Fish Story

June 30, 2006
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  • Field and Stream Magazine has named Grand Rapids one of America’s Best Fishing Cities. According to the magazine, “You’re never far from fishable water in western Michigan. Grand Rapids is the hub city, where you can hook steelhead running up the Grand River in the middle of town by the Sixth Street Bridge. The city’s population shrinks on the last Saturday of April, when many head north for the trout opener.”

Clocking in at No. 6, Furniture City didn’t get much of a write-up, otherwise it would have mentioned the hundreds of outlying lakes, streams and fishing holes — not to mention Lake Michigan — that local fisherman so enjoy. (For those, feel free to check out debut sister publication Michigan Blue, soon to be available at Meijer stores statewide.)

The magazine also failed to mention the warning most native-born Rapidians heard as children: “Don’t eat fish from the Grand River.” We also were taught as children that the radiation from TV sets would rot our eyes and that chocolate had no health value. Not sure how many of those apply today.

  • Speaking of Meijer, is the Walker-based retailer actively trying to operate more like Wal-Mart?

Take this recent response to a Business Journal interview request from Meijer director of communications and government relations Stacie Behler:

“On your request for information for your story, as a general proposition our strategy on contributing to articles is to focus on publications that our customers are focused on.

“We want to get that positive information out to our customers, but trade journals and business magazines like yours are more along the lines of what our competitors read. We certainly don’t want to provide that information to them. Do appreciate the request, but consistent with our strategy, we’ll have to decline to contribute information for your story.”

Hmmm … certainly a departure from the company’s Web site, which reads: “If you're a member of the media working on a story about Meijer or the retail industry, we’d be glad to assist.”

Yes, the Business Journal has proven itself an unhappy phone call for anyone trying to keep a secret. Since that whole “mystery development” thing, we’ve learned that some people really hate it when journalists do their jobs.

The Meijer response is interesting for what it says about the company’s efforts to position itself against the marauding Wal-Mart. We asked Grand Valley State University public relations professor Tim Penning for an opinion.

“It strikes me that Meijer’s main competitor is Wal-Mart, which has come late to the legitimate PR party in terms of being open and seeking mutually beneficial relationships with communities, employees, suppliers, governments — and they have a ways to go.

“But their main threat is still activist opposition. Meijer could distinguish themselves from Wal-Mart with more openness — securing a brand that says they have longer community roots, they care about people, they listen, they communicate openly. Despite what they think, it’s not always about price.”

Also interesting is Behler herself. She’s a former Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge PC attorney who started in the Meijer legal department and has since transferred to human resources, where she oversees all internal corporate communications, lobbying efforts and the Meijer Political Action Committees.

How many companies have a PR chief with the legal chops to sit on the litigation council of the state bar or be the chairperson-elect of the Corporate Counsels Division of the Federal Bar Association, among other things?

Coupled with other key staffers including incoming president Mark Murray¸ the outgoing GVSU president and former state treasurer, Meijer has amassed itself a significant legal and political arsenal. Just like Wal-Mart.

  • With demand for its services increasing every day, Senior Meals On Wheels is taking a beating from gas prices. With 4,115 miles driven per week, a 71-cent hike in gas over last year (and that’s on a good day!) adds up.

The nonprofit provider of 1,800 daily meals to the homebound is looking to the business community for help. To fill up a tank, contact Linda Quist at 459-3111.

  • A short article in last week’s PRWeek is reminiscent of the Downtown Development Authority’s recent work to brand Grand Rapids.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association hired branding firm Landor Associates to create a new tagline and campaign for the city. The result: “Get in on it.”

According to Landor’s Susan Palumbo, the tagline is meant to reflect Baltimore’s individuality, focusing on a care-free, easy-going attitude. Appropriately, the $8 million print, radio and television campaign is modeled after Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here.”

A teaser campaign was conducted with Teletubbies-like characters passing out stress balls around town. These will also appear at festivals and events throughout the summer.

So, for anyone who “didn’t get” local ad shop Hanon McKendry’s “Keep it a secret” tagline for the DDA: Would you prefer Teletubbies?

  • Cutting to the heart of the story, last week featured reporter Marc Thompson sharing the misfortunes that befell Grand Rapids resident Michael Moore, a young man who was injured when a tree fell on him as he walked up the front steps of his family home. Rescue workers had to cut away branches to free Moore so that he could be transported to the hospital. The tree also crushed his disabled mother’s wheelchair. In a case of either stunning insensitivity or ironic chance, the video report was sponsored by (and featured a commercial for) Stihl, “the worldwide leader in chainsaws.”

In a similarly bizarre juxtaposition of story and advertising, a promotion for Fox Motors Fox-A-Thon 1000 car sale was the sponsoring message for a story about an automobile accident in Ohio that injured eight people, including Alticor President Doug DeVos’ wife, Maria, and son, Dalton. Fox Motors is owned by DeVos’ brother Dan.    

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