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.