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.

 

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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.

Edelman 2018 Trust Barometer Results: If There Ever Was a Need for Ethical, Effective Public Relations, It’s Now

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

One great advancement of modern society is the ability to develop a methodology that let’s us gather and analyze data in order to provide a perspective or determine a direction on a specific topic or issue

Image courtesy of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer web site.

These take shape as research reports and survey findings; but even today’s weather report and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are aggregations of data that help us make decisions and illuminate what’s happening around us.  In the case of the former example just noted, we might be propelled to buy or sell securities, and in the case of the latter, we gain the insight to perhaps bring an umbrella when venturing outside.

The other day, I decided to explore another data yardstick, one that addresses the very foundation of the public relations profession — and certainly many others — as well as the more encompassing concept of moral behavior.

The medium is the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the annual report designed to gauge trust and credibility. Published by a division of the global communications firm, key findings from the recently-released report are beyond sobering, unquestionably alarming and frankly depressing.

Trust in the United States, the Barometer reported, has plummeted among the general population surveyed, pushing the nation down to the lower quarter of the 28 nations included in the study. Among those polled who ranked among the informed population, the findings were even more bleak: The United States ranked the lowest of nations surveyed.

Media organizations — for decades the standard for trust and accuracy — were battered, too.  According to the 2018 Barometer, the media for the first time in the 18 years of the report was listed as “the least trusted institution globally.”

This news story published by Edelman provides more details.  And, Edleman President and CEO Richard Edleman encapsulates the 2018 Barometer findings in this poignant comment from the Executive Summary.  “As we begin 2018, we find the world in a new phase in the loss of trust: the unwillingness to believe information, even from those closest to us.”

So, what can the public relations industry and those of us who practice and promote ethical, honest communications do in the face of the decline of trust in our nation and the media?

Plenty.

Here’s a start:

  • Adhere to established standards for ethical communication. If you need a place to learn, refresh or get started, the PRSA Code of Ethics offers a solid foundation.
  • Call out instances of erroneous or malicious communications. Remaining on the sidelines enables those bent on disseminating lies, conjecture and “fake news.”
  • Enlist others to lobby for responsible communications practices. Inspire debate among colleagues, family and friends.
  • Forward this post to everyone within your network and subscribe to future PRDude posts.

Well, kidding about the last item.  (Sort of.) For an alternative, forward a link to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Feel free to share your thoughts, of course, on strategies and tactics the public relations industry can initiate to reverse the decline of trust today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are These New PRDude “Followers?”

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

Let’s face it, the PRDude blog I’ve published since September 4 of 2009 is the epitome of a labor of love, along with an equal amount of blood, sweat and sometimes tears.

Hello Word Press! Can you shed any light on these new “followers” to my blog and personal website?

Like many who write about public relations and other topics that certainly lack appeal to the vast masses of readers today, there are no financial remunerations through subscriptions, sponsored content or tile ads.

Well, not yet at least; as I noted in this 2013 post, the blog is for sale for the right price.

The impetus behind this site is the freedom to share my thoughts on public relations, politics, popular culture and more; hopefully readers find value, and hopefully some even subscribe.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Over the past several days, I’ve received email notices from the nice folks at WordPress about new followers.  Yea!  Someone out there appreciates my prose and ideas.

But upon an examination of the email addresses for the handful of new recent followers, I became suspicious.  Here are two examples, one for the PRDude blog, one for my personal website:

sancheznuzricardoof@outlook.com just started following you at https://prdude.wordpress.com. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.

guillenqsmjacquelineuf@outlook.com just started following you at http://edwardmbury.com. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.

Note the “name” before the @ symbol in both addresses.

Who or what the hell are these “followers?” Why the hell do they want to follow my blog and site? Should I be concerned?  Should I try to remove them?

I attempted to bring this to the attention of WordPress but am not sure if my message to the help desk was received.

So, I leave it up to you, kind readers: What should I do?

A shout out to — sancheznuzricardoof@outlook.com — and other new “followers” who will get this post: Take note of the questions above.

 

 

A Public Relations Resolution for Practitioners in 2018

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

In researching this post, the final of 2017 (a momentous year from a global perspective, but hey, aren’t they all “momentous” these days?), a quick Google search led to an online report from two years ago.

My subject: New Year’s resolutions.

Image courtesy of Wonderopolis.

What my search revealed: According to this article, “The History of New Year’s Resolutions,” the concept of committing to a practice or initiative in the upcoming 365 days  may have roots with the ancient Babylonians way, way back 4,000 or so years ago.  And, two millennia later, Julius Caesar somewhat formalized the practice when he established January 1 as the start of the new year.

Well, public relations (you knew I’d get to this eventually) is not quite 4,000 years old, but I recall learning that the Roman concept of vox populi, Latin for “voice of the people,” may have cemented the foundations of what’s known today as “public relations.”

In the centuries before books and eventually newspapers or almanacs, public discourse in the town square served as a way to share opinions and information. Broadcast, and later, digital forms of disseminating information changed public relations and society significantly and forever. (Well, seemingly on that last point.)

Today, regardless of how effectively the practice of public relations is defined, it’s all too frequently mislabeled.  From the most egregious perspective, what’s clearly propaganda (think jihadist online messages originated by ISIS) has been inaccurately labeled as “public relations.” And, from a less erroneous viewpoint, “public relations” is equated purely with publicity and press agentry.

And, then there’s the often blatant total misrepresentation of the profession. Here’s an example.  The October 2 episode of the popular NBC drama “Chicago Fire,” featured this scenario: Firefighter Stella Kidd (portrayed by actress Miranda Rae Mayo) receives a suspicious transfer from Firehouse 51 to the Chicago Fire Department’s “public relations department.” After reporting to said department, Kidd — who apparently has no formal communications experience — meets her new colleagues, is shown her small work station, then is immediately thrust into a “media event” of sorts, complete with inquisitive reporters and TV cameras.  All this action takes place in around 90 seconds.

Quite an absurd portrayal? Certainly, even for fictionalized television drama.  But it’s an example of how public relations is bantered about unfairly and inaccurately as a catch phrase.

Two more thoughts about the “Chicago Fire” portrayal of public relations:

1. Visit this organizational chart, and you’ll see the CFD has a department that addresses Media Affairs/Public Education/Special Events, but not “public relations.” Perhaps the show writers could have had Kidd moved over to “media affairs.”

2. And, the title of the episode in question is “Down is Better.” From my perspective, dumbing down the public relations profession is bad, bad, bad.

So, as the hours left in the year 2017 continue to expire, I make this resolution — and I encourage fellow public relations professionals to do the same:

I (name) resolve to address instances where the practice of “public relations” is misinterpreted, misidentified or misconstrued online, in print or broadcast, or during interpersonal communications. Furthermore, I resolve to correct  misconceptions through firm and measured discourse.

There, I feel better already.

Strategic, ethical public relations contributes to and helps guide modern society by fostering the free flow of news and information; I’m convinced the role of public relations will continue to expand in these digitally-driven times. Those of us who practice public relations need to be diligent and commit to rectifying blatantly wrong references or portrayals.

Let’s make 2018 will be the year public relations gets acknowledged fairly and accurately.

And, a shout out to the producers of “Chicago Fire,” a show we watch regularly: Should you incorporate public relations into future episodes, I would gladly offer my counsel to ensure accuracy and fairness.

Public Relations and #MeToo Revisited: The Morgan Spurlock Statement

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

Well, as of this Saturday afternoon, there’s been no new reports of an elected official, celebrity, business executive or other man of note being charged by women with improprieties in the workplace.

Who knows what tomorrow (or later today) will bring in the seemingly unbridled and growing national movement identified as #MeToo.

Image courtesy of CNN.com.

Earlier this month I published a post seeking commentary from public relations professionals on strategies for counsel to clients who in confidence state that they are, indeed, guilty of sexual harassment of some kind.

One question I posed: Should this scenario unfold, would you advise the client to come forward as a way to mitigate the situation.  So far, I’ve not received any responses.  (Hey, this happens, but I’d welcome thoughts from the public relations community at any time on the #MeToo post and any PRDude post published over the past eight years.)

But on Thursday, a man well-known in the film making industry did announce in a statement from his production company that he was an abuser of women and a philanderer.

The man is Morgan Spurlock, noted for his documentaries like “Super Size Me” and even a reality television series, “Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man,” where he “tells compelling stories from an insider’s perspective.”

Mr. Spurlock’s statement is titled: “I am Part of the Problem,” and over 961 words he recounts quite a lot about a sexual encounter during his college years, verbal abuse to workers under his employment, his own childhood abuse, a life of alcohol abuse and more.  He tempers the narrative with statements of acknowledgement regarding his actions and recognition of sexual abuse against women as a pervasive national problem and embarrassment.

Six times during the statement he reiterates the message: “I am part of the problem.”

I won’t pass judgment on Mr. Spurlock’s decision in this space. But I will push out a few more questions to the public relations industry in regards to his action and statement.

  • If you were providing counsel to Mr. Spurlock, would you have advised him to come forward as he did?
  • Given his decision to make the announcement, would you have advised Mr. Spurlock to present the statement online (as he did) or at a live news conference?
  • What are your thoughts on the content, structure and tone of Mr. Spurlock’s statement?
  • What can Mr. Spurlock do to rebuild or resurrect his career now that he’s come forward?
  • Do you anticipate Mr. Spurlock’s action will prompt other men to come forward and confess past indiscretions?

One concluding thought: Further news regarding #MeToo allegations most assuredly will continue in the weeks and perhaps months to come. Ethical public relations practices should be at the forefront of the national conversation ahead.

 

What Happens When You Put 24 PR Agency Leaders Together in One Room?

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

Well, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, let me provide some background.

Yesterday, long before Halloween trick or treating started for most, I and some 100 other public relations professionals attended the 6th Annual Agency Leaders Breakfast Roundtable hosted by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

This popular fall gathering allowed participants and senior members of many of Chicago’s foremost global and local PR shops an opportunity to launch conversations in a round robin format.

I’m sure many at the Agency Leaders Roundtable were mesmerized by the view.

The event was sponsored by Find Your Influence, an influencer marketing technology platform, and held in a glorious old cathedral-like room at the University Club of Chicago. The views overlooking Millennium Park and Chicago’s lakefront were sublime, the trees alive with fall colors; but the overall focus was on all things public relations related.

As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I was charged with helping to stimulate conversation at table #9. Like most in attendance, I was fueled by coffee and the desire to engage with the many industry colleagues assembled.

Here are abbreviated and paraphrased take aways from the six agency representatives who conversed with myself and two other attendees. Three dominant topics surfaced: The growth of employing influencers, the expansion of multiculturalism, and the resounding need to support ethical public relations practices.

Amy Littleton, Senior Vice President, KemperLesnik: People are getting smarter about recognizing fake news, and people eventually will return to traditional news. Young people digest lots of content on multiple platforms, and they might not be concerned about accuracy. So, we may someday see legislation related to fake news. The public may be making decisions regarding fake news at the ballot box.

Aaron Schoenherr, Founding Partner, Greentarget Global Group: Before the emergence of influencer marketing, public relations campaigns would piggy back on the built-in reputation of the endorser. We’ve determined that some B2B clients are not interested in influencer marketing.  But there is without question a rise in digital: Subscriptions to the New York Times digital edition are up, and Reuters has found that digital use is up. Plus, there’s not as much trust in traditional outlets today.

Stimulating conversation flowed during the 90-minute morning event.

Amy Kennedy, Executive Director, Golin: The question is: Who will own the relationship with influencers today?  PR firms? If so, public relations practices have to be ethical and must include multiculturalism. At Golin, we support multiculturalism and determine ways to find inclusion.  We determine, “How should we talk about that product or service?” It’s the personal responsibility of the influencer to be inclusive.

Christina Steed, Executive Vice President, Flowers Communications Group: Flowers has practiced multicultural communications before it was a well-used term. We would reach out to pastors at local churches to convey messages related to the community, or reach out to the Chicago Urban League regarding economic development. They would help us get the message out.  Some large clients, like McDonald’s, have been slow to catch on with influencers. Current influencers need to put trust in the trust bank.

Maxine Winer, Senior Partner and General Manager, FleishmanHillard: FleishmanHillard has always provided ethics training for our staff. Our policy is, “If you see something that appears to be unethical, say something, even if you’re not sure why it may be unethical.”  We rely on colleagues to be ethical, and we want them to feel comfortable raising any issue.  Multiculturalism is part and parcel in everything we do.

Daniel Pooley, Managing Partner, Finn Partners: Influencer marketing is a craft that has its own heritage. Public relations always has had influencer marketing because it’s another way to create brand connections. There’s a shifting DNA on influencer marketing that demands it to be more scientific with scalable results that are better measured. Bold, smart strategies are needed.

A side note: I have met and worked with some of the leaders on the agenda, but was thrilled to meet new fellow professionals committed to ethical public relations.

Looking forward to next year’s Roundtable. And, if it happens to fall again on Halloween, perhaps costumes should be required.