Friday, December 28, 2012

Government PR Needs More Dialog

Like public relations in all sectors, government PR has been embracing blogs, social media, and other tools. But the question is not just that these new tools are being used, but how

In my latest PR and Media blog for the Grand Rapids Business Journal, I review government PR at federal, state and local levels and show that there is room for improvement in terms of two-way communications between governments and citizens.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Millennials and Media: Barometer of Future PR

Two recent studies show some trends among the millennial generation and their media use that may be a barometer of things to come in the larger population in years ahead.

One study reported in the current issue of the Journal of Communication Inquiry  offers interesting perspective about teen news consumption based on interviews with 61 racially diverse high schoolers. It's easy to parrot the complaint that young people don't pay attention to news like they should, but this study shows a more nuanced understanding of youth and the news.

The fact that teens are not reading traditional newspapers and tuning in to conventional television news programs does not mean they are indifferent to news. Rather, they are skeptical about the notion of "objectivity" in the news, both in the sense that it isn't always so objective but also that objectivity does not necessarily inform them fully. For example, they prefer Facebook and social media, where they are exposed to links from "friends" as well as multiple comments. In interviews, teens said this better enables them to hear real pros and cons on issues and not the obtuse glaze of objectivity (the words "obtuse glaze" are mine:-) ). The young people interviewed probably don't realize they are embracing the old concept of a public sphere of dialog about issues but that's what they are doing. It's the peer discussion more than the formal presentation format of news that excites them. As others have said, news is now a process, not a product.

For the same reason, teens gravitate to blogs, fake news shows like Jon Stewart, talk radio, and opinionated current events shows because they feel the discussions that ensue are more substantive and the implications more evident than in conventional news sources. 

One note of evident critical thinking from the teens: they criticize news sites for content that seems more entertaining than informative. In other words, they notice the appeal to reach audiences for advertisers can overwhelm a public interest motivation. 

Meanwhile, another study in Australia, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in late November (hat tip PR professor colleague Tom Watson who shared this on Twitter), showed that 61% of Facebook users aged 18-29 feel they spend too much time on the social media site. This sentiment among the young people was nearly double that of the 753 Australian Facebook users surveyed in the study. What's more, 47% in that 18-29 age group considered disliking Facebook for good because of feeling that it has become a time waster.

Could it be that the young are starting to think of Facebook as "so five years ago?" 

Well, probably not. They also said they would feel left out if they disconnected altogether. My sense is the reason that the young are more likely to say they spend too much time on Facebook is because they young actually DO spend way too much time on Facebook. As the study concluded, users will probably keep their Facebook (and other social media accounts) but usage will probably go down in the future.

The take-away for PR pros about both of these studies is that we should pay attention to "leading edge" studies like this. There may be contradictory studies, since generalization is always a matter of degree. But these studies could be a barometer of a change in news and social media use in the future. People may  use social media less, and when they are there, it will be for more substantive and functional reasons than what has been the case for many in the past. 

So PR people will have to consider:
  • the reach of publicity is not based on subscribers and viewers, but on shares and comments;
  • the comment sections of news sites are not an after-thought to the article, but the place where the real PR action is;
  • providing content that is specifically relevant and genuinely substantive is more important than catching eyeballs with anything that titillates;
  • allowing for not just dialogue, but debate if the content put forth is about contemporary issues;
  • public relations is once again about the "public sphere."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pure Michigan Awarded for Model Online Newsroom

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is well known and lauded for its "Pure Michigan" ad campaigns. Now it has won an award for its online newsroom. The award is well deserved, and the newsroom serves as a good model for other organizations to follow.

I comment more about this on my "PR and Media" blog on

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Bottom Line of Communication Audits

A local practitioner recently contacted me because she had a client who wanted a communication audit. She had lost her notes and resources about communication audits and asked me for a refresher or to reference resources.

So, I thought I would share some basics about communication audits in case others are wondering or perhaps hadn't heard of the practice. By the way, it's something my students do in my Corporate Communications class for clients in the community, and I'm looking for clients for next semester. Read about being a class client and then contact me at GVSU if you are interested.

A communication audit, also called a communication effectiveness study (CES), is like a financial audit. It's an effort to see that everything is accounted for and in balance. The difference is that, whereas a financial audit looks at numbers related to assets and liabilities, a communication audit looks at various aspects of an organization's communication efforts. Based on research I have seen, the management of a business or nonprofit often resist doing communication audits  because they think a) communication audits are too expensive, b) communication audits are unnecessary because they already know what they're doing and it's all good. Such managers should be encouraged to a) think again. There is no b.

The practitioner who contacted me asked for a "checklist." Another word for checklist is template, and those are dangerous in consulting because they ignore organizational nuances and uniqueness. But there are general categories of what should be examined in a communication audit and a few standard methods of how to do so. You want to identify what is being done and where the gaps are that need to be addressed.

What to review in a communications audit

  • Publics. There is no such thing as "the public" or the "general" public. Strategic communication involves segmentation. The more specifically you segment your publics, the more specific you can make your communication. This makes messages more relevant, and therefore more effective. So identify the various specific publics an organization has been or should be reaching. Don't focus only on publics the organization wants to reach; consider  the publics who may want or need information from the organization even if there is no financial relationship.
  • Objectives. There should be specific objectives for each public. To be clear, these are not about what the organization wants to do (what we call "output" objectives), but what we want the publics to do in response to organizational communication (we call these "outcome" objectives). Typically we want publics to: become aware of an organization, cause, product line, issue; develop a deeper and broader understanding and not just a superficial name recognition; develop a positive attitude about whatever is being communicated; or take a specific and relevant action. Think in terms of the 3 As of public response--awareness, attitude, action.
  • Messages. Given the above, does  the organization's current communication stress messages that drive the objectives desired? Too often, organizational leaders say they want a specific action, but their communication is a lame "get the word out" informational method that is vague and unpersuasive. This is a red flag that a good communications audit can catch.
  • Strategies. Related to messages, are there apparent strategies in the messages in terms of persuasive appeal, targeting a specific public and their demographic or psychographic characteristics, timing, focusing on influencers, etc? 
  • Tactics. What specific communication tools are being used? Are they appropriate for the public, objective and message you want to deliver? Sometimes, tactics that would be most  effective are overlooked. At the same time, a tactic like social media that is currently trendy is employed poorly or is not appropriate  for a specific communication objective.
  • Evaluation. Are there evaluation methods embedded in tactics or at least planned regularly to assess whether stated objectives are being met? These could be natural response vehicles such as a reply envelope as well as intentional efforts to engage publics in dialogue, such as online or at regular events.
How to review communications in an audit
  • Depth interviews. A good consultant (and by the way, communication audits work best with an objective outside consultant who doesn't make assumptions and therefore miss red flags) will start by interviewing the president and vice presidents, as well as any level of employee who regularly engages with publics on behalf of an organization. Management and staff should be asked about with whom they communicate, for what purpose, and how. This provides a starting point for the items in the list of what to assess, and often results in obvious disparity between what management and staff think are the key publics and objectives. That can be awkward, but is a huge help to getting things in "balance."
  • Materials review. Collect  every form of communication an organization uses--annual reports, web and social media sites, speeches, newsletters, news releases, brochures, advertisements etc. Review them carefully to see if what is actually being communicated seems to be focused on the publics, objectives, messages etc. stated above. For example, is the language too general with no apparent appeal to the specific interests of a targeted public? Does the message fail to provide  reason to adopt a desired attitude or make a specific call to action?
  • Perception studies. This is the part that can be time consuming and expensive. Some communication audits yield a lot with just the first  two steps above. But this added  step can be of great value because it involves not an internal assessment of communication materials, but actually talking to targeted publics to get reaction. Most often this is done in the form of content analysis of feedback communication (emails, online comments etc.) as well as more  formal focus groups and surveys.
The final communication audit report should show where things are  in balance, and where they are not. The bottom line: is an organization's communication reaching all the right publics, in the right way, with the right messages to accomplish what that organization says it wants its communication to accomplish?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Now Blogging on PR and Media at

I will now be blogging about public relations and media for the new web site of the Grand Rapids Business Journal, at The site is being re-launched this month. I actually blogged about their  online overhaul in a previous post.

I will still be blogging here at GRPR, but I will be providing exclusive blog posts about PR  and media to the site on occasion. I'll link to them from here each time.

My first post is up on the site and reviews the PR Effects of ArtPrize.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Harper's Magazine Details Meijer, Seyferth Story

The October 2012 issue of Harper's Magazine has a lengthy article titled "The Acme Corporation"  (subscription required; article starts on p. 46 in print editions) that recounts the story of Meijer trying to build a new store in Acme, Michigan, near Traverse City. The plans for a store was a local controversial that got statewide attention because of the legal and public relations issues involved. I blogged about the story several times back in 2008 when it happened.

Harper's may have decided to dig up the old story because just this past February the local town board approved the Meijer development. It also was an opportunity to do some old-school anti-corporate blustering.

Of public relations interest in this latest article is the detailed accounts of what Grand Rapids PR firm Seyferth PR billed a local citizens group for services. The group was in favor of a Meijer, and the PR firm helped them with various tactics. The PR firm was paid by Meijer. Some called this a breach of ethics if the firm never disclosed they were helping a "grassroots" group and being paid by a corporation. There was significant and angry discussion of this at a meeting of the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America  (WMPRSA) back at the time.

Ginny Seyferth is quoted in the Harper's piece downplaying what her firm did as being merely "an extra pair of hands." As for any controversy, she says it was Meijer's mistake for not disclosing the billing.

There were a variety of legal suits that came out of this whole ordeal. As for the possible PR improprieties, we once leave it to the court of public opinion.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Why PR People Need to Know the Law

It's a great thing to score big on a "viral video." But sometimes a virus precedes a sickness.

Such was the case with the "pure Michigan" sing a long video made by Rob Bliss and his partners. Turns out the song to sing along to is copyrighted. Oops. All the hoopla about the video hit a sour note.  As you may have read, the video had to be removed from YouTube because of this legal hiccup.

This is a good reminder of why PR people need to know the law. Libel, copyright, trademark, privacy and other laws could determine how or if a PR professional executes a campaign. In an era when it is easy to appropriate songs, text and other content on the internet and appropriate it for some organizational use, it's good to review the basics of copyright law:

  • Protection of works is author's lifetime + 70 years. (This increased under Bill Clinton from 50 years).
  • After that works are said to be in the public domain. So you can't use Sonny Bono songs without permission, but feel free to use Beethoven at will. (But, as I tell my students, you'll have to hurry because he's decomposing).
  • Works do not need to be published to be protected. So, an unpublished dissertation could be copyrighted. Also, it's not just written works, it can be songs, images and even sculpture. (I actually had to make sure no images of a sculpture on loan were used once in my career).
  • One does not need to register to be copyrighted. If you put the © symbol on it, it is copyrighted. The law presumes a creative work is protected from the moment it is created in some tangible form.
  • Fair use means a portion may be used (the size relative to the total work must be small. E.g. 300 words of a 400 word poem is an infringement, 20 words is not.) The source must be attributed regardless, and any verbatim use must be in quotes.

So go ahead, try to get viral. But be careful you don't get infected by a festering legal situation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

PR Ethics Month Matters

September is the annual PRSA "Ethics Awareness Month."  I have two anecdotes that illustrate why singling out a month to emphasize ethics matters.

This ethics emphasis has been going on for quite a few years. I recall nearly 10 years ago when a faculty colleague of mine was up for review and she mentioned some of the activities she had done with PR students related to this emphasis on ethics in their chosen profession. A colleague from photography scoffed: "you mean you PR people are only ethical for one month?"

I get this a lot even today from colleagues in other communications fields. In one breath they refer to something as "just PR" and then turn to me and ask for help promoting their next play or exhibit.

But back to the tenure review meeting and the haughty and ignorant photography professor. I pointed out that ethics month is when the PR profession places special emphasis on ethics; they don't abandon ethical considerations the rest of the year. In the same way that believers go to church on Sunday (or Saturday) to worship together but don't abandon their faith the rest of the year. And by the way, I noted, shouldn't my PR colleague be lauded for stressing ethics outside the classroom? Which of our other communications major programs or their related professional associations have an annual special emphasis on ethics, which includes components for students and aspiring professionals?

The tenure review meeting momentarily become a demonstration of nonverbal communication.

(Years later that same photography professor was delighted to bring a guest to campus to speak about photography. The title of his remarks: "The pleasures of deception?" Irony anyone?).

Fast forward to this past spring when I was at my local PRSA chapter's annual awards program. I was having a delightful conversation at my table with a man from a local media outlet. He was there to see a colleague collect an award for an effort  to promote the outlet. He had a mixed drink in front of him. I think it was a cocktail of ignorance and anger, because the conversation turned sour and his thinking was slurred.

We had been talking about all things media, and that led to my bringing up branded journalism, in which PR people increasingly are  creating their own content on web sites, mobile platforms, social media and other channels to get relevant information directly to their key publics. As part of this, I noted, PR people don't rely as much on conventional news media to share information, and they may provide content that is not always just about their own organizations but related industry information.

This was when he talk a long swallow of his fear on the rocks and belched out an expletive and a proclamation that such a model will never work because people will never trust such information. I mentioned that people long have and still do trust organizations with a record of providing honest information, and that sometimes getting it directly from an organization as  opposed to via a media filter is even more complete, relevant and timely to people. I also mentioned that his concerns are real for some practitioners, but most PR people I know provide truthful and relevant information that serves and does not deceive people.

I also mentioned the PRSA Code of Ethics, and how we stress it in every class in our PR program where I teach. I told him that, contrary to the stereotype and mind-numbing nonsense he was imbibing about PR people, most practitioners realize that in this era of transparency consistent ethics is sound strategy.

"Well," he sputtered (and I use the word "well" in place of his chosen utterance, which was a concise way of describing that which male cattle deposit on pastures) "you can teach ethics  all you want but if you get PAID to provide information...." He trailed off. Maybe because his thinking was slurred even more. Or maybe because someone was at the podium starting the program.

I later tried to turn to him to respond to his folly. First of all, his assertion that being paid leads to unethical behavior begs the question of media credibility for journalists like himself who are paid. You will search in vain for a statement in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics for a prohibition of receiving pay to report the news. Secondly. the evidence to debunk him is overwhelming. My own research and that of other academics shows the public trusts information from PR sources, depending on reputation and other variables. Also, we could have looked around the room that night at all the PR professionals from our local chapter collecting awards for tactics and campaigns that were brilliant and successful....and ethical.

But when I turned in my chair to say all this, he was gone. His colleague had collected his own PR award and he took off. Maybe he needed to go cash his check. I wish he would have stayed. He could have learned what PR is, and practiced the first  statement of the SPJ Code of Ethics: "seek the truth and report it." Unfortunately he, like many, will persist in ignorant and hypocritical perpetuation of the myth that PR is unethical by definition.

So, yes, "Ethics Awareness Month" matters for the PR profession. But we shouldn't keep it to ourselves. There's a world of professors, journalists, and others out there who need to know that public relations is an inherently ethical profession. It often depends on PR professionals having knowledge of the Code of Ethics, which often is more likely when they have a degree in PR, membership in PRSA or the APR accreditation. If people practice PR as a profession stressing "mutually beneficial relationships" as our modern definition does, it's hard not to be ethical. If they practice it as something else, it just really isn't PR.

Friday, August 17, 2012

GRBJ Preps for Digital Launch

The Grand Rapids Business Journal is reaching out to attract an online editor and reporters for the October launch of its

I first learned about the digital hires and new online emphasis appropriately on Facebook.

Not only does this provide opportunity for good business journalists with online skills, it changes the local media landscape in several ways. For one, the site currently is proprietary, requiring a subscriber log-in to read full text of articles. Secondly, the current online content largely mirrors that of the weekly print product. The new site looks to have real-time reporting and presumably more open access.

For PR pros, this broadens the audience and shortens the deadlines. It means seeing the GRBJ as not just a long-lead business publication with an influential albeit limited audience. From now on, the weekly can be considered  for both long-form print articles and added to the mix with TV, radio, MLive and others for breaking news and rapid-pace social media shares.

Come October, there will be more urgency and diversity in local business coverage. That will force both journalists and PR pros to be more on their toes, as well as their laptops and smart phones. It will also give me one more thing to talk about in my media relations class this fall:-)

Monday, June 11, 2012

LEA Wins Two Bulldog PR Awards

Lambert, Edwards & Associates (LE&A), a Grand Rapids public relations firm with offices in Lansing and Detroit, received two 2012 Bulldog Awards (see full list of winners), which recognize excellence in public relations and media campaigns.  

The firm received a Gold award in the Best New Product Launch-Consumer category for its ‘A Better-for You-SNAK’ campaign on behalf of Phoenix-based Inventure Foods, Inc. The campaign created awareness for Inventure’s new Caribbean Passion® flavor of Jamba® “at home” smoothies and its Boulder Canyon™ line of Totally Natural snack chips. During the 12-month span of the 2011 campaign, LE&A earned an estimated 65 million impressions, including national television segments on Food Network and Rachael Ray, magazine features in Men’s Health, Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Health, Rachael Ray Magazine, etc., and an Associated Press feature that ran in more than 120 newspapers nationwide.

LEA also received a Bronze award in the Best Education/Public Service Campaign category for its ‘Movers for Moms’ program for international moving company Two Men and a Truck. The Movers for Moms program aims to support moms in need on Mother’s Day. LE&A effectively expanded the Michigan-based program from working with fewer than 10 shelters to a semi-national program supporting 50 shelters in 14 states. LE&A generated more than 3,100 unique media hits for Two Men and a Truck and more than 65,000 items were collected and distributed to women living in shelters.

The 2012 Bulldog Awards honor campaigns in 35 various public relations and media relations categories. The Bulldog Awards are the only awards program judged exclusively by journalists and bloggers. LE&A’s accomplishments will be recognized in the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog online trade journal and The Bulldog Awards “Hall of Fame” online magazine.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Michigan Obesity Site Pushes Awareness, Not Action

I noticed a TV 8 story about the State of Michigan launching a new web site to fight obesity. I was interested, not because  I am obese or smoke or don't have healthy recipes, but because you read or hear about obesity constantly and I was curious to know what the state is doing to address it.

It's a noble goal. And the information on the web site is good information--tips, tools, quizzes and other items to inform people about healthy behaviors.

My problem is that  the goal is to change behavior, but the effort is mostly the old-fashioned "get the word out." State officials are quoted in the TV 8 piece as saying people KNOW they're overweight but they don't DO anything about it. So why do they communicate  as if people lack knowledge instead of truly addressing the behavioral problem.

Students in my fundamentals of PR class (and subsequent ones) learn that there are essentially three types of objectives in public relations campaigns, including health campaigns like this one. I call them the "3 As": awareness, attitude, and action. You generally want to change one or more of those in your target public. But too many clients, co-workers and amateurs say "we just need to raise awareness" or "we need to get the word out." That often is only useful if you ONLY want people to be aware, but not so much to yield attitudinal or behavioral change.

The state's web site is useful, but I wonder how effective it will be without other tactics and communication strategies that address people's attitudes about health, themselves, their responsibility and so forth. Also, if they state the largest problem is people's inaction, then dumping info--some of which they may already have--on a web site is not likely to get them any more active.

In other words, the campaign against obesity needs more than information to address deeper objectives. Each of the 3 As requires a different type of communication strategy:


Persuasive  and motivational strategies  would include tactics that push messages to people, as opposed to expecting them to visit a web site on the basis  of news  articles. These might include ads in appropriate  media, point-of-purchase display messages about healthy food, speaking opportunities  at public events, and so on. The messages themselves should go beyond health tips and persuade and motivate with strategies that address consequences of inaction, the effect of their own obesity or unhealthy habits on children and other loved ones, the benefits of good health beyond merely being healthy. Other strategies should address people's sense of self-efficacy to do something about a personal weight or health problem, elicit teamwork or peer  pressure motivators, and other incentives beyond mere information to get people off  the couch.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

LinkedUp GR Hits 10,000

The social networking group LinkedUp Grand Rapids has reached 10,000 members. Local social media consultant Mike Yoder, manager of the group, is planning a day-long celebration May 15 at venues all over town, with the hub being the Biggby Coffee downtown where participants can get maps and information about the other venues.

Yoder started the group in 2008, and has seen it grow to the largest business networking group on LinkedIn in Michigan. Basic membership is free, with enhanced benefits through a "Platinum Membership." The group has large quarterly meetings for networking, with 5x25 events for a limited group of 25 for more intimate business relationship building. Yoder guarantees that participants at these events leave with at least 5 leads, connections, referrals, or ideas, in keeping with the group purpose of "building trusted business relationships through virtual and networked business opportunities."

"I think the success and growth has come as a result of being in the right place at the right time and recognizing the opportunity," Yoder says. "It's also due to the fact that I try to manage discussions and content carefully, keeping it focussed on discussions that are relevant, interesting, and helpful for group members."

In the future, Yoder is looking to develop student chapters  at area  colleges and universities.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

From the Journals: Ad Avoidance, User-Generated Content, Nonprofit Twitter Use

Continuing my periodic review of academic journal articles for public relations students and professionals who read my blog, I found three articles in recently published journals that I think will be of interest. Here are citations and key finding summaries:

Lovejoy, K; Waters, RD; Saxton, GD. “Engaging stakeholders through Twitter: How nonprofit organizations are getting more out of 140 characters or less.” Public Relations Review , 38 (2):313-318; JUN 1 2012
A review of 4655 tweets from 73 nonprofit organizations showed that the nation's largest nonprofits are not using Twitter to fully engage stakeholders. Instead, they use social media mostly as a one-way communication channel.  Less than 20% of total tweets demonstrate conversations;  only 16% demonstrate indirect connections to specific users.

Baek, TH; Morimoto, M. “STAY AWAY FROM ME Examining the Determinants of Consumer Avoidance of Personalized Advertising” Journal Of Advertising , 41 (1):59-76; SPR 1 2012
People concerned about privacy or simply irritated by ads in personal media are more likely to avoid ads altogether. But, if they perceive the ads have been personalized to their needs and interest consumers are less likely to avoid ads. In other words, it’s not the channel of mobile or social media, but the ad content itself that makes a campaign successful or not.

Christodoulides, G; Jevons, C; Bonhomme, J. “Memo to Marketers: Quantitative Evidence for Change How User-Generated Content Really Affects Brands” Journal Of Advertising Research , 52 (1):53-64; MAR 1 2012
The findings indicate that when consumers perceive they are co-creating brand content, part of its community, and have a positive self-concept they are more likely to be involved in user-generated content (UGC.) This in turn positively affects consumer-based brand equity. They key is building deeper relationships between consumers and brands in the age of social media.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Good PR of Happy Employees

First, a self-disclosure: I worked for a brief period at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. But I'm not writing about them now because of that connection.

Rather, it's a response to an article in MLive about GRCF being named number 6 on a Nonprofit Times list of "50 Best Nonprofits to Work for in 2012."

I'm always a little dubious of national publications generating "best of" lists, or lists of any kind. They tend to read as "Desperate Attempts to Get Attention to Boost Our Flagging Subscriptions and Ad Sales."

But this list, and the justification for it, caught my eye. The article this list generated gives GRCF some publicity, but that's not the real PR value. Essentially, it shows why and how employee relations is good public relations.

Public relations is about establishing mutually beneficial relationships with ALL publics. Too many in the communication profession think all publics are customers, or that PR is all about media. But that's a simplistic view.

Employees are the face, the brand, the essence of organizations. They meet the public face to face more often and in more ways than the top management does. If they come off as less than happy, less than knowledgeable, less than affects the messaging, the branding, the operations, the reputation and the success of an organization.

As many men say about marriage--"Happy wife, happy life"--the same is true of employees and organizations.

Add to that the fact that good employees with the right skill sets and personal attributes can be hard to find. Any organization should have as one of its objectives to be seen as "an employer of choice" so that when they are in a position to hire, their reputation as an organization--not merely the job opportunity--helps them attract the best employees.

GRCF shows that they are doing things recommended by PR professionals and academics who specialize in employee or internal communications. President Diana Sieger speaks of the intentional effort to make every employee feel they are an integral part of organizational success. Employees speak of GRCF valuing innovation, encouraging work-life balance, involving everyone in strategic planning, and maintaining open relationships with management.


Congratulations to GRCF, and thanks for the positive example.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GR's People Design Authors Brand Identity Book

I was reading through the book review section of the latest Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly before a class earlier this week, and the words "Grand Rapids" jumped out at me from one review.

Turns out the authors of a new book on brand identity are all members of the Grand Rapids advertising design firm People Design. Specifically, the authors are Kevin Budelman, Yang Kim, and Curt Wozniak.

The book, the fourth in a series of 'essentials' books by Rockport Publishing, is "Brand Identity Essentials: 100 Principles for Designing Logos and Building Brands."  As the author's say on their own web site

"The book lays a foundation for brand-building, defining the tools and building blocks, and illustrating the construction of strong brands through examples by world-class design strategists."

The journal reviewer took issue with the order of presentation of some of the principles, and the brevity of text explaining and justifying them. However, it is recommended for the many examples provided.

As such, the book might be a valuable resource for advertising and public relations pros who want to enhance their understanding of branding, or who understand it conceptually but need help with the design aspect of it.

I bought the book as a resource to add to my crowded shelves. Also, since the firm is from Grand Rapids, it's another way to 'buy local.'

Friday, February 17, 2012

PR Lessons Learned from MLive Visit

It was a full house in the new MLive offices in downtown Grand Rapids for the February program of the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA).

A panel of Grand Rapids Press/MLive staff members gave a thoughtful and comprehensive overview of how the changes in print and digital distribution of news that launched earlier this month affect not only news consumers but public relations professionals.

Here are a few take-aways from the presentation and the questions from PR professionals in the room:

  • MLive is a digital medium. That puts them in the same space (i.e the Web) at least partially with broadcast media. One editor responded enthusiastically to a PR pro's question about submitting video content. So, get on your game PR people--the "paper" is accepting b-roll and audio now.
  • Also because of the digital medium, PR professionals should notice that the "paper" is a finite product but there is room for more coverage online even if the print product can't accommodate a story. News also breaks constantly online, so PR people have to stay on their toes.
  • One of the new roles for journalists is "community engagement" manager (Todd Fettig). Just as PR professionals work to engage publics for their companies and nonprofit organizations, MLive is intentionally working on the same thing. This means encouraging reader response and expecting journalists to stay on a story after it has 'published.' As others have said, online media is making news not a product but a process. The word for PR pros? Don't just write letters to the editor or email reporters about their stories, jump into the "public sphere" of commentary on local issues. Just as journalists can't simply move on to the next story any more, PR professionals can't merely "count clips" but must adopt an attitude of continued engagement in media directly with the public.
  • The Press and its sister publications in what was Booth Newspapers and is now the MLive Media Group are no longer completely separate. They are collaborating across  the state. So the local news in one paper might be picked up in another in the same way as an AP wire story is picked up. Also, government, sports and politics reporting is statewide. So there are staff members in Lansing covering education and politics for Grand Rapids readers, and John Gonzales is covering entertainment for and from all of Michigan. This means PR professionals don't always have to pitch stories market by market in these cities and regions, but can see MLive as a statewide outlet if the news is in the right beat or a big enough story to make multiple editions.
  • Speaking of sports, one local sports information director asked about the new portal being used for some high schools and colleges, in particular for less popular sports, to submit scores and game information to MLive. The PR pro wondered what would happen if negative news happened at a school--would MLive "bite the hand that feeds it" news in such a case. Paul Keep, former Press editor and now MLive editor of print, had a good answer: in the same way that their health section takes medical columns from local hospitals but they still cover health news, they will still do stories on local schools even if they've been receiving sports information from them. In my view it's not a big issue. Just as journalists and PR pros have always had to maintain a separation between advertising and editorial, now they have to remain professional about providing supplied  information (clearly labeled as such by the way) and legitimate news coverage. In the case of sports scores, I would say that is factual information and with MLive not having the staff for the legions of sports and schools, this is a service to those schools and the public to find an efficient way to carry that information.
  • Just as is happening across the country, MLive reporters and columnists will have their own "brand" as individuals in addition to the MLive brand overall. Each advertises their individual Facebook and Twitter accounts in addition to the official MLive brand pages. Many PR pros are already on top of this--part of media relations today means friending and following--and setting RSS feeds when possible--specific beat reporters and columnists relevant to your clients or organizations. Just remember to keep those relationships professional and remember that everyone is watching, as I noted in an earlier post.
It's a new media world. Have fun out there.

Friday, February 03, 2012

New MLive Grand Rapids Contact Info

The Grand Rapids Press completed its digital conversion and physical move to a new hub yesterday.

Here's the contact info for news staffers.

A few things for PR people to notice:

  • The title "producer" is not just for TV anymore. Think about offering b-roll and other video opportunities to the newspaper when you pitch stories.
  • Some of the staffers focus statewide as well as local. Keep scope of audience in mind when pitching.
  • They have a 'Today Show' style room with glass wall right on the sidewalk in their new space downtown for video interviews. Bring clients and yourself over there for interviews in advance of and/or in addition to the article coverage you pitch.
  • Every reporter has social media contact information in addition to email. A phone, apparently, is not for actually calling anymore, but for email and engagement. So follow your key beat reporters and editors on Facebook and Twitter. This is best for getting a sense of reporters' interests. Pitching via social media requires some savvy because it is done in public. So use your judgment there.
Back to work everyone.

Monday, January 30, 2012

MLive Goes Live, Getting Ready for Close Up

It's been interesting to watch the news executives at MLive Media Group doing public relations and blogger outreach in the gear-up to the bow of its new digital/print product and home in a 'hub' in downtown Grand Rapids later this week.

After blogging recently about MLive facing a new competitive environment with the increase of local news bureaus at the Rapidian, including some branded journalism efforts of local nonprofits, I was invited to take a tour of MLive's new downtown space with Grand Rapids Press Community News Director Julie Hoogland.

Ari Adler got a similar treatment from MLive Media Group President Danny Gaydou, as Adler recounts in his own blog.

Hoogland had taken issue with my indication that the Press was losing staff capacity. Of course my sense of that was largely informed by the numerous farewells of long-time Press staffers on Twitter, Facebook, and in person. Hoogland maintains that many were offered jobs but chose to take a buyout and move on to new ventures. What remains is a large number of veteran journalists, as well as some savvy young ones who have graduated from area college journalism programs. So she says quality journalism will remain. She also points out that capacity will not suffer as formerly independent Booth papers work more  collaboratively on statewide news, including coverage of Lansing, major league sports, entertainment and other subjects. Meanwhile, each of the local papers  will continue to stress local coverage.

In the new hub across from Rosa Parks Circle, Hoogland showed excitement at the possibilities. The ground floor will have a studio with a window on the sidewalk, similar to New York City morning network TV programs, for video interviews of newsmakers. Job titles include the word "producer," indicative of the new multi-media nature of news gathering and reporting by MLive and its various digital entities.

The public will also be welcome to walk-in and visit on the main floor. The second floor news room looks strikingly like a college computer classroom, with modern Steelcase chairs at long tables where journalists will work adjacent to each other when they're not out in the community.

"Previous changes were triage; this is embracing the future," Hoogland said.

She did change my view about the potential for both the quality and quantity of news coverage in the new model. I am excited  and hopeful that the "newspaper" we have known and loved will adapt and thrive, both locally and nationally.

But I still maintain that the MLive launch later this week puts it into a new media landscape. The Press will co-exist and/or compete with with citizen journalism, other print media, television, and news content directly  from companies, nonprofits and government entities--all of which will have a digital presence as well. Just as young people have lost the distinction between cable and network, in the online/mobile/social mix of 24/7 information, news consumers may lose at least some of the distinction between print and broadcast, as well as between third party news reports and direct sources of information.

I eagerly await their close-up.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

From the Journals: Search Ads, Mobile Politics, Online Sources

Search ad impact, mobile political discourse, and online news source credibility are some of the interesting subjects in current academic journals. Public relations and advertising practitioners don't have the time, and often the access, to academic journals, so I periodically give a brief summary of articles I find interesting. I provide source information for anyone who wants to access them via an academic library.

Incremental Clicks: The Impact of Search Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 51(4), 643-647.
A meta-analysis of several hundred studies revealed that 89% of visits to advertisers' web sites were the result of search ad campaigns. Obviously this shows the value of search advertising as part of an effective campaign in which an objective is to drive traffic to a product page or other site.

Political Involvement in "Mobilized" Society: The Interactive Relationships Among Mobile Communication, Network Characteristics, and Political Participation. Journal of Communication, 61(6), 1005-1024.
This study looked at how mobile-mediated discourse is related to political participation. Essentially, political participation increases in large networks of like-minded individuals, but decreases when mobile technology is used in smaller homogenous networks. This would indicate that a strategy to increase mobile networks would be effective in efforts to get out the vote.

Source Cues in Online News: Is the Proximate Source More Powerful Than Distal Sources? Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 88(4), 719-736.
Readers have lots of sources of news online--a media site, an aggregator, a bookmarking page, shared links via Twitter or Facebook, and so on. This study showed that highly involved (i.e. deeply interested in subject, more seriously considering content) will consider both proximate and distal sources, or those that are close and identifiable as well as distant or second-hand sources. Meanwhile, readers of low-involvement are primarily influenced by a proximate source. This has interesting implications for messaging as well as a social media delivery strategy to reach and resonate with intended publics.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Nonprofit Shows Glimpse of Media Future

An recent item in the citizen journalism outlet The Rapidian offers a glimpse of the local media future. The article notes the debut this month of a news bureau dedicated to environmental news. It shows the further growth of alternative niche media outlets that are a significant presence in the local media landscape.

This is interesting on several levels. For one, it shows that even as adapts and morphs from a collection of local newspapers on actual paper to a digital hub, it faces competition. The same is true for local television stations highlighting hyper-local areas on their web sites  and apps, such as WZZM TV13's "My Town" effort. There was a time when the Grand Rapids Press and Muskegon Chronicle had reporters dedicated to the environment beat. Now they still cover  environmental issues--there is even an 'environment' category on the mobile app--but they don't cover  it as often.

The reason mainstream media don't cover things like the environment with regularity is for economic reasons. Conventional media are market-driven. They are caught in a cycle of losing readers and viewers, which leads to lost ad revenue, which lead to less staff to cover everything. They are trying to recapture that by getting more local, but this puts them in a new competitive ballpark.

Citizen journalism projects are content-driven. They operate with grants, underwriters and donations. Support may come in the form of ads eventually. But for now they are not averse to content that yields smaller audience. In fact, that is their purpose, as evidenced by the series of news bureaus launching focused at the neighborhood or topical level. Readers can subscribe via RSS feed to the specific neighborhood or topic of interest to them in the community.

Another interesting aspect of all of this is the source of the news. The Rapidian seeks "journalists and aspiring journalists" for these bureaus. Some of them will be journalism students in internships. Others may be laid off journalists doing freelance work. But nonprofit organizations will also be providing news for these bureaus. As an example, the Creston Neighborhood Association  will be a primary source of neighborhood news for that bureau. The West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) appears to be running the environment news bureau.

Some people might wonder about the credibility and quality of news being provided by young or even untrained journalists. But keep in mind several things. First, is downsizing and rehiring a leaner, younger staff too. Who is to say The Rapidian site won't be equally credible? In fact, in the case of the environmental news bureau, WMEAC's  Executive Director Rachel Hood has a background in public relations, and their Communications Director Dan Schoonmaker is a former journalist and public relations professional (see their staff directory bios).

Secondly, the news has always been largely supplied indirectly from businesses, nonprofits, government spokespeople and other sources. It's been called "information subsidy." The way The Rapidian is doing it is more transparent. That relates to the final point, that the public will have to be thoughtful and critical of all information they consume, even as they are now with local and national "mainstream" news. I would also hope that WMEAC will be magnanimous and offer news from other environmentally focused nonprofit organizations, and that they are fair and even-handed vs. activist if there is an environmental story with multiple points of view.

It's also important to note that what The Rapidian is doing will supplement mainstream news such as and other local print and broadcast outlets. The advantage of The Rapidian for PR professionals is a greater chance of getting news publicized than in the busy conventional media outlets. It's also possible to reach a smaller niche audience of people most interested in your subject. However, smart PR pros will also keep in mind the need to reach people who are not currently interested or engaged, and the best way to reach them is through a greater mass distribution that conventional mainstream media will offer.

In short, there will be more outlets for public relations professionals to consider, and more news for the public to consume.