Tuesday, November 21, 2006

PR Student Status

Richard Edelman writes in his "6 a.m." blog about his very positive impressions after an encounter with PRSSA students at the recent national conference in Salt Lake City. I concur and can make some additional comments about PRSSA students here in West Michigan, at least through my knowledge of them as advisor to the Grand Valley State University PRSSA chapter:

We are up to 30 dues-paying members and more than 60 regular attenders. And there's reason to believe that will grow. The number of Ad/PR majors at GVSU has doubled, to more than 500, in the past four years.

It's a GVSU student, Lisa Tavnik, who is the first to hold a new post of vice president of advocacy for the national PRSSA organization. Her work includes a recent statement on transparency. Nice to see our future professionals taking a strong ethical stance.

Our students, who are required to do at least one internship, have been spreading their wings from coast to coast. Recent internships have been at Oscar de la Renta in New York and Porter Novelli in LA. They also make annual visits to firms in Detroit and Chicago.

While we incorporate 20-30 "clients" into our PR courses each semester, the PRSSA chapter has started a student-run firm and is doing PR work for other student organizations and some community clients.

The group is nearly finished with a West Michigan Media Guide they will make available for sale to regional nonprofits as a fundraiser to offset their costs to attend the national conference. The guide will be updated and available each year.

Two teams are involved in the annual Bateman PR Campaigns Competition, working with me and GVSU alumna Kate Washburn of Wondergem Consulting as advisors.

All of this is done on top of their regular busy schedules and increasingly stellar work in the classroom. I'd say the industry, passion, and creativity they exhibit are a good commentary on the future of our profession.

Ad Firms Extend Own Brands

It's good to read about a couple of local ad agencies doing so well recently. Hanon McKendry landed national account Rayovac, and Alexander Marketing has opened a North Carolina office to handle increasing client work in the Raleigh area. Both are mentioned in the current Business Review.

The Hanon McKendry site touts its location in West Michigan in both text and photos. The site also has a fun blog, written by staffers, featuring commentary and links to all things creative.

The Alexander Marketing site is upfront about its locations in Grand Rapids and Chicago, with GR leading. I assume the Raleigh location will make the list soon.

I love how both firms promote their West Michigan location right up front. Why not? What's to be ashamed of? In fact, I would say that's increasingly an asset to be in places like Grand Rapids. The biggest creative innovations--Apple Computer, Google, YouTube--have come from a handful of guys in a garage. OK, it was a West Coast garage in all cases. But my point is, innovations more easily emerge from mavericks than from within the well-funded R&D division of major multi-national corporations.

In the ad biz, the Starbucks-swilling scribes on Madison Avenue in New York or the tony Rodeo Drive in LA have little concept of their target audience. In fact, they look down on us literally and figuratively when they commute at 30 thousand feet between the coasts. But their audience is here in the "flyover states." Plus, the big city shops remind me of the old saying: "If your only tool is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail." For many, the hammer is TV spots.

But the world is changing. The small nimble shops like the ones I've mentioned, not to mention the boutique agencies and sole practitioners--or two guys in a West Michigan garage--are more likely to come up with the innovative advertising solutions of the future. Those solutions will be needed to respond to a host of rapidly emerging and converging trends in the ad biz--Web 2.0, social media, consumer sovereignty, time-shifting, ad avoidance. The epicenter of the ad biz will not be where the TV studios are. It will be where the consumers are.

Bill McKendry has been saying for years that West Michigan ad shops need more respect from local clients. For too long, the "prophet in his hometown has been without honor," to paraphrase the Bible. Now that our talented local shops are getting more high-profile clients, they'll be getting respect locally and nationally. I'm feeling both proud and excited.

Memo to the Governor: forget about "pill hill" or "medical mile." Start selling this part of the state as "Advertising Avenue."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Perrigo Replies

Mike Lindemann of Perrigo replies to my post about their product recall:

"Tim,

At least someone out there is actually thinking clearly and seeing the big picture in this thing.  It's too bad ABC, CNN, and other media giants had the blinders on. 

Thanks,

Mike Lindemann
Caledonia, Michigan"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Volunteers must apply

A little brief in the Grand Haven Tribune says North Ottawa Community Hospital (NOCH) is looking for volunteers to serve on several committees. Sounds interesting, until you read that anyone interested must submit a resume and letter of interest to the NOCH CEO, and then be subjected to an interview.

At some point this sounds less like volunteering and more like, you know, a job.

Volunteers are one of the key publics in nonprofit public relations. The key objectives for volunteers include recruiting them and retaining them. In other words, it's hard enough to keep volunteers without making people work so hard to volunteer in the first place.

Now, it may be that NOCH wants qualified volunteers. In a hospital enviornment there are no doubt some issues that must be addressed before allowing anyone off the street to volunteer. Their online volunteer application even asks for references.

Well, then, a better way to recruit them would be to identify and personally invite or more narrowly target people who would be deemed appropriate. Issuing an open call for volunteers in the local daily and then listing restrictions on being "accepted" as a volunteer could leave some potential community volunteers feeling a little ill. At the very least, a little explanation of the reason for the rigid application process would be in order, as long as a few incentives for people to volunteer given the high barriers.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You Go Perrigo

News Friday about a product recall by Perrigo warms my heart.

Not because I wish the hard work and costly reality of a product recall on Perrigo. But because the company is practicing good PR in light of a bad situation. Some of you may remember the famous Tylenol case, when Johnson and Johnson recalled bottles of aspirin because someone had tampered with them. While only a few bottles were affected, Johnson took a huge short-term loss to do the right thing. In the long term, however, the company consistently scores high on reputation surveys.

According to a press release onPerrigo's Web site, the company has made this recall voluntarily, at a cost of about $2.9 million, even though the potential impact of metallic particles found in some of the recalled generic drugs is minimal. This shows that Perrigo is considering relationships before profits. They are thinking long term. They are practiciing good, fundamental, public relations.

My only problem is that the Press and other media won't recognize this as exemplary PR. If it were a negative story, on the other hand it would be called a "PR problem." Or if Perrigo were trying to hide the facts, these efforts would be called "just PR" or "PR gimmicks."

I long for the day when we see a headline like this: "Company proves PR is inherently ethical; recalls product in interest of public."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Good Crisis Advice

There's a good article about "Fixing the Crisis" in this week's Grand Rapids Business Journal (subscription required).

Nice to see that the advice given from all local PR pros--including yours truly--is not only strategically wise but ethically sound. Consistently, the article stresses NOT spinning, training whole organizations, responding to the problem versus covering it up, acting to prevent future crises.

The article even brings in the legal perspective, which is important. It'd be interesting to do a follow up sometime about how PR folks and legal counsel clash in crisis modes in some cases. PR practitioners advise transparency--telling the truth and proving it with action, as PR pioneer Arthur Page said in the first two of his well known PR principles. Lawyers, in some cases, counter with the reticent strategy of limiting liability and saying as little as possible. At least the attorney in this article understands the best long term advice is dealing honestly with crises immediately.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Holy Cow, Bad PR

I hate it when the news media refers to a public relations effort as a "PR stunt."

I hate it more when they have good reason to.

Witness the short piece in the Grand Rapids Press about a local PR firm's placement of a fiberglass cow downtown, bearing a sign "We're coming home." It's a cute play on the cliche "I won't see you til the cows come home." But it does reek of a stunt, gimmick, or any other pejorative noun that follows PR as an adjective.

Now, this might get some attention. But I have several questions: what is the objective?; who are the publics?; is this cow reaching them in the appropriate way to accomplish those objectives?

Maybe, but maybe not. Some would say such PR efforts are creative, innovative, a necessary reality in our multi-mediated environment. But I would argue that far from innovative, this is a throw-back to the days of PT Barnum hyping his circus and other events, and giving PR a bad name in the process that we still have to shake.

PR is about building mutual relationships. Are fiberglass cows and building mystery part of that? I say horse hockey.