Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Try-It-Local Joins Local Coupon Craze in Grand Haven

There's a new player in the hyper-local social media coupon craze. If you are already familiar with Daily Deals or Groupon, take a look at another local deal vendor, with a slight twist.

Try-It-Local has just been launched by the Chamber of Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg (interesting that the tryitlocal.com site read my IP address and took me directly to the Grand Haven portion of the site). The chamber involvement is the added feature in this case, and it works like this:

  • The Chamber features an offer from a member business that has a discount of 40% off or more for a product or service.
  • The offer is delivered to Try It Local subscribers via email, the Chamber's Facebook page, Twitter page and TryItLocal.com
  • The featured member business collects 70% of each day's total sales and is charged no fees for the promotion.  
The video tutorial does a nice job of explaining the details. Looks like a win-win for the chamber, member businesses, and customers. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Notes from GVSU PRSSA Tour of Chicago

I accompanied 21 GVSU PRSSA students last Friday on a trip to Chicago to visit some PR firms. In each case we were grateful for the generosity of the PR professionals who took time for us. Here's a run-down of what we discussed.

This visit was  arranged with the help of GVSU alumnus Leah Burns. Cision of course is the company that provides media contact lists and many other tools for PR professions. The most exciting aspect of this visit for me was learning more about the university program that will allow students access to CisionPoint to do assignments in our media relations class. The company has an impressive outreach with resources for professionals and students alike. They go well beyond databases to provide everything from analytics to industry knowledge on the latest trends. Among the things their staff discussed with students is the need to look not just at media outlets but the social capital of individual journalists--in other words, in addition to the column they write for a newspaper, they have a Twitter  following, a blog, and likely are influential in Facebook, Quora and other forums as well. As an example of that, check out JournalistTweets.com to see Cision's aggregated list of journalists on twitter. We also had a good conversation about the right way to approach journalists. Just having their contact info is not enough. You want to make sure you don't get placed on a PR blacklist.

After a short visit to a colleague at DePaul University's College of Communications, I caught up with the students for an obligatory lunch of Chicago pizza. Then our busy day continued...

Leo Burnett
Students at Leo Burnett hear from
alumna Lynseey Roumell and colleagues
Yes, Leo Burnett is an ad agency. But former student Lynsey Roumell works there in a new internal team that essentially does PR for the agency. They work on promoting Leo's creative reputation, thought leadership, touting its client work, and working with "people and talent" (the HR department) to keep the legions of global employees in the loop and on brand message. We had fun viewing some of the agency's recent work, such as the Mayhem ads, and also talked about the new HumanKind book by CEO Tom Bernardin and Chief Creative Officer Mark Tutssel.

Ruder Finn
The Chicago office of this PR firm is smaller, and senior account executive Joseph Tateoka said he likes the family feeling of the office. They do a lot of consumer, tech and  B2B work in Chicago, but often work with people in other RF offices on various types of PR. Tateoka (@jtat) on Twitter, is passionate about reaching out to young professionals. He is a professional advisor for the DePaul PRSSA chapter, and welcomes questions from any PR students. Among his gems of good advice: do multiple internships. This was a recurring theme all day.

Kurman Communications
We ended  the day with a visit to this boutique firm. Cindy Kurman started working for the auto industry more than 25 years ago and now specializes in the restaurant industry, although she and her husband and two staffers work with other clients as well. The informal chat enlightened students on the need to think versus just waiting for instructions (something I stress in classes). They shared one fun example of using an events calendar to tag several restaurant clients in a feature style round-up pitch letter about national margarita day. You can see it yourself, along with all their media work, on the agency's "got buzz" blog.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On PR and Business Education

I hear quite often that "PR students should study business." It is uttered as an obvious truth. Certainly it makes some sense that PR people who will be working with counterparts in marketing and finance should be able to read a balance sheet and be conversant in typical business lingo. That's one of the assertions of a recent post on Ragan.com about PR pros getting MBAs. However, if you read  the comments to that post, you'll see there are other advanced  degree options.

I also have an alternative view. I wouldn't discourage an undergrad from taking courses or minoring in business to supplement their PR degree, nor would I stand in the way of a PR professional getting an MBA. But I would raise a few points for consideration:

  • What if you don't end up doing PR for a business? A shock, I know. Most people who work for businesses can't fathom that the PR jobs in the OTHER TWO THIRDS of the labor sector--i.e.  nonprofits and government--outnumber them. For an aspiring PR pro who wants  to work in a nonprofit setting, or for a government agency, taking other classes in public administration, political science or some other discipline would likely make more sense. Don't get me started on the "round-peg-in-the-square-hole" that "this  nonprofit/government should be run like a business." (If only more businesses were run like some outstanding nonprofits  I know....)
  • Do you fear co-option? If you start talking the business language, and feeling compelled to prove your business chops and demonstrate your business thinking, is the PR perspective you bring going to be drowned out? Too often PR is tucked under marketing and seen only as a tactic to accomplish marketing objectives. Is getting a business degree a way of "selling out" to the narrow view that all publics are customers and the only objective is sales? Do you want to be relinquishing your unique and broader PR perspective?
  • Throw the flag for "encroachment." Encroachment is a term in academic literature that describes the phenomenon where a person from one discipline "encroaches" on the responsibilities of another discipline. For example, when the lawyer insists  on being the spokesperson instead of the PR professional, or when the marketing director turns a decent news release into a product literature brochure. Similar  to the above point, if you try too much to talk and think like your business co-workers, they will see that as a sign that your job needs to be done their way too.
  • Groupthink. I first learned about this phenomenon, developed by Irving Janus, in a communication class. It describes situations in which groups make faulty decisions because of a perceived consensus and ignoring alternatives. I don't know if they discuss it in business classes or not. But it seems likely that a management team in a business that stresses a business perspective would perceive unanimity and possibly ignore some good alternatives that, oh I don't know, someone with a PR and communication background and perspective could raise. Better decisions are made when all options and viewpoints are freely expressed to inform the decision making process. PR people think about mutual understanding, conversations, relationships, with all stakeholders. Businesses exist to make a legitimate profit, strive for efficiency, and manage for quarterly goals. But a  PR perspective, which may seem like a warm, fuzzy tangent to a business mind, can lead to "outside the box" strategy, prevent crises, strengthen repeat business, put word  of mouth outreach on legs and yield many other benefits.
It seems that some in the business education community have come around to realizing that hard core business goals of maximizing profit and efficiency are not the only priority or perspective. Just last week Harvard Business School announced it is changing its B-school curriculum to add an increased focus on ethics and teamwork (Wall Street Journal, subscription may be required). 

That's a good start. Another idea, which never comes up when people tell me with rock solid confidence (and arrogance to match) that PR people need to study business, is this: maybe business people should study PR! Most marketing texts treat it in a paragraph in chapter 20. A fundamental problem in many businesses is the limited view of PR as merely media relations. But PR is not a tactic, it's a way of thinking. It is--I'll say it again--broader than marketing in terms of publics and objectives considered. Marketing runs deeper with regard to customers to include everything from product packaging to pricing to channels of distribution.

So, yes, PR people who happen to work in business might benefit from studying business. But business people have an equal incentive to expand their understanding and respect for what public relations is all about. There needs to be what we in PR call a "mutual relationship." If there are any business people who don't understand that, I can recommend some good programs where you can get a master's in communications.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Rockford Man, GR Studio Star in SuperBowl Chrysler Ad

There's been a lot of buzz in West Michigan about the Chrysler ad that aired during the SuperBowl. It made people proud of Detroit and Michigan.

However, some skeptics, including yours truly, wonder how the ad would resonate nationally. The scenes were of cold, industrial Detroit. There was an unmistakable sense of pride but co-mingled with self-pity. It seemed to be a city from the past, especially juxtaposed with another SuperBowl ad from BMW about their Spartanburg, South Carolina manufacturing center. While it had more conventional production values and less drama, it was about America--"designed in America, built in America"--and was bright, clean, and warm.

But if we are going for localized pride, at least we can be proud that the Chrysler ad, although produced by Portland, Oregon based Wieden+Kennedy, had some local talent. That included the voice over by Rockford resident Kevin Yon, as the Freep reports. And at least Wieden+Kennedy partnered with Grand Rapids based Sound Post for the audio recording.

Consumers around the country won't likely know or care about the source of the V.O. and audio work, any more than they'll be moved to buy a car because a city cries out in painful pride. But the ad community knows, and that's a score.