Thursday, May 31, 2007

Metro's Good Donor Mojo

The Grand Rapids Press business lead story is about Metro Hospital exceeding its fundraising goal. But the larger story is that they did it with a lot of smaller donations, as opposed to securing one large check from someone who's name begins with 'Van' or 'De.'

Nothing against the generous philanthropists in the region, but I think this Metro success is exemplary of good nonprofit PR and capital campaigns. It may seem harder to get many small gifts to reach a capital goal, but consider the benefits:

  • you can demonstrate broader community support for your organization and cause;

  • you start building relationships with "smaller" donors who can support you in the future;

  • many donors feel a personal relationship with your organization, whereas they feel less engaged if one major donor foots the bill.

    That last one is key. In the end, PR is about relationships, not money. If you have the former, the latter follows.
  • Local Tech Coms Firms On a Roll

    I've said it before in this blog--with the new technology in advertising and public relations, it is not far-fetched to say that the epicenter of the media universe can just as easily be Grand Rapids as Manahattan.

    Further evidence for that claim is reported today in the online publication Rapid Growth. First, there's a piece about local Internet ad brokerage firm adding staff and revenue rapidly.

    In another piece, Rapid Growth reports that a new company, Foxbright, is opening in the Waters Building in downtown GR to help people record podcasts.

    Finally, Rapid Growth repurposes a Muskegon Chronicle story about Grand Haven-based Brilliance Audio Inc., an audio-book producer, being acquired by Amazon (ever heard of them?!)

    Friday, May 25, 2007

    PR and Politics

    It's always interesting when a PR firm gets coverage in the business section front in the Grand Rapids Press. Usually, because of some dislike of PR hungover from j-school days, they don't like to talk about us.

    But yesterday's story about local firm Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson forming an alliance with law firm McInerney and Associates and public affairs/lobbying specialists Public Affairs Associates was big enough news.

    I think its good news too. Nice to see a local firm getting more active in state and national levels in political PR. I just wish the article had made it more clear that PR is not necessarily a separate function from public affairs. In fact, other local firms specialize in political PR. My "Fundamentals of Public Relations" students must read a chapter about politics and PR. In the case of the Alliance, it looks like they are bringing together various specialities. But the article makes it sound like PR is about publicity and message crafting only.

    By the way, this is another reason I roll my eyes when people say PR programs should be in business schools. Many of my students may want to focus their PR practice in the political arena. In that case, some political science electives are as valuable as a marketing or finance class.

    Does DC View of PR Apply to GR?

    I focus in this blog on West Michigan, but a Washington Post column making light of bad PR professionals is too good to pass up.

    I was alerted to the article by Jason Manshum, a former student of mine now working at Bronson Health. As Jason points out, the article is negative about PR but all too true about some PR professionals.

    I like to think that the good number of PR folks I know in West Michigan don't right as badly as the examples in the Post article. But I'm not seeing everything either.

    The causes of such poor PR could be lack of a good PR education, not getting professional development at a WMPRSA workshop, or being coerced by management to sending out such tripe to the media.

    But in any event, exposing such bad practice may not be a bad thing if it helps some bad practitioners shape up. I said as much when I wrote the author, Mr. Weingarten, the following response to his column:

    "I teach public relations at Grand Valley State University (in Michigan) and was just alerted to your column about PR people by a former student of mine.

    I loved it, agree with it, laughed out loud at it, and will make it required reading in all future Media Relations classes I teach.

    Many of us in PR appreciate it when the practitioners who practice badly, or unethically, are exposed. I hope in some way it helps enhance the profession. At least in the short term, those who are good PR professionals--whether they do media relations or any of a host of other things PR involves these days--will stand out against the ones lacking in skill, educational background, or perspective."

    Tuesday, May 22, 2007


    The hits just keep on coming for local firm LEA.

    Jeff Lambert, who started Lambert, Edwards and Associates Inc in 1998, is a nominee for the West Michigan Entrepreneur of the Year award given by Ernst and Young in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

    Congratulations and best wishes to Jeff.

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    Davenport Needs PR Education

    According to print and broadcast news, Davenport University is planning to vacate its GR campus and move its West Michigan operations entirely to the new Caledonia campus.

    Unfortunately, they aren't talking much to local officials in Grand Rapids or Caledonia about this. One has to wonder if the administration at Davenport has talked to other vital publics, such as the faculty, students, alumni, and donors. Glenn Steil, retired representative, is one donor who is rather irked that his donation--earmarked to keep Davenport in GR--is not being honored.

    Last night TV 8 said Davenport officials refused on-camera interviews on the matter.

    Here's one local university offering a textbook case on how NOT to handle public relations--not just media relations, remember, but relations with ALL publics.

    Davenport appears to be relating to no one. Of course, they are a business school. Business schools teach that PR is all about image and publicity, not relationship building. If they had a solid communication program and PR department, perhaps they could be more proactive, ethical and savvy in their relationship building and communications.

    As my junior students write on their PR management exams: "in the absence of information, people assume the worst." Brilliant! Fundamental.

    Friday, May 18, 2007

    GR Hotel Gets National Attention

    When the area's first JW Marriott Hotel being built in downtown Grand Rapids announced its 19th floor would be women only, it got some local media play. But national media soon picked up the story and made it more of a debate about whether the move is discrimination or savvy catering to customer needs and desires.

    The "Today Show" trotted out some national wags including the overexposed feminist lawyer Gloria Allred to chime in on the debate in a segment this morning.

    ABC's "Good Morning America" also did a segment. While ABC also addresses the discrimination issue, they do a better job of addressing the hotel's perspective. They even interview hotel manager George Aquino and some local women. The video also has some skyline shots that make you feel proud of GR,

    Kudos to Grand Rapids PR firm Wondergem Consulting for handling the national media on the story.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    MySpace for PR

    I got an email from Katie Payne about a new social media site for PR. I have met Katie at Institute for PR and PRSA national events, but it would be a stretch to say we're close. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by her email about a new site by Ragan Communications that is being called the "MySpace for PR professionals."

    I've been intrigued by the whole social media phenomenon, so I decided to check it out. I can see some value in joining, so I did. I don't know if I want to troll pictures and add "friends" like my students do on the real MySpace. But there are various groups to join, forums to read and contribute to, and other features that could be useful.

    If you're interested in joining the virtual PR community, check out the site:

    LEA, SST Make PRWeek List

    Kudos to two West Michigan agencies making the 2007 Rankings in PR Week.

    The list ranks firms by annual revenues, not counting firms that are part of the big five "holding companies"--Interpublic, Omnicom, WPP, Havas, Publicis.

    After three Michigan firms from the Detroit area, Lambert, Edwards & Associates is the first Michigan PR firm on the list, coming in at #109. Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson joins the list at 129.

    I know I'm a cheerleader, but never consider "GRPR" to be second rate to anywhere else. These firms put Grand Rapids on the PR list along with New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago and other big cities. Plus, we can never discount the top notch practitioners in West Michigan who work for boutique shops and in-house in the government, nonprofit, and corporate sectors.

    I'm tellin' ya: when it comes to PR, GR rocks!

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    Gortsema Goes Legal

    A few weeks and blog posts ago I noted that managing editor Tim Gortsema was "on sabbatical" from the Grand Rapids Business Journal, as I heard it from Gemini Publications editor Carole Valade.

    So I was curious when I read in yesterday's Press that Gortsema had been named communications manager at Warner Norcross & Judd. Was this what he planned to do on his "sabbatical" or is this a permanant move? No mention of Gortsema on the WNJ Web site (nice site though), so I asked their long-time PR counsel Mary Ann Sabo for clarification. She got me through to Gortsema, who shared this:

    "I guess that's wishful thinking (maybe). For better or worse, I'm here. In fact, I had lunch with the BJ gang today but refrained from any sabbatical comments."

    So, it's not that clear yet. But I did remind Tim that WMPRSA membership is a good idea for anyone making the transition from journalism to public relations.

    Innovative Negotiating is Basic PR

    The Grand Rapids Press business lead article on Sunday was about a company in Middleville that used what the paper called "innovative" bargaining practices with its labor union.

    However, once again, this innovation is really fundamental PR.

    The chart in the article compares 'traditional' vs. 'interest-based' bargaining. The comparisons range from "adversaries" vs "joint problem solvers" to "secretive" vs "open."

    To the unitiated--like the business staff at the Press--it might be hard to see a PR connection to this story. But that's because most people see PR either minimally as publicity seeking, or pejoratively as deception.

    To PR practitioners with experience, an education in the field, and perhaps accreditation (APR), the connection is clear. Employees and unions are a "public." The essence of public relations is to build and maintain "mutually beneficial relationships" with all publics.

    In that sense, this article had fundamental public relations written all over it. Too bad the Press and most mainstream media write nothing about it.

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    PR Campaign Article 'Burns' Me

    The Press last night carried an article about the owner of the Rhode Island nightclub where patrons were burned after some pyrotechnics went wild. As part of his sentence, he has to do community service, and it turns out he's doing some of it right here in River City with an organization called The Phoenix Society.

    [Self disclosure--when I was in high school, my dad was in an accident in which he suffered serious burns. As part of his recovery he attended some meetings of the Phoenix Society, which is a support group for burn victims.]

    At first blush this looks like a good thing. A man sentenced to community service for negligence that caused customers to suffer burns is working with a burn victim organization. That's all well and good.

    But what bothers me about the article is that the nightclub owner, a former TV reporter, is doing what the paper calls a "PR campaign." He'll organize a firefighters bike ride across the country to raise money for the organization.

    I'm not sure what the PR is. Event planning? More likely, as a former TV reporter, it'll be about getting publicity for this fund raising effort.

    That's what 'burns' me. When PR finally gets mentioned without a pejorative adjective adjacent to it, the profession is minimized as mere publicity seeking. It strikes me as arrogant when journalists, who think they're experts on PR because, after all, they received lots of news releases and they know what news is, think they're capable of understanding PR.

    Meanwhile, one burn victim's father quoted in the piece said if this nightclub ownin' TV reportin' community service fulfillin' PR wannabe really wanted to make a difference, he should "offer a public accounting of how the club was run, promote tougher fire laws, and work on holding fire officials accountable for enforcing fire codes."

    In other words, address the problem, not just the image. Deal with relationships with key publics in this case, not your own battered reputation. Do some actual PR that goes well beyond mere publicity seeking.

    Nonprofits Profit the Region

    The Community Research Institute (CRI) at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University recently conducted studies of the impact of nonprofits on the economy in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Newaygo counties. In Kent County alone the estimated impact of nonprofits is $2.2 billion.

    While part of that impact is the jobs and salaries these various organizations provide, the nonprofits also have mutliple monetary benefits as measured by everything from reducing crime to improving the quality of life that attracts businesses and the knowledge workers so sought after these days.

    From a PR perspective, and as one who's PR career was primarily with nonprofits, I think these studies need to be more highly touted. There's an arrogance among many in the business community that nonprofits need to be run like businesses, and that PR majors should be in the business school. Never mind that a nonprofit is different than a business, that they have missions much broader than making a profit, and that many business leaders could learn a thing or two from nonprofit executives about integrity, inspiration, organization, efficiency and leadership.

    As for public relations, the majority of practitioners do not work in businesses. They work in government or nonprofit. By the business advocate's logic, the PR major should be in the political science department, or in the School of Nonprofit and Public Administration. But wait a minute. PR is fueled by communication theory, its practitioners primarily conduct or advise on communication issues, and that unique perspective provides the kind of "outside the box" thinking most businesses say they want. So, here's a thought, let's keep the PR majors in the schools and departments of communications.

    And let's recognize that nonprofits don't need "marketing" advice from businesses. They need PR--relationship building--to accomplish their varied and vital social missions. The bottom line of the recent study shows they're doing just fine, whether the metric is in dollars or otherwise.

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    Fruitport Gazette

    In a competitive newspaper industry we nevertheless have a new publication in the West Michigan media. The Fruitport Gazette began publishing recently, serving Fruitport, Spring Lake, and Ferrysburg.

    The paper is free and publishes weekly, on Mondays. There's a blend of local stories and wire filler stories, with quality printing in broadsheet format of 8 pages.

    Apparently the paper presumes to compete with the Grand Haven Tribune, Muskegon Chronicle, and Grand Rapids Press. All of those papers cover the area, but perhaps there's an impression that they overlook the three communities mentioned on the Fruitport Gazette masthead. However, with only 8 pages and still quite a bit of that filled with ads and wire copy, it seems there isn't that much to cover.

    But it could be a good PR opportunity for you if you have news you can localize. Managing Editor Katerie Prior can be reached at If she likes your pitch she may assign a story to one of four staff writers.

    Sunday, May 06, 2007

    Newspaper Business

    Kudos to Grand Rapids Press Publisher Danny Gaydou for being inducted into the Junior Achievement West Michigan Business Hall of Fame, a news item his own paper was sure to feature in the Sunday paper.

    What's interesting in reading the article is the business perspective Gaydou has about the Press. Of course, he's the publisher and that's his job, and this is a business award. So he mentions the "money making" capacity of the new printing presses at the Walker facility. He discusses Mlive and future plans for Web enhancements, but with an emphasis on opportunities for advertisers.

    Money making capacity and opportunities for advertisers. Again, no problem with business aspect of journalism. The only alternative to ad-supported media would be goverment owned media, which doesn't sit well in a democracy.

    I just wish publishers and editors would talk more about that latter point. The "press" does not enjoy a special mention in the First Amendment because of their need to make money. The press is "free" because of the public's right and need to make informed decisions. Where the article does talk about citizens it refers to them as "consumers" with more options to find news. News is portrayed as a business commodity rather than a democractic service.

    It's quite possible that if publishers talk more about readers as citizens and not just consumers, it will be good for both business and democracy. Maybe I'm too much of an idealist. But so were the writers of the Constitution.