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.