Thursday, February 28, 2008

GRBJ Ad PR Coverage

I hesitate to mention this year's annual Advertising and Public Relations "Focus" section in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, because I am profiled. I don't want to appear too self-aggrandizing.

So let me be magnanimous and say it's a nice section for two other reasons.

1. It's nice to know that local media such as GRBJ consider our industry worthy of focus.

2. Each year there is further evidence that our local ad/PR pros are innovative and industrious. Witness the articles this year focusing on retail radio and tv advertising, video production, and local online video.

I just read this morning about Obama's campaign being among the first to use localized Web video ads as they approach the Ohio and Texas primaries. Meanwhile, folks in West Michigan are already on to that concept according to the BJ.

It's good to know we're hip, and it's good that the BJ helps the regional business community understand that.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ad Fair Site is Live

The Web site for the West Michigan Ad Fair is now live.

You can vote in the People's Choice Awards for best area ads in tv, radio, print, Web, and logos--the contest for which I helped narrow the finalists as mentioned in an earlier post.

In addition, you can see the schedule of events for the week of March 3.

But be warned: if you're like me you may waste some time shooting the duckies. Check it out!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Record Eagle Looks at Front Group Issue

The heart of the matter of the whole Meijer-SST-Acme township from the beginning has been the alleged staging of a "front group" by SST and Meijer.

Everything else SST did is normal communication tactics and legitimate PR. But if, as alleged, they staged a 'front group' in order to influence public opinion without allowing the public to make a fully informed decision (i.e. knowing that Meijer, SST were behind the citizens group) then that clearly violates the "disclosure of information" provision of the PRSA Code of Ethics.

Thus far, much of the discussion has been general, or focused on Meijer's violation of state law. But now, the Traverse City Record Eagle is looking more closely at the role of the PR firm and the alleged front group. Citizens make some harsh accusations. Ginny Seyferth continues to make no comment beyond that they are cooperating with the investigation.

She "bristles" at criticism, but I have to say--not specifically denying that the firm was behind a deceptive front group implies that...she can't. She may be hoping the issue fades from the public eye and she can continue unscathed. In the meantime, the PR profession gets a black eye in the public view. That's what bothers me most.

I wish SST would deny the accusation emphatically, or fess up and apologize. And then go and spin no more with their, and the profession's, reputation able to heal.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ad Fair More Like Excellent

Bill McKendry of Hanon McKendry was kind enough to invite me and several local ad pros to help select finalists for the "People's Choice Awards," a part of the upcoming Ad Fair scheduled for the first week of March.

You can read the Business Review article about Ad Fair for background. Or check the site of the Ad Club of West Michigan (currently under construction) for more details as the event gets closer.

The goal of Ad Fair, and people's choice, is to celebrate and promote the creative talent here in West Michigan.

There is much to celebrate.

We perused and mused and ended up with five finalists in each of five categories: logos, print, radio, tv, and web. There's good stuff in each category.

A few months after people looked at national ads in the Super Bowl forum, they will likely be impressed to see the quality created by the West Michigan ad community.

To borrow from the Super Bowl, I'm a "patriot" about the local "giants" in advertising talent.

You will soon be able to check them out and cast a vote yourself. Remember, it's not a competition, it's a celebration. It sounds cliche, but it's true--everyone wins by displaying the variety of talent in this region.

Roy and Moy

If you look at the special ad supplement in the February 4 issue of Advertising Age, you'll see a list of students from around the country who are called the 2008 Most Promising Minority Students.

Among them is Karina Moy, of Grand Valley State University.

My colleague Roy Winegar nominated her and recently attended a reception with her in New York City. He reports that the big agencies are eager to attract young minority advertising talent. It's nice to know that local students are among the tops in the nation.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

High Flyin' PR

Pilots have sure hands, speak calmly, and don't panic in the face of a rapid plummet. The same skills are good for any PR pro to have. So it's good that Bruce Schedlbauer, a pilot as well as the PR man for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, didn't hit the eject button in the midst of a Grand Rapids Press story about more than a quarter of potential passengers choosing other airports.

In the face of this "rapid plummet" of passenger market share, Schedlbauer spoke calmly and honestly, acknowledged the troubles, couched the problem as an opportunity, went through a checklist of research about the situation, and generally assured anyone paying attention to this turbulence that those in charge of Ford Airport are in control.

The pilot has now put on the "no more bad airline puns" sign.

Some might have the instinct to make excuses or avoid comment. But addressing the situation is best. For one, the media will cover the airport because it is a government (Kent County) entity, and it is of considerable reader interest. Secondly, it's fundamental PR to communicate with all publics directly so there is no speculation and fear. Instead of feeling the airport has let us down, we learn that we are all in this situation together.

Speaking of that, MiBiz had an article this week (can't locate the link now) about the airport being the first impression people get of the West Michigan region. How true. And I was impressed that Ford International thinks of lots of details in that regard, from terminal design to making sure cabs are available. Any business in West Michigan that has clients or recruits come in from around the country should realize their vested stake in the success of the airport. Kudos to Schedlbauer and others for working with the local market in partnership.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Meijer Mea Culpa

There's an empirically tested theory that basically claims that people are more likely to believe a statement from someone when it contradicts what they expect that someone to say.

In the case of Meijer, we all might have expected their internal investigation to conclude they did nothing wrong in the Acme Township case. But, according to the Grand Rapids Press, they are admitting wrong doing and willing to pay appropriate fines.

According to the Coombs typology of crisis response, such an admission and apology is at the far end of a continuum of organizational crisis response and image restoration efforts (the other end being attack the accuser or denial). So it would appear Meijer is doing the right thing. But, in crises as in comedy, timing is everything. Does the apology come too late?

Ultimately when we talk about crisis and image we are talking about public opinion. I encourage you to read the Press article linked above and scroll down to read comments. There are some good ones. Including questions about SST that still have to be resolved. More will come on that as the state and the Acme Township state police detective continue their investigations.

For now, let me add one more academic perspective. Psychologist Virginia Satir informs us on the Meijer situation now that they are trying to make right. She says: "Your reactions to the situations in life are more important than the situations themselves." Put another way, you can't communicate your way out of something you behaved your way into. Acme residents are going to watch what Meijer does, not just what they say.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I'm Hip After All

Gosh. No sooner do I mention Garanimals in an earlier post than I read an AdWeek item saying the brand is being re-launched.

They are still focusing on children, though.

The Profession and Professors

One of the reasons I started this blog was to try to bring together academic and professional perspectives on public relations.

The Public Relations Society of America works at the same goal, as evidenced by conferences that bring together professors and practitioners.

They also have a new online journal, Public Relations Journal, with scholarly articles that may be of interest to active professionals. I'd encourage you to check out the current issue. I'd be interested to hear what you practitioners think of this journal--are the articles understandable, useful, practical? Or, are they too abstract, dense? Would you be interested in reading other academic research on PR, in addition to the PR trades?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Recent PR Grad Already a 'Fashion Guru'

I gotta say I was proud to learn that a GVSU PR major only one year out of school is already considered a "guru" by local media.

Lynsey Roumell was president of the GVSU PRSSA chapter and an all-around good student. Among her achievements was an internship at Oscar de la Renta in New York City. Over coffee during the holidays, she hints that she might want to work in big city fashion PR some day> At the moment, though, she is more than happy right here in River City working for Wondergem Consulting.

But, she might be able to have her cake (walk) and eat it too.

In Tricia Woolfenden's GR Press blog, "The New Black," Lynsey is one of a trio of local "fashion gurus" who will be providing a Midwestern take on the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week currently under way in the Big Apple. "The New Black" will feature Lynsey and two others' fashion perspectives Friday.

Meanwhile, you can check out Lynsey's own blog, StyleJunkie Weekly, which is informative and funny.

It just shows that PR is a very diverse field, with lots of areas for speciality. Also, we can't teach them everything in college. In fact, if one Professor Penning ever tried even one lecture on fashion, it would be more funny than informative. I still think "Geranimals" for grown-ups is a fabulous idea. I will note that when I mentioned this to Lynsey, she ever gracious, complimented me on my Burberry scarf (I do not appear in this video).

Memo to WMPRSA board and program planners--invite Lynsey to do a workshop on fashion PR this year. I'm asking her to be a guest speaker in my fundamentals class on this subject. Lord knows I can't do it. One of the joys of being a professor is when former students do well--and teach me something.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Meijer Scrutinized for Tax Breaks, Criminal Probe

A source alerted me to the Traverse City Record Eagle's weekend coverage of Meijer.

One article is about the retailer receiving special state tax breaks.

A second article is about the status of the investigation regarding the Acme Township recall and whether that is best reviewed by Meijer's own attorney, Lansing politicians, or a state police detective based in Grand Traverse County.

On the former, I would say that having a political action committee (PAC) and making your case to politicians by lobbying is standard and acceptable PR practice. What is not, or should not, be standard is getting special favors or being perceived as a "special interest," as some in the article allege.

The second article is related in that it implies Meijer has deep pockets and can influence Lansing on the Acme recall investigation.

In both articles the evidence seems to be that Meijer addresses things from a legal, rather than public relations, perspective. They refer inquiries to their attorney. Their spokesperson (who I am told is also an attorney) declines comment in favor of stiff statements. They present a public posture that seems eager to get pesky journalists off their back, rather than having honest dialogue with the communities they purport to serve.

Perhaps it was a wise PR counsel who coined the expression, "first, kill all the lawyers." Corporate PR execs need to remember that anything you say--or don't say--can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. You have the right to remain silent, but you also have an obligation (and hopefully a sound strategy) to justify your behavior to your key publics.

Meanwhile, the buzz among the West Michigan legal community is about the culpability of the law firm in the Acme Township recall incident. The company and a PR firm are on the hook; little has been said about the law firm's role. Apparently, Meijer's attorney hopes to wrap up his investigation of the matter early this month, with documents then forwarded to the state police detective. Keep watching.