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.