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Jonathan Lehrer is senior manager, enterprise communications, at the College of American Pathologists in Northfield, Illinois. He primarily handles internal communications as well as message development and external media relations support.

Lehrer has spent more than 30 years as what could be called a “message therapist.” His writing, organizational and technical ability, along with his skill at leading brainstorming sessions and workshops, have made him an asset to organizations that need to achieve a goal by delivering the right message to the right audience.

He established Jonathan Lehrer Communications in 1999.

Jonathan Lehrer conducts a workshop on Web design for the Community Media Workshop

Jonathan Lehrer conducts a workshop on Web design for the Community Media Workshop (photo by Karen Kring).

A beginning in radio

Running the news department at Northwestern University’s campus radio station, then covering local news at several Chicago and suburban radio stations, Lehrer got a taste of the interaction among media, politics, voters, businesses, consumers. He covered politicians whose statements were misunderstood and real estate developers making ineffective presentations to zoning boards. He received press releases that didn’t state facts clearly and he saw reporters gloss over important nuances of stories.

The need for expertise in message development was clear.

Lehrer left radio to join the AAA-Chicago Motor Club, where he became vice president, public relations. AAA’s outreach encompassed a broad spectrum of messages that dealt with transportation, traffic safety, travel and the environment. He took advantage of such communications assets as a membership magazine, media relations, community relations and coalition-building to communicate with AAA members, the public and public policy makers. He was a frequent guest on local radio and TV stations.

Lehrer’s interest in the Internet began during the 1990s, when he managed creation of AAA-Chicago’s first website.

Just as he was adept at editing tape and running a radio station “board,” Lehrer became an early adopter of computer spreadsheets, which he used to calculate AAA’s weekly gasoline price report, desktop publishing and HTML.

After 18 years at AAA, Lehrer established a consulting firm, using websites, marketing materials, newsletters and PowerPoint shows to deliver messages for American Mediconnect (a healthcare telecommunications firm), the Center for Health Design (an organization for designers of healthcare facilities), the Chicagoland Jewish High School, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Board of Jewish Education (Chicago) and numerous other clients.

In 2005, Lehrer co-founded The Message Engineers, providing public relations support for the $1 billion reconstruction of Chicago’s Dan Ryan and Kingery expressways, as well as the Illinois Tollway’s $5.3 billion Congestion Relief Program. The firm’s name demonstrated a commitment to base message development on thoughtful analysis, as civil engineers design bridges.

During a brainstorming session, Jonathan Lehrer organizes ideas.

During a brainstorming session, Jonathan Lehrer
organizes ideas.

The Message Engineers created newsletters – both printed and e-mail – along with websites, customer surveys, media alerts, PowerPoint presentations and legislative briefing books designed to help the public cope with frequent lane closures and ever-changing traffic configuration. Project coordination, workforce diversity and minority hiring were major themes.

Lehrer has been applying the same types of communications assets to message delivered on behalf of such clients as the Will County Center for Economic Development, the Illinois Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, the Illinois State Dental Society, the Publicity Club of Chicago and the CITGO Petroleum Lemont (Ill.) Refinery.

The Chicago-based Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) has been one of Lehrer’s major clients in recent years. In addition to handling media relations, he developed and implemented a social media program which resulted in significant increases to JCUA’s Facebook and Twitter audiences. Under his leadership, JCUA established an active newsblog, YouTube channel and Wikipedia presence. He designed and distributed several monthly email newsletters to JCUA’s various issue-related audiences, as well as frequent advocacy alerts, event invitations and fund-raising appeals.

Recent clients have included the Digestive Health Foundation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital; the Venous Resource Center and Dr. Joseph A. Caprini; the Law Offices of Gary H. Smith (property tax appeals in Chicago and Cook County); and the Thornton Alumni Legacy Fund. Recent website development projects have included the Platt Retail Institute and Sill Public Adjusters.

In 2015, Lehrer joined the College of American Pathologists on a full-time basis after serving the organization as a consultant for several years.

He frequently speaks to groups and leads workshops on such topics as public relations and website strategy and design.

He has served on many committees, commissions and boards of directors. He has served as co-president of the Publicity Club of Chicago and was president of Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Wilmette, Ill.

Blogs, instant websites, Facebook, Google, text messaging and whatever new technology has been developed since you began reading this article make it a constant challenge to cut through the clutter. It’s communications climate change on a grand scale. A “message therapist” is needed now more than ever.

Updated February 2016