Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Davenport Seeks Social Media Manager...Doesn't Mention PR

Davenport University is seeking a full-time social media manager.

I was excited about the move to give permanent attention to social media, until I read the online position description.

Here's one line under 'qualifications':
Bachelor's degree in journalism, new media, communications, English, marketing, graphic design or related field is required.

Why not a bachelor's degree in public relations? I would say that should be first on the list. Social media is all about mutual relationships, two-way dialogue--and that's the essence of social media.

Journalism is still mostly about reporting, not dialogue. English? So far iambic pentameter has had little correlation to social media. Very few marketing programs have more than one basic communication class, and most marketers still approach social media like the guy at the class reunion who tries to sell you insurance. Graphic design? I've met few designers who can write. Farm that out.

Maybe Davenport doesn't have a public relations major, and that's why it doesn't get listed in their ad.

I tell my students all the time to apply for jobs that are (badly) labeled "marketing," and then if they get the job make changing the title one of their first moves. This would better reflect what the job entails.

The world still doesn't get the fundamental differences between public relations and marketing. They see marketing as the catch-all concept for strategic communication, and PR as a publicity seeking part of marketing. Even PR Week (PR Weak) continually refers to PR as a "marketing discipline." Uggh!

Someone over there needs to be disciplined, I tell ya.

No. PR is much BROADER than marketing. Marketing has many aspects and connotations, but it boils down to a single public--consumers--and a single objective--sales. PR is principally about relationships, with multiple publics, and thus has multiple objectives. Consumer relations is but one of many aspects of PR. Media relations is but one of many tactics of PR.

So where does social media fit in all this? It is a tactic, an amalgam of tactics. It involves many publics. And the right way to "do" social media is to approach it as a genuine conversation, not a self-interested proclamation. A PR graduate would get that (at least those with a GPA higher than 2.9). Marketing graduates might, but there is frankly less of a chance that they will. They are all about identifying "markets"--a group of people who want or need a certain product or service. There are certainly markets in social media, and marketers should pay attention to that. But mostly there are publics, communities.

For a university in particular, the notion of multiple publics is vital. There's a big debate in higher education about whether or not students are "customers," but even if they are, there are many other publics to address.

I don't mean to pick on Davenport University. I think they are smart to create the position. I just wish they and others would seek PR people to do the relationship-oriented work of social media.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Alexander Moves Downtown for Creative Collaboration

Local b-to-b firm Alexander Marketing is moving to new digs in downtown Grand Rapids in early 2009.

According to a news release, the move from the cozy offices in the hills of Grand Rapids Township to the 10,000-square-foot space in the American Seating Park will enable the 30 employees of the local firm to collaborate creatively. A 38-foot, raised space and meeting room will be the hub of the new offices, with all work flowing out from there.

You can learn more about Alexander's new digs here. You can also talk about it with Dan Schoonmaker, formerly of the Grand Rapids Business Journal, and now a staffer at Alexander.

GRPR notes the irony--and expresses gratitude-- of receiving a news release from a former reporter:)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Overwhelmed and Ready for Winter's Nap

Maybe it was writing a 900-word magazine article for a client, to appear in a state trade magazine in January, with little notice and little direction from the client who is in Europe for the holidays.

Maybe it was getting a package from France containing 37 graduate student essay exams that needed to be graded asap--from the students I taught for a week this past October.

Maybe it's the 50+ inches of snow we got BEFORE the first day of actual winter here on the shores of Lake Michigan.

For sure part of it was the past several hours I spent re-organizing my bookmarks, aggregators, and RSS feeds. I am all a-twitter. I am blogged down. I am caught in a web of despair.

I am overwhelmed.

Sometimes I feel a little "verklempt" (sp?) (I refer to the Mike Myers character on SNL). Social media seems neither social nor media. Discuss.

I'm not the only one. One of the legions of blogs I try to keep up with is Steve Rubel's Micropersuasion. In a recent post he discusses the fact that information overload can be a real financial cost to companies. He mentions a free information overload calculator provided by Basex if you'd like to check out the damage to your office:)

Generally speaking, Rubel notes, half of our day is spent seeking and managing information. To some extent, to those of us in PR that should not be alarming. We are in the information economy after all, and public relations is in the business of information.

But, we also need to share information. And we need to compete with all the information that's out there. And we need to be well-informed to do our jobs well.

What this means is making sure we cut through the clutter for management, being judicious about what information is good, accurate, relevant, and necessary and reporting it to them succinctly. We also have to remember that information on its own is worthless; information given context is knowledge. Knowledge is what management wants from us.

We also have to make sure that the content we provide in various means to various constituents is valuable to them.

Our co-workers, bosses, and clients will often say we "just" need to "get the word out." That has never been enough. It's even less useful now. We have to give the word context, make it relevant, make it stand out from the cacophony and clutter.

All of the social media tools are cool, but a tool weakly wielded is useless and possibly dangerous. Technology in some ways has made the work of PR easier. But it is a two-edged sword--it also makes things harder. We have to remain calm as we survey the stormy sea of social media. We have to look not at every wave, but the horizon, and set a course with that obective in mind.

Sounds good. I'm still overwhelmed. And ready for a long winter's nap.

Happy holidays to GRPR readers. I'll post again in '09.

"Michigan Messenger" Offers Independent Media Outlet

Michigan Messenger is an online publication with original reporting and blogs. One of its missions is to take on "overlooked" stories. It could be another outlet for regional PR pros to put on their media lists.

Muskegon Uses Social Media to Get on Virtual Map

Here's a good case study in how a community or small business can use social media to gain some recognition.

I checked my morning email and noticed that I am being followed on Twitter by someone or something called Muskegon Directory. So I checked out their Twitter profile.

From there I clicked on the Muskegon Directory web site. As the site states, it's all about "connecting buyers and sellers locally." Local goes beyond Muskegon to include a dozen other communities, from Grand Haven to Whitehall and over to Ravenna and Nunica.

There are some other social media enhancements, including a toolbar to download, and a Muskegon blog (which mostly includes Muskegon area news from the Muskegon Chronicle and WZZZM TV 13).

It was not really obvious who is behind the effort, until I clicked the "about" link on the blog and found that Area Web Solutions LLC, a Muskegon-based firm, is doing the work. As they explain:

We have created this site to provide the public a useful directory of Businesses from Muskegon. we try our best to ensure that the information is as accurate as possible and make every effort to work directly with the Companies that we list and blog about. If you find an inaccuracy, then please contact us at (231) 457-4894 and tell us about it.

(Perhaps someone will alert them to the capitalization errors. Or, if they are truly new media savvy, I just did.)

The site claims to have 90 percent of local businesses in the directory, even though it is still new. They have great potential not just to be an online classifieds section and aggregator of local news, but a source of original content about Muskegon and the surrounding communities.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Manufacturing PR

An interesting article in Business Review asserts that the manufacturing industry has a PR problem.

A key statement in the article, by Candace Beeke, all but writes the obit for manufacturing jobs:

Michigan likely suffers the same negative attitude toward manufacturing -- considering it an antiquated, archaic industry.

But such statements are too broad brush. It's not true that all employees or students see manufacturing jobs as dead ends. Nor do companies that manufacture actual, tangible products see the end of manufacturing for the state. In fact, smart manufacturers recognize that recruiting and retaining skilled manufacturing employees is vital, and indeed good PR.

Susan Koole, in Corporate Communications at West Michigan manufacturer Herman Miller, sees things differently than the picture painted in the Business Review article:

Personally, I see this issue more as a PR opportunity because of what I experience everyday. For example, we host hundreds of customers each year and the majority of them request a visit to our seating operations facility in Holland. They're fascinated by our production methods and the skills required to ship out thousands of chairs every week.

If customers are fascinated by manufacturing processes, it's hard to label the entire industry as 'antiquated.' The PR challenge is to position manufacturing jobs as viable, interesting, and sustainable careers in an environment when many such employees are being laid off. Koole notes that Herman Miller works to encourage employees facing job elimination with professional development opportunities, including volunteering for special projects, cross-training on a variety of product lines, and utilizing tuition reimbursement.

Manufacturing might also look cool when products get national attention. Such was the case yesterday when Herman Miller's LED Leaf Light was featured in the Wall Street Journal in a list of 'eco-friendly' products.

The timing of the product plug was perfect, coming on a day when Herman Miller announced in a conference call that profits are down 20 percent and that layoffs and buyouts could affect 600 employees.

So the PR problem for Herman Miller and any manufacturer is to maintain good relationships with employees in bad economic times. Humans will always need manufactured goods, and those goods will be produced by manufacturing employees. Nothing archaic about it. When the economy does turn around, those companies that have innovative products will grow fastest. And that will require the best employees. I think many manufacturers get that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

PR Entrepreneurs

Just this past week I've spoken with three West Michigan PR pros who are striking out on their own as sole practitioners. One of them is a veteran and victim of downsizing. The other two are younger and chose to start working for themselves. All are excited, and amazingly for this economy, doing well.

It may have something to do with the fact that PR and its many functions, from media relations to social media to events, are cheaper--and often more effective than advertising and marketing. It could also be that sole practitioners for project-based work is the way to go with a short-term budget, as opposed to hiring big firms on retainer as AOR (agency of record).

In any event, it's exciting to see so many people out there. I could consider these people competition, but many of them are collaborating in a very generous and professional manner that serves as a win for everyone, including clients.

If you are interested in knowing more about being a PR entrepreneur, you could get involved with the emerging group of West Michigan independent practitioners. They have started a group on Linked In called Grand Rapids Indie PR Pros (more content coming soon I'm told).

If you're interested in networking with independent PR pros on a national scale, the Public Relations Society of America has a special interest section called the Independent Practitioners Alliance.

I think a panel discussion on starting your own PR business would be a fascinating program for WMPRSA in 2009.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

PR Students Impress Spring Lake Township Board

Let me just say I am proud of my students. You can read why for yourself in the front page, top-of-fold story in the Friday Grand Haven Tribune.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Staff Changes at Wondergem

Wondergem Consulting, Inc. has made a few changes.

Kate Washburn, who has been a senior consultant for the firm for several years, has now been named "director of media services." According to the release she sent me, this means she will "implement and manage a new comprehensive media relations program" for the firm, which also specializes in government relations and issues management.

Speaking of which, Wondergem appointed Andy Guy as director of environmental and urban issues management. He will oversee the firm's clients on environmental and urban issues.

This is an interesting move, since there is so much discussion of "green" practices, CSR, sustainability etc in the PR community of late.

Before joining Wondergem Consulting Inc., Guy served as a project director for the Michigan Land Use Institute, a statewide research and policy organization. He also served as managing editor of Rapid Growth Media, a popular weekly online publication.

Social and Collaboration Seen As Trends

In a follow-up to the previous post, I had an email conversation with Craig Clark, of Clark Communications. He's just hired a young staff member, Christen Oliveto of GVSU (a student of mine). He believes young people have an advantage over some veteran communication professionals.

"I'm noticing that many area firms are beginning to embrace social media tools and recent graduates seem to be most in touch with that with regard to functionality."

Clark, who started his firm by collaborating with other small firms and sole practitioners, has continued to work this way, even responding to RFPs by collaborative effort.

"I think you're going to see more collaboration among independent and small PR agency professionals in 2009," he says. "I'm involved in several networking groups, which allows me to staff the client project with the best person, not just who is available from my staff roster."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hiring Young Creatives in West Michigan

I notice that area ad and PR firms are hiring. New staff have recently joined established firms including Seyferth and Associates, Lambert Edwards and Associates and Wondergem. I also notice that small former sole practitioners have hired employees, such as Clark Communications. Various business and nonprofit organizations are also hiring PR staff.

At the same time I notice that top CEOs in today's Wall Street Journal indicate that hiring young talent is a top concern for the years ahead. And a current Business Week article asserts that you have to hire this new generation in a new way.

Some feel there is tight competition in finding young creative employees and that will offer the tech savvy needed for the future, especially in the ad and PR business. Others feel the little brats have been coddled for too long and need to know they have to pay their dues working with people who have been working since Gen X was in diapers.

I'm interested in your comments: should you appeal to the interests of young employees to attract and retain them, or should they expect to adapt to your work environment? I'll also add a poll at right.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Journalism Does Not Equal PR

Good post recently in the Catching Flack PR blog by Jon Greer about journalists going into PR. In this case he discusses Dan Abrams of MSNBC launching his own PR services.

I agree--too many journalists mistake quasi-celebrity in journalism with actual competence in public relations. Having been journalists on the receiving end of news releases and pitches, that's all they think PR is--publicity. They figure that being a journalist gives them an edge.

It does, but only in media relations. Which is only one aspect of what PR involves today.

As I continue to study the influences on how PR is practiced in organizations, one variable that emerges often is the education of the practitioner. If PR people come out of journalism, with no formal education or experience in public relations, it's likely that their organizations will minimize the role of PR to publicity or public information. This is bad news for them, their organization and the rest of us in the field, who know that publicity is merely one of many tools for a profession whose objective is mutual relationships and whose benefit is strategic management counsel.

If Abrams gets himself in a legal issue, I wonder if he'd be excited to have a former court reporter defend him.

Who is Minding Michigan's Reputation?

The State of Michigan has been the subject of lots of negative news in the current economic down cycle, most of it having to do with the fact that the auto industry is headquartered here (see previous post). But a New York Times article today addresses the general economic overview of Michigan that paints a negative picture with broad brush.

The article has anecdotes of people who have lost their jobs and or homes. It also provides context with a map showing Michigan versus the country on these two metrics. When Governor Jennifer Granholm is quoted, the message is that she's tried all she can and it will take time to turn around.

That may be true, but can we offer a time frame or message of some hope (such as the University of Michigan study that predicts more stabilizing in 2010)? Having read this article and others like it, families and businesses and tourists are hardly considering moving or visiting Michigan, and may even question the wisdom of doing business from afar with companies that are here.

I know there are more positive subplots to the Michigan economic story. Who is getting that narrative out there if not our state government? Perhaps the Times could have done more reporting on how Michigan is dealing with the mess, not just the fatalistic story line they engineered. But it certainly is a reminder that we can't just focus on our own businesses and organizations when doing PR--we need to consider the context and the environment in which we exist, and consider how that contributes to our reputation. Just as "French wine" and and ""British food" have reputations-good and bad, respectively--associated with the country of origin, so businesses and other organizations may have reputations based on the state in which they are located.

I know I'm telling one of my clients to respond to this article with some objective information that lends itself to a more complete picture and better reputation for Michigan.

Car PR--Old Advice Rings True Today

The Studebaker was mocked in its day for being ugly, unoriginal. But Raymond Loewy, the designer of that vintage car, had some prescient PR advice for the automobile industry back in 1955 in an article in the Atlantic. (The article is running currently on the Atlantic's Web site.)

The entire article, written in 1955, is fascinating for its relevance today. My favorite paragraph:

The public may admire a corporation for its impressive size. Who in the United States doesn't? But when a business, however gigantic, gets smug enough to believe that it is sufficient only to match competition on trivial points instead of leading competition in valid matters, that business is becoming vulnerable to public disfavor.

"Smug" management leads to "public disfavor." Loewy was as correct--albeit unintentional--in articulating public relations philosophy as he was about telling the fortunes of the automobile industry. I wonder what more he would have said if he knew about union contracts, executive pay, private jets and market liquidity.

There are many opinions about whether the Detroit (and by the way, PR problem here--the Big Three are everywhere, not just Detroit; the euphemism is an image problem) automakers deserve a bailout. But the issue is interesting from a PR perspective too:
  • how many publics do the automakers need to simultaneously address--union workers, stockholders, government, taxpayers, customers etc--how do you handle that?
  • what PR "lemons" led to the BIg Three's current Big Mess?;
  • will the automakers see PR as image or as mutual, genuine, honest, transparent relationship building?

    Stay tuned. Post a comment if you have an opinion. Or if you want to talk, let me know--I'll drive my Nissan to meet you for coffee.
  • Sunday, November 16, 2008

    My Two Cents on Dollar Coin Campaign

    Some of you might be aware that West Michigan is one of four test cities for the federal campaign to encourage citizens to use the new dollar coins. (By the way, we are a test market region for lots of things, from flavored milk to new fast food chain restaurants).

    Anyway, the dollar coin campaign isn't going too well. Some of the reasons are articulated by residents in an article in the Muskegon Chronicle recently. People think the old fashioned paper greenbacks are lighter and more convenient. People also see the dollar coins as a novelty for collecting, not for spending.

    I'm in Europe about once a year the past few years, and I always note that change comes back to me in a handful of metal. The lowest paper denomination of the Euro is the 5; coins come in E2, E1, and the 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 cent pieces. I feel like I walk with a limp after a mere purchase of a pain de chocalate et deux cafes pour moi et ma femme.

    My father-in-law, an avid coin collector, pointed out that the Canadians did it right when the introduced the "loony," the one dollar Canadian coin. They made sure to introduce parking meters and vending machines that only took the coin version, not the paper. People started using loonies.

    Ironically, the campaign by the U.S. government to encourage us to use American dollar coins is, well, loony. If you read that Chronicle piece with your PR hat on, you hear the public saying the dollar coin is not convenient, not better than the paper dollar, and other complaints. Then you hear the government official saying it will save the nation money because metal money lasts longer than paper.

    In other words, they are trying to motivate people with an appeal to idealistic patriotism versus a practical personal benefit for changing their behavior with regard to their monetary habits. While some PR pros eschew theory, there are several that scream for attention here--diffusion of innovation, adaption theory, uses and gratifications, cognitive dissonance among them.

    This is a campaign that seems based on assumptions instead of research; on idealistic appeals versus pragmatic persuasion. It also seems based on message to influence attitude, versus actions to change behavior--in other words, work with retail businesses to do things to give the dollar coin an advantage over the paper money, like the Canadians did.

    Until then, in West Michigan and anywhere else, the campaign for the dollar coin will not be (dare I say it?) change we can believe in.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Chronicle Redeems Self With Touching Slide Show

    OK. Tonight's email from the Muskegon Chronicle is much better (see complaint in previous post). There's a fresh photo and actual news from TODAY.

    There's also a nice use of new media by the old print publication: a slide show that accompanies a story about lead paint. There are good photos, accompanied by nice titles with audio interviews from people in the story. Good storytelling by a newspaper that maybe is adapting to new media.

    Great PR opportunity as well. PR people should pitch stories specifically for such treatment if they are photogenic or lend themselves to a slide show or short video.

    Ironically, one of the campaigns my PR students at Grand Valley are doing is centered in the lead paint issue. They are working with Healthy Homes in Grand Rapids. (Hey students--you know who you are--are you reading my blog?)

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    Muskegon Chronicle Struggles to Adapt to Web

    So I get a daily email from the Muskegon Chronicle, which is supposed to be the modern version of having actual paper land in the box in front of my house. But this week's email has had the same photo from election day of two neighbors with different presidential candidate yard signs, and many of the headlines are old news as well.

    And now, Saturday evening, when I go to the Chronicle web site, there is no confirmation of today's date. When I click on a top headline, I get a story from Friday. They also use the term "blog" in the headline and "posted by" instead of a conventional byline even if it is a story from the actual paper, thus confusing the news content with the blogs.

    Daily newspapers are struggling because they can't figure out a way to adapt to the Internet and a 24/7 news cycle. Confusing the two isn't the answer. Becoming a de facto weekly isn't the answer either.

    We'll see if they have caught on yet to the notion that the playing field is leveled these days, and maybe they need to read the content others are publishing about them, or instead of them. If so, I welcome their comments, explanations, apologies, excuses.

    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Social Media in Your PR Plan

    Jack Serpa of Medialink shared this anecdote with me that I think is instructive. A PR professional came up to his booth at the PRSA Conference recently and said she has a Facebook page but doesn't really understand why or how to incorporate social media into her 2009 PR plan.

    Jack's answer:

    It helps to think of Public Relations in three simple phases. Allow me
    to explain. In the first phase, we sent news releases to journalists so
    they might publish the story to reach the public. The second phase
    started when news releases‑‑sent through a PR wire service‑got published
    on websites and reached the public regardless if media published a
    story. In the new, third phase the public is a publisher. People online
    are publishing opinions about your brand or product with or without you.
    If you don't make your content available, the public is publishing about
    you without your involvement. That's a dangerous place to leave your
    online reputation.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    West Michigan Papers On Twitter

    This web site is an interesting review of newspapers that are on Twitter.

    The Grand Rapids Press, Muskegon Chronicle, and Kalamazoo Gazette from West Michigan are on the list.

    But the list is not complete. I know that the Holland Sentinel and area business journals, such as MiBiz, have been tweeting for a while as well.

    Of interest to me: how many of you West Michigan PR pros are 'following' local media on Twitter? The media outlet and/or specific reporters? Are the key section editors and beat reporters following you and/or your organization or clients?

    Post a comment and share your experience.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Obama's Infomercial

    (Poll has been closed--thanks for your comments)

    Hey West Michigan Ad/PR pros, students, and consumers of media: I am interested in your opinion about Obama's infomercial, set to air tonight. This will be a first in presidential campaigns.

    Put your partisanship in check, and let me know your thoughts of the communication effectiveness of the ad, based on message, format, timing or whatever. If you want to explain your answer, add a comment to this blog post.

    Monday, October 27, 2008


    PRSA Detroit--People from the West Michigan chapter of PRSA I've seen at the PRSA Conference in Detroit:

  • 8 outstanding GVSU student members of PRSSA;
  • Clare Wade (she's everywhere, she's everywhere!);
  • Beth Dornan, Robin Luymes, Cindy Droog, Anna Bryce from Amway;
  • Rick Chambers of Pfizer in Kalamazoo;
  • Jeremy Bakkan of Lambert,, Edwards and Associates.

    There may be more, but it's a crowded place.
  • Another Take on PRSA

    PRSA Detroit--Beth Dornan of Amway is also blogging about the PRSA Conference on her Amway blog.

    New Media, Old School PR

    PRSA Detroit--The presenters I've been hearing at this conference with an emphasis on social media all seem to think we need to be told that the communication landscape has changed, that social media is different.

    We get that. At least I do. Maybe I'm ahead of the curve and that's why I'm a little disappointed in the presentations. As I told some of the folks here from Amway, they (and others in West Michigan) have already demonstrated the concepts being discussed.

    What we need to get is some thoughts on the subject of your actual presentation. Such as, strategy that is unique to social media. In other words, stop dwelling on the tools and get down to strategy.

    So, I guess the strategy counsel that emerges from what I've been hearing is this: the fundamentals of PR, such as the RACE process, still applies. It's just that we do it differently in a social media environment, and we can do it faster and easier.

    Research involves listening by monitoring blogs, Twitter and social forums. To paraphrase the X Files, the focus group is out there!

    As for the action plan, we need to have objectives and strategies that make sense for each PR program or campaign and fit the culture of the online communities we engage. As always, these objectives should be outCOME (about a desired change in awareness, attitude or action in our key publics--and not so much about outPUT--looking at the fact that we have a blog or Twitter account. It's especially important--as always--to not confuse tactics with strategies. A Twitter account is a tactic. The strategy is how, with whom, when you use it in a way that delivers objectives.

    Communication translates to conversations--seeding them and feeding them by posting comments on blogs, starting our own, following key publics on Twitter, encouraging key publics to follow us, 'friending' our stakeholders in various online networks, hosting our own networks, etc. In any event, participating in the conversation that will happen whether we talk or not. Listening is also part of communication, as it always should have been if we believe in two-way symmetrical communication.

    And finally, evaluation is all about monitoring the quantity of online mentions, posts about you, comments on your posts, followers you have attracted, topics you've introduced that are maintained in social media discussions, share of discussion in your industry, the ratio of positive to negative mentions of you or your organization, and all the action objectives that are met as a result of your social media involvement--such as sales, volunteer recruitment, votes on an issue, donor retention, etc.

    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    PR Service Companies

    PRSA Detroit—As technology advances in the PR profession, so do the various companies that offer to help practitioners in their work. Many are incorporating bloggers into their media list, Web content in their clipping and monitoring, digital photo/video/audio in their distribution, and dashboard management metrics in their evaluation. Here’s a rundown of the companies in the exhibit hall at the conference this year:
  • Blue Sky Factory (email service provider): www.blueskyfactory.com
  • BurrellesLuce (planning, monitoring, measurement): www.burrellesluce.com
  • BusinessWire (media research, news distribution, online newsrooms): www.businesswire.com
  • Cision (formerly Bacons—research, distribution, monitoring, evaluation): www.cision.com
  • CleanPix (digitial photo and news release distribution, especially in travel industry). They publish your media in the online marketplace for journalists: www.pressuite.com
  • Critical Mention (search, track and view broadcast news): www.criticalmention.com
  • DNA 13 (software for brand and reputation management): www.dna13.com
  • eNR services (editorial calendars and opportunities): www.enr.com
  • EurekAlert (science, medicine and technology release distribution, experts database, multimedia gallery): www.eurekalert.com
  • Evolve24 (traditional and social media brand, reputation, and risk management): www.evolve24.com
  • The FeedRoom (Online video): www.feedroom.com
  • Influencing (Twitter like platform to connect PR pros with journalists and bloggers): www.influencing.com
  • iPressroom (Online newsroom): www.ipressroom.com
  • Marketwire (SEO, social media, media lists, multimedia, distribution, monitoring): www.marketwire.com
  • Medialink (TV, radio, and web distribution to mass and micro targeted audiences): www.medialink.com
  • MyPRGenie (global social media delivery platform): www.myprgenie.com
  • NAPS—North American Precis Syndicate (feature, VNR, ANR creation and distribution—often advertorial): www.naps.com
  • Newsforce (online media placement): www.newsforce.com
  • PRNewswire (distribution and measurement to journalists, investors, government, public): www.prnewswire.com
  • Radian6 (Social media monitoring): www.radian6.com
  • MyMediaInfo (media contact database, ed cals, distribution): www.mymediainfo.com
  • StatePoint Media (feature placement service): www.statepointmedia.com
  • Strauss Radio Strategies (radio media services): www.straussradio.com
  • TEK Group International (Online newsroom analysis/distribution software): www.tekgroup.com
  • TV Eyes (TV and radio monitoring): www.tveyes.com
  • Visible Technologies (Consumer social media analysis): www.visibletechnologies.com
  • VMS (monitoring of print, broadcast, online, and out-of-home media): www.vms.com
  • Vocus (PR management software, including distribution, RSS feeds, social and traditional media): www.vocus.com
  • PR Pros Using Web 2.0

    PRSA Detroit—I get the sense in West Michigan that many PR pros are reluctant to fully embrace new media, while some others offer stellar examples of real leadership on the topic. One interesting study presented by a fellow PR professor determined that PR practitioners are more likely to accept and use Web 2.0 tools in their work if:
  • They sense increased productivity or compensation;
  • Senior management and peers support it;
  • They see the content and creativity of it, versus code and technical side.
    These factors explain 57% of the variance (reasons why) professionals will start to blog and in turn use other new media as part of their professional work. Other factors include self-efficacy, or the confidence that they can get into PR 2.0.
  • PR Pedagogy

    PRSA Detroit—This conference is always a nice blend of academics and professionals. Professionals add validity by talking about full time experience in the field. Academics add scientific rigor by sharing research involving large samples from which generalizations can be made.

    But I also like getting together with other academics to learn from their ideas for pedagogy, or ways to teach PR. It’s affirming, in that we at GVSU are already doing things most others are doing, and its innovative, in that there are always new ways to approach teaching, and new things to teach. My students, in talking to lots of other students, concur that GVSU's PR program is where it should be.

    Among the ideas here that resonate with what we’ve been talking about at GVSU:
  • Using portfolios to assess students, possibly as a major-specific capstone course;
  • Using current events in the fundamentals course to get students to be news consumers and thinking broadly and critically about PR, incorporating the RACE process into current events assessment;
  • Integrating IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications) into the classroom;
  • Discussing how professionals use ethics to guide their decisions, and teaching students to make ethical decisions as professionals; possibly replacing the philosophy course on ethics with a PR specific ethics course;
  • Using professional case studies to teach new media technologies.

    More faculty and new classroom technology would help with all of the above.
  • PR History Wiki

    PRSA Detroit—I picked up a flier at the conference promoting a new wiki site all about PR history. Check out www.prhistorywiki.org, touted as a clearinghouse archive of sources by and for the PR community, including a searchable database.

    Detroit PR

    PRSA Detroit--On the day that thousands of PR professionals from around the world arrive in Detroit, the Wall Street Journal weekend edition has a ‘Weekend Journal’ section cover story headlined “How Detroit Drove Into a Ditch.”

    Ironic and funny, yes. (Maybe the timing was planned by the author, former WSJ Detroit Bureau Chief Paul Ingrassia?)

    But aside from the obvious negative publicity, the article is an interesting PR case study for reasons not expected by readers, nor noted by the author (there are very few quotes in the article, and none from PR professionals). But the article’s central thrust is that the bad management-union relationships by Detroit automakers is to blame for the decline of the Big Three. Japanese and other automakers, meanwhile, reached out to earn the trust of employees and succeeded.

    I have rarely seen a stronger case for the importance of employee relations to the success of an organization. It’s why PR professionals who get it understand that they should not just do media relations, but manage relationships with ALL publics on whom an organization’s success or failure depends—to paraphrase the classic definition of PR.

    I’ll be interested to see if Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman of product development, mentions this when he speaks at the conference general session Monday morning.

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Help Wanted: PR Professors

    PRSA Conference, Detroit--Talking to a group of professorial colleagues at the Educator's Academy session at the PRSA Conference in Detroit, something I already know became accutely obvious--there is a serious shortage of PR professors.

    GVSU is hiring, and we haven't had many apps. I've been recruiting here, but everyone I talk to is also hiring, and having the same problem. People can make good money in the profession, why would they want to teach? If they do want to teach, do they want to go through the haard work and expense of getting a PhD? Every university insists on the PhD for a tenure-track professor; you can get away with just a master's degree if you want to be an adjunct or instructor.

    I'm not sure what to do to attract good people with experience, a doctorate, and teaching ability to GVSU. With such a demand, it may be I'm the one who gets recruited.

    Here at the national PRSA conference, there are several sessions for those interested in teaching. We'll see what the draw is. If you are in West Michigan and you ARE interested in being a professor, let's do lunch!

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    PRSA in Detroit

    I'm off to Detroit for the annual PRSA Conference this weekend through Tuesday. I probably will see some of you there.

    For others, I plan to blog from the conference and send a few tweets on Twitter.

    I will avoid sending text messages to the mayor.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Business Journal Launches Blog

    The Grand Rapids Business Journal has a new blog: http://grbusinessjournal.blogspot.com/

    They are currently using it to report on the real estate conference in Grand Rapids.

    This is a good use of a blog for a media outlet, especially a weekly. It allows real-time, brief blog format updates that are faster than wholesale article web site updates, and especially faster than the weekly cycle for the hard copy GRBJ.

    I've added a link to the GRBJ Blog in my links list at right. As I have time I'll add links to other West Michigan media blogs as well.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    GRPS Praised in GR Mag

    Grand Rapids Magazine carries a positive piece about the Grand Rapids Public Schools in its October issue.

    You can't read it online, but John Helmholdt, GRPS Communications and External Affairs Director, was sure to pass along a PDF to yours truly. Given that Helmholdt used to specialize in political PR, including database driven communications, for the now dissolved agency Jones & Gavan, he no doubt pass along the puffery to others as well.

    There's no wonder why he did. GR Mag doesn't have the circulation (although it may reach key influentials) that local TV or the local daily has. Those media outlets seem to have nothing but negative coverage, of low MEAPs, contentious school board meetings, superintendent vs teacher union head, and so on.

    So when you get a media review of some positive progress in the district, you want to pass it around like notes between 7th graders in history class.

    Now we can wonder if John Zwarenstein, GR Mag publisher, will be seeing a sudden increase in subscribers who live in the GRPS school district.

    Creative Smackdown

    The seventh annual Creative Smackdown is October 23 at 7 p.m. at the Loosemore Auditorium at GVSU’s downtown campus. Nearly 60 college students from four colleges will have their creative work critiqued by local Grand Rapids professionals. The categories include web/motion design, graphic design, photography, and advertising.

    Frank Blossom, the organizer of the event (and a new visiting professor at GVSU this year), hopes to have lots of area professionals stop by just to watch. Please do.

    To learn more and see photos of last year's event, see the Creative Smackdown web site.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    PR History

    It's important for people to understand the history of any profession they practice. I think this is especially true for public relations, since its history is so varied, relatively recent, and because so many practitioners come into PR from journalism and other fields.

    The upcoming issue of the Journal of Communication Management, due out in late November, has a special focus on public relations history. Yours truly has an article in the issue, and the others in the table of contents are interesting as well.

    You can read more about the special issue from its editor, Tom Watson, in his blog, DummySpit. When he announced the special issue last October it was the single most visited post on his blog, showing an interest in PR history.

    If you want to peruse the issue, you can do so for free for a limited time. Instructions are on his blog at the end of the Oct. 14 post.

    Also, I'd be willing to offer a presentation of my article if the WMPRSA or other local parties are interested.

    Back From France

    I was happy to see several students, faculty colleagues, and PR colleagues following me on Twitter during my recent week in France. If you didn't, here's a recap:

  • I taught an intensive (21 hours of teaching in a week) session on public relations and press relations to graduate business students.
  • I caught a cold right before I left.
  • This was the first exposure these marketing students have had to PR. Some were excited about going into PR as a career.
  • Cointreau, the manufacturer of orange liqueur, is based in Angers where I taught. The company and its founder were pioneers in advertising and PR in the late 1800s. I visited the plant for a tour and bought a cool book in French/English that shows a progression of ads and other promotions of the company from start-up to today.
  • PR in France is evolving and 'catching up' some day to other EU countries and the US. French PR pros are going beyond media relations to public affairs, investor relations, and other advanced practices.
  • Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Follow me to France

    The old Genesis song "Follow You, Follow Me" has new meaning with the advent of Twitter. I've just noticed that my employer, Grand Valley State University, has an account. So I signed up and 'follow' GVSU. I also follow a close friend, some national media, and my U.S. Representative, which has been interesting this week in particular. A few are now following me and I've sent a few messages, or "tweets" as they are known, this week.

    I'm experimenting to see if this is just a game or has practical utility for me. So, why don't you join the experiment. October 3 I leave for France to teach for a week in Angers, at a GVSU partner institution called ESSCA. I will have access to a computer occasionally and hope to 'tweet' from France as I'm able. Go to Twitter.com and sign up for a free account. Look me up (penningink) and "follow" me.

    And in keeping with the old rock ballad, I may follow you as well.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Small Business Social Media

    The current issue of MiBiz, in the Main Street Strategies section, has an interesting article by Michael Rogers, VP of Communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM).

    The article is based on results of a survey that shows small businesses are just starting to dip their toes in the waters of social media. As for SBAM, they seem to have dived right in: a Facebook page, regular 'tweets' on Twitter, a blog and podcasts, and upcoming on its web site will be more social opportunities for SBAM members to comment on stories.

    It will be really social if SBAM allows members to post their own content and converse with other members, and not merely comment on SBAM directed content. But it's a good start.

    All of this makes me wonder--how many West Michigan PR pros, at businesses large and small, at nonprofits, and at government institutions--are using social media? I know I have observed and even blogged about social media at organizations in all three sectors. But I'd love to here more. Comment to this post. Email me what you're doing and I'll share it with GRPR readers. Or take the poll at right.

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Blog Updates

    I've made a few updates to this blog.

    1. I hope you like the fall color scheme.

    In the sidebar area at right...

    2. You can now check out news about West Michigan and public relations, courtesy of those geniuses at Google.

    3. You can "follow" my blog. This means that if you have a Google/blogger account you can aggregate in one place--your Blogger dashboard page-- the blogs you follow. (I have two followers as I write this. Already two when I just started this, but a long way to go to catch up to Jesus:) )

    4. You can also subscribe to my blog and have new posts appear in your aggregator--Google, myYahoo, etc.

    Look for polls about West Michigan PR issues soon.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Helping Young PR Pros

    As a professor, part of my job is to advise students, which covers class schedules to questions about graduate school and careers. Our Grand Valley State University Career Services office and our chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) also has events in which they invite professors and area professionals to advise them about entering the work force.

    One thing I've noticed in the past few years is the rapid increase in the number of students looking for work outside of West Michigan and outside the state--and in some cases out of the country. This is partly due to the current student body being more willing to "leave the farm" and see the world as "their oyster." (Odd that these two metaphors remind me of a time I was at an oyster farm in the Philippines--I've got pictures!) It's also a reflection of the fact that the state economy is tanking.

    In any event, it gets hard to advise students based on specific experience in places far and wide. In the past week alone I have talked to students contemplating starting careers or graduate school in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Boston, LA, and France.

    So I was interested to read an online release about a popular new blog offering advice, 24/7, from professionals far and wide. The blog is called culpwrit and was started by Chicago PR Pro Ron Culp. Students reading my blog might want to check it out. Professionals who know budding professionals might want to as well, and even contribute.

    Who knows, there might be some pampered child in New York or DC who wants to experience the world and start their PR career in Grand Rapids. You could help them.

    Meanwhile, I just met with a student today to talk about planning our annual agency/PR dept. tours in Chicago next spring. Maybe we'll see if Mr. Culp will entertain us for an hour.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Getting Social With the Media

    A local PR pro asked me to blog my thoughts about engaging with reporters and editors using social media, such as Facebook or Linked In, sometimes called the Facebook for grown-ups. I just had coffee with another local PR pro recently specifically to discuss social media. And the subject is of constant interest among my faculty colleagues here and across the country.

    Specifically to the question about connecting with reporters via social media, I think it's a great idea. In fact, it might soon rise to the level of basic expectation. A recent study reported in Brandweek indicates that social media is being embraced by baby boomers. Blogworks recently referred to a study that says there will be over 100 million people using social media on their mobile devices by 2013.

    Soon, social media may be a de facto way of doing business and personal communication. If you don't get that you'll sound like some old fogey who expresses awe at a new thingie called a 'fax machine.'

    There are already groups on Linked In like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) designed for this very purpose. It's kind of a migration of ProfNet type technology from a listserv to a social media platform.

    I would caution PR pros about "friending" reporters in the social media environment. You have to think in terms of having a genuine relationship with reporters and editors, and not spam them. If PR pros build networks or lists of friends and use them to blast email releases and pitches, you are not being a friend, you're being an annoyance. Don't use social media like an online database. If you do you'll violate unwritten (and increasingly written) rules about social media and likely shoot your own foot.

    Instead use social media to gain a better understanding of what reporters are working on, care about, prefer in terms of information sources and formats and so forth. In turn, they can learn more about you and the organizations you represent. Used wisely, social media can enhance relationships and make your job easier.

    Some local media are employing social media to create online communities of their own. TV 13 offers a place to be a "member" and share comments (something they call blogging, inappropriately). Meanwhile, the news section of TV 8's Web site has their Twitter feed front and center. You can get 'tweets' every time TV 8 posts a new story on your computer or mobile device. Other news outlets will try to engage their audiences in these and other ways in the near future. Right now they are doing it as marketing. But there's no reason social media won't become an extension of news gathering.

    But the important thing for PR people, as always, is that we demonstrate a level of professionalism in an environment where anyone on the street can contact a reporter with an idea. We need to have long-term relationships, based on trust, helpfulness, and an understanding of what news is.

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    Seyferth Simplifies Name to Reflect Complex Practice

    Local PR Firm Seyferth, Spaulding and Tennyson released today a formal return to the firm's original name, Seyferth and Associates.

    The name change--which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the firm founded by Ginny Seyferth--was done to keep a simple moniker on a firm that now will have four shareholders, akin to named partners at the firm.

    Senior Vice President Brooke Vining, APR, and Vice President Eileen McNeil join Seyferth and Dan Spaulding. Spaulding is quoted in a release from the firm saying the change also reflects a growing diversity of PR practice specialties, including alternative energy, emerging technology and life science industries.

    The release also touts a "new look" for S&A, which is shown on an overhauled Web site.

    Left unanswered is what happened to Tennyson in the agency's former name (perhaps he went the way of the light brigade; no, that was Alfred Tennyson). The release makes no mention of, and the new Web site has no contact info for, a Detroit office.

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Local ProfNet Launched

    Craig Clark, one of our fine West Michigan PR entrepreneurs, has started a new service called GR Media Match.

    The service allows West Michigan reporters to request sources for stories they are working on from West Michigan PR pros. It's sort of like a ProfNet (acquired a few years ago by PR Newswire) for our region.

    According to an email I received from Clark recently, there are 50 PR pros signed up and 18 media outlets, with 20 more media outlets thinking about joining the local network (some outlets are counted more than once because there are several segments or programs at the same outlet signed on).

    Kudos to Clark for a great idea, and for executing it.

    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    Political Connections

    Earlier today I was going through the daily deluge of emails in my GVSU in box. One in particular caught my eye:

    An invitation from Congressman Pete Hoekstra to join his LinkedIn network.

    This gives new meaning to the notion of political connections.

    Used to be you only saw your elected official on your porch in an election season or in a parade on a holiday. Now new media is enabling new politics, new ways of being connected.

    Some people roll their eyes when we academics talk about concepts like the "public sphere" and its importance to "deliberative democracy." But it is as pragmatic as it is idealistic--enabling fluid conversations among citizens and between people and politicians is healthy for democracy. The public sphere, or forum for civic dialogue, was originally pubs and coffee houses. The news media eventually, theoretically, filled that role. But many scholars have despaired that the public sphere is not a true and open forum. But new media gives us new hope.

    I accepted the invitation.

    Economist Tastes West Michigan

    If the Economist magazine has an article with a dateline of Benton Harbor, I would expect it to be about Whirlpool or racial strife.

    But no--the high-brow British mag held forth on wine in a recent article.

    This is nice PR for the West Michigan region and its wineries, especially given the readers of this publication are likely to be wine consumers. The comments in the article are also a lesson--some readers resent the elitism in the wine industry. So prestige pricing strategy doesn't always work.

    The article also shows the disdain for the Midwest when it states matter-of-factly (editorializes) that wineries in places like Michigan are "unexpected." Unexpected only by ignorant elite British magazine editors, perhaps. I've been aware of Michigan wines since I was first of drinking age, way back in the '80s. I also know from working as a magazine journalist in the Traverse City region that the 45th parallel--the same line of latitude that runs through the famous wine region of Bordeaux, France--crosses Michigan near Charlevoix. We also have sandy hills adjacent to a large body of water. So we have the geography and topography where one might 'expect' wine to flourish. We even have a city with a name that ends in 'x.' You might say we've got latitude, while the Economist should lose the attitude.

    Thursday, August 28, 2008

    Amway Gets PR Week Mention

    The September 1 issue of PRWeek includes an article about Amway's rebranding efforts.

    It's an interesting challenge for Amway, as the article points out. It's also nice to see a local company featured in the industry trade publication.

    Who knows, we may see one of those regional focus sections on GR PR one of these weeks:)

    Meijer's Lobster Lobby

    So I'm driving down I-96 earlier this week and catching up on some podcasts, and I hear Slate columnist and podcaster Daniel Gross comment that he got lots of feedback for a column he wrote about the price of lobster in this economy.

    Apparently Gross (who reveals in the podcast that he hails from Michigan) was taken to task for mentioning that "you're unlikely to find live lobster tanks in Meijer stores in Michigan or Wal-Marts in the Ozarks." The web site doesn't show a lot of comments posted, so apparently he received direct emails. What he never says is whether people took umbrage at the slight against Meijer or whether they felt the midwest generally was dissed. We also don't know if the emails came from consumers or Meijer employees (or Meijer employees posing as consumers).

    But there is a lesson here: pay attention to the new media environment! If you don't go to the party they'll talk about you at the party.

    The good news regarding Meijer is either a) their staff is on the ball and is searching mentions in blogs regularly and responding to correct errors in fact and perception or b) their customers are loyal enough to stand up for them.

    As for me, I took my wife out to Red Lobster last night. We had a coupon.

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    HR and PR

    The current issue of PRSA's Strategist is an important read, especially the article about Chrysler's re-organization that involves putting PR in the HR department. The article includes an important debate about the wisdom of sequestering PR in this odd fashion on the organizational chart.

    I've had conversations with several West Michigan PR pros frustrated with the location and minimized role PR gets in their company or organization. Often, PR is tucked under marketing. It's a little odd to have it subsumed under HR. But frankly, if you put PR anywhere other than reporting to the CEO, it's an insult to the profession.

    I recently had a call at the university from a large corporation's training director who was inquiring about an HR staff member taking one of my classes because "PR is now going to be part of her job." I had mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, at least this company didn't just think "anyone can do PR." They wanted her to take a class. On the other hand, they thought one class would give them the keys to a profession that is very diverse.

    A couple of academic thoughts on this issue:

    1. Dominant coalition. James and Larissa Grunig are scholars well-known for their studies on "excellent" public relations. They found that one of nine measures of excellent PR is when the top PR representative in an organization is part of the "dominant coalition." The dominant coalition is the group of individuals in any organization who make the key decisions. If a PR person is part of that group, they are involved in making policy, not merely communicating it.

    2. Multiple publics. Part of the classic definition of PR includes the notion that PR builds mutual relationships with multiple publics. Placing PR under marketing makes it narrowly focused on consumers. Placing PR under HR limits it to an employee relations function. Having PR report to the CEO means counseling management on publics who are overlooked and should be engaged and will hopefully ensure that PR is practiced with the broad and ethical notion that PR is about building productive and mutual relationships with all publics.

    3. Encroachment. As in football, this means going over the line into another team's territory. In organizations, this means lawyers, marketers, and HR folks encroaching on what should be the responsibilities of public relations professionals.

    I worry that Chrysler--and too many other organizations--encroach on and even exploit PR as a gimmick to spin or gloss policies decided upon by managers who do not understand PR as a management function. They see PR as merely a communication tool. Chrysler needs PR now more than ever, not just with union employees, but consumers, communities, government officials and a whole host of publics beyond the scope of HR. And guess what? When they do it badly or unethically, it'll be called "mere PR" or a "PR stunt."

    One point made in the Strategist article is that senior PR people should not take jobs if they are going to be parked under another function. Also, those currently in jobs should start taking initiative to convince management that PR is more than sending news releases and managing crises. I agree. It may be hard for people who need a paycheck, but we have to stop the encroachment and the negative consequences it has on the growth and reputation of our profession.

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Direct PR

    With the constant change and innovation in online communications, it seems old fashioned snail mail is soooo last century. But I have always thought that the occasional hard copy, USPS message has a way of standing out. It reflects a special effort when it is so easy to send bulk emails quickly and for free.

    Now there's a new service that allows you to combine the convenience of the Internet with the special treatment of postal service direct mail. Enthusem is a service that allows you to set up your mailing via a web site, and they handle the stationery, postage, addressing, and mailing. There are applications in PR for event invitations, follow-up cards, targeted solicitations and more. On way-cool feature is the ability to add attachments--the recipient sees a Web address and a code in order to see what you've "attached" to the mail piece, and you get notified if and when they retrieve it.

    The West Michigan connection is that co-founder and owner Marc Fors lives right here in Spring Lake. As he pointed out in a press release he sent me: "Our testing has revealed what people really want in their business and personal life, is to easily send, in a few clicks, a truly personal note to a client, to a friend or to a visitor to their web‐site. They want something that has real immediacy and real intimacy, a piece that enters the mail at the exact moment when it will have its highest impact – the same day it is written."

    Public relations is a diverse profession, employing many tactics, including direct mail. This latest innovation--with a local connection--melds Internet with snail mail in a way that allows PR savvy personalization vs mass marketing.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Transparency in Government

    The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has a new online resource to facilitate transparency in government entities in Michigan. The site, michigantransparency.org, has spending data on state government agencies and local school districts, as well as voting and contribution records for public officials at various levels. The Mackinac Center newsletter recently noted that more municipal leaders are posting detailed budget and spending figures online for citizens to review anonymously. It would be nice if the new project soon adds a way to search for specific municipalities' financial records as a clearinghouse.

    Nevertheless, this is a good project. PR pros in government know that such transparency is good practice. After all, our PRSA Code of Ethics frequently implores us to enable "informed decision making in a democratic society."

    Press Timing and Spoonfeeding

    I was going to refrain from commenting on Mike Lloyd's column in the Sunday Press. He whines that GVSU did not post news stemming from its July board meeting promptly--the tuition raise, the president's raise, the benefits for co-habitating faculty/staff. (As a former PR staff and current faculty member of GVSU, I thought I'd pass for conflict of interest reasons.)

    But given a little item in yesterday's papers, I find there to be enough irony to merit a comment.

    First, I do find it ironic that Lloyd complains that the university didn't post news quickly to its Web site. Reporters were alerted to and covered the meeting, and the university was very transparent with internal and external publics. In fact, had the posted on Friday some would have accused them of burying the news on the weekend in the summer. Also, if the university were as prompt as Lloyd suggests, his paper would have been scooped. That's the usual cry from him and his editorial crew--that PR pros don't coddle the Press so they don't get beat to the punch by TV. Indeed, should he not be pleased that the Press broke the stories? All in all, an odd subject to occupy an entire Sunday column.

    But there was even greater irony yesterday following a construction accident on GVSU's Allendale campus. The Press ran the story and a photo, the latter of which was called a 'courtesy photo.' Had the Press been more forthcoming in its photo credit, as was the Grand Haven Tribune on the same story, readers would have known the photo came from the same GVSU News & Information Services office he criticized on Sunday.

    Apparently Mr. Lloyd is transparent about sources when he wields a fork and knife, but not when he is being spoon fed.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Kazoo in WSJ

    Yesterday's Wall Street Journal's special report on economic development featured seven communities that have success stories in that arena. One of them was Kalamazoo, which is leveraging the "Kalamazoo Promise" scholarships to grow a labor force that will attract business.

    It always seems nice when local entities make national press. But, you also have to wonder if this will improve the image of Kalamazoo and West Michigan or hurt it. For example, the whole reason Kazoo gets mentioned is because, according to the article, it is in Michigan, which led the nation in unemployment and other dismal statistics last year.

    Nevertheless, kudos go to the community, Southwest Michigan First, Pfizer and others for showcasing resolve and positive thinking instead of despair.

    Hancock PR

    As you can tell, GRPR has been enjoying the slower pace of summer. To follow up on beach reading, I now turn to movies.

    You've probably seen or are at least aware of the summer flick Hancock, which stars Wil Smith as a super hero who gets PR counsel to improve his public image.

    I haven't seen the movie yet to have a fully formed opinion. I do know past Hollywood characterizations of the PR profession have been stereotypical, portraying PR pros as thoughtless hacks concerned only with spin and deception for selfish gain. Indeed, the fact that the PR guy in Hancock is a hero and the work of PR is depicted in a straightforward way is described as "weird" by Jon Fine of Business Week in his Fine on Media blog post about the movie.

    One local PR pro has asked me my opinion of the film, but also offered his own thoughts that I find worth forwarding: "Sometimes we try to manage people who truly believe they are super heroes - but in reality have flaws (just like Hancock) that we must work around to be effective."

    Indeed, how many of us have worked with powerful and/or talented prima donnas? How often does public perception of a public figure improve because of the behind the scenes, humble rationality of a PR counsel?

    It will be difficult to know if viewers of Hancock will see PR in a different and more respectful way. It is only one film among legions. I also suspect more talk will be about Will Smith and the special effects than about the PR profession.

    Monday, July 07, 2008

    Some Light PR Summer Reading

    In the summer I try to get away from the grind of academic life, but you can never escape PR even in light summer reading. So, here's a quick review of some PR articles I read recently at the beach and patio:

    The New York Times Describes PR Pitching

    This article points out that PR pros (in Gotham at least) use key buzz words to pitch stories and have greater success when they do. This makes PR sound seedy and tricky once again, which can mean that NYC PR pros are seedy and tricky. No doubt some of them are. But at the same time, stressing what journalists perceive as newsworthy is only a natural inclination, if there is substance behind the pitch. As one pro says in a quote, it's good to put the pitch to the "so what?" test before calling a reporter. If these buzz words work to generate publicity when they should not, that says more about journalists who respond to buzz, don't do the due diligence and reporting on the story, and are given to marketing news as product instead of providing needed info to readers. As always, I wonder what non-PR readership of the article think about the PR profession after reading this article. If I were the guy described in the article as a "PR stunt planner," I would sue for libel. If the guy actually calls himself this, I will take him out for lunch, or just take him out, in a Gambino family sense of the phrase, when I'm in New York later this month.

    TIME Magazine Describes Fundamental PR Without Actually Mentioning It

    Interesting one-page "Curious Capitalist" column in TIME's July 7 issue that describes the 'Employees First!" philosophy of the CEOs of the Container Store and Whole Foods. Essentially, the article says that maximizing shareholder value is not the primary purpose of business. They stress that happy, empowered employees beget happy customers, which of course leads to shareholder value as well. They humbly predict this will be "the dominant philosophy in business in the 21st century." Well, gosh, I guess I'm a precocious professor. I've been talking about the dotted line to the bottom line, the PR management philosophy that you need to balance mutual relationships with ALL publics, for years. Actually, I can't take credit for that. Arthur Page, who took the role of VP of public relations for AT&T in 1927, had this philosophy, as did many of his contemporaries. As TIME shows in this article, managers who stumble across fundamental PR philosophy often think they've invented it. I think many CEOs have grasped this for years actually, and some have even acquainted the idea of employee empowerment with PR. I wish more did, and saw PR as a management function associated with setting policy and not merely a communication function announcing other managers' decisions.

    The Atlantic Describes PR Role in GM Push for Electric Car

    A fascinating article in the July/August double issue is all about the backstory on the Chevy Volt, the electric car GM hopes to bring to market in 2010. But the backstory to the backstory is how GM's PR was actively involved in the project from development to public exposure. GM is going through a cultural change, and PR has been key in this process. A good read. I believe WMPRSA had Steve Harris, GM"s top PR officer, speak to a chapter event in West Michigan about 6 or 7 years ago. It would be interesting to have him come again and talk about electric cars, the whole shake up of the auto industry currently, and the role of PR in all of it.

    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    TV 8 and Charter

    Mediaweek reports that LIN TV (parent of local TV 8) has reached an agreement with Charter Communications that means Charter subscribers in West Michigan will get to see TV 8 programming.

    It's interesting to ponder what might happen if the talks had broken down. The FCC has debated 'must carry' rules for years, although this debate was about whether and how much Charter should share revenue with LIN TV. Mediaweek reports the deal is only described as 'fair market value.'

    A larger issue is whether a local TV station, particularly its news programming, is a commodity or a necessity for public information. That's particularly interesting if local viewers have other local stations to turn to. I suspect the argument emerging would be about whether people are customers of entertainment content or citizens seeking news content.

    As for PR people who do media relations, the loss of TV 8 as an outlet (at least to Charter subscribers) would be interesting. Do you stop pitching 8 with as much energy knowing that other local stations would be reaching more viewers via all cable companies? Would the local PRSA chapter write a "friend of the court" brief to the FCC encouraging a quick mediated settlement to provide all local cable subscribers access to this local station, which provides over 30 hours of news programming per week?

    In any event, I'm glad the agreement was worked out. I need the news, and the Olympics are coming on NBC.

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    Coffeehouse coverage

    I was happy to see the GR Press cover an actual WMPRSA event in last Friday's paper.

    It was a good review of why and how Beaners Coffee changed their name to Biggby, to proactively avoid offending Hispanic consumers in other parts of the country, for whom "Beaners" is an insulting term, before the Michigan company expanded across country.

    (I refrain from commenting at this juncture on the potential offenses of monikers such as Cracker Barrel and the Hope College Flying Dutchmen).

    My only problem with the article was the brief mention that it was a WMPRSA event, and virtually no explicit coverage or comments about why this is a PUBLIC RELATIONS story. It implies that management was enlightened and hired a PR firm merely to get the word out. In reality, the management exhibited good public relations in the sense of identifying an overlooked public and potential issue, and then the company changed its own behavior instead of trying to influence attitudes and behaviors of others. It worked at the essence of PR: mutually beneficial relationships.

    That was implied and perhaps obvious to PR people. But to the mass readership of the Press, it would have been nice to make this plain. Instead, public perception will continue to be as follows: when management makes good decisions it is good management; when management makes bad decisions its called a PR problem. Our profession does react to the negative, but quite often we also are proactively positive. Much of the public--and management--does not get this connection to PR.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    PR and Prohibition at GRCC

    Interesting article in the Grand Rapids Press yesterday about GRCC banning smoking. It wasn't interesting so much for the smoking ban as the reference to the college's PR campaign to precede the prohibition of smoking on campus.

    It's a rare case where "public relations" or "PR" is not associated with a pejorative adjective (e.g. ""mere" or "just" PR, PR "stunt" or "gimmick" etc) when described in the media. Lots of content analysis studies of mainstream media have shown this. This is simply a neutral reference to the fact that the college needs to communicate a new policy to its relative publics.

    It would be interesting to know more about the nature of that campaign. Will it be just an education campaign to inform people about the policy? Will it involve persuasion to affect public opinion in favor of this new policy? Or could there even be an component of the campaign that is a health-related cessation campaign, designed to encourage smokers to quit? All three?

    Chime in anyone from GRCC; enlighten us. And good luck.

    Slap and Hug and Shock and Awe

    I have to admit I was puzzled to read about the City of GR's new parking policy that allows people to trade in paid parking tickets and receive a coupon for $15 in free parking. Huh? Why not just not give the ticket, or lower the ticket by the amount of free parking. Or, here's a thought, find ways to offer more parking.

    The city's parking director characterized the ticket/coupon gimmick as a "slap and hug." Well, golly, there's an incentive. If PR is about relationships, I'm pretty sure this is an abusive one. I don't even need my social worker wife to tell me that.

    Is such a deal really going to generate good will? If someone comes to GR and gets a ticket, they are more likely to not come back than to cash in the ticket for free parking. I dunno, maybe if certain people are regulars to downtown GR they might see it as a friendly gesture on the part of the city. But parking--lack of it, fees for it, time limits on it-- is a key deterrent for many visitors to big cities. People are drawn to places where they can shop, eat, attend events and otherwise recreate without the stress of parking. More effective than the coupons would be promotion of the fact that parking rates are lower, time limits are longer, more parking is available etc

    I think Yogi Berra had an insight on this: "that place is so crowded no one goes there anymore." Yeah, people still go to GR. But more might if they could do so without fear of meter maids.

    As for me, I think parking is like sex: shame on anyone who asks to be paid for it.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Spin, Rinse, Repeat

    I was in a meeting this week and got into a conversation with a business owner. He was offering his understanding of the difference between communication and PR. Communication, he opined, was basically sender-receiver (I bit my lip and refrained from pointing out that we have come a long way from that Shannon-Weaver model of communication in the last 60 years). And as for PR, that's where you spin.....

    That's where I interrupted.

    It may have been a semantic difference. He thought my objection was to trying to persuade or "sell" things. Well of course you have to do that in business. But spin has negative connotations, and it is neither strategic or ethical to deceive people. I offered to buy him a copy of "Lipstick on the Pig," Tori Clark's mea culpa epiphany that PR should be, gosh, honest.

    Actually, what the well-meaning business owner was saying is that we need to have strategies and be persuasive and not merely 'get the word out.' Exactly. But what's interesting is that he, and no doubt many like him, speak of spin as a positive thing. They therefore perpetuate the concept that PR is spin, even though they are not PR practitioners.

    So we are caught in this cycle whereby critics of the profession criticize us for being spinners, and then people outside the profession criticize us for counseling against spinning. I have to defend PR to critical theorist professors who point out examples of unethical PR practice (probably carried out by business owners who thought spinning was good) and then generalize to the whole profession. Then I have to advocate for ethical practice to people who think college professors are out of touch--discounting the fact that most PR professors I know have worked in the profession and are in touch with countless scientific studies that show spin doesn't work. The public can't all be fooled all the time. Your spin will find you out. Read up on source credibility and related concepts and you'll see what I mean.

    Science and Art

    I'm always interested in how West Michigan organizations are getting into social media. Like the rest of the nation, we are just getting started. But it was interesting to read in the Grand Rapids Press about Perrigo using a YouTube video in an effort to recruit scientists as employees at the Allegan drug maker.

    You can see the video here.

    It's a great attempt to use new media to reach an audience. But I have some nagging thoughts:
  • The Press reported Tuesday that the clip had 5,000 hits. But (as a scientist should ask), what does that mean? Is it good? WHO were those people? Scientists looking for work would be great. But what if they were pimple-faced kids distracting themselves in an American history class? And ultimately, how many scientists applied for jobs at Perrigo as a result of seeing the YouTube clip? THAT's the metric that matters. Maybe it will come.
  • O.K., I admit that my 'white guy shuffle' won't get me past the first round of auditions for "Dancing With the Stars," but the dancing in this video is less than exciting. It looks like, well, scientists dancing. I have a lingering memory of the Intel ad of years ago where scientists making computer chips wear lab suits that would make MC drop his hammer, and they really got their boogy down!

    All in all, it was a clever video. And it was locally produced, which always warms my heart. I even have a suggestion for a sequel. Instead of showing beakers, show a periodic table of the elements. And then proclaim that, at Perrigo, scientists enjoy periodic table dances.

    I shouldn't give this stuff away for free.
  • Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    Spectrum Crisis

    The Aero Med helicopter crash last week captured lots of the community's attention. Kudos in order:

  • To Spectrum Health, for their rapid response, having a plan, executing it, keeping people informed with repeated press conferences and updates online, and a nice touch with the full-pager in the GR Press last night thanking the city's fire and police departments;

  • Local media for their coverage. TV 8 provided good perspective with its chopper and press conference coverage; other TV handled the coverage well; radio was on spot with the news; the Press reacted well to the timing of the incident at their press time and had two subsequent days of interesting depth and multiple-angle coverage, showing what print does best.
  • Quitters Never Spin

    In all the buzz about former GW Bush press secretary Scott McLellan's book, there is a local West Michigan angle. Jerry terHorst, who was Ford's press secretary, quit the gig after one month because he disagreed with the pardon of Nixon. The PR trivia has been reported in the Grand Rapids Press as well as national media, including a mention in a Slate podcast.

    Yep, GR's claim to PR fame is a guy who quit after one month on the job.

    I would have to say this, though. terHorst quit because he disagreed with policy. That's his right. But was there really an ethical issue there? Just as lawyers represent people and policies they don't agree with, PR people advocate points of view for those we represent, whether WE agree or not. The job, particularly in politics, is to convey information so people can make informed judgments. The key is doing so truthfully.

    Quitting a PR job is more important when you're being asked by a client or boss to lie. Or when you're kept out of the loop so you have "plausible deniability." Bad form. Icky. Time to go.

    I often tell my students that in any career, including PR, you sometimes have to choose between your profession and your job. A prof I know from Brigham Young tells students to have a 'freedom fund,' meaning enough cash to live on for several months in case you need to tell a boss you'd rather quit than spin. Practically speaking, that can be hard, and truth can be murky at times. But PR pros should consider their personal reputations and enhance the reputation of the PR profession.

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    May Media Month Encore--Media View of PR

    May ended peacefully, and it's time for my local PR blog to move on from its focus on the news media.

    But then I was alerted to this gem from the national media, namely a rant about PR related to Scott McLellan's book on "CBS Good Morning."

    More like good grief! Another TV reporter painting the PR profession with broad and irresponsible brush. (His lack of reporting is the reason the world needs PR people--we often care more about truth than the often sensationalistic media--known collectively as the sensationalistas--particularly when it comes to national TV).

    Good to see PRSA was on the job over the weekend and rapidly posted this letter in response. It's also reassuring to read the comments from many PR pros posted at the end of the "CBS Good Morning" item.

    At least here in West Michigan the reporters don't have such a narrow view of PR. Many express appreciation for getting ideas and access from us. At least they are smart and honest enough to understand that there is good and bad PR, depending on the ethics of the practitioner.

    Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    May Media Month--Diggin' Digital

    A professional from a local PR firm recently talked to me about the range of special news programs on local TV. She's talking about doing a content analysis to be really on top of what programs focus on what types of news when. Smart thinking. I'd ad radio to the mix.

    Local TV and radio stations are local businesses. They are affiliates of national networks, and most of their air time is taken up by running the feed of national programming. Where they make their most money is when they can offer unique local programming and sell local ads. There's no doubt local broadcasting does this well, including:

  • "West Michigan Week" on WGVU (which features, magnanimously, journalists from other broadcast and print outlets);
  • "Take Five" on WZZM TV 13 (which I appeared on once with a pajama-clad Catherine Behrendt--long and unrelated story there);
  • the FOX 17 "Know Zone," (a form of TV advertorial);
  • TV 8's local version of Sunday politic talk programs, "To the Point," (which has made me late for church more than once);
  • and all manner of local radio programs, from DJ chatter to more formalized interview and talk programs.

    Sending a news release to the newsroom is still important, but in the modern media environment its best to think rifle not shotgun when seeking media opportunities. These special segments have more specific content and reach more tailored audiences. That makes PR pitching perhaps both more challenging and more rewarding if you do your homework.

    BUT, as the headline on this post suggests, the real opportunities will come with the switch to entirely digital broadcasting next February. What this means for local TV station is the ability to broadcast content on more than one channel, because digital transmission rids us of the spectrum scarcity via the analog airwaves. Each station can have up to four channels in the new environment. WGVU already offers unique programming on its extra channels. TV 8 and 13 are using their extra channels (see 8.2, 8.3, 13.2 13.3) to simulcast programming in wide and standard screen and to offer 24/7 weather. But, the opportunity is there to offer more unique programming. That'll be an opportunity, a revenue stream, for local stations if they can handle the production costs and get ad support. It'll also be an opportunity for PR pros to provide content, in the form of ideas and even finished video. Of course, with recent years' scandals about video news releases, we'll have to be sure to label our VNRs accordingly--and stations will have to attribute them--but there is room for many creative ways for PR pros and broadcast outlets to benefit mutually--by benefiting the public--with a broader range of local information and programming.

    To contradict the old TV announcer cliche--definitely DO touch that dial. There's more to come.
  • Thursday, May 22, 2008

    May Media Month--LIVE TV!!!!

    At those popular "meet the media" panels many of us have attended, the TV journalists talk about the uniqueness of their medium and how that affects what they consider news. Usually that means tight deadline, and they have to have a visual (in the same way that birds are attracted to shiny tin foil).

    For that reason, news in TV isn't always dictated by the substance of a story. This can lead to trite treatment of stories and messages we want to get to our publics. Some PR people I talk to consciously determine that some news releases are better not sent to TV--90 seconds of "good TV" isn't always good PR when publics aren't getting the full story.

    The treatment over substance problem of TV news is most evident when they go LIVE!!! I put this in all caps and with three exclamation points because I don't want to appear nearly as excited about live TV as the TV stations themselves. I had to tone it down a bit.

    Ya know, LIVE!!! just isn't that exciting anymore. Sometimes it's relevant to point out that the news is live. It's best to just do so with a simple graphic in the corner of the screen. But it's annoying when anchors have to boldly boast about the fact that they are LIVE!!!

    Most of the time, local TV going LIVE!!! is actually not a big deal. A reporter doing his or her stand-up in the dark outside a building for the 11 p.m. news long after the actual event happened is ridiculous. Get the poor sap out of the cold, or just run the pre-recorded interviews and VO. What's worse is the "LIVE!!! in the newsroom" reports. Um, you're reporters, it's time for the news, and you're actually live in the newsroom, which is, you know, like an office for reporters and where you do your job and stuff. So, were we to have expected otherwise?

    TV had the ability to broadcast live decades ago--get over it local TV. Consumers have. That's right, LIVE!!! is not only not exciting, it's irrelevant. With "time-shifting" all the rage in the form of Tivo, VOD (video on demand), DVRs, Internet streaming, RSS feeds, etc., consumers don't care when TV stations are live; they care about when THEY are ready to consume news. The fact that you DON'T need to be in the living room at 6, 10 or 11 p.m. to watch local TV news is what excites viewers today.

    As PR people, we could adopt a strategy to accommodate local TV's fascination with LIVE!!! by timing our press conferences and stressing visuals and other LIVE!!! opportunities. But, our profession has enough image problems for promoting fluff. We should focus on helping them with, you know, actual news.

    I'm Tim Penning, blogging LIVE!!! in the extra bedroom I use as a home office.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    May Media Month--Business Weeklies

    PR Week recently had an article in praise of city business journals as a media relations outlet. Indeed, I tell students in my media relations classes to be sure to familiarize themselves with these publications in whatever community they end up landing a job.

    Here in West Michigan we are fortunate to have three publications dedicated to covering our neck of the woods. The Grand Rapids Business Journal, MiBiz, and Business Review are based on Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo, respectively. But they have offices and reporters throughout the region and have a multi-county coverage area that is broader than the dailies within the region. (Business Review is a Booth Newspaper property, part of the same family as the Grand Rapids Press, Muskegon Chronicle, and Kalamazoo Gazette in the region).

    Yes, I know, there is also Business Update. But theirs is mostly a press release distribution service, so I'll focus on the other three.

    While PR Week, which has an international audience, seemed to see the local focus of business journals as a downside, it actually is a plus if you are seeking a local audience.

    For one, these publications and their reporters know the region. They have as much of a vested interest in this geographic region as do the organizations we represent. And their reporters tend to really know the region, which translates into more thoughtful and comprehensive stories with a level of detail you wouldn't usually get in a national outlet.

    Not only do the business weeklies cover separate stories well, their overall coverage runs deep. They make up for the long lead time with special sections and overviews of entire industries. They also consider business in the broadest terms, covering government and nonprofit sectors as well.

    While the weeklies have circulations and reach that is less than the dailies or TV audiences, they offer a select and sought after readership of key leaders and influentials. So we can reach a smaller but more significant audience via these business weeklies. This narrower audience is the reason why the business weeklies can cover such a wide array of topics with specificity whereas local dailies--with a broader more general audience--only cover business stories of more general interest.

    Finally, the business weeklies are not limited to specific cities, as PR Week implies. Most organizations do not limit their activities to city limits or typical daily newspaper readership areas. The business weeklies cover news from that regional perspective. It's important for folks in Grand Rapids to know what's happening in the business community on the lakeshore, and vice versa.

    When I was in college and worked on the student paper, which came out three times a week, we used to joke that we started out as a tri-weekly, then slowed down to a try-weekly, and by our senior years we were reduced to a try-weakly. But I'd have to say the West Michigan business weeklies are a source of strength in the regional media landscape.