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.

 

 

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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.

I’m Back! (Well, Sort Of)

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

On December 8 of last year, I had the privilege of attending the Senior Leaders reception hosted by PRSA Chicago.  (Hard to fathom that I’m a “senior” anything, but I trust the term is accurate.)

The annual event provides an opportunity to shine the spotlight on a local public relations professional who made a significant, positive and measurable impact on the profession through her or his work and within the community.

Michael Jordan I'm BackThe 2016 honoree was John LaSage, who for decades distinguished himself through his work at the Chicago office of Burson Marsteller. Read details on the reception in this report on the Chapter website.

During his outstanding comments, Mr. LaSage recalled momentous occurrences from his career, including one that basketball fans from Chicago and across the world will long remember: Michael Jordan’s return to the Chicago Bulls in March of 1995, some two years after the icon “retired” following three consecutive NBA championship seasons.

I recall Mr. LaSage recounting his participation in crafting the announcement. If memory serves correctly, a “formal” news release was prepared, but apparently Mr. Jordan opted for a message simple, compelling and memorable:

“I’m Back.”

Well, to borrow the phrase above, I’m back, too.

Specifically, I’ve been elected to the Board of Directors of PRSA Chicago, where I served for some 10 years.  My responsibility: Re-energize the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) program within the Chapter.

First, let me stipulate that my return to the Board does in no way equate with Michael Jordan’s return to the Chicago Bulls.  (And, not to sound snarky, but they should could use him this season.)  After all, Jordan-led teams won three more NBA championships.

My goals for 2017 are more modest:

  • Establish a viable program to nurture local public relations professionals through the APR process.
  • Nurture three or four colleagues on to earning Accreditation by early 2018, or sooner.

Some primary research revealed the vast majority of those earning Accreditation in recent years come from associations, healthcare, governmental organizations and the corporate world. Very few, if any, are from big agencies.

This was the same trend when I served on the Universal Accreditation Board from 2006-11.  So while our supportive efforts will be open to all, history has shown that we may not gain candidates from the marquee PR shops.

That’s okay. Because as noted, I’m back and ready to help anyone up to the Accreditation challenge.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Trump + Public Relations = Scandal?

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

When candidates for the Republican nomination for president were jockeying for position last summer, I asked a friend what advice would he give to then long-shot Donald Trump.

how-much-donald-trump-makes-in-speaking-fees-compared-to-everyone-else

Presidential candidate and reported publicist Donald Trump. Image source: Business Insider.

My friend, a very experienced and accomplished public relations strategist, said, as I recall: “If I were to offer Mr. Trump counsel, I would advise him to start speaking on the issues and address why he’s qualified to hold the office of president.”

In the 10-plus months since that conversation, Mr. Trump has, indeed, spoken about a lot of things. Some, okay many, would argue that he really hasn’t tackled critical issues facing the nation — the economy, immigration, terrorism threats come to mind — in light of the fact he sure knows how to talk and has done so voraciously.

And, as to why he should be president: The candidate flaunts his business acumen and success as a builder of buildings and creator of jobs.

Another skill required by presidents is to interact effectively with the media. According to a report last week, Mr. Trump has practiced this skill by returning a reporter’s call in 1991 under the guise of a Trump publicist named John Miller.  And, on other occasions, he was publicist John Barron.

As a public relations professional who has done his fair share of media relations, I offer Mr. Trump this advice: Please refrain from posing as a member of the public relations community.

Doing so is unethical because it violates many accepted values and provisions established by the Public Relations Society of America,  like honesty and open disclosure of information for starters. Plus, it takes away billable hours from a real public relations guy or gal!

In another era, the “Trump-posing-as-publicist” story might have ended the candidacy.  It would have been a scandal.

Today, it’s just another chapter it what is culminating in one of the most bizarre and “spirited” political campaigns in history.

Think I’ll reach out to my friend and ask what counsel he’d provide presumed Republican nominee Trump now.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

D.C. PR Pro Joe Kovacs, APR Shares Thoughts on Accreditation, the Profession, D.C.

How cool is this: A few years ago, a fellow public relations professional who was planning to pursue the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential reached out for advice.  He was living in Denver at the time, and he learned about my passion for the credential by reading some articles I wrote that was published in PRSA Tactics, perhaps this one.

I was, of course, flattered, and of course, I offered my assistance. The guy in question, Joe Kovacs, APR, is the subject of this question and answer post from the PRDude.  Since our initial  communication via phone, Joe and I have met in person during business meetings I’ve attended in Washington, D.C., most recently chronicled in this recent “travelogue.”

Here’s what Joe — Director of Marketing for a Bethesda, Maryland-based CPA firm — had to say about his career, Accreditation and what’s taking place on the national political scene and his burgeoning career as a fiction writer.

Joe Kovacs, APR

Joe Kovacs, APR

1. What are the biggest challenges you face when managing communications for Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman, CPAs, which has a large, diverse client base?

You have to do the best job possible segmenting your communications. That’s a huge challenge. You can send ANY client helpful information about personal taxes, since everyone has to pay Uncle Sam. But business owners won’t benefit or even find interesting the same material as nonprofit executives. So you really do need to dig deep into the demographics of EACH of these distinct audiences, think about what matters to them and develop customized messages for distribution that will help them find solutions to their problems or build on success they already enjoy.

Another huge challenge is bridging internal communications gaps. Every professional in a fast-paced work environment tends to focus on their personal work and goals, and may not sufficiently consider the importance of sharing information internally among various stakeholders for a project. This can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and tension. I see one of my jobs as keeping an eye out for those gaps and providing communications to stakeholders whom no one thought to contact about some new item of interest to our firm. It’s a small thing, but when you can keep everyone on the same page, it really does work miracles.

2. How has earning the APR and what you learned during the process contributed to crafting strategies to meet the firm’s communications goals?
One book I read when I was studying for my APR was Strategic Planning for Public Relations by Ron Smith. I think that book, more than any other, pushed me from being a tactician to a strategist. It really broke down all the different roles of communications professionals within an organization, which gave me a vivid sense of the different between someone who just does something and someone who thinks about what is the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t studied for my APR.

The other factor that turned me into a strategist for my firm is the APR test itself. It was an amazing test. Anyone who is going the route of accreditation should prepare themselves for the reality that it isn’t about rote memorization. You have to absorb knowledge and learn to think like a strategist because the APR test essentially gives you various fictional scenarios and it’s the “thinking” you developed during the study process that will serve you when you choose your answers. Really, I can’t say enough about the resources that PRSA encourages you to study or the intelligence behind the testing format, which helped me grow into a strategist.

Earning the APR credential helped elevate Joe Kovacs, APR, to become a strategist.

Earning the APR credential helped elevate Joe Kovacs, APR, to become a strategist.

3. Speaking of Accreditation, we became acquainted when you reached out for guidance on the APR process after reading article I wrote for the PRSA Tactics magazine. Have you inspired others in your market to pursue the APR?

I don’t know that I have directly inspired anyone to say okay, yes, I’m going to go for it. But I have had some friends who decided to pursue Accreditation and one of the first things they told me they did was reach out to me for advice because they knew I had already gone through the process. I will say, though, that I think any communications victories you achieve on your employer will reflect on the value of the APR.

Not long after I became Accredited, I joined the public relations committee of a membership association. The following year, I was asked to be chair. The year after that, I was asked to be on the organization’s board of directors. That was an incredibly flattering experience, and I attribute whatever success people think I may have had, to my accreditation training. When the board launched a strategic communication committee late last year, guess who was selected to be the board liaison to that committee? And we have had some successes in media relations since then that I know have got some people excited. I regularly list the APR after my name (including on my LinkedIn profile) so whenever people look at how I’ve become more involved in the association, I hope they also notice the APR and think…hey, I wonder if that can help me out, too. I would be excited if anyone did that and ended up pursuing accreditation.

The U.S. Capitol, the symbol of D.C. to many. Photo Credit: jointblog.com.

The U.S. Capitol, the symbol of D.C. to many. Photo Credit: jointblog.com.

4. You work in metropolitan Washington, D.C. — the center of the national debate on all things taking place in the nation. Do you get very involved in the conversation? And, who do you plan to vote for in November?

Yeah, you know, this city doesn’t have the best reputation. Washingtonians are often considered rude, short and ambitious, and they’re only interested in you if you can help them get where they want to go professionally. I wish I could say that’s completely untrue, but there is some truth to it. With that said, though, a lot of the fiery personalities are individuals with big hearts pursuing some fantastic causes. D.C. is a nonprofit mecca simply because with Congress here, you have a lot of groups that send their government relations people up to Capitol Hill to advocate for this and that. I did that; I worked for several nonprofits, including once as the media relations coordinator on the government relations team of an educational nonprofit. The other side of that coin then is that you may have some cold, ambitious people, but many of them are committed to making the world a better place, and that’s the side of D.C. that people should consider more often, in my humble opinion. As for who I would vote for, I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal politics. But two candidate who are NOT running who it would have been interesting to see are Joe Biden on the left and Paul Ryan on the right.

5. And, when we visited last you shared some insight into your fiction writing. Would you care to share some further insight about you chief character and why you’re taking on this “second career?

Wow. Second career may be too strong a word at this point. But yes, I did just publish a literary novel independently. My main character is a Border Patrol agent in Arizona. I intentionally chose someone very different from me–meaning, I’m not from Arizona and had little knowledge about the Southwest when I first started this project–so that the writing wouldn’t become derivative and end up as some barely disguised autobiography. I think I succeeded in that regard. I am well into the first draft of another novel that takes place in Wichita, Kansas in the early 1900s. Again, I think by choosing a different location and time period, I can focus on how to build a good story rather than by writing about myself. I have always had a vivid imagination. That hasn’t gone away with time and I enjoy being excited about a lot of things and being child-like occasionally. One should never lose one’s zest for life and personal creation is a great way to keep the fires burning.