Future of PR is digital, PR experts tell PR folk

January 25, 2010
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Today, there’s tweeting and friending. Tomorrow, who knows?

“We don’t know what it’s going to be, but we have to be ready for it,” Jeff Lambert, president and managing partner of Lambert Edwards & Associates, last week told members of the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

WMPRSA members picked the brains of Lambert and Tom Hanley, director of communications for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, for clues about the future of public relations.

The future is mostly digital, they said.

“Gen X, Gen Y — they want something they respond to, on their time, on the phone, after work,” said Hanley.

They agreed that social networking will survive and morph into forms they can’t predict. But CEOs nervous about bad publicity through social networking are missing the point, Lambert said. “I spend a lot of time talking CEOs off the ledge.”

The Children’s Hospital started a fan page on Facebook last year and now has 7,700 friends, Hanley said. The hospital developed a social media policy, he said, despite the reluctance of some executives. But, he pointed out, people have the same conversations, positive or negative, at the grocery store as they do on Facebook.

“Social media is a conversation; it’s not a push media, it’s not an ad,” Lambert added. He said spending on social media is expected to increase by 35 percent over the next five years.

But they predicted that more sites will start limiting the ability of commenters to hide behind user names and will develop more accountability measures to boost credibility.

Lambert said he sees more “convergence,” with public relations melding with marketing and advertising. At the same time that convergence would elevate the status of PR within a company, it also would take the relationship-building characteristics and meld into the sales pitch of marketing.

Public relations will develop specialization categories, he added, and will become a service offered by law firms.

He urged PR students to take such courses as marketing, human resources and sales to understand the way business works.

“We have to understand and own branding,” he said. “We’ve already lost search engine optimization to marketing. We are in danger of losing social media. It’s almost viewed as a marketing function.”

Lambert also said he expects that Grand Rapids’ economic stability — as compared to the Detroit area — will draw a public relations firm with a national or regional footprint within the next 10 years.

DWM gets national press

In the most recent issue of I.D. Magazine, which covers the industry of industrial design and more, Design West Michigan, led by John Berry, was highlighted as one of the “40 Transformative Design Projects.”

The article gives a brief summary of Design West Michigan, as well as thoughts from locally based design leader Yang Kim, co-owner of People Design.

DWM is entering its third year. The organization studies and promotes the idea of design as an economic building block.

GROW’s growth official

Last fall, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women announced its acquisition of the Association for Women Entrepreneurs. In December, the two made it official.

The acquisition allows for GROW, with executive director Patricia Duthler, to extend its assistance from startups to young companies that have established themselves but still need guidance. GROW is currently focusing on its internal infrastructure to meld the two organizations. Additional programming and assistance are planned for the near future.

White resurfaces

Just when we thought he was gone, he’s back. Robert White, who resigned as the county’s fiscal guru last month and retired from the city seven years earlier, is bringing his financial expertise back to the city. “Is this like Cher’s farewell tour?” asked George Helmstead, senior VP for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Convention and Arena Authority will hire White as a consultant on Wednesday, and will get him for $25,000 a year at $125 an hour, which we’re sure White can tabulate. “From a budgetary standpoint, we can afford him,” said Rich MacKeigan, CAA executive director.

The agreement the CAA will ratify will run through June 30, and White’s salary will be prorated. Then another contract will have to be approved for the 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1. “Obviously, there is a boatload of institutional knowledge here, so it makes sense to hire him,” said Lew Chamberlin, CAA board member.

Rooms filling up

While the CAA will get White, the CVB captured a record for room nights. For the past few years, the agency has had a goal of booking 125,000 room nights in one year. It topped that mark this year with 126,500. It had 118,000 last year.

Helmstead said 235 groups met here in the past year. Those groups spent $115 million while they were in the city.

“It’s the first time we’ve hit 125,000 room nights,” he said. Now everyone at the bureau can get a good night’s sleep, but only one.

A Rapid response

Although the roads may become even bumpier this winter, The Rapid continues its smooth ride. The local transit system was named among the most cost effective and efficient systems in a peer Transit Review report. In addition to operating efficiency, The Rapid was cited for its maintenance and service policy and record.

“The analysis indicates that our system is doing a good job in terms of managing costs per passenger trip and cost per revenue hour,” said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid.

The average operating cost per passenger trip is $27.36. It’s $19.82 for the GO!Bus.

“In terms of efficiency, what we are doing works well,” said Bob Roth, president of RoMan Manufacturing and head of The Rapid’s Metro Mobile 2030 task force.

Running from reform?

Finding speakers willing to lay their views on the table for all to see proved to be tougher than expected, said Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University.

“It’s really interesting, the number of people who did not want to get on stage and debate,” Whitney said about planning for the health care reform summit at GVSU on Thursday and Friday.

“At least a dozen people turned us down — and most of them from a more liberal-leaning perspective, I must say.”

Whitney found Thomas Miller, of the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Tanner, from the CATO Institute, and Timothy Noah, a senior writer for Slate Magazine, for a 7 p.m. Thursday event, dubbed “The Debate,” at Loosemore Auditorium on the downtown Pew campus. “The Debate” will be moderated by Kalahn Taylor-Clark from The Brookings Institution. Read: conservative, libertarian, liberal and centrist.

“We found the people who really did want to debate, so we’re pleased, and I just tried to make sure they would be ideologically diverse,” Whitney said.

Israels joins the Army

Bob Israels was first. Then Greg Gilmore of the Gilmore Collection of restaurants, Ed DeVries of DeVries Properties and Dick Young of Behler-Young signed up.

They were recruited by the army, which is why you may have seen an army truck parked in front of their businesses lately.

Not the olive drab-kind of army: the Salvation Army.

The four became the first business owners to join the local Salvation Army's new Business FRIEND program. A FRIEND allows the SA to park one of its trucks in the company parking lot every Monday for a month to collect donated items for its thrift stores.

Mondays were targeted because those tend to be the slowest business days, so the parking lots aren't tied up.

This month, the truck was at DeVries Properties in Grandville; in February it will be at Behler-Young on Clyde Park in Wyoming.

The Salvation Army is looking for more recruits for its Business FRIEND unit. Call Mike Erdman at 452-3133 to enlist.

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