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.

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Another Possible Sickening Revelation Regarding the Harvey Weinstein Scandal

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

Like a festering wound, each day the world learns more regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct and even physical assault by entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein.

This space will not offer any analysis or commentary on Mr. Weinstein or other key developments related to this national news story.

Harvey Weinstein. Image courtesy of CNN.com.

Just stayed tuned to the network broadcast stations and read reports from digital and print media; you’ll get access to lots of news related to Mr. Weinstein and his current treatment program, whether members of The Weinstein Company board of directors ignored allegations of abuse, legal and financial implications related to this scandal, and of course, comments from women who had unwelcomed encounters.

Here I plan to address a report that Mr. Weinstein ordered people working as public relations counsel to fabricate and promote unflattering and untrue news stories about actresses and models.

This news came to me while watching the WGN-TV Morning News today. In a segment aired around 7:30 a.m., reporter Lauren Jiggetts recounts reporting from journalist Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker: “Weinstein’s public relations team would plant smear stories on women who rejected him or complained about his behavior,” Ms. Jiggetts noted in the report.

My thoughts related to this element of the unfolding Weinstein story:

1. First, no honest, ethical public relations practitioner would purposefully engage in disseminating information designed to cause harm. This type of garbage communication practice falls under propaganda and defies the established standard of public relations contributing to the betterment of society.

2. If these allegations about “smear stories” are true, I wonder if the perpetrators of this nonsense could be identified and held accountable in some way.  What reputable company or organization would want to work with hacks who deliberately share lies designed to harm someone?

3. Rest assured, I’m fully aware that Hollywood (and government and other conglomerates) may operate on a very different level when it comes to values than other industries.

From one perspective, Hollywood and the entertainment business develops and markets products that are pure fantasy. However, the movie-makers, television show producers and concert promoters run businesses, and businesses must — or should — adhere to sound, accepted operational practices, not make believe ways of delivering a product or service, or coping with a crisis.

Employing purported “public relations” counsel (and in reference to this case I start to cringe) to cause damage is beyond fantasy.

It’s sickening to me, and hopefully to others who value honesty in communications today.

 

 

Perhaps Ad Age Should Stick to Covering Advertising

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

On this last day of September, the month that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) makes a concerted effort to promote ethical practices among members, I was inspired by an article that was published online by Ad Age, a leading industry publication that (you guessed it) primarily covers the advertising business.

Here’s what drove me, a long-standing member of PRSA, to share the following thoughts.

The article, “PR Implosions: How Four Marketers Answered Calamity,” certainly has merits.  Four authors each address a recent product or service crisis and offer analysis on how the crisis was managed.

Image courtesy of the Public Relations Society of America.

You’re probably familiar with each crisis, as the companies profiled are global brands and the resulting breakdown from each crisis generated lots of news coverage and commentary; so there’s no need for an extensive recap.

What stood out to me was — and I’ve addressed this topic before — how “public relations” was given the focus of the “crisis” problem. This is exemplified in the headline and in lines like “the onslaught of PR disasters” and “Talk about a PR blunder.”

Shout out to the Ad Age copy editor and the authors whose writing I just referenced: “Public relations” practices did not initiate these crisis situations!  “Public relations” did not cause electronic devises to malfunction, and “pubic relations” did not forcibly remove a man from an airliner. These were design and manufacturing errors, human and management blunders.  When will those who write about public relations get that concept right?

Okay, where does ethics enter the discussion here?

One principle of the PRSA Code Provisions of Conduct is Enhancing the Profession.  Under the list of guidelines for this principle is this:

  • Acknowledge that there is an obligation to protect and enhance the profession.

So, as a public relations professional who takes what I do seriously, it’s my ethical responsibility to call out situations where the practice of public relations is wrongly equated with failures in manufacturing, service, production or operations.

There, I feel better.

From October 8 to 10, PRSA will hold its 2017 International Conference in Boston. Unfortunately, I can’t attend. But I hope those in attendance debate the topic addressed here.

 

Public Relations Maven Judi Schindler Transitions to the Stage

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

In its essence, public relations is a communications discipline, right? In public relations, we communicate with a target audience to build awareness, acceptance and ultimately action for a product, cause or service.

For decades, Judi Schindler excelled in the public relations profession as founder/owner of a namesake boutique agency and stalwart businesswoman. A few years ago, Judi partially retired from public relations to pursue a different profession — acting.  (Hey, actors also are communicators who interact with a target audience, but in a more controlled environment.)

Now for the disclosure: From 1988 to the early 1990s, I had the honor of working with Judi as a member of her account team. We developed and managed public relations programs for some leading Chicago real estate companies and great B2B clients. I learned a great deal about public relations, as well as new-business generation and account management.

What follows are Judi’s responses to questions sent via email.

In her new career as an actress,, Judi Schindler effectively demonstrates there is life after a long, successful career in public relations.

1. You built your successful career and business in public relations, then transitioned to another field. (More on that in a moment.) What inspired you to initially pursue public relations as a career?

When I was a journalism student at the University of Illinois, I dreamed of being a police reporter so I could follow in the footsteps of my two role models: Lois Lane and Brenda Starr.  It was not to be, however.  The only job I could get was at Jobber Topics, “The Bible of the Automotive Aftermarket.”  My job consisted primarily of rewriting press releases.  Somewhere between the manifolds and ignition systems, I decided I’d rather write the press releases than rewrite them.

From there I had jobs with a public relations agency, a major fund raising campaign, a real estate developer and a small telecommunications firm. Eventually I turned the latter into a client and began building my firm, first as Schindler Public Relations, and later as Schindler Communications.

2. Digital communications, of course, has changed — forever — the way we communicate. Do you keep current on digital strategies and practices today?

Can anyone keep current?  The landscape shifts every time Google changes its algorithm.  In February, I resigned my last client, The GO Group, an international consortium of airport transportation companies.  For the last several years, I oversaw their social media strategy as well as their pay-per-click campaign and web marketing.  I had worked with this client for 10 years and with the Chicago partner company for more than 30 years.  One of the reasons I resigned is that I didn’t feel I was bringing new technology driven tactics to the table.

Aside from technology, the underlying practice of public relations is unchanged.  We use our client’s knowledge, experience and history to create content.  How we deliver that content is the only thing that changed.

3. While you managed Schindler Communications, you also were a strong advocate for women in business. What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs today?

I still maintain my affiliation with the Chicago Area Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which I helped found.  For the most part, I think today’s women entrepreneurs are more sophisticated that we were.  While most of us started businesses as a means of self-employment, many of the women I meet today are starting companies as investments, hoping to build equity and sell out.  I know several who could be called serial entrepreneurs.  I would advise any women starting a business today is to find a supportive network of peers, like NAWBO.  Women are extremely generous with each other and are a great resource.

There are owners manuals for just about everything. So, why not one for husbands?

4. Now to the question regarding your current career: How did your decades in public relations contribute to the skills and challenges required for success in your new career as an actress?

Running an agency taught me not to take rejection too seriously.  Casting agents say the same thing as clients, “we decided to go in a different direction.”

I started taking acting classes after I merged my business with Sally Hodge (operating as Hodge Schindler for five years.)  No longer the “boss,” I felt I needed another outlet, and acting was something I enjoyed as a kid. Classes eventually led to auditioning and doing plays.  When I no longer worked full time, I got an agent. In the last several years I’ve done several plays, local commercials, voice-overs, short films, museum exhibits and one Onion video.

A few year ago, the entrepreneur in me took over and I decided to write a performance piece that could be delivered as entertainment at women’s groups, bridal showers and entertainment venues.  Titled “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual,” it’s based on my 50-plus years of marriage.  I explain how to select a husband and how to maintain him in good working order including such topics as warranties, exchanges and replacement parts.

I am currently working on the book of the same title.

5. Let’s finish up with some questions on the book. What inspired you to take on this project? And, has your husband, Jack, read it yet?

People who’ve seen the show have been encouraging me for years to turn it into a book.  My original intention was to use the book as a way to monetize and promote the show.  But it’s taken on a life of its own.  Right now, it is in the hands of a designer who is creating fun, colorful pages that contribute to the humor and viewpoint of the text.  I hope to go to press by the end of October and have copies by the end of November.

I am currently working on my PR/marketing plan for the book launch, which includes my blog, “The Toilet Seat Must Go Down,” where I answer such vital questions as “why men can’t find the pickles behind the mayonnaise.”

And to answer your question: No, Jack Schindler has never read the book or seen the performance, even though everyone tells him that it’s an homage.  It does keep him on his toes, however. He’s afraid everything he says or does will turn into a new chapter.

The Value of Communications in Times of Emergency: Harvey and Irma

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

This image of Irma is somewhat surreal. A beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, yet what further devastation will be in the wake of this storm.

Outside today, it’s overcast and cool for early September in Chicago. The skies are not threatening, the winds placid.

Wish the same could be said for parts of the Caribbean and the state of Florida.

Okay, you know where this is going: Commentary on the massive Hurricane Irma as it approaches the continental United States and the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in late August.

Well, let’s let the experts, the pundits, the forecasters and the government officials provide analysis on subjects like:

  • The potential for lives lost and property destroyed.
  • The exact course of this latest Category 5 storm.
  • The exodus of people seeking safety via highways and air.
  • The analysis of how continued development along coastal areas will exacerbate damage from the storm.
  • And, the role of global warming in these storms and others to follow.

Here, I’ll share a thought on the value of communications — and those responsible for accurate, timely and ethical communications — in helping to mitigate what’s to follow from Irma when it reaches Florida later this weekend.

In researching this post, I googled “Hurricane Irma and public relations advice.”  Yes, the search yielded a lot, as there were more than 150,000 findings.

In reading some of the results, I found links to reports on how to prepare for the hurricane (from the Federal Trade Commission), travel insurance claims advice from a company called Squaremouth, and a USA Today article on how to prepare your smartphone for a catastrophe.

Of course, there were many more articles and links to websites offering direction and insight that perhaps has little value to the tens of thousands who may be displaced over the next few days.

Or suffer more substantial losses.

The point here: These messages were drafted and distributed by communicators — public relations consultants, marketing professionals, content experts. They were playing a role in disseminating potentially valuable information in a time of need.

These messages won’t stop the winds and the rain from making landfall. But in times like these, communications on how to lessen or avoid the impact of a potential tragedy do count.

Expect more hurricane-related communications to come, as Hurricane Jose  was building strength, becoming a Category 4 storm, in the Atlantic Ocean.  The good news: Forecasters predict Jose may head north and may not reach land.

Let’s hope.

* * *

As a true weather wonk, The PRDude has addressed weather and natural disasters before. Here are two posts:

 

 

 

With September on the Horizon, A Time to Savor What’s Left of Summer

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

It’s true.

The three months of summer — purported to be a reflective time to relax, regroup and recharge — does go by fast.

As of this writing, September is three weeks away, prompting the question: Did you get the most out of the summer of 2017?

After all, the fall back-to-school messages will soon become as prominent and prevalent as those get-out-and-enjoy summer messages communicated in May.

Yes, that’s me, second from left, during the PRSA Chicago YPN panel discussion on continuing education.

Now that the topic of schooling is on the table, let me share a recent event on the subject. Earlier this week, I had the honor of participating as a panelist during a PRSA Chicago Young Professionals Network after-work gathering on “Exploring Continuing Education in PR.”

My fellow panelists addressed the challenges faced by working professionals who make the decision to pursue master’s degrees in business administration and communications, along with the long-term professional career benefits of an advanced degree.

As you would expect from the PRDude,  I promoted the value behind earning the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential and how it made a measurable impact by elevating me to a strategist.

And, I subtly noted that I also was in pursuit of my master’s degree in English, although reaching that goal is a good three years away.

What ensued was an often lively and informative exchange between the panelists and the YPN members in attendance. I learned how my fellow panelists balanced work, school, play and other aspects of life in their quest for a master’s degree, and realized:

  • I’m on my 13th year as an Accredited professional; regardless, the continued evolution of public relations will require that I continue to evolve, too. That means continuing to learn.
  • Earning an advanced degree means more these days than in generations past. The era of the publicist driven by placements has been eclipsed by a professional who can comprehend and strategically employ the PESO model.
  • And, yikes! Summer was waning and I would have to start school again soon. Actually, my next class — “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop” — starts August 28.

With that note, I’ll conclude this post and step outside with a glass of wine to enjoy the balance of this early August evening.

After all, the two ladies on the panel with me both stressed that it’s imperative to maximize time spent outside the classroom and away from the books.

I wholeheartedly concur.

 

 

 

Communications Advice For Anthony Scaramucci

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

By the time Publish button is pushed to share these thoughts with the world, who knows what new development will have taken place within the Trump Administration.

New (but for how long?) White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

So, I’ll be brief and get tot he focal point of this post: Communications advice for recently named White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Last week, Mr. Scaramucci burst on the national scene in what then was the latest shake up within the current executive branch.

A Wall Street guy, Mr. Scaramucci (to my understanding) does not have any formal communications experience.

So in an effort to usher in a less caustic national conversation, here’s some advice and best practices for Mr. Scaramucci to consider:

  1. Learn to mitigate threats. In essence, public relations initiatives take advantage of opportunities and mitigate threats.  It’s highly advisable that Mr. Scaramucci take the latter very seriously while doing his utmost to advance the former.
  2. Watch the language. Perhaps you’ve read about Mr. Scaramucci’s expletive-filled rank to a reporter last week.  In a tweet, he deemed the frequent f-bombs as being “colorful language.” From my experience, straightforward, “black and white” communications are much more effective because the crux of the message stays front and center.
  3. The media is not an enemy. As clearly stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the media has a right to exist. Men and women who cover the news aren’t going away. Being combative will only lead to more intensive scrutiny.

Mr. Scaramucci, should you read this and want to discuss further, please reach out; I promise to respond promptly.

And, I ask nothing in return, except that you perform your duties effectively and honestly.

I trust the American people would ask the same.