Friday, December 03, 2010

'PR in Practice': Agency PR

In this edition of the 'PR in Practice' video series, I focus on agency PR, as opposed to working in an in-house PR department.

The featured agency is Lambert, Edwards and Associates, the 2010 PR Week "Small Agency of the Year." Small is a relative term, however, given that LEA has 40 employees in three offices serving more than 100 clients in 20 states and five countries.

The video features the macro agency perspective from President Jeff Lambert. Jeremy Bakken, one of the LEAs directors, answers questions about the day-to-day work of serving multiple clients.

You can view the video below. Once again, all videos in the 'PR in Practice' series are on my YouTube channel (click the icon at right).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

'PR in Practice': Sports PR

Lots of students want to go into sports PR. They think it would be fun to have a job where you are around pro athletes and get to see games for free. Well, nothing wrong with that. But as Randy Rice, PR Manager for the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team, will tell you, there's also a lot of basic PR work involved.

You need to know how to write, just like in any other PR job. And the media coverage is not automatic, even for a popular team like the Griffins. They compete with other sports, major league sports, and popular high school sports for attention in the media. So, a lot of what Randy and his co-workers do is provide their own coverage on their web site.

Learn more about a typical job in sports PR from Randy either on my YouTube channel or by viewing the video embedded below.

Remember, other videos in the 'PR in Practice' series are on my YouTube channel as well.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TIME Review of 'Deadly Spin' is ... Spin

As a PR professor and practitioner, books about PR always jump out at me. But after reading a recent TIME Magazine "The Skimmer" review (subscription required) of Wendell Potter's "Deadly Spin," I nearly jumped out of my chair.

Wendell Potter used to work in public relations for insurance giant Cigna. His book is a whistleblower's account of how companies in that industry tout misleading studies, form front groups and engage in other misdeeds to deny coverage to premium-paying customers.

All of which sounds like the examples of improper practice in the PRSA Code of Ethics.

Which is why I find TIME's review so troubling for its pedestrian writing and lazy, gleeful perpetuation of bad stereotypes about the public relations professions. It leads with "Great P.R. flacks are as talented with misdirection as they are with the truth." At the end, after Potter points out that his conscience led him to testify to Congress about insurers favoring profits over patients, the review writes "there's not a p.r. person alive who can put a positive spin on that."

Again with the "spin." If the columnist, who is mercifully not given a byline for this formulaic drivel, favors truth over misdirection, he/she might have tried some actual reporting. The review then might have pointed out that the principles Potter obtained better late than never are in fact taught in most all public relations courses, based on my meeting with other educators and reviewing preferred curriculum for PR courses. More importantly, my own research shows that if an organization has a PR officer with a degree in the field and the respect of top management, ethical practice is more likely to prevail. The misdeeds of corporations are often labeled "PR" even if management ignored the counsel of a PR person, or if no one on staff had an actual degree in the field.

Rather than lean on the synecdoche of using "PR" as a blanket reference for all dishonest communication, the reviewer could have provided a great service to readers by pointing out that the PR community has praised Potter and his book more than anyone else. Potter was a keynote speaker at the PRSA annual conference last year in San Diego, which I attended with 10 students. He was also featured in an article in PRSA Tactics, the organization's monthly newspaper.

In short, rather than seeking occasion to misdirect readers that PR by definition is deceptive, the reviewer could have explained that the majority of the PR industry advocates ethical practice characterized by dialogic communication and mutual benefit. Instead, the reviewer chose to spin.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

'PR in Practice': Education PR

The next episode in the "PR in Practice" series is education PR. I interview Ron Koehler, APR, who is assistant superintendent for organizational and community initiatives at the Kent ISD. He's also the current president of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), something I wrote about in an earlier post on this blog.

One of the most interesting parts of this interview is Koehler's emphasis on research underlying all the work he does to provide communication services to 20 school districts. As part of that, he points out that treating students as stakeholders and not as passive publics is an emerging trend in this segment of the PR profession.

While the NSPRA is the organization for PR professionals in K-12, PRSA has a special section called Counselors to Higher Education for practitioners working at colleges and universities.

Enjoy the video. Again, all "PR in Practice" videos are on my YouTube channel.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

'PR in Practice': Government PR

Just in time for election day, the latest chapter in the "PR in Practice" project is out and the focus is government PR.

In this episode, I chat with Kevan Chapman, Communications Director for U.S. Congressman Vernon Ehlers. Ehlers is retiring at the end of this term--his replacement will be decided today. But the comments from Chapman about the PR role are broadly applicable to all professionals and students aspiring to have a PR job working for a politician.

Among the interesting things I learned is that many PR pros specialize on either the political campaigns or serving once in an official is in office. Some cross over, but I'm told that's rare. Also, while campaigns use polls almost constantly as part of their research and fuel for strategy, congressional offices are not allowed to do broad scientific polls beyond a feedback poll in a constituent newsletter. It has to do with time and expense for a public office. See what Kevan Chapman says they do for research and evaluation instead.

You can see the video on my YouTube channel (or click icon at right), where other videos in the 'PR in Practice' series are uploaded. Or watch it right here below:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'PR in Practice': International PR

In this episode of the "PR in Practice" project, I spend some time with PR professionals at Amway.

The global corporation with headquarters in Ada, Michigan does business in 58 countries. PR professionals at headquarters work with colleagues in each of the various markets around the world to better relate to media, government officials and other publics in each country and culture.

The video features interviews with two of the U.S.-based PR pros as well as one of their colleagues from China who happened to be in the US for a six-month opportunity to get to know and represent corporate headquarters better. Students will appreciate his advice to them at the end of the video.

If you are interested in learning more about international PR, see the PRSA International Special Interest Section.

A reminder that all "PR in Practice" videos are on my YouTube Channel, always accessible by clicking on the icon at right. Subscribe to the channel if you want to catch future episodes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Twitter Papers -- Multiple Applications

I've recently started using a free service called that allows users to create "newspapers" by aggregating content from Twitter. Papers can be created for any user, list, or #tag.

Here's an example of my paper, the Penning Ink Daily.

I set it up to take content from my users. I follow a lot of nationally known PR gurus, West Michigan PR pros, PR professors from around the country I've met at conferences and through social media, and a wide variety of news organizations. So my daily is useful as an aggregator of my Twitter content, in newspaper format. But, it is an aggregator--i.e. using a formula that grabs what appears to be the most interesting and relevant of the tweets that had links to text, photos, or video. So, I am surprised sometimes at the content of my own paper.

But, it certainly has its uses. I can scan quickly the days "top stories" with links to key hashtags, such as #pr, which opens up another whole range of stories tagged as such. If I don't have time to be on Twitter frequently on a given day, this is a great way to review things quickly, and in an online paper format.

I also have the ability to promote it, which I do in the hopes that students and colleagues might find it an interesting read. Although, in time, everyone may have their own paper and only the ones who have taken the time to curate the right people to follow or targeted lists or hashtags will have many users besides themselves.

To that end, here are some good uses of that I have seen or thought of that go beyond a personal aggregator:
  • Education--Dawn Gilpin, a PR professor in Arizona, built a Twitter list of her students and has them post with links. Her daily paper is a project for her 'JMC 310' class;
  • Conferences--make a daily of the official hastag of a professional conference. It automates the "if you missed the conference" web site and crowd sources blogs and other commentary and recap of the best sessions;
  • Businesses--make a list of key employees, managers, vendors, industry thought leaders and be the focal point of commentary on your industry on Twitter (note: not all about you);
  • PR Firms--make a list of clients, media you work with regularly, a hashtag of issues you are working on, or a list of key industry trades etc. PR Firms are increasingly becoming "publishers"; this is another way to do it;;
  • Newspapers--duh. Yes, newspapers and other "mainstream" media have web sites, apps, and reporters on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. But here is another way to aggregate content and serve readers and potential readers in another channel and method.
When TIME magazine was started in 1923, founders Britton Hadden and Henry Luce said in their prospectus that people were overwhelmed with information and there was a need for a weekly summary of news content, a news magazine. At the time people were "overwhelmed" with newspapers, tabloids, magazines, and a new technology called "radio."

Today, the case that people are overwhelmed is even more obvious. is just another way to handle the flood of info. Only this time, it will not only be journalists who can do so.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

'PR in Practice' : Travel PR

In this installment of "PR in Practice" I talk to Janet Korn, VP of Marketing for Experience Grand Rapids.

My interview with her happened the same week as the former Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau rebranded itself "Experience Grand Rapids" with its "GR Tweet Elite" event and launch of its new Web site.

Learn about the reason for the rebrand, how social media is a key aspect of "destination" PR, and other aspects of this special category of PR. Students and professionals alike can also learn about travel PR from PRSA's Travel & Tourism Professional Interest Section.

Remember: all "PR in Practice" videos will be on my Penning Ink You Tube channel. Click on the YouTube icon at right to go to the channel, see other videos, and subscribe.

Friday, October 15, 2010

TIME List Won't Be Major Help to Amash

It is no doubt a publicity coup to be named to TIME Magazine's list of 40 under 40 civic leaders, which is the case for West Michigan's Justin Amash. The question is, from a political PR standpoint, will it move numbers for the young congressional candidate a few weeks before the election.

The answer is, yes and no. You can see what I mean just by looking at the comments accompanying the Grand Rapids Press article about the list. The publicity didn't affect the partisans. Amash supporters utter praise, detractors make accusations. Neither positive or negative comments are really about the TIME list, because that list merely points out youth; it does not address political ideology or issues.

The publicity splash does help in some ways. Just like a yard sign, it helps with name recognition in the district. It adds some national credibility to a candidate who some may have been seen by potential West Michigan voters as just a young local man. In that sense, it may excite some who were on the fence about going to the polls, and it may move some independents to consider Amash.

It is true that elections are won in the middle, not on the margins where hard-core beliefs are rarely changed. But in this election season in particular, being on a national list is far less important than addressing the list of local issues and being consonant with the political worldview of the majority of constituents in Amash's district. There's an old adage attributed to former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill: "all politics is local." That's something to keep in mind when weighing the value of national publicity for a candidate whose public is entirely local.

Monday, October 04, 2010

'PR in Practice' -- Corporate PR

In this installment of the 'PR in Practice' project, see what recent graduate Sara Heins does in her job as marketing and communications specialist at Shape Corporation in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Her work has her handling everything from internal communications to creating collateral materials for international trade shows. She also developed the company's first social media plan. Be sure to listen to her good advice for students aspiring to jobs in corporate PR at the end of the video.

You can see the video embedded below. Also, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel (click on logo at right) to see future installments in the 'PR in Practice' series.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I was reading a bunch of articles about the changing newspaper industry as well as the emergence of the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other readers. All of a sudden it hit me--this isn't all as new as it seems.

Sure enough, on a far corner of a bookshelf in my office, there was a book copyrighted in 1997 that I had used years ago when I taught a "Media and Society" class. The book is Roger Fidler's "Mediamorphosis: Understanding New Media." I grin now reading that title. "New media" has a different connotation now than it did more than a decade ago.

I recalled having a discussion with students based on an exercise in the book called "Scenario for 2010: The mobile digital document reader." It was intended to be a forward-looking, imaginative exercise in which students thought critically about the influence of technology on media use. I remember the students being fairly mixed as to the plausibility of the scenario's prognostications. And even if all the foreseen new technology did emerge, some of these young people still said it's nice to just read a newspaper on paper with a cup of coffee.

Regardless of our classroom discussion back then, the book's scenario was prescient. Now IS 2010, and we DO have mobile digital document readers. The book even called them "tablets," and anticipated touch screens, digital cash, speak text, photo and video embedded in articles, and advertising relevant to content and matching personal profiles of readers. There's even a monetization method that involves paid subscription and buying archived material an article at a time for instant electronic delivery. About the only thing the book didn't foresee was wireless--a person in the scenario describes a person going with their reader to an ATM-like machine to withdraw that day's content onto a memory card.

The book did not come anywhere close to anticipating 'social media.' Others might have. There also has not been an updated version of this book, so far as I know. I have not taught "Media and Society" again since I started to focus exclusively on public relations shortly after teaching that class more than a decade ago.

But I wonder, what is the scenario for 2020? Will the tablet be replaced? With what? How will it affect public relations, advertising, journalism...human beings?

It's fun to think about, over a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'VP' does not equal 'PR'

We teach that public relations is a management function. That means a lot of things. But among them is the fact that someone with PR education, savvy, knowledge and experience should be counseling the executive suite. In other words, just because you have CEO or VP behind your name doesn't mean you understand PR.

While media relations is only one aspect of PR these days, it's in that arena that I heard of an example yesterday that illustrates my point. A local business reporter with more than two decades of experience forwarded an email to me and said he had never encountered anything like this before. (I have, actually).

A story had run in this reporter's paper, and a VP emailed him to say thanks but to suggest changes for the online version. I'll let you see it for yourself (with names redacted to protect the ridiculous from further embarrassment):

Thanks again for your interest in and coverage of the ### announcement. In skimming the story today, we noted a couple of quotes by ### that are not as clean and clear as he typically delivers. I¹m wondering if you can clean up the online version a bit?
The person then goes on to restate "current" and "proposed" quotes from said executive.

Making matters worse, the "proposed" statements were not any more "clean and clear."

What is particularly "unclean" is when people try to dictate exact wording to reporters, as if they were employees, as if there were no such thing as journalistic integrity. What is clear to me is that for all the brilliance in the executive suite, there is a colossal misunderstanding of media, communications, human relationships, public perception and the variety of publics and the ways they interact with your organization.

If this organization could not have proactively had its message points clear on the subject, there were better ways to handle it after the fact. As one example, why not link to the article on the organization's Twitter, Facebook and other social media/online vehicles and offer additional commentary there? The VP and CEO could even have direct conversations with their publics--what a concept.

It's clear that media training, speechwriting, communications counsel and social media alternatives--the expertise of PR professionals--will continue to be necessary. I just hope they will be in increasing demand from the C-suite. It would be nice to see more people with PR in their veins having VP behind their names.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The 'PR in Practice' Project--Nonprofit PR

I am on sabbatical this fall to work on an instructional DVD for use in my "Fundamentals of PR" course. I am interviewing public relations practitioners in a variety of settings to show students that PR is a broad field, practiced in a variety of contexts. Hence the name of the DVD: "PR in Practice."

As I complete sections of the DVD, I will be posting them to YouTube, with links and embeds on this blog. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel (penningink) or at any time click on the YouTube button at right. Alerts will also go out via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

First up is Keri Larsen (now Kujala--got married after filming). A GVSU alumna, she works at St. Mary's Hospital and its fundraising arm, the Doran Foundation. Her title is Coordinator of Special Events and Donor Relations. Her job has her doing lots of different types of PR work, but the emphasis on events makes her a popular target for PR students who want to do internships with her.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sudden crisis interrupts big events for GR PR firm

An interesting perspective blog post by the Grand Rapids Press' Troy Reimink shows that there is no typical day in a PR firm.

He writes about SeyferthPR showing its event-planning prowess with ArtPrize and the West Michigan Regional Policy Forum and then having to deal with an inconvenient crisis with another client: reports of maggots in McDonald's coffee machines.

Reimink makes a snarky referral to the prepared response of the franchise owner referring to safety but not the allegation that the manager of the store in question (near Lansing) told employees to keep the machine on after learning of the maggot infestation. It's "what you might expect" he says.

Well, we might expect a journalist to be snarky about PR. In their defense, they do have to deal with bureaucratic boilerplate statements and what seems to be purposely vague deflections. But they also need to realize that in many crises facts emerge slowly, allegations need to be confirmed or refuted, and business owners and their PR counsel need to manage reputation ruining rumor delicately and with patience.

Even the comments to Reimink's blog treat the incident with more humor than shock, and one even suggests that this could be the case of a disgruntled employee staging the episode and not a real safety or health issue. (Fast food crises in recent memory seem to follow this pattern: Domino's booger pizza comes to mind).

Reasonable questions the public, if not snarky reporters, should ask would include the following:
  • was this an actual safety/health issue or an employee hoax?
  • is this isolated to one restaurant or is it widespread?
If there is a real safety issue, the PR counsel should be to determine the cause, eliminate it, change the coffee machine cleaning policy and communicate that to the public immediately in a contrite fashion. If it can be determined that this was an employee prank, said employee(s) should be fired and that should be communicated immediately as well. Also, some attention should be paid to internal/employee communication and what led to the morale problem that encouraged such a prank.

If the incident is isolated, local communication in Lansing may be enough. But the news has spread to Grand Rapids and the client runs McDonalds statewide, so a broad reach may be in order. However, as of this post, mentions of McDonalds on Twitter are almost entirely positive, with no mention of this incident. (I decline to comment on the Twittersphere discussion of maggots).

Personally, given the fact that an employee emailed a reporter and that maggots are larvae that usually grow in garbage and not frequently heated machines, I am skeptical as to the truth of this story. As always, I hope the public keeps an open mind and doesn't jump to conclusions about this story, McDonalds, or the PR profession. As I tell my PR students, your reaction to such situations are remembered more than the situations themselves.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Net Neutrality Background

Network, or net, neutrality is a complicated communications technology issue that has significant legal and regulatory implications for all telecommunications and media companies. At issue is what can and cannot be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At odds in this issue are protection of consumers on the one hand (i.e. maintaining fully open access on the Internet) and protection of investment and assets by telecom companies (i.e. allowing competitors access to a company’s network, or charging more for video downloads than simple email). Google and Verizon, as explained recently in the New York Times, have proposed a form of compromise, but the issue is still hotly debated. The FCC is currently hearing more input before making a new statement or policy on net neutrality. The issue is also of interest to any communications professional because of the impact on the distribution and consumption of many forms of media and information. The following is a background on the legal and regulatory environment related to net neutrality that leads up to this point.

Definition of Net Neutrality

Net neutrality emerged as a term around 2003 as part of Internet policy debates. Some communication lawyers describe it by its core issue of negotiating how Internet traffic originating on one broadband network can transmit and terminate on another network.[1] Communication law scholars describe the concept of net neutrality more conceptually, such as a condition in which the infrastructure of the Internet is separate from its content, and wherein all data or content is treated as equal by the various Internet access providers or carriers.[2] Some put it more simply and call net neutrality a form of open access on the Internet.[3]

All are correct definitions. But as a legal concern, it boils down to whether or not the government can and should enforce net neutrality as an issue of Internet public access. It is easier to understand this after a review of the legal and regulatory environment surrounding net neutrality.

Telecommunications vs. Information Distinction

Central to the issue of whether or not the government can regulate Internet access providers is the legal distinction between whether or not a company is providing “telecommunication” services or “information” services. This distinction is best understood by following a chronology of legal actions.

The Communications Act of 1934

Under Title I of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ancillary jurisdiction over all interstate and foreign communications.[4] However, the Act did not address specifics relating to the Internet.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

This update to the 1934 Act recognized the need to further develop the Internet[5], This update made the distinction between “telecommunications” service and “information” service. The distinction was made to loosen regulation on the Internet and thus allow it to grow and develop faster. By this distinction, “telecommunications” services could be regulated under Title II of the 1934 Act, but “information” services would be subject to minimal regulations under Title I of the 1934 Act. But it did not provide clarity as to what exactly would be an example of telecommunications as opposed to information.[6]

Federal Communication Commission Determination

In March of 2002, the FCC added specificity to the telecommunications or information distinction when they declared that cable modems were information. Their rationale was that ancillary use of telecommunication facilities are inseparable from transporting digital information. They reasoned that cable operators provide information services to customers via telecommunications.[7]

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court

This decision was appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a landmark case in 2005 that determined cable providers should open their Internet service to competitor ISPs (Internet Service Providers) on a “common carrier” basis.[8] The appellate court based this decision stare decisis on a previous case[9] which determined the transmission of Internet service over cable broadband is telecommunication service and thus subject to regulation.

Supreme Court

However, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed this decision. They affirmed the FCC decision that cable modems are information. The Court’s rationale was that the FCC was reasonable in determining the telecommunication/information distinction on the basis of whether a customer believed they were purchasing high-speed Internet access (telecommunications) or the stand-alone capacity to send and receive “ordinary language” messages (information).[10]

Resulting FCC Policy Statement

Following the Supreme Court decision, the FCC expanded its determination of cable modems as information to DSL (digital subscriber lines). Foley argues that in addition to coaxial cable and copper telephone wires, the nascent Internet access technology of BPL (broadband over power lines) will also enjoy “information” classification and thus minimal net neutrality regulation.[11]

The FCC in 2005 adopted a policy statement that outlines four principles that they will use to guide future regulation: “1) consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice; 2) consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; 3) consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; 4) consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.”[12]

It is important to note that these are principles, not enforceable rules yet. In fact, former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin noted in the same release that the marketplace will ensure these principles are met, and thus foresees no new regulation necessary.[13]

Future Net Neutrality Regulation

The previous FCC chairman stressed the importance of allowing competition to advance the growth of internet communication infrastructure and devices. This assertion is also supported by the stated purpose of the 1996 Telecommunications Act: “To promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies.”[14]

Others argue that current laws will ensure that net neutrality generally and the FCC’s four principles specifically will be met. Laxton points out that the Sherman Antitrust Act applies generally to providers of broadband access, application, and content. He adds that the “essential facilities doctrine” specifically applies to broadband providers under both Sections I and II of the Sherman Act, which allow for punishment of collusion in an oligopoly market or harmful business practices by a monopoly, respectively. An antitrust claim may be made under the essential facilities doctrine by meeting four conditions: 1) a company has control of an essential facility, 2) competitors are unable to practically or reasonably duplicate the facility, 3) competitors are denied use of the facility, 4) it is feasible to provide use of the facility to competitors.[15]

Also, former FCC commissioner, chairman and general counsel Richard Wiley, who currently practices communications law, contends that any update to the 1996 Telecommunications Act should actually be shorter and less restrictive[16]. He stresses that telecommunications “silos” and segments are irrelevant, with cable companies offering telephone service, phone companies offering television, and more blending emerging rapidly. This point seems even more obvious now with this week’s announcement about Apple TV.

However, contrary to the above arguments, the current FCC chairman is opposed to allowing companies the freedom to offer tiered pricing for different uses of the Internet, as expressed in a New York Times article last month. The mood of the FCC seems to have shifted to favor consumer protection, and therefore regulation on service and content providers.

The debate continues. PR professionals should watch and even participate with an informed background on the issue.

[1] Del Bianco, Mark C. (2006) “Voices Past: The Present and Future of VoIP Regulation.” CommLaw Conspectus. (14) 365.

[2] Laxton, William G. Jr. (2006) “The End of Net Neutrality.” Duke Law & Technology Review. 15.

[3] Foley, Paula W. (2006) “Untangling the Third Wire: Broadband Over Power Lines, Open Access, and Net Neutrality.” Journal of High Technology Law. (6). 194.

[4] Laxton.

[5] Foley.

[6] Laxton

[7] Foley.

[8] National Cable and Telecommunication Association v. Brand X Internet Services. 125 S. Ct. 2688 (2005).

[9] AT&T Corp. v. City of Portland. 216 F.3d 871, 880 (9th Cir. 2000).

[10] Foley.

[11] Foley.

[12] Federal Communications Commission. Press Release. “FCC Adopts Policy Statement: New Principles Preserve and Promote the Open and Interconnected Nature of the Internet.” (August 5, 2005).

[13] FCC Press Release.

[14] Telecommunications Act of 1996.

[15] Laxton.

[16] Wiley, Richard E. (2006) “A New Telecom Act: Remarks.” Southern Illinois University Law Journal. (31) 17.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lambert Named to National '40 Under 40' List

Jeff Lambert, president and managing partner of Lambert, Edwards & Associates, was named to PR Week's list of 40 "early influencers" (subscription required for full article), or practitioners under 40 years old.

Lambert was the only one on the list from Michigan. He and LEA, which serves 100 clients in 11 states, represent West Michigan well on a list that includes some of the biggest agencies and organizations in the world.

West Michigan Man Heads National School PR Group

Ron Koehler, APR, assistant superintendent for organizational and community initiatives at the Kent Intermediate School District, has been named president of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA).

Koehler officially took the reins last month at an NSPRA meeting. You can see his acceptance speech if you wish.

Among Koehler's goals will be to make communication skills a track in education leadership programs at colleges around the country. He also wants to instill the importance of public relations to the management of education at all levels. His article in the Fall 2009 issue of the Journal of School Public Relations presents a local case study to prove his point. "Kent Intermediate School District: From Invisible Agency to Power Player" walks through the steps the ISD took to improve public opinion of public education and understanding of the work of the ISD. The article is nicely organized along the popular RACE process--research, action planning, communication implementation, and evaluation. As he concludes in the article:

Embracing the fundamental components of public relations practice inspired behavioral change in the organization and its stakeholders. Today, Kent ISD enjoys the same two-way dialogue with the broader community that it developed in its close relationship with public schools. This dialogue has created a richer relationship between Kent ISD and other units of government, the business community, and the philanthropic community. It has truly moved Kent ISD from invisible agency to power player within the state and the region.

Koehler is a subject in an instructional DVD about public relations that I will be working on this fall. The point of the DVD is to show PR practitioners in a variety of settings, from agency to in-house, and including business, international, government, non-profit, education, health, sports, travel and other specific settings. His article will be a companion reading for students who see the DVD in class.

Congratulations to Koehler on his success at the ISD and his leadership of the NSPRA this coming year. The West Michigan PR community is fortunate to be represented on the national level by another of our outstanding local practitioners.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Press Health Interest Coincides with PR Specialty Area

Paul Keep's editorial in yesterday's Grand Rapids Press about increasing health care coverage caught my eye.

The Press has covered health with dedicated beat reporters for years. But this increased emphasis in what appears to be a health section is interesting for several reasons. First, as newspapers struggle for survival, this looks to be a good response to providing increased coverage of an important subject that helps readers make informed decisions. That's the essence of the journalism role, not more pandering to fluffy entertainment. Also, the Press is responding to the local health care industry and related topics. As everyone knows, wire stories about basic health information is easy to have from WebMD and numerous other online sources.

The Press emphasis on health care affirms the growth of "health communications" as a speciality practice within PR during the past two decades. GVSU has had an undergraduate health communications major for decades (we are finally ramping it up with a dedicated PhD faculty member this fall), other colleges have master's and PhD programs in health communications, and there are several journals dedicated to research in the subject that ranges from doctor-patient relationships, to public health campaign strategies, to direct-to-consumer drug advertising. Additionally, PRSA has a Health Academy for health care professionals to network and continue their professional development.

So, since the Press and the PR industry have embraced the importance of health care, how will the two work together locally? How might the Press work with local health care organizations to better inform local residents on health topics? It would be interesting if this could go beyond pitching stories. For example, could there be some online linking of objective medical info between the Press at and the wealth of health information at Spectrum Health's Web site? The Press could still do objective reporting, but supplement it with the health communications from area professionals. It's a win for the Press, the health organizations, and the public.

It also would be interesting to see the Press do a story on the growth of health communications as a profession of interest to many current and future PR practitioners.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WZZM One of 10 Gannett Markets to Go 'Hyper-Local'

Grand Rapids is one of 10 Gannett markets that will soon have hyper-local web-based coverage, according to an article in Washington Business Journal.

WZZM TV 13 is the Gannett station in Grand Rapids.

Gannett says the "community web sites", which will include user-generated content from viewers, will be integrated with current TV station web sites and be attractive to advertisers who want to reach specific audiences within a broader coverage area.

There are not a lot more details at this time. But I do wonder a few things, such as:
  • will this new effort work with or compete with the Rapidian, Grand Rapids' year-old 'citizen journalism' and neighborhood news effort?'
  • will there be scope and scale for advertisers to reach more specific demos within the community (i.e. what will they be willing to pay and will that be enough, and will there be enough advertisers, to make this effort really pay for the TV station?)
  • will others follow suit and make reaching hyper-local markets more hyper than local?
  • how will this affect PR people in terms of pitching hyper-local stories, to whom should the story ideas be pitched if user-generated, will the station accept a well crafted user-generated story from a PR professional (so long as it's legitimate news I would hope so), will PR professionals adapt and learn to shoot and post online video?
One thing is for sure--this new media environment is interesting and ever-changing.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

LEA Wins Silver Anvil for 'Bible Across America'

Grand Rapids PR firm Lambert, Edwards and Associates (LE&A) won the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silver Anvil for the Bible Across America campaign for Christian publisher Zondervan. The Silver Anvil Award is regarded as the “Oscar” in the public relations industry.

LE&A created and executed Bible Across America, a nine-month nationwide mobile tour for Zondervan, the world’s leading Christian publisher, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. The Bible bus tour visited more than 100 cities and 31,173 Americans contributed a handwritten verse that was published in a special edition NIV Bible.

LEA previously earned other awards for this campaign, including a PRoof Award from the West Michigan PRSA Chapter and a Gold PR Innovation Award from Bulldog Reporter.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Recent PR Research Summaries

I had some good feedback from PR professionals last time I summarized academic journal articles about PR issues and topics. So, now that summer is here and I’ve caught up on some reading, here are some very abbreviated summaries of findings from academic journals that would be interesting to PR practitioners. Articles are listed in APA reference list style, with comments below. You can get full articles via your local academic library online or in person.

Seungahn, Nah (2010). “Media Publicity and Civil Society: Nonprofit Organizations, Local Newspapers and the Internet in a Midwestern Community.” Mass Communication & Society, 13(1), pp. 3-29.
218 nonprofits in a Midwestern community were analyzed by survey, news archive analysis and other methods to learn that more newspaper coverage of a nonprofit is likely when the organization is financially well-off, locally embedded, and has a larger number of directors and volunteers.

Wirth, Werner; Schermer, Chrisitian; & Matthes, Jorg (2010). “Trivializing the News? Affective Context Effects of Commercials in the Perception of Television News.” Mass Communication and Society, 13(2), pp. 139-156.
An experiment showed that if TV commercials put people in a positive mood, they will perceive news stories viewed either before or after the commercial as more entertaining, realistic and credible.

Kelly, Kathleen; Laskin, Alexander; Rosenstein, Gregory (2010). “Investor Relations: Two-Way Symmetrical Practice.” Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(2), 182-208.
A national survey showed that IR professionals practice two-way symmetrical communications, and this is regardless of whether the practitioner is oriented more toward finance or public relations.

Yan, Changmin; Dillard, James Price; Shen, Fuyuan (2010). “The Effects of Mood, Message Framing, and Behavioral Advocacy on Persuasion.” Journal of Communication, 60 (2), 344-363.
Experimental studies showed that framing a message as something to gain or lose made a difference in persuading people to adopt health behaviors, particularly when combined with a associated moods. A message framed as something to gain was most effective when coupled with positive mood and advocating something to do. A message framed as potential loss was most effective when coupled with a sad mood and a advocating personal restraint.

LaRose, Robert (2010). “The Problem of Media Habits.” Communication Theory. 20 (2), 194-222.
The article is a review of media theory that posits media consumption is largely a result of habit, which occurs after repeated behavior that is initially goal-directed. Over time media consumption may be only habitual and not associated with a particular outcome expected. This has implications for the proliferation of social and mobile media technologies as professionals consider reaching and engaging publics through these new media. However, while media consumption may be habitual, individuals may exert conscious control over media use at any time based on needs, personal experiences, and contexts. The article proposes more research to determine when media consumption is habitual and when goal-directed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cool Things West Michigan PR People Do

One of the fun aspects of social media for me is hearing about what PR people are up to. So one day last week I asked two West Michigan PR pros to email me some more details based on tweets about cool things they were working on. There are probably many cool things going on among PR people in West Michigan, but here are two that I just heard about.

Craig Clark of Clark Communications mused on Twitter (@ClarkCom) that his day was interesting, ranging from routine to emailing the White House. When I asked him why, he said he was trying to encourage President Obama to use one of his health care clients as a backdrop for a possible healthcare speech during an upcoming visit to Kalamazoo. "It's surprisingly easy to access the White House communications team," Clark told me. Also, ironically, he said he "had to contact some Republican friends to get Democrat contact information." Good to know bi-partisanship works in public relations.

Meanwhile, Derek DeVries of Grand Rapids Community College tweeted (@DerekDeVries) about potential PR work in Lyon, France. GRCC, known for its culinary arts program, hosted tryouts for the U.S. team to compete in the "Le Coupe do Monde de la Patisserie" international pastry competition to be held in Lyon next January. DeVries did a stellar job promoting the event here in Grand Rapids, including media relations and social media. Now he is working with GRCC faculty member Chef Gilles Renusson (who is also the president of the nonprofit organization that manages the international competition) to get grant funding so he can go to Lyon and take photos and post updates of the competition via social media.

Public relations can involve tedium and stress. But you have to admit, it can also be pretty cool.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

LEA Wins Bulldog for 'Bible Across America'

As if raking in 5 gold PRoof Awards and having founding partner Jeff Lambert named PR Professional of the Year at the West Michigan PRSA wasn't enough, Grand Rapids firm Lambert, Edwards, and Associates has now won the Gold PR Innovation of the Year Award from Bulldog Reporter for the "Bible Across America" campaign it did for Zondervan.

The firm was also named 2010 PRWeek "Small Agency of the Year" last month.

LE&A created and executed ‘Bible Across America,’ a 9-month nationwide mobile tour for Zondervan, the world’s leading Christian publisher, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. The tour visited more than 100 cities and 31,173 Americans contributed a handwritten verse that was published in a special edition NIV Bible.

The Bulldog Awards are the only awards program judged exclusively by journalists and bloggers. LE&A will be recognized in the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog online trade journal and on June 28-29 at the Media Relations Summit 2010 in New York City.

Monday, April 26, 2010

GVSU Ad Team Takes 3rd in Regionals

The GVSU National Schools Advertising Competition (NSAC) team finished third in its track this year at the District 6 competition. The competition is held each year by the American Advertising Federation (AAF). The client this year was State Farm Insurance.

My colleague Dr. Roy Winegar gave the play by play:

Butler took the track by a landslide — must be their year! We finished right behind second-place Ball State and just ahead of Miriam. Northwood placed third in its track too and between us, we were the only two schools from Michigan to place. Other Michigan schools included Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Central, Western, Eastern, and Ferris.
There are 15 districts in the US. The winning team from each district plus one wildcard team advances to the national competition at the AAF conference in June. So GVSU won't go to the nationals but they should be congratulated for putting on a good show at districts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Actually, Charles, the Church DOES Need PR

The headline for Charles Honey's Grand Rapids Press religion column last Saturday was "Church needs a pastor, not PR." There is a slightly different headline in the online version, but the text of the column is the same.

I mostly agree with the sentiments in the column, but I take issue with one line that characterizes the Vatican "trying to put PR spin on a crisis that calls for humble pastoral candor from the pope."

In fact, the line is ironic given that Honey chastises the church for using PR and then devotes the entire remainder of the column proposing that the church do....PR. He mentions speaking with candor, honestly, directly to the people.

These are the very things that public relations practitioners--the good ones--counsel their clients and coworkers to do.

The problem is clear. Mr. Honey has a wonderful grasp of religious history and issues, but falls into a trap of seeing a bad example of PR and associating it as the essence of a profession.

In fact, it is ironic that I have in the past used a church metaphor to defend public relations. "Not all priests are pedophiles, and not all PR practitioners are spinners," I would explain. I often have to defend the public relations profession from broad-brush stereotype among other faculty members. PR is used as a pejorative adjective, as in "PR stunt" or "PR spin," or it is a preceded by a diminutive adjective, as in "just PR." Either way, it lends the impression that PR--by definition--is deceptive. In fact, some practitioners, as in any field, don't practice public relations responsibly. But they can't define the entire field. All PR educators and most practitioners I have met teach and practice PR as a form of mutual relationship building.

The problem is that too many people confuse PR as image crafting, as opposed to relationship and reputation building. An image is illusive and based on words and symbols alone. A relationship and reputation are earned and understood through experience. Words can never undo behavior. Nothing the church says can change what some people experienced--the people are waiting for action.

Another problem is that in many organizations people other than the public relations professionals do the communicating and engage in behavior that gets called "PR" even if the actual public relations person gave counsel to do otherwise and was ignored. That may be the case with the Vatican currently. Time Magazine points out that Father Federico Lombadi, the Vatican spokesman responsible for getting the Vatican on Twitter and YouTube, has not spoken directly to the Pope more than once regarding this current crisis. This is largely because of a rigid structure and chain-of-command in the Vatican.

So, is the Vatican handling this crisis effectively by referring to criticism as "gossip"? No. But, their bad response should not be equated with PR; it should be held out as a bad form of it.

What the church really needs is some legitimate PR, in the form of two-way, open dialog that fosters and heals relationships. If you think about it, that is what public relations and the church should have most in common.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nominations Sought for Sustainability Efforts

I have long argued that public relations professionals should lead the charge on sustainability issues. Sustainability is often summarized as the "three Es" of measuring an organization's success--in terms of equity, environment, and economic indicators. That means that sustainability is consistent with Corporate Social Responsibility, mutually beneficial relationships, two-way symmetrical communication and other aspects of what is considered ethical public relations.

Well, now West Michigan PR pros have a chance to step up and show how sustainable your organization, or your clients' organizations, are.

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) is accepting nominations from now til April 1 for their Second Annual Triple Top Line Awards. The awards, a play on the phrase "triple bottom line" that normally refers to the three sustainability measures, will be given in three categories: Sustainable Business Leadership, Community-Based Achievements toward Sustainability and Governments Implementing Sustainable Change.

Nomination forms are available at WMEAC's Web site.

Finalists will be announced April 8 and the winner will be determined by an online public voting process hosted by Rapid Growth. Voting will close April 15.

The winner will be announced as part of WMEAC’s 2010 Earth Week EcoAction Expo, a showcase for local non-profits and businesses with an environmental focus, at Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids on April 16th at 8 p.m. Businesses and organizations interested in exhibiting at the expo can download a booth and/or sponsorship form at

Let's see if PR can be prominently equated with sustainability this year.

Friday, March 12, 2010

LEA Wins 'Small Agency of Year' in PR Week Awards

Grand Rapids based public relations firm Lambert, Edwards and Associates was named "Small Agency of the Year 2010" at the PR Week Awards held yesterday in New York City. Read more about LEA's award and other PR Week awards here.

You can also read more about LEA's submission for the award in my previous post.

Kudos to LEA for this prestigious award. It looks great not only for them but for the West Michigan PR community.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

GVSU Bateman Team Featured in Rapid Growth

My GVSU PRSSA students who are participating in this year's Bateman PR Campaign Competition were featured as part of a larger story on Census 2010 in this week's Rapid Growth.

(If any competing teams are reading this, don't worry--the story is running in March but it was pitched in February in keeping with contest rules.)

The story gives you an idea of the caliber of work of PR students these days. These five students who are mere months away from being professionals put in hours of work this year. And, it is quality work. In developing a PR campaign plan book they do what all students would do in our campaigns class. But they go further by implementing and evaluating the campaign.

They have to get everything in to the judges by the end of this month. Then we'll here if they placed among the 100-plus other teams across the country in mid-April. If they are in the top three, we all go to DC for them to present to judges. If they win that, there is a cash prize and a nice presentation at the next PRSA Conference this fall in DC.

As I tell them, there really are no losers among Bateman competitors. It is a very good learning opportunity. It's also something to show and discuss in job interviews regardless of how they place. It's all about the experience.

If they do win, this amounts to a national championship. I'll be bidding for as much salary as our football coach.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

West Michigan Companies Fare Well on 'Most Admired' List

Of the five Michigan companies that made the Fortune Magazine list of "World's Most Admired Companies," three are from West Michigan. In order to make the list of most admired, companies had to be ranked in the top half of their industries. 1,400 companies were considered, and 346 companies made the cut. None of the Michigan companies are in the top 50.

Herman Miller of Zeeland held its number 1 ranking in the Home Equipment, Furnishings industry. In the same industry, Steelcase of Grand Rapids was ranked 6th, slipping from number 2 a year ago. Kellogg, of Battle Creek, moved up from 6th last year to 5th in the Consumer Food Products industry.

Pulte Homes of Bloomfield Hills and Dow Chemical of Midland were the other two Michigan companies to make the most admired list.

Let's hope the positive reputation of these West Michigan companies enhances the reputation of the West Michigan region as well.

The list is determined by a survey of executives and analysts who rate companies in their industry on nine criteria, from investment value to social responsibility. However, the consumer and other publics are not consulted. So it becomes difficult to conclude that this list is of full public relations value in terms of reputation--it's an 'insiders' view. However, once the list is published in the March 22 issue of Fortune, those external publics of investors, consumers and others will no doubt take notice.

One interesting observation. Apple topped the list again for one primary reason: products. That's a good reminder to PR pros who get too carried away with messaging. Reputation is not based on image, but experience.

Friday, February 26, 2010

West Michigan Addys 2010

The AAF West Michigan held its annual ADDY Awards event last night at the Intersection. Professionals walked away with 23 Gold and 58 Silver awards; students earned 5 Gold and 19 Silver. (I believe the U.S. leads the medal count, but the Germans and South Koreans were gaining as my deadline for this blog post approached).

Here's a recap straight from the AAF West Michigan news release:


2010 Best of Show ADDY® Award winners are:

Professional – Sales Promotion, Audio/Visual Sales Presentation: Fairly Painless Advertising for Herman Miller, Inc.

Student – Interactive Media, Online Advertising (Pop-Up/Banner/Email/Other): Elizabeth Zimmerman, Kendall College of Art and Design

Student – Print – Collateral Material, Poster: Gina Caratelli, Grand Valley State University

2010 Judges’ Choice ADDY® Award winners are:

Professional – Collateral Material, Four-color Brochure: Wolverine World Wide for Wolverine

Professional – Elements of Advertising, Photography, Campaign: Highland Group for the Grand Rapids Marathon

Professional – Public Service, Broadcast/Electronic, TV: Greenlight Marketing for Goodwill Inn

Student – Sales Promotion, Packaging: Sarah Vanderson, Kendall College of Art and Design

Entrants earning the largest number of ADDY® Awards this year are:

  • kantorwassink – 11 awards: 3 Gold and 8 Silver ADDY® Awards
  • Highland Group – 10 awards: 5 Gold and 5 Silver ADDY® Awards
  • AUXILIARY Advertising & Design – 9 awards: 3 Gold and 6 Silver ADDY® Awards
  • Fairly Painless Advertising – 8 awards: 3 Gold and 5 Silver ADDY® Awards
The release also mentions that a full list of award winners, with images and descriptions of the work, is available online. As of posting time, that list still includes previous year's winners, which is interesting to peruse for background, but not to be confused with the 2010 winners. (Apparently there is no award this year in the category of making sure the Web site has what the news release promises). But, this sort of thing happens to the best of us, and these people are certainly the best of us. I'd check back to see when the 2010 list is up--it's a great review of best practice in West Michigan for students and pros alike.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

West Michigan and Social Media

As part of some research I'm doing, I was tracking down organizations that have organizational blogs. I used the West Michigan Business Review list of "Top 100 Companies" as a basis for my search. It's important to note that "companies" included government institutions as well as hospitals, schools and other nonprofits. Also, West Michigan meant having a presence in a 12-county region, but 28 of the 100 were multi-national corporations or other large organizations headquartered elsewhere with an office of plant in the region.

It was interesting to note that only 13 of the 100 had an organizational blog--and I had to search for those with either the on-site search bar or if they didn't have one of those an external search engine. While I was at it, I noted whether or not the organizations' Web sites offered links to some of the more popular social media features, including RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and whether they offered multi-media content, mobile options and apps, or podcasts. (While I didn't record it, a few also had links to LinkedIn, Vimeo, Delicious and other social media sites).

In a nutshell, the largest employers in West Michigan are just getting started with organizational blogs and other social media components, at least so far as they are promoted and linked to their primary Web sites. Here is a breakdown of what I found:

Org type