Angela Benander, Vice President of Advocacy
One of the most memorable lines uttered by Richard Gere as lawyer Billy Flynn in the 2002 movie “Chicago” is punctuated with “…that’s Chicago.” He’s talking about the fact that he was able to raise the murdering housewife Roxie Hart to mega-celebrity status and now that she has been acquitted, no one will care about her or even remember her name in a week. But that line has always stuck out to me as a way to sum up why the Land of Lincoln is such an unusual place when it comes to media, politics and communication.
At first glance, Illinois doesn’t look all that complicated: an agricultural Midwestern state dominated by a big city, votes solidly Democratic and has occasional high-profile stories involving corruption make the national scene. I have seen many corporations, non-profits and even outside PR firms assume that what works in other places is going to work here. But unless you know how to navigate the perilous waters of Illinois media and politics, chances are, you’re going to drown.
I’m a native of northern Michigan, but I moved to Chicago in 2007 after working in Illinois politics and media for seven years in Washington DC for our senior senator. From the outside, I learned a lot about what plays in Peoria and beyond, but it wasn’t until I started living and working here that I really got Chicago and Illinois.
Chicagoans are really in our own world, and we like it. We’re proud of it. The people here are friendly, especially for being “city people,” but we’re also rough around the edges. Chicago likes sharp elbows and larger-than-life personalities – take a look at our politicians, our sports stars and our local media. We fly our flag everywhere – and hey, our city might not be perfect, but it’s ours.
What does that mean for PR in Chicago? Be aggressive, be smart. Expect a little rough-and-tumble. Expect your friends and your opposition to weigh in. Don’t think that because all of our major politicians have a (D) by their name that they all work together or for the same goals.
And that’s just Chicago. The State of Illinois is its own animal. Sometimes we say that Illinois is really two different states – there’s Chicago and the rest of the state and they’re not necessarily in a happy marriage. Last year, a Republican State Representative actually proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would make Chicago the nation’s 51st state. But even looking at Illinois as Chicago vs. “the rest of us” isn’t a complete picture. Illinois includes wildly diverse regions including farmland, former industrial centers, Southern Illinois coal country, major research universities, urban East St. Louis…hardly a homogenous citizenry.
Looking at us from the outside, it can be hard to make sure you are planning a communications strategy that actually accomplishes the goals of your business, your organization or your institution. And if your organization finds itself in a media crisis here in Chicago, you will quickly find that ordinary communications tactics don’t always do the job.
Our team at Culloton Strategies has walked many clients through the wild world of Illinois politics and media. It’s a place unlike any other – let us help guide you through it.