Thursday, June 30, 2011

Whirlpool Represents West Michigan in 2011 PRSA Bronze Anvil Winners

Benton Harbor based Whirlpool has won a Bronze Anvil in the 2011 awards given annually by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).  The home appliance manufacturer is the only West Michigan winner in this years list of awards.

Bronze Anvil awards recognize excellence in public relations tactics, ranging from media relations to annual reports, web sites, social media and other communication tools.

PRSA also gives Silver Anvil awards each year to recognize the best in comprehensive  campaigns in a variety of categories. There were no West Michigan winners on the 2011 list of Silver Anvil winners.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Did Perkins Slam the Door?

The closure of Perkins Restaurants, including a half dozen here in West Michigan as well as 65 around the country, happened suddenly. A total of 2,500 employees showed up for work to find locked doors and a closure notice.

The restaurant chain has reasons for the large number of store closures. The Wall Street Journal reports they have filed for bankruptcy after struggling like everyone else in this economy. But a business that bills itself as 'family' -- Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery -- may have seemed a little dysfunctional in closing its doors  to workers without warning. These are the people who tend to work paycheck to paycheck, and a little lead time would seem to be the compassionate deed in a 'family' business.

However, we've seen this sort  of thing before. When Cracker Barrel closes stores, including the one on Alpine near I-96 in Grand Rapids a few years ago, it was also done by note on the door. In retail, decisions like these are often made based on market share, competitive analysis and same-store sales (those that have been open more than a year and are not enjoying sales simply because they are new). It's a business, and it makes no sense to stay open if there's no profit.

But from a PR standpoint, how a business closes would seem to matter. Unfortunately, relationships have two sides. I know an investor in Cracker Barrel who was told at an annual meeting that when they used to announce store closures in advance they would see a rash of employees simply not show up as they looked for new jobs, many of them took store property with them on the way.

So, the sudden closures have become the norm to prevent further erosion of assets from employee shoplifting and reputation damage from bad customer service when employees don't show up.

It's unfortunate from a public relations perspective that a relationship with employees needs to be terminated so abruptly. The spokeswoman for Perkins was vague in statements given to local media about the closings and care for employees. I would hope that, after the fact and behind the scenes, management is giving employees some severance pay, and maybe a chance to say goodbye to each other. "Closure" has different connotations when it comes to relationships, and business reputation depends on that as well.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Grand Rapids Lip Dub and PR Value

There's no doubt the Grand Rapids lip dub video made a big splash. It set records for YouTube hits and garnered an impressive amount of media coverage both locally and nationally. A casual observer would conclude this is fantastic for Grand Rapids.

Certainly there's much to like about it. In fact, the video was almost as good as the one done last fall by the film/video students and faculty in the Grand Valley State University School of Communications (he said without any bias whatsoever).

But a critical PR mind goes beyond the "all publicity is good publicity" simplicity commonly attributed to circus showman PT Barnum. What will all this lib dub hubbub really do for Grand Rapids? There are a couple of questions to consider:

  • Awareness, attitude, action. I call these the 3 As of public relations measurement, whether from media relations or any other PR activity. There is no doubt the lip dub generated awareness, but is it changing attitudes? Maybe, but most of the comments are about the video itself and not necessarily a resulting positive perception of the city. You also have to wonder what people know about Grand Rapids beyond the few downtown scenes--maybe the video will be a catalyst to read more, and social media no doubt will have influence. Finally, will the lib dub result in desired actions by key publics, such as more business and tourist visits to the city? Possibly, but not necessarily.
  • Exposure, outcome, engagement. These are other levels of measurement in PR, similar  to the ones above. Exposure is what has most people excited because of the record number of views and media coverage. Outcome can broken down into the 3 As mentioned above--what was the result of the exposure? Lots of people saw the video, but so what? Engagement has to do with feedback and longevity. Is the city--it's government, businesses, institutions etc.--having on-going dialogue with publics with whom it has not previously interacted, through social media and other means. 
  • Tone, accuracy. Most of the coverage  I have seen has been positive. National media figures give kudos to Grand Rapids for responding to Newsweek calling it a 'dying city' and forcing the magazine to concede it erred. It's a good narrative. Others just liked the video and thought Grand Rapids looked like a great city. But it's always good to not just count clippings--you have to see what all that media is actually saying. Accuracy is another issue--Roger Ebert paid a great compliment to the video but referred to CEDAR Rapids--he corrected his error later. But it shows how messages don't always penetrate intact. Speaking of which, what was the message? Did it get through? To whom? 
  • Lasting effect, brand. Research shows us that attitudes are fickle, subject to change from positive to negative. They are also short-lived, receding to a latent or unconscious state quickly. Sure, we're all the rage now. But in a week or a month the views of the video and the media  reports about it will dwindle, and talk will move quickly to dogs dining in a restaurant or some other meme or amusement. That's why many say initial publicity helps build a brand but ongoing public relations activity is needed to maintain it, whether that be more videos, links from existing on-line presence, social media continuity, or a paid advertising campaign that piggybacks off the lip dub attention. But then you have to wonder what the brand is: "Grand Rapids = American Pie"? "Grand Rapids = The City That Did a Lip Dub"? A strategy is needed to integrate this video with ArtPrize, the entrepreneurial business environment, the medical mile and other aspects of the city's brand.
The last scene in the video was "Experience Grand Rapids" spelled out on the lawn of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum as viewed from a helicopter. I wouldn't be surprised if the staff over there will dovetail measuring the effect of the lip dub with all their other efforts to promote the city.