Upfront Q&A with Col. Ann Knabe, PhD, APR

Col. Ann Peru Knabe, PhD, APR

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

Reaching the apex of success in one aspect of communications is highly impressive. My friend and colleague Ann Knabe, PhD, APR reached that pinnacle three times. As noted in this first public relations professional profile of 2021, Ann — who I met some 10 years ago while serving on the Universal Accreditation Board — delves into the decision that launched her three-decade career, shares insight on working at the Pentagon, expounds upon the state of modern public relations and much more.

1. You have had a remarkable career that spans military service, instruction at the university level, and more recently, work in the private sector. What inspired you to pursue communications?

I followed my heart! When I started out as an undergrad at Marquette, I was originally pre-law, majoring in history and political science, thinking about a big corporate paycheck. To pay the bills during college, I was a DJ at a night club (with real vinyl records, I might add), and my boss suggested I go into “PR” because he thought I was good a good communicator and knew how to work with the media. So I switched my major and never looked back. After I changed majors, I also switched my part-time role in the Air Force Reserve, from medic to a public affairs role. That’s when I really started getting involved in strategic communication. I now have more than 30 years in Air Force public affairs, and 25 years in PR, including consulting for businesses, teaching public relations at a university, and volunteering in the veterans and public relations communities. The common thread among all of these is building relationships between key stakeholders, and working towards mutual understanding, whether it’s during crisis or a long-term strategic communications campaign. Today my favorite part of PR is strategic planning with an emphasis on research and meaningful evaluation.

2.  You’re the first professional profiled here who has experience in military public affairs. Please share insight on key responsibilities and an anecdote.

When I first started in public affairs with an Air Force Reserve unit in Milwaukee, we broke our work into 4 broad areas: internal communications, community relations, media relations and congressional relations. I was primarily a writer, but also “jill of all trades.” In 1997, one of our planes crashed while attempting to land at Tegucigalpa Airport in Honduras. Three members of our wing were killed in the accident. It was tragic. The crash and resulting public affairs response helped me gain great appreciation of the power of media, the power of words, the importance of media relations, and the importance of being ready for crisis. This would shape my interests in the years to come. After more than 20 years at the local wing, I found my way to the Pentagon, and worked in public affairs for the Secretary of the Air Force. In this role, I participated in more complex strategic communications, including messaging about the nuclear triad, acquisition, personnel and other tough issues. As a Reservist who would fly into D.C. for duty during the summer months (when I wasn’t teaching), it seemed daunting at first, but the military does an excellent job growing their officers and instilling confidence. And, of course, there were many deployments along the way – including several tours in the Middle East, a six-month tour when I served as the Guantanamo War Court’s Pentagon spokesperson, and a tour at U.S. Central Command in Florida where I did public affairs planning for the Middle East and Afghanistan. In every role, I faced new challenges, but added valuable lessons and skills to my strategic communications toolbox. More recently, I’ve parlayed these skills into an emergency preparedness liaison role focused on preparation for disaster within the United States. 

3. Okay, now let’s turn to modern public relations. What are two key ways the profession has evolved since you began? If you’d like to add a third, please do.

The field of public relations continues to mature and become more strategic in nature. When I started out more than 30 years ago, we were largely focused on tactics. In the last 20 years, I have seen both military senior leaders and C-suite executives seek more meaningful, measurable results from their communication teams. And I’m not talking about numbers of press release sent out, instead, measurable effects on target audiences (how much the audience understands, or how their attitudes or behavior have changed as a result of public relations).

Another change — Within the last decade, we’ve witnessed the exponential growth of social media. I recall back in 2009, I put together the first social media conference at the where I taught, and PR practitioners were just starting to  think about the power of social media. I remember one of my students challenging me in class, saying Facebook was just a fad, and I was wasting class time talking about it. Today, social media is included in the vast majority of PR plans.

A third change  —  which is not so good  —  is the rise of disinformation. Americans need to really think about where their information is coming from, and whether or not it is true. In the last 5 years, we have increasingly seen more individuals with nefarious intent deliberately distribute and publish deceptive information.  This is counter to public relations and our Code of Ethics.

4. Your recent leadership role on the Universal Accreditation Board is admirable. How did your service benefit you professionally, and what challenges are ahead for Accreditation?

Serving on the Universal Accreditation Board has always been an honor, and to chair the UAB for one year was amazing. From a professional perspective, I learned how to be an even more agile leader. COVID threw us a curve ball, and, like all of America, we had to quickly learn how to adapt. Within a short amount of time, we had the entire Accreditation process available online, including computer-based testing in a proctored environment. I am also honored to have led the recent efforts to secure an agreement between the Department of Defense and the UAB concerning their commitment and involvement to the credential. But, perhaps most importantly, despite limited travel and pressure from so many directions, we were able to continue our mission uninterrupted — the maintenance and granting of Accreditation. I was blessed to work with and lead a talented team of professionals from across the nation during one of our most challenging years to date.

5. And, as customary, we conclude with an entertaining type of question. My research indicates you are a Wisconsin native — and more than likely — a Green Bay Packers fan. How can I convince you to switch allegiance to another NFL team? The Chicago Bears perhaps?

Great question, Ed! Full transparency (that’s what we like in PR!) — I am married to a Packers fan, and we have raised two Packers fans. I look at the football games as a time for me to focus on myself and let them enjoy the victory (or defeat) while I give myself a little personal time reading, shopping or getting a massage.

Perhaps more concerning to you, we are a bunch of Milwaukee Brewers fans! We consider Christian Yelich part of our extended family. We are really hoping this summer lets us get back to games at the ballpark in person, even if we have to sit with big gaps to remain socially distant. Apologies if you and your readers are a Cubs or White Sox fans, Brewers will dominate in 2021!

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An aside: As noted in this space on many occasions, I am — and will always remain — a Chicago Cubs fan. That will not jeopardize my friendship with Ann, even after the Cubs win the World Series this season. You read it here first.

 

All Public Relations Professionals Should Read This Post

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

Have plans for this weekend? Want something fascinating — but sobering — to read?

Let me suggest the 2019 IPR Disinformation in Society Report.  

Image courtesy of the Institute for Public Relations.

Certainly, this study, published by the Institute for Public Relations, is not a traditional page-turner or as compelling as a work of fiction or a celebrity biography.  But, if you’re a public relations professional, or if you care about the state and direction of modern American society, you should allocate time to read this provocative document.

Full disclosure: I have not read the full Report, but I will.  I did read the nine key findings presented and gained validation from some for what I have perceived to be significant problems today: Misinformation is detrimental to the nation; President Donald Trump is the leading proponent of spreading lies; false social media are the prime culprits for erroneous communication.

But I did advance personal understanding in a few other areas: A high percentage of Americans seek out other sources to confirm truth and accuracy; and family, cohorts and friends are the most trusted sources of information.

The Public Relations Society of America, of which I am a long-standing member, acknowledged the IRP report in this statement.  I wholeheartedly concur with PRSA. Dissemination of accurate and truthful information is the foundation of modern public relations, and it’s the ethical responsibility of PRSA members to adhere to this practice.

In this space, I’ve addressed disinformation/misinformation/false truth/lies/fabrication/fake news (or what ever term is appropriate or popular) frequently. Regarding President Trump, I’ve addressed his penchant for lying and fabricating facts and beliefs in a post published in May of 2016 and in another post published two days after his November 2016 election victory.

Want to gain a better perspective? The Washington Post maintains this database of “false or misleading” claims made by the President.

Back to the IPR report. The study does not offer solutions on how to end or even curtail the unfettered propagation of false information. But it keeps the conversation alive and at the forefront of conversation today.

That’s where it should be.

 

 

 

One Image, One Question: June 6, 2019

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

The conversation at the DePaul PRAD showcase was spirited as guests intermingled with the master’s students who effectively presented their work and themselves.

The challenge: Which of the 30 members of the cohort group should I speak to during the showcase and networking event.

The potential impediments: There was a time factor — just an hour or so. There were people I knew, other Chicago public relations professionals, who I had to engage with. And, this being early evening, there was that great buffet table, its contents the antidote to my hunger. Consequently, my time had to be allocated strategically.

Now for the situation: I was a guest at the DePaul University Future Leaders Graduate ePortfolio and Networking Event, held yesterday at an the Chicago Connectory, an appropriately-named co-working space on the fifth floor or the Merchandise Mart.

This now annual event provided a showcase for those who recently earned the Master’s in Public Relations and Advertising.  The recent graduates were billed as “future leaders,” but I maintain they are today’s leaders.  I visited with six, but would have welcomed the opportunity to meet them all.

I was impressed by their poise, understanding of communications and creativity — and not just because some shared gummy bears and chocolates.  They were practiced and straightforward, savvy and skilled in conversation, even when I posed a challenging question.

One graduate was balancing a few job offers, another maintained social media platforms for a lifestyle company as a freelance account. And, one participant highlighted her athletic prowess in her presentation, while another graduate showcased photography skills.

Again, I was impressed.

Now to the Question:

Will these skilled modern communicators have the right stuff to help keep communications advancing, to navigate the unceasing era of negativity, “fake news” and whatever modern society and technology ushers forward?

I enthusiastically say they do. Your thoughts are welcomed.

Aside: A shout out to my friend Ron Culp, PRAD Professional in Residence and a truly iconic figure in public relations, for inviting me to the showcase.

 

Grasping For An Answer On Why The Media Misrepresents Public Relations

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

The venue was outstanding: A cool, modern private club in downtown Chicago.

The event attracted a dynamic crowd: Public relations leaders from across the metropolitan region.

To me, the perfect combination to gain insight into a question that has been a nagging issue for years. First, some background.

The Arts Club of Chicago, shown here in a warmer time of the year.

Last evening, I joined public relations professionals at the PRSA Chicago 2018 reception to honor the Distinguished Leader of the year. The event was held at the Arts Club of Chicago just off North Michigan Avenue. For 2018, the chapter honored Jon Harris, the highly-respected Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer of Conagra Brands.

It would be an opportunity to visit Chapter friends I’ve known over the years, and of course, meet new members of the profession.

But, I had an ulterior “alternative” motive, of sorts: Seek insight from the senior public relations professionals assembled as to what the industry could do to address the misrepresentation of “public relations” by the media.

Navigating between samples of passed hors ‘doeuvres and glasses of red wine, I saw an opportunity to chat with a distinguished man sitting alone. After introductions, the man said he manages the Chicago office of a well-known agency and entered the profession following years as a newspaper reporter.

Outstanding, I thought: This man can bring a perspective from both sides of the equation.

So, sensing the awards ceremony was about to commence, I presented my question, citing a recent example of media misrepresentation, one that was glaring, obvious and to me, stunningly stupid.  He paused for a moment and appeared slightly taken aback.

“Well, you know,” he said, “Sometime we work to keep our clients out of the media.”

I nodded.

The ceremony began.

My question remained unanswered. Rest assured, I will keep searching, keep asking.

Okay Fast Company: Time to Slow Down and Listen

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

One general component of a public relations plan is some kind of “call to action.”

Image courtesy of truconversion.com.

Well, I maintain the public relations profession should rally to voice strong opposition to a recent article that claimed public relations was “failing.”

As you can ascertain, I found the piece, “Here’s What the PR Industry Is Failing,” to be inaccurate and totally void of any compelling reason to be published.

But the article was published May 1 by Fast Company and written by Bill Hankes, noted in copy below the article as “a longtime public relations veteran” and now founder of a startup “that helps journalists find the information they need to develop stories, some of which comes from PR professionals, but most of which doesn’t.”

(A question: How much is “most of which” as noted above?)

The crux of Mr. Hankes’ thesis here: Services used to disseminate communications initiated by public relations professionals are “outdated” and “facilitate bad behavior.”

Rather than attempt to bash Mr. Hankes and Fast Company for spreading erroneous and unsubstantiated commentary, I’ll take the high road of sorts.

(To step off the high road for a short time, Mr. Hankes: Refers to all of us in the profession as “publicists;” neglects to note that ethical, effective public relations is driven by sound strategies; and, champions incorporation of unproven “newer technology” to replace what many in the industry use regularly.  I could go on, but will stop here.)

On to the high road. This kind of commentary only perpetuates the erroneous belief that public relations is purely publicity, or to use the old-school term, “press agentry.” Yes, there are publicists out there and perhaps some press agents, but those disciplines do not reflect modern public relations counsel.

Back to the call to action, I would encourage all serious PR professionals to take every relevant opportunity to educate clients, friends, the person sitting next to you at the coffee bar, about the full scope of services we provide.

I’d be glad to discuss with Mr. Hankes, should he be interested.

* * *

Full Disclosure: I learned of this article from a Facebook post made by Gerry Corbett, APR, a “major PR dude” featured in this space back in January of 2013. Thanks, Gerry.

PR Firms and BBB Accreditation: Questions

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

Along with the usual main news, business, sports, and arts sections, the June 22 issue of our home delivered Chicago Tribune also included a tabloid publication.  No, not the rival Chicago Sun-Times, but a Consumer Resource Guide published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

BBB two

Think I’ll hold onto this publication; just in case.

The purpose of the insert was to celebrate the BBB’s 90th anniversary of providing service to people and businesses here in metropolitan Chicago. The contents contained BBB rated businesses, and a reasonable amount of display ads.  (Hey, print publication ain’t cheap.)

Let me offer my most sincere congratulations. I wholeheartedly support the work of this organization, which “sets high ethical standards for business conduct.” Learn more by scanning the BBB Business Partner Code of Conduct.

Now, on to the focus of this post. I scanned the 40-page report and learned that the mortgage broker we’ve used to finance and re-finance our home was listed, as was the company that replaced the roof on our garage last year.

BBB one

Note the two public relations firms, right between Public Opinion Analysts and Publishers.

But, what I found somewhat puzzling was the fact that there were only two public relations firms listed: GreenMark Public Relations, Inc., a firm headquartered in the north Chicago suburb of Mundelein, and FLEISHMANHILLARD, a global firm with offices in Chicago.  (Note: All caps with no space is how the firm was listed in the BBB report.)

For the record, the BBB report had 30 listings for Advertising/Marketing firms or Agencies/Counselors and five for Communications firms.  And, there were lots and lots of mortgage brokers and roofing companies

This prompted some questions:

  1. Most obvious, why are only two Chicago firms BBB Accredited?
  2. What value do public relations firms — companies that in theory are charged with strengthening client’s reputations — find in earning third-party endorsement, like from the BBB?
  3. Should organizations like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) champion BBB Accreditation?

As a public relations professional who earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, I support and value voluntary initiatives that substantiate my ability to deliver sound, ethical communications counsel.  This, I maintain, is especially true for public relations, a profession not licensed in this country.

And, yes, I did check the BBB list for bloggers. Not a category they list just yet. But I’ll keep checking.

 

 

 

On This Last Day of April, Thoughts on Participation on the Universal Accreditation Board

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

Cold, bleak and rainy here in Chicago, this last day of April. Perfect conditions to take on lots of productive tasks indoors, like publishing a post.

But what topic?

Ah, April is Accreditation month, the 30 days when many in the profession charge forward to promote the value behind the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

Well, The PRDude has commented on Accreditation quite extensively, including in past Aprils, as noted in this post from April of 2014.

tactics_large_bannerAnd, I had an article published in PRSA Tactics in April of 2010 on APR mentoring best practices from Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapters around the nation.

But, this space hasn’t shared enough thoughts on the board that administers, markets and confers the APR, the APR+M for military public affairs officers and the new Certificate for Principles in Public Relations for college graduates.

I’m referring to the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), the appointed body of Accredited members from eight public relations organizations, including PRSA, of which I’m a member.

Source: The Universal Accreditation Board web site.

Source: The Universal Accreditation Board web site.

From 2006 to 2011, I served as a member of the UAB. To say is was an honor is an understatement. The same goes for how my experience on the UAB elevated me personally and professionally.

All self-deprecation aside, I was kind of  a PR mutt when I was appointed to the UAB. I earned Accreditation in 2004, and had served on the newly formed PRSA Accreditation Marketing Committee (of which I later chaired.) During my many years at agencies and with an association, I had not been and active participant — much less a volunteer — in the public relations profession.

For the record, I was not a “joiner,” unless one would count being a Chicago Cubs fan and beer aficionado.

Serving on the UAB elevated me as a business communicator because I got to actively participate and make decisions on something I cared about and something I believed in. At each meeting, I had to hold my own with a body comprised of smart, experienced PR strategists from academic, agency, military and non-profit disciplines.

Frankly, during my first block of meetings held at PRSA headquarters on Maiden Lane in New York, I was a little intimidated. Hey, I was the new guy and lacked the pedigree of most — okay, perhaps all — of my colleagues!

Soon I became acclimated to procedures, and after a while, understood the acronyms that often surfaced in Board meetings. (KSAs — yes, the knowledge, skills and abilities tested in the CBE, the Computer Based Exam.) And, I contributed, first conducting an audit of the old UAB website, then co-chairing the MarCom (marketing communications) work group.

Perhaps the most lasting reward from my UAB service: The bonds and friendships I forged with many colleagues, many who remain my friends still.

From another perspective, that’s what public relations is all about: Building mutually beneficial relationships.

 

 

 

 

Is The 24-Hour News Cycle A Barrier to Earning Accreditation in Public Relations?

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

A few years ago, I asked a friend — a successful and very accomplished public relations agency vice president — why she hasn’t pursued earning the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

In the agency world, is public relations really a 24-hour business?

In the agency world, is public relations really a 24-hour business?

“There’s just not enough time,” she said. “It’s not like the days when you were in the agency business. Clients expect us to be available any time of the day … and night.”

Ah, the agency business.

I left my last agency position in 1998. Public relations professionals (and the rest of the world) communicated through email and maintained web sites back then. But cell phones were just taking hold, social media as we know it wasn’t invented, and Google hadn’t even been launched.

If a client failed to reach you during business hours, the question or issue often had to wait until the next business day. As noted by my friend, that’s apparently not the case today, and indeed, it might be a road block to Accreditation for some.

In late December, 2014 PRSA President Joe Cohen, APR, published a post that outlined steps to strengthen the APR. One measure on the table:  A proposal to grant the credential to PR professionals who have 20 or more years of experience and “who have demonstrated a record of commitment to lifelong learning, and adherence to practicing the enduring principles of public relations.”

Glad this concept wasn't as big back when I was an agency guy.

Glad this concept wasn’t as big back when I was an agency guy.

These 20-year-plus professionals — from the agency arena, private sector or association/non-profit — would not have to take and pass the online Comprehensive Examination.

That’s a game-changer to me and the hundreds of other public relations practitioners who earned the credential since 2003. We had to go present and defend a PR plan based on the four-step process, complete the Readiness Review and ultimately, pass the Comprehensive Examination.

I trust an underlying factor to the proposal is to allow those who might not have the time to commit to the months of study the opportunity to join those Accredited members who are committed to the ethical practice of public relations, the profession and lifelong learning.

Clearly, something needs to be done to boost the numbers of professionals earning Accreditation and the status of the credential in today’s business communications landscape.  But I am not convinced that this proposal is the answer.

Will those who are “granted”Accreditation actually respect and recognize the value of the APR as much as those of us who earned it? Will they be champions and promote Accreditation to their peers? Is there even any research that shows there’s a demand by senior-level professionals to become Accredited?

Fortunately, the PRSA National Board of Directors drafted and approved these realistic, attainable measures to bolster the APR. The “20-year” proposal is just one of many suggested directives. I trust the debate will continue well into 2015, as it should.

Finally, a shout out (note the modern language) to my agency friend: I trust you’re billing clients for all of those after hours and weekend client tasks.

More Blurred Lines of Communication?

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

Some big news surfaced yesterday on the communications front.  As detailed in this article originally published in Advertising Age, an iconic Chicago-based company known for creating some of the best-known equity characters in advertising history has teamed up with a relatively new but extremely influential digital aggregator and blogger of news and commentary.

What would the late Leo Burnett say about his company's partnership?

What would the late Leo Burnett say about his company’s partnership?

Their goal, as stated in the article is “to develop strategies and then produce content for the ad agency’s clients.”  (And, of course, to make lots of money in the process.)

The players: Leo Burnett and Huffington Post.

Or, in other words: The ad agency that created Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna and the Marlboro Man now joins forces with writers from the top-ranked digital media empire to draft and distribute paid media messages.  Or in other words, write what used to be called “advertorials,” or articles that are paid for, just like TV, radio, digital, print, transit and other advertisements.

On HuffPo, as the site is known, and other online platforms, paid content is identified by a “sponsored link” disclaimer.

So what’s my take-away from this development?  Here are two thoughts:

1. Makes Sense. In this ever-increasing digital  age, competition is fierce for an audience’s time and attention.  I trust

Wouldn't you like to be the fly on the wall in a conversation between Ms. Huffington and Mr. Burnett?

Wouldn’t you like to be the fly on the wall in a conversation between Ms. Huffington and Mr. Burnett?

the HuffPo content writers have the skills to draft content that generates visits that lead to sales.  The creatives at Burnett know their clients and their products and services.

2.  Divide and Conquer. Both companies are businesses, and business should make a profit. So, why not consolidate forces to produce a better product?  After all, there are plenty of ways a company can spend money to influence the consumer or business audience.

But, I wonder if this partnership will prompt other communications firms — be they advertising, traditional or digital

media, and of course, public relations firms — to do the same. And, if so, will a company lose sight of its focus, its true mission?

Will lines of communication in regards to the originator become more blurred when disseminated to the target audience?

Stay tuned, but I’d like to put  the late, legendary Mr. Leo Burnett in a room with the very much alive Arianna Huffington and get their perspectives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Role of Public Relations in Modern Society: A Visual Portrait

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

Okay, the image below looks like, well modern art.  And, indeed, it is — but art with some great insight role public relations and other forms of modern communications has played in shaping modern society.

??????????

This image — probably inspired by one of those graphics showing the human anatomy — was part of an exhibition on display in one of the student galleries on the university campus where I work here in Chicago.

Regrettably, I did not learn the name of the artist when I took this and the following photo images in August of this year.  Along with the artist’s technical and creative skills, he or she was on target in communicating how government policy, world events and advancements in communication shape our world.

I was inspired to draft this post for two reasons:

1. I think the image is a very cool and compelling piece.

2. It reinforces the value of using visuals to better communication and build awareness for a message.  Think a modern infographic — but much more creative.

Here are some close up views.

A close up shows the impact and offshoots of Mass Media.

A close up shows the impact and offshoots of Mass Media and the beginning of modern marketing. Note that Public Relations shares a “vein” with Advertising.

 

And, this close up reveals the impact of television on modern society.

And, this close up reveals the impact of Television on modern society, leading to what I guess is a “heart” that pumps Market Research and Brand Management.

Sometimes those of us in the public relations profession — and advertising and marketing, too, I guess — lose sight of the fact that we’re a relatively small part of the general scheme of things.

This awesome work of art puts that into a perspective anyone can visualize.