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.