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 Hankes’ thesis here: Services used to disseminate communications initiated by public relations professionals are “outdated” and “facilitate bad behavior.”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

Perhaps United Airlines Should Look Back to 1990 for What to Do in 2017

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

By now, you’ve probably read, viewed and commented on reports related to what may go down as one of the most significant corporate communication and operational blunders of recent times.

Yes, I’m referring to the forceful removal of a United Airlines passenger April 9 from a flight departing Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for Louisville, Kentucky.

Image courtesy of the United Airlines website.

You know what happened to cause this now sustained crisis for United Airlines, which according to this news story operates some 4,500 flights a day. So, I’ll dispense with any background.  A quick Google search for “United Airlines crisis” will result in lots of results — 2,590,000 in fact as of this evening.

(An aside: On a visit to the company’s online newsroom I found only one reference to the incident that took place on United Express Flight 3411, and that was a statement from CEO Oscar Munoz.)

Many have branded this story as a “PR disaster.” And, from some perspectives, that’s totally correct: United is getting lots of negative publicity and social media exposure for what took place Sunday.  Initial crisis mitigation strategies and tactics were poor — at best.

But those of us who work in public relations know that communications can’t be disseminated without management approval.  Perhaps more effective and compassionate actions and messages were prepared but tabled in favor of what did take place: The initial rather curt message from Mr. Munoz, followed by a more conciliatory comment.

I’ll let those with the proven skills in crisis management comment on what United Airlines should do next. But I would like to share the video below. It’s from a 60-second television commercial for United first aired in 1990.  The title is “Speech,” and the spot was produced by the airline’s longtime agency of record, Chicago’s own Leo Burnett.

Two aspects of this brilliant spot are especially poignant for United Airlines today:

1. When company owner Ben says, “Well folks, some things gotta change.”

2. When the voice over narrator says, “Personal services deserves a lot more than lip service.”

I think United Airlines could learn a lot by revisiting this 27-year-old spot.

NOTE: This video was found via a YouTube search.

April is APR Month, So What Should I Do?

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

Certainly, it’s appropriate that April is APR Month. After all, April is a time of awakening, a time to invigorate, a time to take on new personal challenges — an ideal time to showcase the leading public relations voluntary mark of distinction.

(From another perspective, as a student of English literature — and with no disrespect to T.S. Eliot — I never accepted the claim that April is the cruelest month.)

The message here is one I wholeheartedly support.

Back to APR Month, the 30 days when an emphasis is placed on the value behind the Accredited in Public Relations credential. Loyal followers of the PRDude blog certainly are aware of my dedication to Accreditation and the impact its made on my practice of public relations.

As noted in this post from February, I’ve had the honor to get elected again to the Board of the PRSA Chicago Chapter as APR Chair. The challenge: Re-energize APR initiatives within the chapter by:

1) Building awareness for the importance of earning the credential.

2) Launching a structured training program later this year.

To gain insight, I participated in a conference call hosted by PRSA last month. APR chairs from various chapters shared thoughts on programs and initiatives underway. Here’s what I learned.

  • Word of mouth, blogs, and regular testimonials are invaluable.
  • Mentoring programs for APR candidates keep them engaged.
  • Cash scholarships are great incentives.
  • Generate acceptance for the credential by reaching out to top 50 employers.
  • Contact the local SHRM chapter and suggest they recommend “APR preferred” on help wanted notices.
  • Engage current APRs to contribute and point out that they can earn maintenance points through volunteer and leadership efforts.

Without question, very solid and rational ideas and directives.

So, now it’s your turn: What suggestions do you have to help PRSA Chicago jump start the APR program?

I welcome responses throughout April and the months to follow.

Inspired by St. Patrick’s Day: A Perspective on the Irish Academy of Public Relations

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

On this day before the “official” St. Patrick’s Day — that is March 17 — much of the nation, including Chicago, equates the holiday to all the things one would expect: Parades, lots of people wearing green, performances by Celtic step dance troupes, and of course, consuming malt beverages at pubs with Irish-sounding names, as well as at those without.

Here in Chicago, the popular downtown parade is always held the Saturday before the real St. Patrick’s Day, and the one held March 11 drew thousands along the route in Grant Park; and, yes, the City poured green dye into the Chicago River to turn an already greenish body of water emerald.

Logo courtesy of Irish Academy of Public Relations web site.

But I’m re-purposing St. Patrick’s Day for another reason; and it doesn’t involve anything green. I’m inspired by the holiday to learn more about something else that comes from Ireland.

The Irish Academy of Public Relations is a company based in — you guessed it: Dublin, but there’s a New York office, too — that offers online courses in public relations, media, events planning and broadcasting.

For the past few years, I’ve received email messages promoting the various diploma and certificate program

“Green River” image courtesy of Choose Chicago web site.

s and other courses. So, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to investigate a little further. Of course, the Diploma in Public Relations was of most interest.  It’s comprised of 11 modules on topics like the history of public relations, drafting “press and media releases,” managing events and sponsorship opportunities, working with photographers and more. There’s even a module on crisis management.

Based on just a cursory evaluation of the Academy and the Diploma program, I must conclude that this kind of education has some merit and value today. (Hey, the IAPR must be doing something right because they’ve been in existence for 24 years.)

If the folks at IAPR read this, I strongly suggest that the PR course be expanded to include modules on digital communications, ethics and the business aspect of public relations; but overall the knowledge shared here is fundamentally sound.

Given how public relations is so often misaligned and misunderstood in society today, perhaps certificate programs can provide the first step toward a university course of study and eventually programs like the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

(Yes, I’m guilty of shameless, self-absorbed promotion of Accreditation. So what: It’s my blog.)

What’s your perspective on programs like the one just referenced? Share your thoughts here, or let me know if you want to meet at an Irish pub and discuss over a beer.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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Footnote: Back in 2012, the PRDude offered some other thoughts inspired by St. Patrick’s Day.

Could It Really Be 40 Years?

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

That’s not a misprint.

Yes, I’ve been part of the communications industry in Chicago for 40 years this month.

I’ll spare the melancholy and pathos about “where did all the time go?” Like everyone on this earth, I live and breathe 24 hours each day, arguably some days spent more productively than others.

So where did it all begin?

city-news-bureauIf memory serves me correctly, on one day in late February of 1977 I reported to the City News Bureau of Chicago for my first day as a reporter. The job meant covering homicides, assaults, thefts, fires and other bad stuff taking place in the city back then. Unfortunately, lots of bad stuff continues to happen here.

It was my first job after graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in English and minor in Journalism. I wanted to be a reporter — and now I was a reporter!

Couldn't find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

Couldn’t find an image from 1977, so this one, taken last year, will have to suffice.

My first day, I recall, was spent with a more seasoned journalist at the old 18th District Chicago Police Department station on West Chicago Avenue, where we followed up on pending investigations. We also did some reporting related to the aftermath of the horrible CTA elevated train wreck that took place February 4 of that year; 11 people were killed.

In the 14,600 days (give or take a few) since my introduction to the real world I’ve held a few other positions; well, actually quite a few other positions.

I left journalism in the early 1980s to pursue an in-house communications position with a community college, my first exposure to the public relations arena. Although I consider myself a newsman at heart and relished those opportunities to cover a breaking story, my path for the remainder of my professional career has centered on public relations.

And that’s where it will stay.

But perhaps not for another 40 years.

Remembering Ruth L Ratny: A True Chicago Iconoclast

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

Earlier this week, I learned the sad news regarding the passing of Ruth L Ratny.

Note there is no period after the “L” in the name above.

That’s not an error, it was the way Ruth spelled her name. I’m not sure why, but I can ascertain that the minor punctuation issue was another reflection of just who Ruth was: A person who grabbed life by the lapels and decided to live it according to her rules.

First, some background.

For some reason, I've kept this March 21, 1994 issue of Screen. Perhaps because the focus was music and I had four articles published.

For some reason, I’ve kept this March 21, 1994 issue of Screen. Perhaps because the focus was music and I had four articles published.

From the mid 1980s until the mid 1990s, I contributed to Screen magazine, a then weekly print publication that covered Chicago’s film and audio/visual production industry.  (I trust “audio/visual,” also known as “A/V,” is a somewhat antiquated term in these digital days.) Ruth founded the publication and ran it out of her “penthouse” apartment on Wabash Avenue on the Near North Side.

I think there’s a highrise multifamily building on the site today, but back in the day that part of downtown was still sort of edgy.

Back to Ruth and my work for Screen. 

I got the opportunity to write for the publication after pitching Ruth a story regarding a client that retained the public relations firm I worked for at the time. I don’t recall the nature of the pitch, nor the client for that matter; but I do remember that Ruth referred to me as “that publicist” and invited me to contribute to Screen.

This E. M. Bury piece centers on the opening of a new recording studio in Wicker Park, identified as "one of the trendiest parts of town."

This E. M. Bury piece centers on the opening of a new recording studio in Wicker Park, identified as “one of the trendiest parts of town.”

To somewhat distance myself from my agency career, we decided to use “E.M. Bury” as my byline; that suited me because lots of famous writers incorporated initials for their first and middle names, but mostly I appreciated the opportunity to get some freelance assignments and earn extra money.

My beat was music, and that led to opportunities to meet and interview musicians, commercial music producers, studio owners and other creative people who comprised the then thriving A/V commercial production industry in Chicago.

Over the years, I came to know Ruth as someone who was always tough and challenging as an editor, but fair and generous as a person.

But what struck me most was Ruth’s tenacity, her work ethic and her dedication to championing the Chicago film and production industry. Without question, she clashed with stalwarts from the film community, the advertising agencies and production houses, and with her staff and writers, me included.

(Why did she change my copy that read, “commercial music producer” to read “jingleer” on occasion?”)

Yet, I never encountered a situation where Ruth demonstrated mean-spirited actions or duplicity. At least not during our working relationship, and I contributed dozens of pieces over the years.

Ruth L Ratny came from humble beginnings and built a thriving business that chronicled and perhaps contributed to the growth of an industry.

As I noted in this 2014 post, Chicago, and I trust much of the nation if not the world, is losing those willing to chart their own way, a path that circumvents the rules. We’re losing the unique, the characters, the people like Ruth.

Rest in peace Ruth.

 

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.