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.

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