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.