Two Corporate Blunders That (Fortunately) Were Not (In All Instances) Labeled “Public Relations Disasters”

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

This space has remained stalwart in addressing occurrences of corporate operational or administrative mistakes that were unfairly categorized by the media as “public relations disasters” or better yet, “public relations nightmares.”

In a sound strategic move, Papa Johns will remove its founder from print marketing materials. Image courtesy of the New York Post.

The rationale, as I comprehend it: A company gets grilled when news breaks (and these days, news often is accompanied by a video account) that results in an embarrassment, loss of business or possibly a fine or legal action. This constitutes unfavorable media coverage or “bad PR.” Hence, the correlation — albeit inaccurate and unfair — to public relations.

Well, any reference to a “public relations disaster” was, remarkably, absent in some news reports I read in print or online of two recent corporate blunders:

  • Papa John’s International.  On a conference call, pizza chain founder John Schnatter uttered a racial slur, leading to his resignation as chairman of the board from the publicly traded company.  As a way to mitigate this crisis, the company also is removing Mr. Schnatter’s image from its marketing materials.  I’ll also bet Mr. Schnatter will no longer be featured in TV spots.
  • Build-A-Bear.  Yesterday, this company that allows kids to design and build their own stuff animal created pandemonium — and left a lot of kids and parents unfulfilled — when a “Pay Your Age Day” promotion drew overflow crowds at shopping malls across the nation.  Parents received $15 vouchers as an appeasement, and the company CEO promptly issued a video apology.

But, doing a Google search, yes, I found some references to “public relations crisis” in both stories noted above.

I had hoped the media would dissolve an instance of outright stupidity and callousness (Mr. Schantter) and one that failed to comprehend the consequences of a marketing initiative (Build-A-Bear) from the realm of having anything that originated with a strategic public relations plan.

Assuredly, the public relations teams for both organizations — departments that did not initiate what led to the negative publicity in both instances — will marshal its crisis communications plan in the days to come. Perhaps both companies will get some “good PR” in the future.

 

 

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Three Salient Thoughts from Arthur W. Page Society President Roger Bolton

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

Without question, thoughts from the president of the leading international society for senior public relations professionals across the corporate, agency, non-profit and academic disciplines would prove noteworthy, enlightening and compelling — especially for those of us who remain passionate about the state of public relations today. Well, that accurately encapsulates the casual presentation made by Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society.

Bridget Coffing, Maril Gagen MacDonald and Roger Bolton at the PRSA Chicago Senior Leaders presentation June 26.

In Chicago June 26 at the invitation of PRSA Chicago (where I serve on the 2018 Board), Mr. Bolton shared insight on the direction modern public relations is heading, the results of studies on corporate CEOs and CCOs, the mounting impact of technology and much more.

(Shout out to the PRSA Chicago Senior Leaders committee for organizing the event, securing great sponsors and of course, locking in Mr. Bolton.)

Before a packed and attentive audience in a second-floor hall at the classic Women’s Athletic Club of Chicago, Mr. Bolton provided way, way too much to chronicle in its entirety in this space. So, here are three comments that were especially poignant to me.

  • On the role of communications professionals: Defining the organization and its mission is a key role of corporate communicators. Mr. Bolton followed that thought with this equally important comment: The communicator’s job responsibility is to “not burnish the image of a flawed client.” Bravo, bravo!  Learn more from “The Authentic Enterprise” report produced by the Page Society in 2007 based on C-Suite interviews and research.
  • On coping with disruption caused by modern society: A 2016 report, “The New CCO,”  addressed the dramatically evolving role of the men and women charged with directing and guiding corporate communications. All industries, Mr. Bolton said, experience disruption from technology and many other forces; to address this within a corporation, CCOs must navigate ways to change the corporate culture to adapt to the inevitable instances of severance from the norm.
  • On the impact of artificial intelligence in modern communications.  Mr. Bolton noted that the results of some political races are being covered by machines due to a lack of live reporters on the scene. Artificial intelligence is a reality, but communicators should not be dissuaded from employing technology “to make human lives better.” He augmented that thought by stating that communicators today need “to use digital technology in an authentic way.”

The discussion was moderated by Maril Gagen MacDonald, founder of the strategic Chicago communications firm that bears her name.  My colleague on PRSA Chicago, Bridget Coffing, gave the introductory remarks.  Following Mr. Bolton’s unscripted commentary — which he delivered standing up, rather than from the comfy chair provided — there was a robust Q&A session that addressed diversity, the changing corporate culture and the arrival of the Millennial generation within the profession.

Riveted by the conversation and dialogue from fellow communicators, I headed home that rainy evening energized and emboldened. Clearly, the public relations profession will continue to maintain its position as a critical component of modern society.  Watch out AI: We ain’t going away.

In the Good News Department: Chicago Tribune Editorial Staff Goes Union

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

One of the first posts published in The PRDude centered on what was perhaps somewhat revolutionary and progressive way back in 2009.

The post, “The Reinvention of a Media Company,” reported on plans to transform the then Tribune Publishing into a modern player in the evolving communications industry.

Will a unionized Chicago Tribune editorial staff result in a better newspaper? I think so.

Well, the company that now publishes the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper I subscribe to and read each day, is taking another step forward.  In news announced yesterday, the Chicago-headquartered company named Tronc, current owner of the storied publication, will recognize members of the editorial staff as the Chicago Tribune Guild, thereby joining the dwindling number of U.S. print journalists now part of organized labor.

This news (not totally surprising, as other print news staffs have unionized recently) is refreshing to this former newsman, a tangible step to help preserve sound, honest and ethical reporting in a rapidly progressing era of digitally-driven drivel and unforthright fabrication of fact.

(How’s that for some nifty alliteration.)

Over the years, this site has blasted the Chicago Tribune for misrepresenting the practice of public relations, as noted in this 2014 post regarding plans for Wrigley Field renovation and a year-end 2015 manifesto contesting what constitutes a “PR nightmare.”

Five years ago I followed up the aforementioned “reinvention” post with an analysis of how new owners were systematically destroying the fabled newspaper. And, this blog has focused on or referenced the Chicago Tribune quite extensively in other ways: Enter “Chicago Tribune” into the PR Dude search window, and 30 posts show up.

So, I’ve contested articles and opinions published in a newspaper that for decades had the braggadocio to bill itself as “The World’s Greatest Newspaper,” while looking to the Chicago Tribune for insight into what’s happening in the world and for truth.

Wishing much success to the new unionized men and women who produce the newspaper I read on the Blue Line weekdays en route to work, and while relaxing at home on the weekends.

But rest assured Guild members: Misrepresent or bash the public relations profession, and “Chicago Tribune” search numbers for this blog will jump to 31 expeditiously.

 

 

 

 

As April (APR Month) Winds Down, a Thought on the Value of Accreditation

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

The unseasonably cold temperatures (at least here in Chicago) of late certainly did not proclaim “April.”  But baseball is underway, flowering bulbs are in bloom and restaurants are inviting patrons to dine al fresco. So then, April, that “cruellest month,” is indeed here.

This image needs no explanation. Courtesy of the Universal Accreditation Board.

Of course, April also is recognized as APR Month, a time to put more emphasis on the value of the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

In previous years, I’ve waited until the waning days of April to offer thoughts on Accreditation.  This post from last year is a case in point, published hours before the calendar ushered in May.

Well, I’m following suit with this post — a day before the final day of APR Month.  As for the subject, I’m inspired by an email sent last week by PRSA 2018 National Chair Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA.  The message encapsulates an often overlooked value of the APR credential.

Here’s the email message:

Dear Edward:

As we come to the end of April (APRil is APR Month), I’d like to thank you for the professional commitment you’ve demonstrated in earning and maintaining your Accreditation. While the majority of professionals pursue Accreditation for personal and professional development, it’s important to realize that this pursuit is actually linked to PRSA’s Code of Ethics. One of the Code’s Provisions of Conduct is “enhancing the profession,” and that entails acknowledging “an obligation to protect and enhance the profession,” and keeping “informed and educated.”

Your Accreditation signals your personal dedication to the Code of Ethics and this Provision in particular, and connects you with like-minded professionals who uphold standards for the entire industry. Like PRSA itself, you’re committed to advancing the profession and the professional, and I’m grateful for that. Thanks again.

Best regards,

Yes, enhance the public relations profession — a vital and necessary responsibility to be championed by Accredited members and all serious practitioners.

We need to remain diligent in adhering to ethical standards and sound, strategic practices, especially today, given the continued misinterpretation and misinterpretation of pubic relations by the media, the business world and public at large. We need to identify and condemn instances of unprincipled and dishonest communications initiated as part of a “public relations” program.  We need to encourage all public relations professionals to continue to learn and progress to keep pace with modern practices.

Earning the Accredited in Public Relations credential puts one on a career-long guideway to improving the profession. This holds true in April, as well as the 11 other months on the calendar.

 

 

Perhaps Facebook Could Do (A Lot) More

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

Tomorrow, the world’s largest social media site will share a bit of important news with subscribers.

Yes, the folks at Facebook will let users, like me, know if our profile data was passed on to data consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

One of the “feel good” messages from Facebook, as shown on a monitor in the CTA Logan Square Blue Line station.

As noted in this April 4 New York Times article, up to 87 million users of the platform may have had data shared with Cambridge, now brought into the international spotlight for connections with the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

I’ll leave the political discussion of this ongoing story to other commentators. What intrigues me is the total collapse of effective crisis management by Facebook since news broke of the data breach.

Want to get a perspective on how the crisis has unfolded over the past three-plus weeks?  This PR Week report offers a play-by-play recap right up to March 27, when the number of impacted users was just 50 million.

Coming up: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying before Congress Tuesday.

For an organization built on letting users share ideas, news, images and videos — purportedly all for “free” — Facebook has lost the trust of subscribers and failed miserably at managing the sustained crisis that’s embroiled the company over the reported misuse of member info.

Note the image above. That message — and others from Facebook — was on a monitor in the CTA Logan Square Blue Line station, which I visit each weekday to travel to and from work. Other similar digital and print billboards can be found at other CTA stations.

Frankly, these communications, which I just noticed recently, are weak, an after thought of sorts to mitigate the collapse of confidence experienced by many of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users.

Following these developments, the questions that surface with me: Is this the “new normal” in crisis management? Are companies becoming too large to effectively anticipate and mitigate threats? Are CEOs like Zuckerberg unable to effectively lead and regain trust?

Tomorrow, I’ll learn if I’m about the 87 million Facebook users who had personal data shared without my agreement or knowledge. But to borrow from a popular 1980s song, I don’t know if I’ll like the next Monday.

 

Questions and More Questions on the Impact of Social Media in 2018

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

The article hit home like a virtual thunderclap. Well, for me and perhaps the many others who communicate professionally and ethically.

In question is a piece, “2018’s Biggest Social Media Trends for Business,” published January 2 of this year by Forbes. (Yes, I’m a little behind in my reading.)

For a commentary on the growth of digital, there sure are a lot of “old-school” implements in this graphic. Image courtesy of Forbes.

Here’s why: Author Ryan Holmes (also the CEO and founder of Hootsuite) maintains that there’s “a growing realization among businesses that social media is the single most effective way to reach audiences.” He cites factors like the development of paid platforms (so long free reach via Facebook), a continued growth of video (certainly not surprising) and the integration of prominent social media platforms with leading business software (perhaps Microsoft will own everything digital some day).

And, the article cites compelling statistics like the escalating number of Facebook users (lots and lots and lots), time each day teens spend online (around 540 minutes) and the growing dominance of sponsored video (more bucks spent than on that once dominate medium — television).

All this led me to ponder these questions about the future of social media:

1. All these developments are happening at lightening-fast speed. So  how do communicators measure results and effectively keep up?

2. And, given the preponderance of new digital platforms, how do communicators determine if what they recommend to clients is the most relevant one?

3. Not too many years ago, I recall reading that the public relations field “owned” social media. Is that still the case?

4. How do you effectively integrate rapid-fire digital with more traditional strategies and tactics?

5.  Will those of us not raised on digital (this writer included) continue to have a voice in modern communications?

In the conclusion to the article, Holmes offers this rationale: “For companies already fatigued by the onslaught of new technology and strategies, relief, unfortunately, is nowhere in sight. But for those that can keep up, social media may promise bigger audiences and more return on investment than ever.”

Not sure where I stand in that equation.

Now it’s your turn. Given the virtual communications whirlwind ahead, what questions do you have about the impact of social media on communicators?

 

 

 

Coming Soon From Dick Wolf: Chicago PR?

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

Fans of the Chicago-centric evening television dramas aired on NBC have had to opt for other entertainment sources the past few days; that’s because the network gained the rights to broadcast the many kinds of athletic endeavors taking place on snow and ice halfway around the world during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Who knows? Perhaps Mr. Wolf was using this downtime to conceive a new program set in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

So those of us (me included) who enjoy hour-long programs like Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Chicago Med — all developed by the indefatigable executive producer Dick Wolf — now must focus on ice dancing, curling and the luge competition during the 9 to 10 p.m. hour or switch to one of the hundreds of other viewing options available to cable subscribers these days.

This entertainment quandary prompted these questions: What’s Mr. Wolf and his team doing during this hiatus of his very popular and successful Chicago dramas?  Perhaps plotting a new “Chicago” program, one with an ensemble cast and plot lines that are “torn from the pages” of real news happenings, with our fine city as a backdrop?  If so, what would be the focus, the industry, the profession?

I have a suggestion: Chicago PR!

Yes, an hour-long perspective into the lives of the men and women who craft strategies and manage communications for companies, businesses, governmental agencies and associations across our great metropolitan area.

Think about this for a moment.  The name, Chicago PR is succinct, memorable and easily recognizable, like the names of the other dramas produced by the team at Wolf Films.

In terms of worthy characters, I’ve known plenty of public relations professionals who would serve as models for a fictional Chicago PR agency: The stalwart and decisive founder and leader, the old-school senior VP who’s grappling with the ever-changing digital arena, the progressive young account supervisor who just earned in integrated marketing communications degree from a leading university.

Granted, Chicago PR plots won’t involve catching bad guys, rescuing people from burning buildings or saving the life of an accident victim; but anyone who’s worked in the high-pressure public relations business knows there’s always the potential for drama to be found inside the office and outside of it.

Anyone who’s been part of a new business RFP could certainly relate to the drama that usually unfolds.

And, in the full disclosure department, this blog has addressed public relations as depicted in Chicago Fire. As I noted in my final post of 2017, the profession was grossly misrepresented in an episode involving a lead character from Firehouse 51.

So, should Mr. Wolf read this commentary, please consider the program suggestion just noted; but if you do, please confer with real public relations professionals from the onset. Get it right this time.

As for me, I’m switching on the Olympics coverage. Linsey Vonn is going for gold. The balance of the evening, I trust, will be all downhill.