Connell, APR, a Chicago area communications professional who participated in the Chapter training program in 2014 and earned the APR earlier this year.

Here’s Anne’s unedited replies to my questions regarding the APR challenge.

1.   Congratulations again on earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential. What was the most challenging part of the APR process?APR 50th

Thank you, and again, I appreciate your help. It’s hard to pick just one most challenging aspect as the overall process is taxing.  At first, I was worried about the timing of the research and my case study.  How would that mesh with my readiness review and the timing, based on the year, during which to take the examination?  Michael Henry (of Online2Learn, producer of the APR online study program) also was helpful in reassuring me that my timeline was doable. The case study does require a lot of mental energy, but it’s worth it. 

 2.   How do you plan to use the knowledge, skills and abilities learned from the APR process in your work?

I already have been using the KSAs in my current position.  I have been informally mentoring my staff in the best practices I’ve learned.  I work at an all-girls private high school and have started a club for students interested in public relations, journalism, graphic design and related fields.  I have shared some of my new knowledge with these students, as well.

ChgPRSA150325EdwardBuryAnneO'Connell-1

Anne O’Connell, APR, was recognized for earning Accreditation by PRSA Chicago at the Chapter breakfast March 25. Oh, and that’s me at left.

 3.   Can you provide a brief overview of the experience at the ProMetric Testing Center? Were you intimidated in any way by the rigid testing process?

I checked out the ProMetric center prior to my testing day.  The staff were helpful and explained how things would work.  I wasn’t intimidated.  In fact, one thing I found slightly amusing, on the morning I took the exam, was the staff told me if I went into the testing center with my zip-up sweatshirt on (over a T-shirt), I’d have to keep it on for the duration of the test.  Other tidbits were I could not take Kleenex into the testing area, nor could I take a couple of cough drops I had in my sweatshirt pocket. Now, I would not cheat, but even if I were so inclined, there is no way one could put cheat notes on a cough drop wrapper! 

All that aside, the test itself was situation after situation – very much process based, as all had indicated.  Each screen gives you a scenario and then multiple-choice answers.  I took a break to get a drink of water about half-way through.  The time seemed to go quickly, though I did not feel rushed and had extra time than I needed to finish.  I found some of the answers to slightly contradict what I had learned, but I chose the most logical answers that were closest to being what I considered being correct. I only marked a few questions to return to ponder further, but when I did so, I left the answers as I originally had them.

4.   The numbers tell the story: The APR program has been in decline, and PRSA has launched a concerted program to boost participation by professionals. What do you think needs to be done to get more professionals to pursue Accreditation?

I’m not up on what has been considered or done, but perhaps college/university professors could be engaged to help encourage students to pursue the APR once they are eligible. It occurs to me, though, having just met a young professional that the timing is interesting.  Once graduating from college, s/he needs five years in the profession.  That timing roughly puts people around the age of getting married and then perhaps having children.  Maybe there is a way to quantify that the APR enhances one’s earning potential, and that could be promoted extensively.

5.   In 50 words or less, give a shout out on why all serious PR professionals should consider earning the APR.

I highly recommend that serious PR professionals earn the APR.  I am much more strategic, valuable and confident.  I wish I would have pursued my APR earlier in my career. One of my goals now is to directly encourage colleagues I know and then mentor them through the process.

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Ron Culp Shares Thoughts: Five Replies to a Q and A

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

Today, The PRDude continues a time-honored (well, sort of) tradition: A Q and A with a fascinating figure from public relations.

But rather than run down the very, very impressive list of credentials earned by subject Ron Culp, I’ll make it easy: Visit Ron’s online biography and spend a few minutes reading about this consummate pro. You’ll learn how he cultivated a truly remarkable career highlighted by stellar professional achievements and outstanding volunteer contributions to public relations. And, now, the author of the very popular Culpwrit blog has charged forward to nurture the next generation of communicators.

From the “full-disclosure department,” Mr. Culp has graciously re-blogged some PRDude posts over the past few years, and I’m honored to know that along with public relations, he also has a fondness for the towns and lakes of southeast Wisconsin.

Here’s Mr. Culp’s erudite responses to five questions.

1. You’ve successfully navigated the corporate and agency sides of public relations.  What were specific public relations challenges faced in each arena?

Ron CulpAfter working for four major corporations, I discovered that the critical communication processes are remarkably similar no matter if you’re producing pharmaceuticals, office equipment or consumer products. At Sears, I was blessed with an extraordinarily talented team of public relations pros who got to know every aspect of their respective businesses. As a result, the PR team became an integral part of the business. Leaders running major business units sought out counsel on everything from product promotion to internal communication. This relationship with my team allowed me to know critical information about every aspect of the business, which provided me with a unique vantage point within the organization. Without a doubt, the bigger the company the greater the challenges and we were inundated with “opportunities.” Due to the size of the business and promotional nature of the store, we worked with a large number of agencies–nearly 50 at one point during the “good old days.”

Only after I joined the agency world did I fully appreciate challenges facing consultants, especially those who only receive one-off tactical projects. Their access to information is often limited to what is shared by the corporation so they must make assumptions that are sometimes correct and often wrong. Agencies that enjoy longer-term relationships with clients normally deliver the best and most cost-effective results. Agency client directors and teams who fully understand their respective businesses and convey a sincere client-first commitment become top-of-mind when additional assistance is needed. Creating that special esprit de corps is one of the key challenges facing any agency leader today.

2.  Public relations, like advertising, could point to “legendary” figures who shaped the profession from its founding days to not too long ago. Who’s at the pinnacle in today’s digitally-driven world?

We wouldn’t be where we are today without the legends who got us to this point of respectability for what our profession can help organizations achieve. I remain in awe of the contributions to the profession by some of the greats that I’ve been honored to know and work with over the years–Al GolinHarold Burson, David Finn, Dan Edelman and, of course, Betsy Plank. Today, I think the leaders of most large agencies and the CCOs of many of the top corporations are led by incredibly talented and innovative individuals. While there is consensus around Richard Edelman being a current day pioneer thinker in our profession, several of his peers and certainly corporate leaders like Jon Iwata (IBM) and Gary Sheffer (GE) also are significant players in raising the bar of respect and influence for our profession. 

3.  You made a very cool transition from leading a major agencyDepaul logo to leading the PRAD Master’s program at DePaul University.  How did you land that gig and what’s your biggest take away?

While heading Ketchum’s Chicago office, I signed up with the Plank Center for its academic fellows program that places PR profs in a dozen or so corporations and agencies during the summer to gain real-world insights to then share in their classrooms. Luckily, my office was assigned Teresa Mastin from DePaul. At the end of her two weeks of engaging with the Ketchum team, she asked me if I would consider teaching a class. I agreed to do so for one quarter and instantly got hooked and was happy to become an adjunct. When they asked me to help find someone to fill a newly created position of professional director for the grad program, I volunteered after another candidate I tried to help recruit turned down the offer. While I’ve enjoyed every phase of my career, I can honestly say this is the most rewarding work of my life. My DePaul colleagues and I draw incredible inspiration from seeing our students land their first jobs and then excel in them. Realizing that we’re helping train the future of this amazing profession provides a great deal of personal satisfaction.

4.  You’re a fellow blogger with the very popular Cuplwrit.com blog for “guiding the career in public relations.”  What prompted you to enter the blogging community?  And, what advice do you have for fellow PR bloggers?

I knew very little about blogging some eight years ago when I was approached by three Ketchum interns suggesting I consider starting a blog to provide advice for young people pursuing careers in public relations. Dressed as if they were going to an important new business pitch, they presented a persuasive PowerPoint case on why I should blog. They ended with the clever name, which was the brainchild of Kevin Saghy (now on the Cubs PR team). I have been blogging ever since, and I haven’t missed a week in all that time.

My advice to fellow bloggers is to find your passion, and post something regularly. Put dates on everything you write since this will remind you of the need to post at least once a week. 

5.   In 50 words or thereabouts, offer thoughts on the direction PR is headed.

Public relations (and I prefer those two words over the host of others that attempt to camouflage what we do) has never been in a stronger position as a profession. There is growing demand for talent, and colleges are turning out future professionals who are better trained than ever. However, as corporate and agency expectations for our services grow, there are two factors that concern me–writing and business intelligence. With few exceptions, educational institutions place too little emphasis on writing and business basics. Young professionals who can write usually are good thinkers, and those who understand how businesses operate are going to have highly rewarding careers.

# # #

Want to know the thoughts of other PR heavyweights?  (Figuratively speaking, of course.)  Here are Q&A posts from:

  • Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA and 2013 Chair and CEO of PRSA
  • Nick Kalm, President of Reputation Partners Public Relations
  • Chris Ruys, President of Chris Ruys Communications
  • R. J. Sirois, former PR pro turned successful real estate broker

Lessons Learned: One Year Later

By Edward M. Bury (aka The PRDude)

Tomorrow will be more than Monday, July 7, the start of the work week after the long Independence Day holiday.

At least for me.

Learning TwoIt’s the anniversary of my first year in my terrific new position handling public affairs for a major research university here in Chicago.  Working at an institution of higher learning, you might not be surprised to learn that I’ve learned quite a lot.

Here’s what stands out:

1. We Are Bound by the Quest for Knowledge. Chicago can certainly hold its own as a truly global city. The same goes for the university where I work.  Around one-third of the student body and faculty speak English as a second language.  Regardless, the focus on our campus is on learning, progressing and growing.  The atmosphere is supportive. The opportunities bound only by our drive and energies.  Language and customs so far haven’t come into play.

2. There are Nice, Cool People from Every Part of the World. Over Learningthe past year, I’ve made friends with smart people named Havan, Takanori and Moyin. They came to Chicago from parts of the world I’ve read about or gained insight from television, movies and online sources.  Their goal is to learn and experience life in the United States, in the City of Chicago. I’m proud to call them my friends, and I’m eager to share what I know about the city.

3.  I’ve Seen the Future of Communications and My Role In It.
And, frankly, the future is looking pretty good.  My role within our research unit involves around eight specific responsibilities.  Some skills, like website content development, social media management and how to plan large-scale event , I learned relatively recently. Others, like public relations strategies, project management and how to write effective, provocative copy, are skills I’ve built up over decades.  Collectively, my skill set is an ideal fit for our research unit or any small to medium-sized company or organization.  There will always be a market for communications professionals who can do a lot of things well.

What awaits in the next 12 months?

Watch this space and find out. As an Accredited PR professional, I’m bound to keep pace with the industry and learn.  And, I couldn’t think of a better place to do that than the place I’m at now.

The Service of Self Alone: A Song for the Times

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

Yesterday, the citizens of Illinois (including this citizen) voted in a primary election for important statewide offices, including the office of governor.  I won’t comment on the nominees from the two major parties, an incumbent populist who has a long career in public service and a political newcomer who made a fortune in the venture capital business.

I trust both have good intentions, and I believe both want to do what they Illinoisbelieve is needed to help Illinois rebound.

In listening to acceptance speeches last night, this was a common thread: Illinois needs jobs. The unemployment rate here, currently at above 8 percent, is among the highest in the nation and the highest in the Midwest.

As regular followers know, The PRDude blog was started in 2009 as way to chronicle my search for “that next great job in public relations.”  Along with commenting on “the lighter side of public relations, marketing, communications and other stuff,” I frequently comment on the employment market and what it’s like to seek work during these challenging economic times.

Below are lyrics for a song — you know I write songs, too, don’t you? — that was inspired by my most recent job search. The title is a line from The Book of Common Prayer.

The Service of Self Alone

Save me, save me St. Theresa
From the service of self alone
Guide me, guide me to fulfillment
Down the narrow pathway home

Chorus
Righteousness and perseverance
Brought me to the place I’m at
Do you hear me St. Theresa?
Should I sound a trumpet blast?

Watch me, watch me St. Theresa
As I try another door
Help me, help me knock the loudest
Louder than the man before

Chorus

Refrain:
Me and many, many others
Are forced through no fault of our own
To toil not for some wage or purpose
In the service of self alone
In the service of self alone

So help me, help me St. Theresa
The weeks have turned to months again
Give me give me hope and one good reason
To carry on and not pretend

Copyright Edward M. Bury 2014

Hopefully, this song, which has a ska beat, will resonate with those who are seeking work. Hopefully, I won’t be inspired to write a song like this again.

New Advice for PR Graduates This May

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

One of the most visited of the 167 posts published by The PRDude graced the blagosphere around this time last year.  In the post, I offered graduates of college public relations programs some advice on how to establish themselves in the profession.images advice

Offered were goals, strategies, objectives and tactics — thoughts structured within classic components of an effective public relations plan.

And, I even made this offer:  Reach out if you wanted any advice or direction.  (For the record, I’m still waiting; but the offer stands.)

A year later, I’m a little older and hopefully a lot wiser.  And, since I also am images dad advicesearching for that next great job in public relations, I’ve had time to think.  Here are a few other thoughts, wisdom I’m passing down to public relations colleagues-to-be.

  1. Learn the Definition of “Public Relations.” You’d be surprised at how many people out there in this great world — some who claim to be “public relations professionals” — still maintain that public relations is publicity.  Or, “just like marketing.”  After all, it’s easy to “get good PR.”  Right?  This profession keeps evolving, largely through continual new directions on the digital front.  But the fundamental purpose of public relations as a strategic means to communicate and build relationships has not changed.  Learn more from PRSA.
  2. Learn to Write (Beyond Tweets, Posts & Blogs).  It’s been a long images advice chairstime (hey, more than a long time) since I enrolled and completed a for-credit college course.  So, I’m not sure if students today are required to take a semester of English Composition 101 or some other fundamental writing course.  My 101 instructor was a guy named Professor Brosnahan, a very strict proponent of the written word.  He would scrawl a big red “F” on your composition for any error — spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, logic.   In this era of tweets, IMs and posts, the true public relations professional will have solid writing skills that transcend 140 characters.
  3. PR = Business Practice = Not Free.  As a public relations professional, you’ll be required to manage event budgets, approve vendor expenses, price out media distribution services and many other tasks that require money.  That’s part of business, and public relations is a business.  Furthermore, businesses are in business to make a profit; and, even non-profit associations with public relations departments run them like a business.  Learn the business side of the industry and how to manage a spreadsheet.

One more thing: As noted, I’ve had an open door policy for those who want direction on public relations careers and opportunities.  In the past year, I’ve fielded emails and a few calls.  Only one guy actually followed up on the offer to meet. There’s lots to be said about the desire to get out of the house.

Your thoughts?

Reasons to be Cheerful, Parts 1, 2, 3 …

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

4, 5, 6.

And perhaps more reasons, many more.

As I continue with my next challenge — finding that next great job in public relations (and/or a similar communications position) — I decided to spend a few minutes on this glorious spring Sunday in Chicago taking stock of life as of today.

I was inspired by a song from the 1980s (remember that decade?) from a U.K. band called Ian Dury and The Blockheads.  The song in question is entitled Reasons to be Cheerful. It’s kind of a sing-song composition featuring a rapid-fire recitation by Mr. Dury of a few dozen, well, reasons to be cheerful.  One could make an argument that Mr. Dury may have had some influence on the many forms of rap and hip hop, but that’s the subject for another day and time.

The late Ian Dury, British band leader, artist and cultural icon.

The late Ian Dury, British band leader, artist and cultural icon.

Mr. Dury, who fronted the band, certainly lived life on his own terms.  This is illustrated by the image that accompanies this post.  The Blockheads are probably best known for a tune — Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll — that encapsulated reasons lots of people were cheerful in the 1980s, and probably are still today.

(NOTE: The PRDude is not endorsing or offering any commentary on sex, drugs or rock and roll at this time.  Remember: This is a blog about public relations and “other stuff.”)

Back to reasons to be cheerful, here are some to share:

1. Support from Friends: Since I began my current search for a new position, I’ve received dozens of messages and calls from old friends, new friends, online friends and family offering support and encouragement.

2. Project Work: In the past few weeks, I’ve landed some terrific writing assignments, including a major article on commercial real estate and assisting an organization develop and execute an effective social media strategy.

3. APR Training: Through my involvement with PRSA Chicago, I and a colleague are nurturing three local public relations colleagues on the process required to earn the Accreditation in Public Relations.  We’ve held four classes and our candidates are really grasping what strategic public relations is all about.

4. Blood Pressure Drop. With more time to focus on my future and relax, my blood pressure has dropped to a “normal” 120 over 80.  Plus, I’ve started to exercise more and cook healthy meals most nights for Susan and I.

5. New Web Site Project: You heard it here first:  I’m in the process of launching a new web site that will let me pursue two of my passions: Online communications and enjoying a particular beverage that will remain nameless at the moment. Work is underway, and I’m projecting a late June unveiling. Stay tuned.

6. The Future: I’m optimistic about my future, the future of my city and our nation’s future. (As for my beloved Chicago Cubs, I’d say “wait until next year AND the year after that.”)  The Labor Department just released a favorable jobs report. While Chicago still has many problems, I think we’re becoming more aware of ways to solve them.  And, I sense that the President and Congress are ignoring the extremist views from both the right and left and want to meet on common ground.

I could add more, but six is plenty for now.

As for reasons not to be cheerful, I can’t think of any. How about you?

Crowdsourcing for Help on Public Relations Job Search Stragegic Plan

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

Visit my web site (for Edward M. Bury, APR, not The PRDude) and read my personal “tag line” of sorts:  “A Modern Strategic Communicator Steeped in Old-School Traditions.” The two key words from that passage to focus on for this post are “modern” and “strategic.”

My plan to secure that next great job in public relations is based on sound strategies and will incorporate modern forms of communications when appropriate.

crowdsourcing-525x350Crowdsourcing is one of those new online ways that’s pretty simple in concept. And, apparently, it has worked.  So, I’m trying it.  For the uninitiated, here’s a great definition of the concept:

“Simply defined, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.”  (Source: article by Jeff Howe, 2006 Wired Magazine.)

So, here’s what I have in mind:  Below is an outline for my plan to to land a new job in public relations.  I’d like crowdsourcing-cartoonto “crowdsource” replies and feedback from the blagosphere, and beyond should any alien beings have insight to share.

Without further ado, my plan.

Goal: Secure a senior-level position in Chicago with a progressive company, agency or association where I’ll be challenged to use my strategic public relations, communications and management skills to help realize a mission and build revenues.

Strategies: Leverage my knowledge, skills and abilities in the B2B arena, with a concentration in the real estate industry.  Accentuate my dedication to the public relations profession through volunteer work on behalf of PRSA Chicago and by one of 5,000 practitioners to hold the Accreditation in Public Relations credential.  Showcase my outstanding oral and written communication skills.

images crowdObjectives: Secure at least five job or informational interviews monthly with decision-makers.  Grow referral base to add at least two new sources monthly.  Receive at least three job offers by August, 2013.

As for specific tactics, I’ll hold off on sharing those until after I get some feedback from you.  And, I know: that third objective is quite optimistic.  But, hey, what’s the alternative?  To be pessimistic?  That’s not happening because I remain very confident that I have value in today’s market.

Now it’s your turn in this experiment.  Let the crowdsourcing begin.