Thursday, March 22, 2007

Spartan Take Two

Hate to be picking on Spartan, but in their second big story in the Grand Rapids Press in as many days, there's another quote that begs reaction.

Here's a quote from the CEO this time:

"We can't be juggling two balls at the same time, and our bridges are full," Sturken said. "We had to weigh both opportunities, and Felpausch is our sweet spot."

Spartan must stock mixed metaphors right next to the vegetable medley. And they're having a special.

First, juggling by definition requires more than one ball. If you have one ball, you are tossing one ball in the air. Two or even three balls makes it juggling.

Second, the relationship between juggling and bridges is lost on me. And, how exactly do you know when a bridge is "full." Bridges are built, crossed, burned and a number of other things. But filled? Perhaps the Press quoted him wrong and he meant to say "britches" are full, but that's a rather scatalogical reference for a Food Marketing Conference.

Finally, weighing opportunities is ok, but sweet spot? I get an image of someone standing on a scale testing the tension in a tennis racquet.

To use my own food analogy: it's important in PR to offer quotes with some meat, but this is another example of word salad.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spartan Quote Greek to Me

The Grand Rapids Press article about Spartan Stores acquiring the Felpausch grocery chain includes this comment from a Spartan spokesperson:

"This is part of our strategic growth plan through distribution customers and acquisitions, when it makes sense for Spartan," said Jeanne Norcross, spokeswoman for the retailer. "Felpausch operates in communities where we don't have markets or stores, and this will only strengthen a relationship we've had for more than 50 years."

I wonder if what "makes sense for Spartan" makes sense for the average Press reader. Apparently we need a cleanup in whatever aisle the PR department is shelved.

First of all, distribution customers and acquisitions is a bit too much jargon. Does it mean Spartan plans to grow by both acquiring grocery chains and by working with more distributors to carry Spartan brands? If so, say so.

Meanwhile, "when it makes sense for Spartan" sounds self-centered. Sure, business decisions have to have business benefits. But PR is about mutual benefits, for vendors, partners, customers, community etc. Saying something to that end would play better in the local daily.

The last sentence seems like two concrete ideas joined together with duct tape. If you don't have markets or stores, how are you strengthening a relationship? I know, the relationship is with Felpausch, not the communities. But it requires some inference to get that.

PR people are often encouraged to speak more to business interests, particularly those who work in corporate PR. That makes sense to a point. But we can never forget that PR is about building relationships with ALL publics. When comments sound like board room banter more than public conversation, it's time to sit back and reconsider the publics to whom a corporate spokesperson is speaking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Prince of PR

In the current issue of Business Review West Michigan, Mark Sanchez has a nice commentary titled "Carrying on the Legacy." It's a relection about Edgar Prince and what has happened to the former Prince Corporation since its acquisition by Johnson Controls.

Sanchez summarizes what Prince employees learned from the media shy but influential Ed Prince as follows: "take care of your customers, take care of your employees, take care of your community, and the bottom line will take care of itself."

Sounds like public relations to me. Unfortunately, most people still do not make that connection. When management screws up, the media call it a "PR problem." When management practices fundamental public relations, they are considered management gurus. PR, like Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect.

Why is the Ed Prince mantra fundamental PR? Look at the quote from Sanchez' column again. It is simply an articulation of three publics, including but not limited to customers (which means it goes beyond marketing). We could even add more publics to that list: investors, government, media etc. The notion that we should "take care" of these publics implies having relationships of mutual benefit, which is the essence of PR. Also, the idea that the bottom line will take care of itself is so radical in many management teams. But that also is refreshingly similar to a PR perspective. Too many managers devote all their efforts to the bottom line, and too many PR people try to demonstrate how PR impacts the bottom line. It does, but not always directly, or immediately. And, there's more to PR than financial metrics.

When the bottom line is the focus, relationships with ALL publics are forgotten--things become too consumer driven. Not that customers are not important, but they are not the only people we should be concerned with. When mutual relationships (i.e. PR) becomes the theme of your management, all publics AND the bottom line benefit. That's the PR perspective. That's why PR is a management function. Too bad too many still don't get that, both inside and outside the profession.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Exploited Workers or Community Asset?

I have to wonder if this was a case of a bad headline writer or a corporate executive who needs a media training review.

The Grand Rapids Press piece about XRite's post-merger location in West Michigan seems to indicate that the company is exploiting workers.

The headline says the company is "taking advantage of cheap labor" as justification for staying here after merging with a Swiss competitor. Is West Michigan to Europe what India is to the U.S. in terms of "outsourcing."

One can only hope XRite doesn't really mean to take advantage of employees. Could they have meant to say that West Michigan is home to a talented and hard working labor pool? If they meant to say that, they should have.

One has to wonder, though, if XRite being without a PR person with management clout at the moment is the reason this messaging mistake was able to occur.