Does Anyone Else Question Why Jussie Smolette Hired a Public Relations Firm?

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

As of this writing, the afternoon of February 15, the story involving the reported attack here in Chicago on actor and vocalist Jussie Smolette has taken almost as many twists and turns as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Image of Jussie Smolette courtesy of Wikipedia.

If you’re interested in following the story, this report from CNN chronicles what’s taken place to date.

Let’s let the media and Twittersphere follow the story and provide the next update. What I want to shed light to another aspect: The hiring by Mr. Smolette of public relations firm Sunshine Sachs.

(An aside: Sunshine Sachs has perhaps the most spare, unassuming and uncluttered website of any communications firm on the planet.  Must say, the site certainly is easy to navigate.)

When I learned of this development, my initial reaction was straightforward and driven by my experience in public relations: Why does the victim of a crime — albeit a celebrity who told police he was attacked by two men who hurled racial slurs, put a noose around his neck and poured a substance on him — need public relations counsel?

Public relations support, as I comprehend the practice, helps take advantage of an opportunity or mitigate a threat.

One could argue that in the days following the reported attack, Mr. Smolette’s account of what took place that night in the Streeterville neighborhood was challenged and therefore he needed the advice and guidance of public relations professionals to help counter media inquiries and preserve his reputation.

And, from the other perspective, Mr. Smolette and his story was grabbing headlines and media coverage — especially here in Chicago — and he retained counsel to respond effectively to what assuredly was a deluge of interview requests.

A quick Google search of the decision to hire Sunshine Sachs revealed digital reports that shouted “Jussie Smolette Victim? He Hired Harvey Weinstein’s PR Firm” and “Best Drama: Jussie Smolette Hires Harvey Weinstein’s PR Team.”

Now, my perspective.  Mr. Smolette certainly had the right and I trust the dollars to hire a national firm like Sunshine Sachs.

However, I remain concerned that news regarding the enlistment of public relations support was brought into the unfolding story may prove damaging to the profession and practice. Note the reference to alleged serial sexual abuser Weinstein in the examples noted above.

What I read into this: Public relations, which should be based on truth and adherence to established ethical standards, is becoming more equated with pop culture and tabloid headlines.

Would welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

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What’s On My Calendar in 2019

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

This handy calendar offers motivation, prompts, wisdom and more. Who knows: Maybe one of my quotes will be on the 2020 edition.

Looking back at the holiday season passed, I was fortunate to receive some outstanding gifts, from the intangible (moments shared with family and friends) to the tangible (a couple of six packs of some really good beer).

But assuredly, the most poignant — and hopefully most useful — gift found under the proverbial tree was a desk calendar.

As noted in the accompanying image, my calendar will offer “Inspiration, writing prompts & advice for every day of the year.”

By reading this post, it’s readily apparent that I write stuff, from commentary on public relations, politics and popular culture to travelogues and people profiles. With a career in public relations, marketing and journalism spanning (yes, hard to believe) four decades, there are a lot of other genres I could include within print digital and broadcast.

Back to the present, the most challenging writing projects completed recently were required assignments in my pursuit of a master’s degree in English. For the Theory, Rhetoric and Aesthetics course completed in December, I submitted a paper, “The Growth of a Post-Truth World in Modern Society.

To summarize the essay: Exceptionally challenging and equally rewarding, as I had to analyze early twenty first century perceptions of truth and falsehood while balancing beliefs presented by Plato and a twentieth century thinker. Heady stuff, indeed.

For the spring 2019 semester, I pivot resoundingly in another direction: Novel workshop.

Yes, I will begin — and hopefully finish — a novel by May. What’s the plot? Who are the characters? What do I hope to accomplish?  We’ll find out in a few months.

Should I need inspiration, I will read, savor and gain from the messages displayed on the little calendar on my desk. Then, I’ll get back to work.

 

If Michael Cohen Practices PR, Can I Practice Law?

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

Well, it was about time, and frankly, I’m not surprised.

President Donald Trump spoke to Fox News from the White House.

The issue? The proclamation yesterday by President Donald Trump that Michael Cohen, his former attorney, actually spent more billable hours practicing strategic communications than law.

So, again, the practice of public relations gets communicated as a non-sequitur, again gets tossed into the national spotlight, again gets misrepresented — this time during a televised conversation with the President of the United States, who actually was doing his best to distance himself from his long-time attorney.

Yes, the President made that statement in an interview Thursday with Fox News broadcaster Harris Faulkner. It comes up early in the conversation, shortly after Faulkner raised a question about the President’s professional relationship with Cohen — who as you may know, was sentenced Wednesday to 36 months in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance laws.

Here’s the full statement by the President:

“He did very low-level work. He did more public relations than he did law. You would see him on television, and he was OK on television.”

Yes, participating in media interviews can be part of a public relations program, but I really don’t think that’s what the President intended.

A quick check of Cohen’s background reveals lots of work as a barrister, businessman and so-called “fixer,” but I could not find any references to his “public relations” capabilities.

In researching this post, I had hoped to find other public relations professionals concerned about the President’s Thursday comment and misrepresentation of the profession, but none surfaced.

Yet.

I did find this CNN report on the “29 most surreal lines” uttered by the President in the Fox News Faulkner interview.  You guessed it: There was no specific reference to the Cohen practicing public relations comment.

Sigh.

 

 

 

 

So This Is How We Celebrate Christmas Today: Pop Up Bars?

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

Let me guess: The folks in this image from a place called Elf’d Up were sort of formally coached (and professionally dressed up and made up) to demonstrate the holiday spirit.

Let it not be said that The PRDude is a curmudgeonly Grinch when it comes to sharing thoughts and memories related to the Christmas holiday.

After all, this space has published a plethora of sorts of Christmas-focused posts over the years. Here are six:

  • A 2016 perspective based on the long-running Christmas Extravaganza gig put on by me and my mates from Chicago cover band Love House. (Free December 22? We’re playing Fitzgerald’s Side Bar.)
  • A video featuring an original Christmas song performed by — me on Christmas Eve 2014 — was my gift to you four years ago.  (Please excuse the questionable audio/visual quality; hope to re-record some day.)
  • In 2012, I grappled with the question: “What’s new this Christmas? Learn what I found in this post. (And, yes, I’m still looking for more answers.)
  • Once upon a time, there were no blogs and no one had personal computers; but we found reason for joy at Christmas.  I recall a favorite memory in a 2011 retrospective. (The story presented — very much true — still resonates.)
  • During my search for “that next great job in public relations,” I wrote what I hope was an inspirational commentary in 2010. (Sometimes we should be thankful for more than physical stuff.)
  • And, in this 2009 post, I injected some humor (it’s there, trust me) in an argument that Santa Claus is supported by sound public relations counsel.  (Okay, maybe I had a holiday glass of wine or two while writing this one.)

Each of these six posts — some corny, some serious, all heartfelt — have kind of a traditional scope (friendship, memories, thankfulness), and hopefully will resonate over the years.

That’s why I was somewhat taken aback by an online article I read this week on Block Club Chicago, an excellent locally-focused digital news source. The subject of the piece published December 5: Pop up holiday bars.

Yes, pop up — meaning not designed for permanence — establishments where you can ring in the Christmas holidays in a “fully curated” (my interpretation) environment, but one that will vanish and be recreated to celebrate the next holiday, possibly featuring all things Super Bowl Sunday or Groundhog Day.

Hey, I enjoy bars, restaurants or any business establishment that makes a concerted effort to decorate for the holidays and provide a festive environment.  But, I find it somewhat disconcerting that a business would market itself as a “holiday destination” — then get discarded like spent wrapping paper.  Where’s the permanence? How could these places build tradition, inspire memories, knowing they’ll be gone in January?

Wishing the pop up businesses success this season; they are businesses, and businesses are designed to make a profit.  Just call me old-fashioned, but please don’t call me the Grinch-that-wants-to pull the plug on-Christmas-pop up-bars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Questions on “Ghosting” This Halloween Night

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

Note the subtle “shadowing” around the image — my effort to add a little “ghostly” drama.

To get started, the topic of this post on what’s purported to be the “scariest night of the year,” has nothing to do with the celebration of Halloween.  Rather, my focus here is on a new addition to the modern lexicon: Ghosting.

As noted in this headline from an editorial published in today’s Chicago Tribune, the word “ghost” and its present participle form, “ghosting,” take on a particular meaning these days. The Urban Dictionary listed a definition for “ghosting” from 2016, which I’ll summarize: Halting communications without notice.  According to further research, the word is often used in personal relationships (ignoring a text from a person you have dated) and in the job market (failing to show up for a job you accepted).

Now, to my questions:

  1. How did “ghost” evolve from a noun for “spirit” into verb?  Who initiated the re-interpretation of the word?
  2. Why does modern society accept this ongoing bastardization of the language? (See this 2015 post on “doxing” for a somewhat related example.) Because it’s cool? Edgy? Modern?
  3. Why did the Chicago Tribune resort to what many may consider a colloquialism in an editorial?  And, in the headline, no less! Also, I dispute the use of “ghost” in the headline because Chicago Public School kids are not purposefully or intentionally causing the enrollment decline.
  4. What’s the next common word to get reinterpreted due to unforeseen and unfathomable justification?
  5. Can “ghosting” still be used should someone want to practice being a ghost?  Example: “I will complete a stringent ghosting regimen this week to prepare for Halloween.”
  6. What are the perspectives and insights from real ghosts on this dictionary-centered phenomenon?

Okay, I don’t anticipate a response to #6, although replies are welcomed; but please feel free to share thoughts to the other questions noted above.

But, in the spirit of Halloween, I’ll leave you with a link to a 2010 post, where I outlined public relations strategies and tactics for the holiday, one once primarily celebrated by kids. Speaking of kids, I better head home now. Don’t want to ghost neighborhood trick or treaters.

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.