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.