Wade PR Peanut Butter

July 31, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — It wasn’t a break that propelled Clare Wade to launch what is today one of the region’s most successful and recognizable single-proprietor public relations firms, Clare Wade Communications. She wouldn’t even call it an opportunity.

“Career break? Yeah, I was so glad National City bought First of America so I was out of work for six months,” Wade jokes. “I had to come up with something to do. I was looking for a job and kind of made my own.”

She recently gave a presentation to a human resources conference concerning the ceremonial switching of corporate sweatshirts — the cultural shift of “rooting for a new team” that comes with mergers and acquisition.

In 1998, Wade was in her first year as the Kalamazoo vice president of employee communications for First of America Bank Corp. when she was asked to give up her First of America Bank red for National City Bank green. The new duds came with a position in Cleveland

A veteran of agency work in Indianapolis and Chicago, Wade had relocated to West Michigan in 1987 when her husband, Tom Koetsier, accepted a position at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. A native of Grand Haven, Koetsier introduced his Hoosier bride to Fricano’s pizza and West Michigan. She put down roots in the region, continuing her agency work at Aves Advertising and later Sefton Associates, both in Grand Rapids

She opted to take advantage of the bank’s outplacement service over relocation, and began an exercise in networking and relationship-building that continues to this day.

“I treated it like an interview process,” she said. “I called everyone I knew: agencies, companies, people from not-for-profit boards.”

Initially, she was seeking a return to agency work.

“When that didn’t materialize — and what really makes sense in retrospect — I began working with design firms,” Wade said, citing early partners Square One Design and Fairly Painless Advertising. “They could provide design, literature, advertising and other communications, but didn’t have PR.”

Wade found that many of the region’s most talented creative firms were missing what she saw as a core marketing discipline. Her fledgling firm essentially created a virtual agency environment by uniting the skills of communications partners with her as the “PR peanut butter” holding the pieces together.

During the process, Wade’s services evolved beyond traditional communications services. She still performs core PR functions such as copywriting and media outreach for many clients — she credits working with the various creative firms with improving all of those skills. Several companies, however, have integrated her service into their management practices.

“With us, it was the first time we’d done PR work,” said Anna Zaharakos, founder of textile design shop Studio Z. “We were novices at this, and she helped us come up with a strategy and walked us right through it.”

In similar fashion, Wade has guided successful communications programs for furniture manufacturer izzydesign and its parent company JSJ Corp., as well as for the city of Grand Rapids’ master plan initiative, Zone Grand Rapids. Other clients include SPX Corp. and Alticor Inc.

“It was really the best money we’ve ever spent,” said Zaharakos. “I don’t think a big agency would have tailored what they did for us like that.”

Wade suspects most people don’t have a solid understanding of public relations.

“It is a very holistic discipline,” she said. “I think communications between people on the inside is just as important, if not more important, than talking to customers or people outside of your organization. It touches every piece, every part of an organization.”

Through her work with the local chapters of the Public Relations Society of America and Ad Club, Wade has become the “PR peanut butter” for much of the region’s communications community.

“She is the true PR professional,” said Tyler Andrew, public relations manager for Grand Rapids insurance company Priority Health and current president of the PRSA chapter. “Communications, networking, relationship-building — and not just with the media like some agencies do — she really is the complete package.”

Andrew explained that Wade has been instrumental in putting forward those values in the chapter’s actions. When he first came to the area four years ago, Wade’s was the first phone call he received.

“I try to help people wherever I can,” she said. “It wasn’t that long ago that I was new to this area. PRSA was how I met people.”

It also wasn’t that long ago that Wade was trying to introduce herself to the market as a new company. Within a year she was managing one of the region’s most significant launches of the last half century: the opening of RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville.

“It’s all relative,” Wade said. “It may have seemed quick, but it took a good year to get going. That’s a long time when you don’t have a paycheck coming.”

She called her involvement in launching the shopping center “a girl’s dream come true.”

Wade’s husband now is also an independent businessperson, as principal of Koetsier Realty LLC.    

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