Thursday, December 17, 2009

West Michigan Man Heads National School PR Association

Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent of the Kent Intermediate School District, is the president-elect of the National Schools Public Relations Association. He will serve as president in 2010.

Koehler is past president of the Michigan School Public Relations Association and a member of West Michigan Public Relations Society of America.

This is no doubt a great honor for Koehler. It also represents the West Michigan PR community well that one of our local colleagues was chosen to lead the national association.

Here's a recent podcast interview with Inside Michigan Education in which Koehler speaks about school PR in a tough economy.

MDOT Using Online PR Well

I noticed a good example this morning of a government agency using the latest online technology as part of their public relations efforts.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) posts VNRs to its YouTube channel. This is a no brainer for anyone, but seems especially useful for a government agency. Yeah, there was criticism of government use of VNRs a few years ago, but that was overblown and more the fault of local TV news directors using them without attribution. MDOT's channel is clearly labeled as MDOT, the video news releases have a pre-roll with MDOT clearly identified, and the content is informative to citizens.

The quality is decent as well. It might not work for broadcast (but then again it might). Certainly these VNRs could be mashed and edited by TV stations if there's good (i.e. informative, not boasting) SOT (sound on tape or soundbites) and enough b-roll to edit and localize for use on their own Web sites. I would just stop ending every VNR with an articulation of the MDOT mission statement.

Of course, the MDOT YouTube channel can circumvent news stations altogether for citizens who want to stay informed and subscribe to the channel, or click links from MDOT's Web page, Twitter stream, or Facebook.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

GR Creative Circle Closes

Just a day after I touted the Grand Rapids office of Creative Circle I learn that it is closing. I got this email from the local office's staffer:

I’m Kristen Myers-Chatman – I launched Creative Circle here in Grand Rapids – however after only 2 months or so of servicing this area….CC execs have decided to close the doors feeling it’s not a viable market for the company after all.

Bummer. Looks like the Creative Circle for area communication pros looking for work has become a...wrecked angle.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Grand Rapids Part of "Creative Circle"

Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and....GRAND RAPIDS?!

Yes. Grand Rapids is one of seven office locations for Creative Circle, billed as an advertising and creative staffing agency. That means they connect creative talent to clients who need all manner of creative help, from animation to writing. Area creatives can register to get freelance gigs and potentially full-time positions.

This is not only a good service for the West Michigan creative community; it's validation that West Michigan has an attractive creative climate.

(Hat tip to GVSU alumna Lisa Travnik)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

West Michigan PR Students, Pros Make National Impact

It's been a good week for West Michigan public relations students and professionals getting national recognition.

First, Derek DeVries, manager of communication technology for Grand Rapids Community College, had an article called "Managing Your College's Online Reputation" published in the Community College Times, a national publication.

Then I learned that Leah Zuber, president of the Grand Valley State University PRSSA chapter, and Angela Hernandez of the Central Michigan University PRSSA chapter, were among 14 recipients of the PRSSA National President's Citation for 2009.

Finally, I noticed that Mikinzie Stuart, a student at Ferris State University, had a nice blog post called "20 Ways PR Students Can Beat the Winter Blues" in the BrazenCareerist blog. The post scored a mention in Ragan's PR Daily.

Kudos to everyone for representing West Michigan and the public relations professional so well!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Michigan Radio's West Side Stories Has GVSU Alumni Story

Three comments about this item from the current Rapid Growth Media:

1. This new Michigan Radio podcast called "West Side Stories" is an obvious boon to the West Michigan PR community. Not only will the stories--focused on the west side of Michigan--air on Tuesdays on WVGR 104.1, they will also be podcasts that Michigan radio will have on it's Web site and probably push via its Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. West Michigan PR pros should warm up their pitching arms, since local Michigan radio reporter Dustin Dwyer says he's looking for ideas in the lifestyle genre.

2. Podcasts. Are they on your media lists? They should be. Media isn't just conventional broadcast and print anymore. My advice is to listen before you leap. Make sure the tone and treatment are fair, and that the audience is there, before you start pitching podcasters. Also, PR folks should think about doing their own podcasts--YOU are the media now.

3. Finally, the first episode (which aired November 11) featured a former student of mine--Kelsey Duda. She's the only student I ever had who did internships for both a large PR firm and an African NGO. Now I see how she's put the two together. I've noticed in her tweets that she's been working on a business plan. Turns out it's for Six Stone Jars, a wine business that donates significant proceeds to providing clean water in developing nations. I am so proud.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What My Students Learned at PRSSA

Thirteen of my students went to San Diego for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) conference, which happens concurrently with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) conference I was attending. (One alumna second from right front row in photo; I'm the one with a beard)

I asked them to share the one most important thing they learned at the conference. Here's what they said:

  • Definitely how to utilize resources and connections to my advantage, whether they are on social media sites, PR professionals, or fellow students. I've been on Twitter non-stop since!
  • Attending the National Conference reinforced my choice to study public relations. I met outgoing, professional students from across the country, learned countless information about the profession and became close with the girls who went on the trip. The conference increased my motivation to do well in the profession. I hope the information and ideas I take back with me will motivate current Grand Valley PRSSA members to attend next year.
  • As young PR professionals, we must... lifetime learners. proactive in the workplace and ask for feedback from senior staff members. current, be curious, and be creative.
    ...actively intern and volunteer at various organizations and companies.
  • You have to engage people. When your writing, speaking, blogging, tweeting, networking, pitching, messaging and promoting. You have to give your words value in order engage your audience.
  • Know who you are and stay true to yourself. Be prepared to work your tail off in the early days and don't feel entitled to everything.
  • I learned that it is okay to start at the bottom of the industry you want to be a part of. The conference reenforced that fact that a student is not going to get their dream job right out of college. Staying focused on the goal and committing to every task assigned (small or large) will set you up for success in the future.
  • I learned that in some cases, not all PR is good PR and if you want to a make a connection with a professional, the incorrect way is to just hand them your resume and walk away; they will never remember you.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

An Email to Make a Professor's Day

I get a lot of emails from former students. It's always nice to know they actually want to stay in touch even when they are no longer 'required' to communicate with me because they are taking a class. It's also nice to know what happens to students after they move on. I have several years of intense involvement, and then "poof"--they're gone. I like to hear where they ended up getting their first job, where they are living, if they got married, etc.

Public relations is about relationships; so is teaching, and life in general. One of the greatest joys of being a professor is watching young people mature and develop, to go from timid sophomores to passionate and articulate seniors. And then, to going from being a student to being a peer, a colleague, a friend.

So when I received this email this week, it made my day, my week, my semester:

Hi Tim,

I just wanted to tell you thank you. I know it's been six years since I graduated (how can it really be that long?), but a PR class many years ago where you taught us media training has been invaluable this week. In that class, we had to stand in front of class and be prepared for reporters' (our classmates') questions. You taped the interviews and then played them back and we critiqued them.

This week, I am one of a team of eight who is teaching media training to high ranking military officers from 45 different countries. The basic skills I learned in your class I am now teaching to these students.

Thank you for such a great class and such a fantastic undergrad education. I couldn't have done this without you.

Wow. The truth is, I couldn't be a great professor without the validation and encouragement from great students and alumni.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

'Smackdown' a Smashing Success

Last Thursday's Creative Smackdown was another successful event. Frank Blossom, a visiting professor in the Advertising/Public Relations major in GVSU's School of Communications and the organizer of the event, said there was record turnout this year representing 8 area colleges and universities.

Part of that record turnout may have been due to the stellar promotional work of students in Grand PR, the student-run PR firm that is part of the GVSU PRSSA group that I advise. All credit to the students on this one. (And contact them if you need some PR work that you can't handle yourself).

If you didn't take the time to go observe, you missed out on seeing some really creative work in advertising, graphic design, and web design categories. It's unfortunate that only three can win in each category, but the winners were deserving. Here they are:

Ad Finalists
1. Cody Eckert
Kendall College
Title: H1NO
2. Jenna Eisma
“Paper Necessities”
3. Michelle Kozak
Kendall College of Art and Design

Graphic Design Finalists
1. Erica McCary
School: Kendall College of Art and Design
Graphic Design
Title of work: Shangri-La Annual Report
2. Amanda Adams - a first for Baker College
Baker College Graphic Communications
Graphic design
3. John Knoerl
Graphic Design
Concert Poster
4. Chelsea Chandler
College: Grand Valley State University
Category: Graphic Design
Title of Submission: Poster

Web Design Finalists
1. Abby Peters
Central Michigan University
Web Design
Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival Email Flyer Series
2. Jeremiah Britton
College: Central Michigan University
Category: Web Design
Title of Submission: Bite of Seattle 2010 Web
3. Christa Skelton
College: Grand Valley State University
Category: Web Design
Title of Submission: GVSU American Marketing Association

It always sounds hokey to say that every participant is a winner, but that really is the consensus. As one student who did not place as a finalist told Frank Blossom:

"I want to thank you again for encouraging me to participate. I enjoyed networking with local professionals and being able to get insight into my career. Ultimately, Smackdown takes the doors down off of the biggest agencies in our area and lets us just walk right in and ask for advice. I'm assuming that doesn't happen in Chicago.”

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

PR FIrm Uses National Ads for Local Visibility

I was trolling the PRWeek site the other day and noticed an ad placed by Google AdWords. The ad was for Holland, Michigan-based Boileau Communications Management.

I asked myself, is this a case of a local West Michigan firm casting the net wide for some national clients?

Randy Boileau answered me in a phone call yesterday: no.

"We didn't do it (advertise via Google) to stretch out our client base," Boileau said. "We did it because it is effective, low cost, and helps our firm come up higher on the list of search results."

Boileau says 95% of their clients are local or regional, and that the ads have helped raise and maintain the firm's visibility in the region. In fact, the algorithms used by Google have a geographic component, causing the Boileau ads to appear in West Michigan based sites--including GRPR via the AdSense box top right--as well as PR related sites like PRWeek.

Given all this I also asked Boileau why the firm's Web site does not make plain its West Michigan location. Apparently, he has found that the local market recognizes where the firm is based. As for potential national clients, the location is less relevant than the services they offer and the online portfolio demonstrating their talents.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

West Michigan Company on CSR Top 50

Congratulations to Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool Corporation for getting national recognition for its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices. They came in 23rd on the 2009 list of the 50 top companies for CSR.

I first learned about the honor in MiBiz. The Whirlpool news release adds some more detail (although the release is not in the company's online press room).

Most impressive is that Whirlpool has stressed being a responsible corporation since before CSR was a buzz word in PR. There are still too many corporate CEOs who think CSR is costly and counter to business objectives. In fact, CSR is directly linked with reputation, which pays "dividends" in many tangible ways. The fact that the list is determined jointly by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and its Reputation Institute demonstrates the link.

This particular list is determined by measuring public perceptions of companies in terms of citizenship, governance, and workplace. You can learn more about those criteria and see the full list of the 2009 best CSR companies here.

Meanwhile, I wonder why there are not more West Michigan companies on the list. Maybe they just weren't measured in this study. I know our region's businesses have a pretty good record for CSR and sustainability.

If you are the PR director and want to know more about CSR measurement, here are a few other souces:

Friday, October 02, 2009

The PR of Art Prize

ArtPrize turned out to be bigger than I imagined, as the photo at right illustrates. Kudos to Ginny Seyferth, who I bumped into at one of the venues, for her firm's handling of this masterpiece of community events.

This just goes to show that you have to have a good plan but also a little faith if you are putting on a major event like this. It also is further evidence that public relations---from event planning to media relations to everything else we do--is as much art as it is science.

At first glance, it seems that the results of this big event could be a masterpiece. In all my years living in West Michigan, I have never felt such a positive, hip buzz in Grand Rapids. There were artists and art fans--and people who previously perhaps did not care much about art--from all over the world. Out-of-towners told me their visit to Grand Rapids shattered their media-cultivated perception that all of Michigan looks like Detroit. I also overheard people who appeared to be locals--either suburbanites  or living in one of the surrounding counties--commenting that they never knew Grand Rapids had so many cool spots.

But art always has its critics. So I wonder if all of the above is having a large and long-term affect on the Grand Rapids "brand," or if it's a temporary blip. As for long-term, we'll have to wait and see. As for large, a quick Google News search shows most of the media discussion has been from local media, with a few articles in the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. There was one piece in about participating artists from that area. Of course, media impressions are less important than personal impressions of visitors to the city, but it would be nice to see some positive  press about the Calder city from coast  to coast. (By the way, there are also other art prize competitions, such as in SanDiego and Dubai, that could affect how ArtPrize contributes  to brand GR. I also read about one in the Middle East.)

The event in SanDiego led to some bickering about the venues, judging fairness etc. So, one PR issue will be how any of that negative vibe is handled. 

Meanwhile, I was fascinated about the layers of PR in this event. Beyond promoting the event itself and by extension the region, there was a lot of other PR going on. Venues seized the opportunity to show their face in a new light to the community. Restaurants and other businesses co-branded themselves with art prize in some creative ways. Others, unfortunately, did not. Why were some businesses closed during a time when there was more foot traffic in downtown Grand Rapids than anyone can remember? Also, while certain restaurants stayed open, they clearly did not anticipate the crowds and staff up appropriately. A friend and I were ignored like bad pieces of art and several establishments before we finally left. Others we met had the same problems. (Hat tip to the server at the BOB who gave me an iced tea on the house because he was working the crowd  so fast he didn't have time to collect my coin.)

Then of  course, came the artists. It's funny to me--working with lots of artists on campus--who love to decry the "evils" of PR doing things for the money. But when artists have a piece on display and a quarter mil on the line, they are all about the promotion. Postcards, events, news pitches, social media fan pages etc. I'm not saying they shouldn't do it, I'm just enjoying the show. It will be interesting to see how much anger is expressed that the winners are rewarded more for promotion and visibility than artistic excellence. 

I would say, regardless of any complaints, the event was a phenomenal success. Even if some art snobs sniff at the 'crowd favorite,' I would say that's the beauty, that's the 'art' of this event--engaging thousands of people with art and with Grand Rapids who otherwise would not have cared.

I'd like to see a coffee table book commemorating the event, with lots of photos of the various pieces. (Brian Kelly, you up for that?) 

We can all learn more about these and other PR aspects of ArtPrize when Ginny Seyferth gives the PR backstory on ArtPrize at the February 10 Interchange meeting. I plan to attend.

In the meantime, I have to head out of town for a week to teach at a GVSU partner school in France. So, when the ArtPrize winners are announced, I'll be at the Louvre. We all have to make our sacrifices.

Monday, September 21, 2009

GR Press Does PR!

There was an interesting example of media convergence yesterday.

The Grand Rapids Press had promised a detailed map for Art Prize, the phenomenal art exhibit/competition/community promotion happening in downtown Grand Rapids. But the map that was delivered in print in the Sunday Press had errors--not all of the art venues were listed, and the "inset on D7" indicated on the main map was no where to be found.

There were complaints on the Art Prize Web site. There were complaints on Twitter, which is often fed to Facebook and vice versa.

But in those same fora, the problem was addressed. A pdf of the missing map info was posted to the Art Prize site. The GR Press--both as an organizational entity and via various individual reporters and editors, including Entertainment Editor John Gonzalez--acknowledged the error, apologized, fixed it, and let everyone know via Twitter and Facebook. This is textbook crisis management for such a situation. As one of the complainers, I had a post to my Facebook wall and an @reply on Twitter from Press staff.

They did all of this quickly, directly, and on a weekend!

What's really interesting is that the Press was so directly involved in the crisis and solution. It wasn't just Art Prize, or staff at Seyferth and Associates (who have done a great job garnering interest and involvement among artists, art fans and broader communities). No, the Press was doing PR. They did it quite well.

Social media is causing media convergence in new and interesting ways. Whether you are in PR or journalism, it is increasingly clear that you can't just push information out there. You have to know, engage, and be responsive to your publics.

Ohh, the irony is delicious!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why the News Media Are Not That Into You

If you ever wonder why the media don't seem to care about you, here's a real gem.

OK, that's a bad play on the name Wondergem Consulting of Grand Rapids. Kate Washburn and others at the firm produced this fun video as part of their workshop "They're Just Not That Into You" as part of the biennial nonprofit PR workshop sponsored by the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA). 

The video features a series  of clips of reporters and editors from most West Michigan TV and print media outlets, each sharing a reason why they get annoyed or frustrated by PR pros--or non PR people--pitching stories in less than ideal fashion.

It's funny. It's educational. It's right on. I'll be sharing it with a class or two in the future.

It's also a nice effort in brand building by Wondergem, demonstrating that media relations involves actually having relationships with the media, not just blitzing them with self-serving information. Put another way, not just anyone can do media relations well.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Firm Focus on Nonprofits in Economic Downturn

An article in the current Rapid Growth caught my eye when it said a new communications firm had a focus on nonprofits. As a practitioner with a background in nonprofits, I appreciate this. But the article also raised a few questions in my mind about the firm, DVK Studio

Primarily, what does "DVK" stand for? Would I trust my brand to a firm whose brand I don't understand? (It's a play on owners' names, but you have to dig to figure it out). Also, what exactly does it mean that the office design is like the Web site? Is it taupe? Does it have a navigation bar? The work displayed is nice, but seems to stress design--a brand is more than a logo and graphic identity. If a 25-year-old is 'seasoned' and a 35-year-old has 'years of experience', is a 45-year-old 'immortal'? A guy can hope. 

Kidding aside, I do like the 'learning, planning, creating' approach, which resembles the RACE process 'seasoned' PR pros and those with a degree in PR understand. They need to stress the Evaluation part more though.

I wish the new venture well. It's nice to see the West Michigan PR and Ad community expand. In the current economic climate, I hope the focus on nonprofit works for them, given the shrinking budgets in a sector that already had tight purse strings. Perhaps that's why DVK Studio, despite the Rapid Growth headline, is hedging by offering its services to "clients of all kinds," including small businesses and corporations. Which brings me back to the brand thing....

Friday, August 21, 2009

PR Firm Among 8 West Michigan Businesses on Inc. Mag List

A Grand Rapids public relations firm is one of eight West Michigan businesses named to Inc. Magazine's annual list of the nation's 5000 fastest growing businesses.

Lambert-Edwards and Associates came in 4070 on the list. The firm had a growth rate in the past year of 48.1 percent, according to their news release about the ranking.

Other West Michigan businesses to make the list were in financial, IT, telecommunications, and human resources services as well as manufacturing and construction, as reported by MLive

It is nice to see public relations is one of the growing industries represented.

Monday, August 03, 2009

LEA's Growth Continues

I honored Shandra Martinez's request not to blog about the Lambert Edwards and Associates acquisition of John Bailey and Associates til her story ran in Sunday's Grand Rapids Press.

In addition to that story, and others in Crain's (subscription required) and the Detroit Free Press, you can get it straight from the horse's mouth in the LEA press release

Aside from the fact that this deal moves LEA up in the rankings of PR firms by O'Dwyer's, the acquisition of Troy-based Bailey by Grand Rapids-based LEA shows a balance of PR power shifting to West Michigan.

The only thing I'd add to the Press article is an item of clarification: I don't merely teach the LEA Spartan Motors investor relations campaign as a case study because LEA is a local firm; this local firm was included in a new version of a popular PR case studies text book used across the country. Even local competitors of LEA can be glad that the West Michigan PR community  gets a nod like that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PR-Journo Ratio

The Grand Rapids Business Journal (after a nice mention of this blog) in its Street Talk column cites an item from the Center for Michigan newsletter: "there are now five times the number of public relations professionals as there are journalists in the state."

They say that like it's a bad thing.

Appropos of nothing, the BJ goes on to wish citizen journalists at the Rapidian --a project of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Community Media Center--good luck with all those PR pros.

(Self disclosure--I have been involved in some of the planning meetings for the Rapidian, support the prospect of citizen journalism because of my interest in the intersection of PR and journalism in democracy, and used to work at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation).

A few comments:
  • people have been noting the disparity in numbers of journalists and PR pros since the 1920s, when Columbia journalism grads went directly into public relations. It's a meaningless comparison. Stating the number implies that PR pros and journalists should exist in equal proportion. That's wrong because:
  • PR people do far more than contact journalists as part  of a media relations or publicity function. Studies have shown that it is not unusual for PR practitioners to rarely contact reporters, since the job involves counseling management, writing and producing organizational media, planning events, and increasingly reaching out directly to publics via traditional and social media. But even when PR people do engage in media relations:
  • that isn't always a bad thing. Seasoned journalists will tell you, and new citizen journalists will find out, that many PR pros are tremendous assets to reporting, whether it's by convincing a reticent CEO to do an interview, responding to requests for facts and illustrations, or alerting them to a legitimate news story that would not have been noticed in the usual beat reporting of meeting coverage etc. 
  • To be sure, sometimes PR people are an annoyance when they blitz reporters with information that is not news but is merely self-serving. Those writing for Rapidian might come into their citizen journalism with a skepticism toward PR. But they will soon find that smart, ethical PR pros will be a boon to them. And the resentment might be towards those who ignore them and their neighborhood news endeavors.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More PR Moves at Zondervan

Apparently Zondervan is ramping up its PR, with two new hires announced in the past week. In addition to the announcement about Jason Vines (see previous post), MLive reports this morning that the Christian publishing company has brought in some online PR savvy as well. 

Joseph Park brings his impressive experience to Zondervan, where he will manage, according to the article.

Park is from Seattle and will split his time between that city, New York, and Grand Rapids. It will be interesting to see how he and Jason Vines enhance the existing Zondervan PR team

I for one think it would be interesting to see a WMPRSA program led by Vines and Park about the PR vision they have for Zondervan. Lyndsey Rodarmer works in PR for Zondervan and is on the WMPRSA board currently. Hmmm....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Zondervan Nabs Car PR Man

Grand Rapids based Christian publisher Zondervan has hired Jason Vines as its new VP of Public Relations and Communications. Vines is a veteran PR man who has worked for three automakers: Nissan, Ford and Chrysler. He will oversee all of Zondervan's divisions.

I noticed the news in the Detroit Free Press.

Tops on his agenda must be to handle PR for the recently discussed release of Kate Gosselin's new book. Maybe, given issues about the public troubles of the "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" stars, he'll refocus the book to combine books and cars. "Kate Gets a V-8." 

Nah. I'll leave the creative strategy to Mr. Vines.

Meanwhile, I wonder if he'll begin by issuing an internal memo to all Zondervan divisions: "I am Vines, ye are the branches."

(A little Christian pun there...)

No PRSA Sanctions for Seyferth

The Traverse City Record EagleGrand Rapids Press and other papers in the state reported last week that Meijer settled with Acme Township for $75,000 in a case involving election law violations mixed in with a new store proposed for the township.

The settlement reportedly includes an agreement by the local citizens groups not to sue Meijer or its partners, which includes Grand Rapids PR Firm Seyferth and Associates, which had served as PR counsel to Meijer in the Traverse City new store efforts.

While this settles the legal matter, some still wonder about the PR ethics. It had been alleged that Seyferth staff set up a pro-Meijer citizens group and did not disclose their involvement, which appears to be a 'front group' in violation of the PRSA Code of Ethics.

I was told by T. Michael Jackson, a PRSA Fellow who lives in Traverse City, that he asked PRSA about this and received the following response from Bob Frause, Chairman of PRSA's Board of Ethics  and Professional Standards:

any action we may take against Ginny Seyferth was predicated on her being convicted of a criminal or civil offense in a court of law.  I am assuming that the out of court settlement was not public and there was no admission of guilt regarding public relations practices that were in opposition to the PRSA Code of Ethics.  That being the case there is not much more to publicly say about this matter.  The PRSA Code of Ethics has no provisions for sanctions or public rebukes.  Based on the information available, I believe we commented to the media as far as we could.  If the State Attorney General presses the matter regarding violations of the state campaign finance law and finds the Ms. Seyferth did indeed violate state laws then we would be more than happy to resurrect the matter.

So there you have it. We may never know the "rest of the story." But the public has been left with the impression that PR is a shady practice designed to manipulate them. I fight that perception and defend the profession almost daily. But one single incident like this tends to negate years of arguments in defense of public relations. That's been my beef all along.

This is all the more reason for public relations professionals to practice ethically and openly, to demonstrate that PR is about the honest development of mutual relationships. Or, as the 6th provision in the Code of Ethics urges, to "enhance the profession." 

Monday, July 06, 2009

Jump into the "Pool"

The West Michigan network affiliate TV news stations will begin sharing news video in a pool arrangement beginning July 13, according to an announcement from WZZM TV 13 today.

It's heralded as a way of adding efficiency to news gathering. It does make me smirk a bit to think of our region's news directors and AEs collaborating on news assignments. Each station will take raw video and decide how to use it so each station will have a unique treatment and angle on a story--in other words, they still want to compete with each other a little.

I wonder if this will be the end of the breathless, boastful teasers that "we've got a crew on the scene....!" 

In any event, PR pros in West Michigan should think about ramping up their broadcast-quality video abilities and think about regularly providing b-roll to this new TV news video pool. Some might call it spin or an attempt at manipulating the media; but we could also argue that it adds efficiency to news dissemination in the region.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Comment on Jon and Kate Book...Plus Five...

I took a call last week from Grand Rapids Press reporter Chris Knape, who was asking for a comment about a new book by Kate Gosselin scheduled to be released by Grand Rapids-based Zondervan soon. The issue is that the book, which is touted as a look inside a tight-knit family, will come out shortly after Kate and her husband, Jon, announced they are divorcing.

So my comment appeared in the article the next day. That's not such a big deal. What is interesting is where the comment went from there, which demonstrates the speed and reach of the media, both conventional and blogosphere, these days.

Knape's article was picked up by RNS (Religion News Service). From there it also ran in different forms, but including my comment, in USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor.

From there it went into blogs and social media sites, including the Examiner and Straight from Hel, a blog by freelance editor and publishing advisor Helen Ginger.

Again, my comment is not so interesting. It is interesting that Zondervan's "hometown" paper got the ball rolling on this story. It is also interesting to read the comments in the newspapers and blog sites---free focus group for Zondervan, which has not yet said whether the book will be released as scheduled, canned, or tweaked for later release.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PR and Podcast Radio

PR people have often debated the value of pitching local talk radio vs hard news stations. You can reach a lot of people, but some of these talk hosts can make light of your information rather than objectively report on it. So talk radio pitching always required smart strategy and a consideration of the specifics of each situation.

Now there's a new complication: former talk show hosts doing podcast radio.

Dave Jagger and Geri Jarvis were on West Michigan radio stations WLHT and WHTS for years before leaving the air waves a few years ago. Now they are back--by themselves in the form of weekday podcasts of their musings about West Michigan issues at

On the one hand, this could be a new opportunity for the media relations function of PR people in West Michigan. If the pair get a large following either on their web site or via iTunes subscriptions, it may be a good way to reach a key public. Of course, that's a big "if" and it may be hard to know the size and characteristics of their audience if they don't share it themselves. If they want to monetize the effort, they likely will be gathering such data and sharing with potential advertisers. (Currently there is a space for sponsors but none listed so far).

However, there is also a question about the merits of pitching a podcast. Dave and Geri used to be in an environment where there was limited spectrum and a few competing radio stations in the market. Getting them to talk about your organization or issue would automatically reach a significant audience. Now they are in an environment where anyone--including PR firms and their clients--could do their own podcasts. There are more voices, and smaller audiences. They can't just muse about things the way they did on air in the past--in the online, podcast, subscription environment, they'll have to offer some unique quality that will attract and keep listeners. And PR people will have to weigh who to pitch, if they should pitch, or if they should just reach publics directly with podcasts and other tactics.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

West Michigan and Twitter

I enjoyed Candace Beeke's Business Review blog post about West Michigan being "Twitterilliterate." 

I think the experiences she recounts are typical. They're not necessarily unique to West Michigan or to Twitter as the latest tech trend.

From the days when a CEO was quoted as saying "this personal computer thing is just a fad" (actual quote, though I can't locate the source just now), there has been a pattern of new technology acceptance: early adaptors with frenzied excitement, skeptics wondering what the big deal is, moderate acceptance and use, and then, eventually, near ubiquity at least in professional circles. I can still picture colleagues retired not that long ago who resisted having a computer or had a secretary receive and print out their emails til their last day in the office.

New innovations either die on the vine (we forget those) or they gradually take root, blossom and spread. See Diffusion of Innovations Theory for more on this (and note that Everett Rogers taught at Michigan State for many years). I think with Twitter we are seeing the characteristics of innovations Rogers laid out. Before people embrace Twitter, they need to: see its relative advantage to other forms of communication, understand and overcome its complexity, see its compatibility with their way of working, and be able to observe it and try it before fully adopting it.

It's also always striking to me how new technology, particularly social media, seems to make a distinction between public relations (relationship building) and marketing (a forum for financial exchange). People asking for an immediate and financial ROI on Twitter may not "get" the conversational, interpersonal, long-horizon benefit of Twitter. The communication may be immediate, but the new customer, brand loyalty, support for a non-profit, political public opinion change or other metric is not always instantaneously visible (though it has been in some cases).

My sense is that here in West Michigan there are many early adaptors to Twitter and other social networking platforms who truly understand the technology now as well as its future potential for personal and professional improvement.  That was evident at the social media slam I attended recently (see previous post). Ours is a region with a history of innovative individuals in the business, non-profit, and government sectors. I already follow a good number of them on Twitter. 

Monday, June 01, 2009

Social Media Slam

Last Thursday I attended a "social media slam" organized by LinkedUpGR (A LinkedIn group that can be followed on Twitter @LinkedUpGR), moderated by blogger/consultant Laura Bergells (@maniactive), and hosted at Amway world headquarters in Ada by PR staff Robin Luymes (@SuperDu) and Cindy Droog (@cindydroog).

Laura Bergells was kind enough to videotape those who shared comments at the slam and posted the videos  to her YouTube channel. This link is to video of my chatter, but be sure to click on the related videos of other West Michigan people who shared insights and perspectives on social media.

Here's a quick recap of some notes I jotted at the slam:

  • "Groundswell" is a a highly recommended book on social media; (It is published by the folks at Forrester Research and has an accompanying blog as well);
  • 80-year-olds are using social media too--some for dating!;
  • social media enables others to find out more about you personally (which has both positive and negative implications);
  • it is easy to start in social media, but can be difficult to maintain;
  • creating, monitoring, and responding in social media is increasingly a full-time job--literally--in many organizations;
  • there are lots of people NOT on Twitter yet (as evidenced by a show of hands at the slam);
  • lots of people consider Twitter etc a time issue--how  do you keep up, but yet it's not wise to ignore it;
  • several expressed difficulty getting the boss to understand social media and even allow employees to engage in it; (I would recommend providing the boss objective articles from WSJ or Business Week etc that stress you ignore social media at your organization's peril);
  • people stressed that participation in social media should not be merely personal or trivial but should contribute  constructively to the conversation, whatever that may be given your industry, cause etc;
  • joining "Twibes" (Twitter groups) and other industry or topic-specific groups online is a great way to cut through the clutter and start establishing some meaningful relationships and resources in social media;
  • maintaining control is important, even to the point of taking vacations from social media.
Hope to see more of you at future LinkedUpGR events. Also, Grand Rapids Social Marketing (@grsm) has periodic meet-ups to discuss social media in Grand Rapids/West Michigan. Check out their blog and follow them on Twitter  for more. After all, online is great, but should never replace actual face-to-face interactions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Becoming a Professor

I don't know if it's a sudden increase in teaching or the unfortunate economy and the layoffs of both PR professionals and journalists, but I have been having an increasing number of requests for coffee or lunch to answer questions people have about being a professor. 

I spoke on this subject recently for the West Michigan PRSA chapter--my presentation is available on Slide Share  if you missed it. That presentation reviewed the basics of being a part-time adjunct or making the transition to full-time professor as either a visiting/affiliate professor or as a tenure-track professor. 

But I need to expand on that overview with three general comments related to letters, emails, and applications I've seen recently from some would-be professors:

1. Consider how you tout your experience.
Many professionals trying to impress university search committees include a phrase in their cover letters that they have "actual business experience." My first reaction: of course. We would not expect you to apply for a job teaching PR if you had no experience in the field. That is not a statement that sets you apart--that's a basic expectation for all candidates. I would add, by the way, that PR experience could also be in the nonprofit and government sectors, where a significant number of PR practitioners work. Knowledge/experience of PR in multiple contexts is vital. Secondly, it implies that the full-time faculty currently on staff do not have experience. This is not necessarily true; where I teach and at universities across the country I know legions of professors who teach PR and have worked in the field before. And if they have not, having a PhD and no PR job on the resume does not mean one is removed from reality. Many life-long academics are well informed on PR  from their empirically sound research and other connections with the profession. Third, while there's no doubt that work experience in PR is an asset in the classroom, it can also be a crutch. Many new professors  rely too heavily on the specific stories from their careers and fail to set them in context, integrate them with larger sets of experience and theoretical implications. That's called teaching, and that's what the job is.

2. Know the job.
When I made the transition from practice to professor, I endured a lot of jokes about smoking a pipe and wearing a blazer with elbow patches. These people were kidding, but stereotypes endure about professors--namely that all you do is teach a few hours a week and then relax. First, teaching is a lot of work--preparing lesson plans, locating up-to-date and useful readings, designing projects and activities, grading, advising, etc. If you are a full-time professor, you also need to consider research and publication/presentation expectations as well as service obligation to campus committees and community activities. I frequently put in more hours per week during the school year than I did in my jobs when I was a PR practitioner.

3. Don't try to change everything--right away
Adjuncts and new full-time professors bring a refreshing new perspective and eagerness to university departments. But be careful not to expect to come in singing "here I am to save the day." Adjuncts and new professors often recommend new courses or even complete curricular overhauls without considering the rationale for the current program, past efforts at change, the national landscape, and the process on campus for proposing new courses. There's a good chance that those on staff already have considered new ideas and decided against them for practical and/or pedagogical reasons. Try to respect that, learn, and then propose innovations once you grasp the historical and curricular context.

So, the best advice would be to stress how your experience is relevant and unique to the university where you are applying, how you understand the program and curriculum and see your place within it, and why you are confident that you will be able to teach well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

GRCC Scores Mention in TIME for YouTube Channel

Grand Rapids Community College was mentioned briefly in a TIME Magazine article about a special higher education channel on YouTube called YouTube EDU. 

It's nice to be mentioned in national media. But the author seems to slightly diss GRCC when it points out that many colleges--"ranging from Grand Rapids Community College to Harvard Business School"--have a presence on YouTubeEDU. It implies that GRCC is at the low end of a scale.

However, GRCC's Derek DeVries clarifies in a well done news release about the TIME mention. He points out the GRCC is among the few institutions posting videos, and that the local CC has more content than Harvard Business School currently.

You can see that content for yourself at GRCC's YouTube EDU channel. It's another example in what I predict will be an increase in PR people providing original content directly to their publics in innovative ways using new media. 

River Bank Spun?

I've been an avid runner for years and can't help but be enthusiastic about the annual Fifth Third River Bank Run in Grand Rapids.  My brutal schedule of teaching, consulting and PhD studies forced me to tone down my training and I only did the 10K this year, while my wife and various friends persisted in the flood-altered, hill enhanced 25 K course.

I had more time to think less about a runner's PR (personal record) and more about the PR, as in public relations, associated with the event this year.

There's no doubt race officials did a great job dealing with the flood issue and re-routed course, and communicating all aspects related to the last-minute changes. But while I respect race director Kristin Aidif and local running legend Greg Meyers, I was a little taken that some of their media comments before and after the race seemed, well, a little spun.

The rain. Look, rain happens. No one will blame you for it. But to hear them say runners (as if they talked to all of us) "wanted" the rain and said "bring it on"? Wrong.

The new 25K course with its additional hills and out-and-back feature. Yeah, it is a little exciting to see elite runners shooting past you on the double back. (I've never seen Kenyans during a run, but one year at the Chicago Marathon I finished neck and neck with a guy named Ken). But while race officials praised this feature, the majority of comments I heard from runners was that packing a record crowd of runners into one lane instead of the expected two made for crowded running and constant watching for elbows and potholes and not much glancing at runners coming the other way.

Saying the new course featured "rolling hills" is like a realtor calling a broom closet a "cozy apartment." Most runners, including some media celeb runners, spoke of the fear the new course induced. I don't think race officials spoke for everyone when they said the added hills were a fun challenge, not when runners I talked to said they "hated every minute of them."

A well, it's a race. Weather and situations happen. Hills, rain, and wind were not pleasant. It's ok, and honest, to say that. Maybe some runners loved the misery, but let's not project that comment on everyone. People won't blame the race officials for the weather; but they will be put off by words being put in their mouths.

A last thought, about branding. This event is so big now that it has a brand that seems distinct from its sponsor, the awkwardly named Fifth Third Bank. Most people think of it as the River Bank Run, on its own, and associate it with an annual spring event. It does not induce thoughts of checking and savings accounts, or money market CDs. Nevertheless, Aidif said in one interview they want to continue to deliver a good "product" to West Michigan. OK, I get the marketing mantra that everything is a product and every person is a customer. But can that metaphor rest along with my tired legs for once? It's an event, a run, a race. A product? Maybe you can discuss it that way internally, but I would bet on mile 12 most participants see themselves as runners, not consumers, engaged in an event, not buying a product.

Friday, May 01, 2009

PRoof Positive

It seems I spend a lot of my time explaining and defending public relations. It seems that people simply don't understand the profession, or they think they do and equate it either with mere publicity or as intentional deception. As I say to my students, the general public tends to minimize or demonize the public relations profession.

So it was nice last night to sit at Eve in the BOB and watch a number of hard-working local PR professionals receive PRoof Awards from the West Michigan PRSA chapter. As chapter president Andrea Clark mentioned to me before the program, there is a lot of PR talent in West Michigan.

Media host Gerry Barnaby was his usual entertaining and humorous self in reading the descriptions about the work. But he also made some heart-felt serious comments about how much he appreciates PR folks in the region who help him get information, ticket giveaways, and interviews for his radio program.

As I say and watched the parade of PRoof recipients, it was striking to see that the work they do is so varied. Large PR firms and sole practitioners were among those honored. PR tactics and campaigns recognized were associated with corporate, non-profit, and government organizations. The work went far beyond mere media relations, and all of it was notable for meeting stated objectives for an organization as well as keeping the public interest in mind.

The PRoof Awards prove once again the value and variety of our noble profession. It's too bad more executives and common citizens don't understand what PR really is, how PR people toil behind the scenes to advise clients to communicate effectively and ethically. But that's why these award programs are good--they help us encourage each other, reward hard work, and inspire integrity.

Monday, April 20, 2009

LEA Ranked 2nd Among State PR Firms; Top 100 in Nation

Lambert Edwards and Associates (LEA) moved up 20 spots from last year in the annual rankings of PR firms to the 83rd spot. LEA is the second largest PR firm in Michigan this year, and remains the largest PR firm in West Michigan.

The rankings are based on 2008 net fees.

LEA's most recent new client is Perceptron, Inc. (NASDAQ: PRCP), a leading provider of information-based process improvement solutions for non-contact measurement and inspection applications based in Plymouth, Michigan.

GVSU Places Third in Regional Ad Competition

A team of students from Grand Valley State University's School of Communications placed third last week in the regional round of the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). The team advances to the national competition.

The team of Advertising/Public Relations majors was coached by my colleague, Professor Roy Winegar.

I'll share more information about the campaign when the final national results are determined. 

Meanwhile, I'm hoping to hear any day from the judges regarding my team of students competing in this year's Bateman PR Case Study Competition.

Monday, April 13, 2009

French Prof, Me, on WGVU Wed a.m.

Thomas Hoerber, a professor from ESSCA visiting this week (see earlier post), and I will be guests with Shelly Irwin on WGVU 88.5 FM on Wednesday morning.

We will be part of the regular "Global Connections" feature on the WGVU Morning Show, airing live from 9:30-10 a.m.

(Update--you can listen to an MP3 of the archived interview).

Michigan Represented on National PRSSA Board

The state of Michigan is well represented on the new national board of the Public Relations Students Society of America (PRSSA). GVSU alumnus Lisa Travnik was PRSSA's first VP of Advocacy a few years ago. While the current board has no Lakers, the Michigan is well represented, with officers from Michigan State and Wayne State for the coming year:

  • President — Rebecca Timms, Rowan University
  • Vice President of Advocacy — Janelle Hueslman, Ohio University
  • Vice President of Chapter Development — Kion Sanders, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Vice President of Internships and Job Services — Michael J. Wilson, Brigham Young University
  • Vice President of Member Services — Mary Rose Macaranas, Georgia State University
  • Vice President of Professional Development — Nick Lucido, Michigan State University
  • Vice President of Public Relations — Jason Sears, University of Texas at Austin
  • Vice President of Regional Activities — Jenna Huskinson, Wayne State University

Friday, April 10, 2009

Visiting Professor to Discuss Role of Europe

PR people whose clients or organizations have anything to do with Europe may want to come to a free public lecture April 14 at 4 p.m. in Room 2215 of the Kirkhof Center on Grand Valley State University's Allendale campus. 

Thomas Hoerber is from the Ecole Superieure des Sciences Commerciales d'Angers (ESSCA) in Angers, France. He will be at Grand Valley April 13-17 to give  talks in political science, business and communications classes.

His public lecture on the 14th will focus on "The Role of Europe in the World." This is especially timely given President Obama's recent trip to the G20 summit and subsequent discussion about US vs European leadership in world affairs. This changing diplomatic climate may also affect international PR done by businesses, governments and NGOs.

I've had the opportunity to teach at ESSCA, a partner school of GVSU, several times (you can see some of my photos of France on my Facebook page--see link at right). Dr. Hoerber's visit here is part of a faculty exchange. I enjoyed meeting him last fall when I weas in France. A German by birth who did his doctoral thesis at Oxford on the historic origins of the EU, Hoerber taught in Vancouver, Canada before moving to France. He has a deep and interesting perspective on EU relationships. I hope you can find time away from work--or students, class--to come hear him.

For more information, call the Padnos International Center at (616) 331-3898.

Friday, March 27, 2009

101 Best West Michigan Companies?

I've always wondered about the PR value of having your business or organization end up on a 'best (fill in the blank)'  list. Colleges and universities often tout their place on annual US News & World Report lists even as they debate the method used to create the lists. Are these lists accurate and meaningful, or merely marketing ploys by those who create and promote them?

So I was both curious and dubious to read about the Michigan Business and Professional Association's "101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in West Michigan" list. 

On the one hand, the companies  on this current list had to be nominated. So some worthy candidates don't appear on the list merely because they were not considered. That diminishes the worth of saying this list truly represents the top 101  companies in the region. In fact, I would love to know how many nominations were entered--to demonstrate rigor in the process, it would be instructive to know that some nominations were not considered worthy (without naming names of course). Also, in looking at the list, some 'winners' have their HQ outside West Michigan, which may be a minor point but it changes the meaning of "West Michigan companies."

That aside, I would argue that there is PR value in the list. The MBPA press release asserts that the list is the product of independent evaluation. Also, while they tout the companies  for exemplary human resource practices, from a broad perspective I would say the categories listed represent PR practice and evaluation as well: Communication, Community Initiatives, Compensation and Benefits, Diversity and Multiculturalism, Employee Education and Development, Employee Engagement and Commitment, Recognition and Retention, Recruitment and Selection, Small Business and Work-Life Balance.

While many outside  of PR don't recognize this, PR is one of the broadest management functions because it considers all publics, including employees. Therefore, one key objective of PR is to position an organization as an "employer of choice," meaning a place where people would love to work if given the opportunity. At a time when area business leaders are saying that recruiting and retaining talent is their number one concern, this is a vital management issue and matter for measurement. 

So, kudos to those of you who made the list. And for others, consider that maybe you should add nominating your organization to your list of PR goals for next year. Nominations for 2010 are being accepted now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amway Global Uses Interns on YouTube Channel

I had heard several months ago from the PR folks at Amway Global that part of their plan to rebrand from Alticor back to Amway was the use of a channel on YouTube.

Now I noticed they have launched a series of videos called "Interns Expose Amway Global" on the channel. The first episode features a former GVSU student of mine and current Amway Global intern, Bethany Johnson, as well as a scientist with more than a gram of humor about laundry products.

The videos are both fun and informative. They provide a good opportunity for interns to get experience using the hip tactic of online video. The video also shows a human face of the company, beyond just executives. I suspect another motive behind this strategy is the desire to position the company not as a network marketing opportunity (which is how many think of Amway, and often negatively), but as a company that actually makes and sells useful products.

I'm hoping to learn more about how the PR team at Amway measures the success of the effort.

P.S. The PR team at Amway obviously monitors social media. They noticed this blog post before I was back from lunch. Also, Bethany Johnson points out that interns are writing about their experiences at the company in the Opportunity Zone blog. Check it out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

GM PR: Listening is Key

Tom Wickham, Manager of Executive Communications at General Motors, visited one of my classes and spoke in an open forum at the Kirkhof Center yesterday afternoon about how General Motors is responding in the currently challenging public opinion environment.

Among his key points:
  • listen and learn about public sentiment, then respond;
  • people might still disagree, but GM wants to express its point of view and get the facts out so people can make more informed judgments on the company and the issues it faces;
  • GM now expects its communications employees to be engaged in social media. They are via Twitter, GM blogs, and Facebook;
  • They hosted bloggers at the recent auto show, and saw good result in the form of bloggers reaching unique markets, such as young moms, latinas, and yes, people older than 50;
  • the strategy is to listen, share, communicate with integrity, honesty, transparency;
  • The bottom line PR lesson: actions matter more than anything else. 
You can see coverage in various West Michigan media:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

GM PR Official to Speak at GVSU March 19

(I found out last fall that a former journalism school classmate now works in PR for General Motors. Naturally, I asked him to speak at GVSU. Of course, it turned out to be the same day I'm addressing the West Michigan Chapter of PRSA. So hear me at noon, and then come out to Allendale for more stimulating discussion about PR.)

Thursday, March 19, in addition to speaking in one of my classes, Tom Wickham, Manager of Executive Communications at GM, will give a free presentation, open to the public.

"Auto Work or Out of Work: PR's Role in Saving an Iconic Industry"
Date: Thursday, March 19
Time: 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Location Kirkhof 2215/2216, GVSU Allendale Campus

Wickham will share how to survive in an environment where government leaders, the media and even consumers believe bankruptcy is the best option. As he says: "At the forefront of the battle to survive, GM's communications team is waging a 24-hour campaign to tell the GM story using social media tools as a way to engage people one on one. This is grassroots campaigning in a new age and one that could help a beleaguered industry."

For my media friends who read this blog, Wickham will be available for interviews after the event.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tweet Advice from Area PR Pros

I have been thinking for a while about the appropriate way for PR people to use Twitter, the current rage in social media. So I asked several local PR pros the questions on my mind.

1. What's your thinking about Tweeting as yourself (i.e. an individual user name) vs. as an organization?

Cindy Droog, APR, Web Reputation Specialist at Amway Global (still rebranding from Quixtar) maintains her individuality and personality on Twitter. "When I use Twitter personally, it's to build and share my knowledge with people who already know who I am, or I know who they are, or who can provide me insight on particular areas of Paid Search, SEO, SEM, and PR," says Droog. "My following strategy is for my own personal education, and occassionally, self promotion."

As for the business, they have a three-fold Twitter strategy: 1) they follow IBOs (independent business owners), customers, and industry experts; 2) provide event-coverage and information to their corporate Twitter followers and 3) they engage in the discussion, answering questions and contributing information as in other social media.

Susan Koole in Corporate Communications at Herman Miller tweets on behalf of the company, but her name is in the Twitter profile. "I thought it would be the most transparent and customer focused thing to do, plus it would let followers know that it is, in fact, the official Herman Miller, Inc. account," she explains. She works to make the Herman Miller tweets relevant to customers and other followers. She tweets the same way personally, considering what people might want to know about a PR person from West Michigan.

Craig Clark, owner of the small firm Clark Communications, tweets both personal and business information under the same Twitter profile as a matter of transparency. This melding makes sense given that the size of his business is so small that he and the business can be seen as one and the same.

2. How do you interact with media on Twitter?
This question came to me when I noticed Clark pitching a story via an @reply to a reporter on Twitter. He says he does this more often now, although keeping sensitivity and confidentiality for the client and reporters in mind when necessary. "I sort of like the idea of competing news organizations following what I'm working on, as it has appeared to spark more interest in my pitches," he notes.

Both Koole and Droog say they haven't pitched via Twitter, but certainly follow media--both media organizations and specific reporters--to get a better sense of their personalities and their coverage interests. They also note when reporters follow them--a good goal to have particularly for beat reporters.

3. From a PR standpoint, what does Twitter do for you?
Twitter has a variety of PR uses, but it all boils down to relationships. Clark sees it as another information outlet and likes the way it is organized as a stream versus a batch of separate emails. Koole refers to it as an enhancement to other channels, calling it a sort of "real time billboard" with company updates. Droog notes that Twitter served as a crisis communications tool when Amway Global dealt with a product recall and tweeted regularly, mostly alerts with links to more information on their web site.

4. Are you measuring the ROI of Twitter, and how?
Lot's of people are still working on this one. Most agree that Twitter for now is a supplement to their other communication efforts, both social media and conventional tactics and strategies. Droog says it's all about quality, not quantity, so they don't measure number of followers as the best indicator of success. Amway Global plans to track traffic to the Web site and other media that is driven by Twitter, and they'll survey publics to get a sense of how many use Twitter and how useful they find Amway Global tweets.

Bottom Line
It's interesting that as I was writing this blog post, I noticed this tweet from Washington Post media commentator Howard Kurtz: "I say some people reveal themselves on Twitter, some offer calculated glimpses and others are either faux or utterly self-promotional."

Probably true. I think we'll find out more and more that our personal identities are intertwined with the organizations we work for and/or represent as PR people. Our individual actions and utterances do affect the reputations of our organizations. With Twitter as with all other forms of PR, being genuine and transparent will continue to serve as the best advice, although how transparent and personal will need to be determined case by case. As for measurement, understanding the quality of relationships with key publics would be the most useful.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A De-Pressing Evening

The mood was light and happy at Cambridge House last Friday night. I went there to say farewell to a friend from the Grand Rapids Press who is among the latest to take a buy out and end several decades of employment at our region's largest daily. 

I was reminded somewhat of a recent trip to the funeral home for the loss of a family member. People were catching up with each other, and there was even lots of laughter. But nevertheless, death was what brought us together.

I felt the same mix of sadness and joviality. Seasoned journalists talking about going into business, writing a book, teaching, other ventures. They are confident they will survive personally, which is good. But I worry about the paper. There the mood is mixed. Some fear the quality of news will decline or disappear. Some feel it will still persist albeit in a different format or on a different platform. Some feel there is a positive opportunity for reinvention.

I want to believe the latter. And maybe that will prove true. Still, leaving that assembly, I felt the way I do when I leave a funeral--summoning resolve to move on even after losing a long-time love.

We in PR need to think about this as well. Perhaps the most cunning among us will see the decline of reporting to be an opportunity  to subsidize information to the media nearly wholesale. Tempting, maybe. But we have to think about not merely "getting the word out" there. We need to think about how it's received. The best thing conventional journalism offers to citizens is reporting and context, not merely information. The best thing journalists offer PR people is lending a healthy skepticism and thus a sense of credibility to information we share. If just 'anything' is out there, people will lose trust. And if that happens, our important and truthful PR info will be seen in that muddied context. As citizens and PR professionals, we should hope that the better aspects of journalism will never really die. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hanon-McKendry Expects Growth in Coming Year

On the heels of LEA's growth announcement (see earlier post), local firm Hanon-McKendry announces a positive year with anticipation for growth ahead as well. What's notable is a record revenue year--$10 million--and the fact that 50% of the firm's clients are non local.

RapidGrowth has the full story.

The West Michigan ad/PR community seems to be an island of calm prosperity in a sea of economic storms.

Kellogg-Phelps Incident Brand Metrics Faulty

Vanno, a new company that measures brand reputation, claims in a recent Ad Age article  that Kellogg goofed from a brand standpoint for letting Michael Phelps go as a celebrity endorser after his bong hit photo was made public.

The company claims Kellogg fell in stature more for that than the peanut butter recall.

But I wonder about the metrics Vanno uses, which aren't fully transparent in the article. The "users" whose opinions they monitor--are they mothers of young children who purchase Kellogg products and place them on the table in front of their children? Or are they merely average consumers who think pot smoking is no big deal?

The most important brand measurement should have to do with the attitudes and relationships between an organization and its key publics. General public opinion may say Kellogg is too harsh on a young Olympic hero. But Kellogg is wise to take a stand as they say "consistent with company image," especially  when the consider the image it has in the minds of its most important publics--consumers, not to mention stockholders, employees etc. 

Ultimately, of course, the most accurate feedback on Kellogg's decision re: Phelps will be long-term brand perception, sales, and market share.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

GR PR Firm LEA Thrives in Tough Times

Grand Rapids based public and investor relations firm Lambert Edwards and Associates has shown positive growth for a ninth straight year, even though this past year saw economic turmoil in all sectors.

According to a release from the firm, they saw an 18% increase in revenues in 2008, to $4.3 million. In spite of reports of contraction in advertising and PR, LEA added 20 clients and 5 new staffers. The downtown Grand Rapids office space  expanded by 30% to include a studio and equipment for media training as well as podcast production and other new media applications.

The firm, whose services include counseling clients through the M&A process, plans to be involved in its own merger or acquisition with another PR firm this year. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Students in the GVSU PRSSA chapter got creative with t-shirts this year:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Laker Connection on IA Site

In an earlier post I complimented the Image Group for its work on a new International Aid Web site. This was genuine praise, not favoritism towards former students--honest!

But I do have to point out that among the email responses were two from former students involved. Lyndsey Post works for the Image Group, and Jacki Van Hall works in communications at International Aid. 

Good to see Grand Valley State University PR graduates working well, and working together. Go Lakers!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TV 13's Local Response to WSJ Article on Local TV

I read a WSJ article this morning about the decline of local TV. I shared it with Tim Geraghty, news director at WZZM TV 13 and asked for his thoughts. He shares them on his blog. 
It's an interesting and more positive take on the situation.

Meanwhile, there have been some other interesting articles about the decline of newspapers. I've bookmarked several of them on Delicious (link in social media sidebar at right).

West Michigan PRSA Launches New Site

I was impressed this morning when I got my WMPRSA e-newsletter and clicked on the link to the new site to check it out. Here are things I like (with some thoughts for the hard-working volunteers once they catch their breath):

  • crisp user-oriented design
  • photos
  • social media links (I hope Twitter and maybe a group blog on the site  is coming soon)
  • definition of public relations--the same way I teach my students and taught the APR prep course. This will help the chapter's local efforts to advocate for the profession (it would be good in this context to add a link the to the PRSA Code of Ethics)
  • links to local media and PR firms
  • a student section
I'll definitely be alerting my students to the site (as I have in the past) as another way for them to familiarize themselves with the profession and the PRSA organization.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Image Group Does Nice Job With New Int Aid Site

Earlier this week I saw a tweet from the Image Group, one of the many Ad/PR related people and organizations I follow on Twitter, announcing the launch of a new web site for International Aid.

I @replied to Image Group that I thought their work on the site was great. But I wanted to mention the site here on my blog as well. 

In addition to a gorgeous and inviting design, the site integrates various social media tools that are increasingly a must in Web sites from a PR perspective. There is also a heavy emphasis on storytelling, which many online PR experts tout as the key way to cut through Internet clutter and engage people. I especially like the smart breaking down of IA's "partners" (i.e. publics) as corporations, churches, etc. This way, people migrating to the site can see a specific and relevant way to engage as a donor, volunteer, or project partner.

Much discussion about PR focuses on corporations. But this site shows that nonprofit organizations, even large NGOs like International Aid, can and should look smart and sophisticated.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Michael Phelps Loses West Michigan Endorsement

Some in Michigan were delighted that Olympic swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps had a connection to the state through his training at University of Michigan. Now that connection has turned from pride to embarrassment.

West Michigan company Kellogg has announced it is dropping Phelps as a spokesman. The news is all over the place, including this article in the New York Post, although there is no official mention in the Kellogg online media room. Apparently the Battle Creek company is so upset they want no visible tie at all to Phelps, who is now considered a cereal offender.

I should point out that the dogmatic column in PR Week earlier this week cautioning PR pros not to overreact to the Phelps 'crisis' was a little premature. The column said he had not lost any sponsors or been banned from the sport, and that public attitudes about marijuana have changed. Well, not true any more. He lost a sponsor. And public opinion should not be viewed as a majority rule--some key publics to Kellogg, especially parents of young children, would beg to differ that a bong hit by an athlete is no biggie. He may recover and be redeemed in the public eye after a few more laps in the press pool, but in the short term his image suffers.

We'll have to see if his admission, contrition, and humility--not to mention U.S. and world championships in Indianapolis and Rome in the coming months--return him to positive stature in the public eye. Then it would be interesting to see if Kellogg forgives and invites him back. Or if another sponsor, with a different product line, reaches out.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


In a down economy, in one of the most depressed states, any news of local company expansion is exciting. That's especially true when companies in the PR industry are expanding.

So I was excited to read in the latest Rapid Growth that local PR and IR firm Lambert Edwards & Associates is starting its first satellite office--in Los Angeles. A release from LEA notes that a new director, Christian Sadlier, was named to head the new office on the West Coast.

The move will result in other new hires for the firm's work in Grand Rapids and out West. Word is they are also looking to acquire another company as well in the coming year.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Facebook In Your Face--A PR Issue

Interesting story in Grand Rapids Press/Mlive about a Calvin College student being disciplined for content deemed inappropriate on his Facebook page.

The story is interesting for several reasons, and it seems that the language used in this case by a student about another student is worthy of some sort of discipline. 

But, I find it interesting to think about how all organizations will handle situations of employees posting to Facebook or any social media site. Is it free speech, or some brand of speech that can be controlled by corporations or other employers? I'm sure the law is on the side of the employer if something 'material' or a 'trade secret' is spilled in the public sphere. But, it seems to be a legal gray area if an employee comments on a news article or posts opinion contrary to management in a blog or social media forum. 

Last I checked, the law was still emerging on this new media situation. In the meantime, PR people should be considering policies on the issue. And more importantly, proactively fostering open and good relationships with employees and other internal publics to diminish the likelihood of testy social media scenarios.

PR and YouTube

It's becoming increasingly clear that PR people are going to have to polish their video skills, or know people who can create and post video online.

There's evidence of this here in West Michigan from all sorts of organizations.  Large MNCs like Amway Global (Quixtar) started its own YouTube Channel. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation posts video to its own web site to announce new initiatives. Today I received an email invitation with a link to a video touting Heartside in downtown GR as a hip, emerging neighborhood. The video lends itself well to this reputation.

Educators like myself need to continually respond to changes in the professional world by adapting and incorporating new knowledge base and skill sets into our curriculum. We need to tell students about new media and get them to think critically and creatively about its  appropriate application to PR. Some students need a little hand holding on this. Other members of this "digital native" population jump on the wagon without prodding. Witness my Bateman PR Campaign team, which has created a web site and posted videos to it in an effort to reach bi-lingual, inner city middle schoolers. (Campaign rules don't let me share the video or details of the campaign just yet).

Anyway, stay tuned. PR and video doesn't just mean VNRs any more.