Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Meijer Gardens Scores National Mention

It was nice to see that the Patrick Dougherty exhibit at the Meijer Gardens is featured in the Wall Street Journal in tis January 30 edition. It's nice for three reasons.

One, it's just nice to see GR covered in the national media outside of presidential funerals.

Two, it's nice to see that the coverage was positive, unlike the aloof mentions of "midwestern values" by national media coverage of the Ford funeral. Or the downright snotty assertions of the New York Times coverage of the Perugino exhibit at the Grand Rapids Art Museum several years ago. Or the insistence of TIME magazine that the Davinci horse at the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is a four-foot replica of the real deal in Italy, when in fact ours is an original.

The third reason this is nice to see is that the Meijer Gardens public relations coordinator, Rick Jensen, is a 2005 graduate of the Advertising/Public Relations major at Grand Valley, where I teach. I didn't have Rick personally (with 500 majors now I can't teach them all), but it's nice to see a recent graduate having success.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Newspapers Elsewhere More Transparent Online

In my previous post I noted that area print journalism outlets have a diversity of opinions about using their online presence. You might find it interesting to see what other papers around the country are doing to make their newspapers more conversational with readers (something PR people have understood far longer).

Read more in BlogWorks.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Local Editors Discuss Digital

In a week when TIME magazine announced more layoffs, the Boston Globe closed foreign bureaus, and the LA Times revealed plans to integrate the paper with its Web site, it was interesting to hear at yesterday's WMPRSA meeting what three local editors think of the blending of paper and digital news vehicles.

I had the privilege of moderating a panel including Tim Gortsema of the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Rod Kackley of MiBizWest, and Paul Schutt of Rapid Growth Media. Just like the national level, our local media landscape is ever-changing and includes a diversity of digital opinions among local journalists.

If you click on the links above, you'll notice some of the differences immediately. GRBJ reveals full content only to subscribers, unashamedly. They don't want to cannibalize their print product, and they do want to offer something special to subscribers. MiBiz allows free access to current issue and archived content, viewing the Web as an extension of and driver to their print product. Both GRBJ and MiBiz ensure that the print and online versions are different, utilizing the Web for breaking news to compete with broadcasters. Rapid Growth is new and entirely Web based, and therefore is understandably free access. Not only that, they work aggressively to syndicate content (via RSS) to get their content out there as much as possible.

Schutt, of Rapid Growth, spoke repeatedly (and in my view, correctly) about the "culture of the Internet" being characterized as free and dialogue based. They are working to allow reader feedback and forums. The other two editors either expressed blatant opposition to that or admitted they haven't had time to work out that sort of online functionality so far.

Opportunities for PR folks abound--we can link our sites to this online content to show that "credible, third-party coverage" of our organizations and clients. We can use the archives for research on our industry, competition, and other aspects of our more transparently mediated environment. We have a new venue for breaking stories and reaching what Rod Kackley called "WMDs"--White Males at their Desk--in the middle of a workday. We can hope that once the "digital divide" is crossed we'll be reaching all sorts of publics in appropriate and timely fashion. However, Kackley also suprised when he said he is less interested in event-driven news than in themes and issues. Keep that in mind for your pitches.

But for my thinking, the best lesson came from Gortsema, who was glad to participate in yet another media panel yesterday for one reason: he got to meet some of us in person. He likes to put faces with names. "Your job isn't done when you hit the send button," he reminded. Too true. Arnold movies notwithstanding, no amount of technology will ever replace humanity. The truly savvy PR person doesn't get seduced by technology, but remembers that PR is about relationships, with all publics, including the media. The best way for us to deal with digital media is to remain essentially human.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sustainability and PR

Many of you may have heard about and even worked with aspects of the new buzzword in management: sustainability. I hope you'll do a favor to the PR profession and tell other management team members that sustainability is basically about fundamental public relations.

You can read more of my thoughts on this in the February issue of "Tactics," the monthly publication of the Public Relations Society of America

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Good Word"Smith"ing

As I suspected, the Press business section piece was about the GE purchase of Smiths Industries. They answered all the relevant questions about potential impact on local publics. Not only did the article ameliorate fears, it accentuated the positive.

That's not "spin," by the way. Sometimes the truth is actually good. I'm glad the Press got that and reported it honestly. Other regional media carried similar stories.

That means the local Smiths PR staff was on the spot. Kudos to Jennifer Villarreal.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Smith Sale Stuff

Looks like the local play on the sale of Smiths Aerospace to GE was prompt and pretty comprehensive. The companies national Web site had a release posted promptly yesterday.

The Smiths corporate site has a link to the Grand Rapids location, but that turns out to be mostly a profile with some contact info. Not any locally focused announcements about the local impact of the sale. However, the corporate site offers good info, with a bullet list of impact statements that should reduce uncertainty. And GR-based PR official Jennifer Villarreal had a presence in local media--either directly or indirectly--immediately yesterday.

The sale and its impact were stories on radio, TV and print. The Press may have wanted more lead time for a Monday story, evident in the fact that they only ran a brief. But, the media doesn't give a rip about our competitive interests, so why should we give in to theirs? It's a big story, and the Press' competitive edge is depth and analysis. So they should have a business section lead or longer story today to follow up and flesh out details about the impact of the sale.

Incidentally, national publications like the Wall Street Journal and TIME Magazine both described format and print/online changes recently that reveal a trend towards more "forward looking" news and analysis. Since print can't compete with other media on immediacy, they are trying to offer more depth, analysis, and forecasting to help readers make "sense" of the world. In some ways this makes good, um, sense. On the other hand, I worry that this trend will further remove print journalism from objective reporting to a market-driven approach to news as "product.'

In any event, the larger issue for us right here in River City will be to see if local media like the Press adopt this analysis//forecasting model of news as well. To borrow from broadcasting, stay tuned!

Monday, January 15, 2007

GE Owns Piece of GR

Smiths Industries, formerly Lear, has now been sold to GE, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required).

This is obviously a story of national and international business interest. But since I write about PR from a local perspective in this blog, I am most interested to see how the PR folks handle this with those important yet often overlooked local publics--employees, local government entities, suppliers, and the community at large.

To that end, what will be the extent of coverage by the local media?

I would hope the PR folks had a heads up on this, and that they had a chance to make a plan that includes local publics in communities where Smiths has a local presence, such as GR. That plan should have included communication of details, including definitive changes to be expected, with internal publics before the story went public in WSJ.

If they had such a plan, my local PR quesions might be answered by my local media question.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

GR PR in Wake of Funeral

A former student of mine emailed for my opinion on the PR benefit of the media attention on GR during Ford's funeral. A good suggestion. Here's what I said:

I know that state funerals are tightly scripted and handled by the federal agencies, so locals might not have had much control. Also, it would be unseemly to try to "capitalize" on a funeral.

BUT, if you read the New York Times and other media today, you can see that GR comes out looking very good. Sometimes a good PR strategy is to let the facts speak for themselves, let people draw their own conclusions.

Now that it's done, however, the Ford Museum and city could and should work together to make sure they handle the inevitable increase in interest in the city and museum--the Grand Rapids Business Journal had a nice piece about this. Perhaps some special events and speaker series this summer while interest is still hot. I think they should take all the mementos out front and make a permanent display inside. They should also produce and sell a video drawing from the coverage by local TV stations--even partner with them to do so.

WZZM Money Page is....ZZZ

WZZM has rolled out a revised money section< of its Web site.

My reaction? ZZZ....

They basically run wire business stories, added a stock ticker that features West Michigan stocks, and have an "advertising" sidebar in which a local business can post news releases.

The latter item reeks of "pay to play" PR and bothers me. Have a simple ad message in which viewers can link to a business Web site for news releases. Last I checked, paying for coverage was popular only in the third world and is being addressed by the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) ethics commission.

The other items on the revamped site are available elsewhere. Places ranging from Yahoo to the Wall Street Journal allow users to track select stocks, making such info even more personalized than WZZM's attempt. Similar tools allow RSS feeds from corporate news sites or investor relations sections to get tailored news of interest.

I know WZZM renamed the site "Money" from "Business" because they realize there is more of a market for personal finance stories than general business information. This shows that WZZM, like all media, is a business itself, more interested in packaging and selling their product than doing--what's it called?--oh yeah, journalism that informs people in a democratic society, tells them not just what they want to know but what they should know and care about. But if they do want to stoop to market driven journalism, they need a better product.

Curbing Clutter

New state regulations for billboards went into effect this week that limit the number of new billboards. This is good for two reasons: 1) the reduction of billboard clutter, and 2) the reduction of billboard clutter.

The first reason is more personal, since I love the outdoors and cringe at billboards popping up like weeds even in more rural environs. But even in the city the proliferation of boards is bothersome.

But the second reason (which astute readers will notice is similar to the first) is from an advertising perspective. "Clutter" is a key concept among advertising educators and researchers. We know from other media that clutter reduces ad effectiveness. Particularly these days, with consumers more in control of media, reduction in clutter is not only important to make the fewer ads remaining stand out. Those ads are going to have to have content more relevant to the context or consumers will revolt.

We see this same trend already happening in newer media including web ads and satellite radio. It is continuing as media companies look to "monetize" text messaging, iPod song and video, and games with advertising. To get hip consumers to accept this, the ads have to be all about them or the medium, not just the message, may suffer. As I hypothesized in a paper sent to the Journal of Advertising, this trend of what Adam Smith would call "consumer sovereignty" is starting to migrate to old media, such as print, television, and even billboards.

Too bad the Outdoor Advertising Association of Michigan (OAAM) doesn't have updated information on the "regulation" section of its Web site. But here's the skinny straight from the State of Michigan.