In the world of PR only the relevant survive

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Ginny Seyferth, president of SeyferthPR, is in the business of building relationships. In her company’s 28 years in business, Seyferth said the biggest changes in the industry happened when CNN became a 24-hour program and USA Today became a national newspaper.

“Those were big shifts in peoples’ interest in consuming information,” said Seyferth. “We jumped from three networks to 300 cable channels. We saw that as a huge opportunity to communicate in a more targeted way.”

Originally a “crisis firm,” the range of expertise at the company has broadened, now dealing largely with brand development. The impressive SeyferthPR client list includes Blue Cross Blue Shield, McDonald’s, Cascade Engineering and Grand Valley State University, contributing to annual revenues between $2.3 million and $3 million.

The firm also has assisted in launching local initiatives such as ArtPrize and LaughFest.

Seyferth concedes that public relations encompasses such a wide range of work that it’s often difficult for someone who’s unfamiliar with the industry to get a handle on what it is a PR firm actually does. Although it takes many different forms, Seyferth said the heart of the work is in facilitating improved communication between the consumer and a brand.

For example, when one of its clients was attempting to introduce electronic medical records into the market, it was met with a lot of resistance from the physicians. Tech personnel installed the equipment, and it sat unused.

At this point, SeyferthPR was asked to step in. It facilitated talks between the physicians and the technology staff, and even went on rounds with doctors to help them apply the technology tools in patients’ rooms.

“There’s a communication gap. We need to talk about what they are afraid of and how can you better help adapt to their lifestyle,” said Seyferth. “The tool needs to adapt to their lifestyle.”

SeyferthPR has a history of longevity with its clients, and Seyferth said this has allowed the firm to grow alongside the companies it represents. As one of the few firms that has been with McDonald’s for more than 25 years, SeyferthPR has been a part of a drastic shift in the public’s view of the food chain.

As consumers have become more health conscious, Seyferth noted that McDonald’s has focused on changing its menu to adapt. SeyferthPR was instrumental in McDonald’s introduction of several salads and fruit and maple oatmeal, and also the McCafé line of premium roast coffee, winning several awards for the successful product launches.

Ginny Seyferth
Title: President
Age: 53
Birthplace: Detroit
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Husband, Robert Boss; children Michael Boss, 20, and Katie Boss, 18.
Business/Community Organizations: Grand Rapids Art Museum, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, GVSU Foundation, Goodwill, TALENT 2025, Economic Club, Detroit Receiving Hospital, and dozens of committees and advisory groups.
Biggest Career Break: Seyferth said she has taken on some tough issues and been willing to persevere, even when the media surrounding the issues became challenging. She believes that has shown business leaders that the firm can stay the course.

“They live by listening to the customer,” said Seyferth of McDonald’s. In their time representing McDonald’s, SeyferthPR’s staff has formed a street team with a presence in 160 Michigan communities that serve as a test market for trying new foods, talking about products and customer service.

“They feed all of that back into the company,” said Seyferth. She noted that the strength of this process is that they’re not just marketing McDonald’s: Team members are engaging customers in the discussion.

Another major shift in Seyferth’s business has been the rise of social media. Seyferth said this new medium has allowed her company to become more specific in who it’s targeting, creating more effective results for her clients.

“Instead of talking to all moms, I have a chance now to talk to just moms with preschoolers, or moms with college kids, or moms that are dealing with parents and kids, and help them only spend time on what they’re interested in talking about,” said Seyferth.

In a time when consumers are bombarded with hundreds of advertisements a day, Seyferth comments that businesses need to focus less on how big their audience is and more on whether it’s the right audience for their products or services.

Otherwise, the consumer will just move on.

“More is not better — it’s just more,” said Seyferth. “I think that those who try to be everything to everybody, even in our own industry, whether you’re a restaurant or a grocer, an insurance company or a news medium, I think that more will not work.”

This is why listening is the name of the game at SeyferthPR. Seyferth’s staff uses all the tools at its disposal, from new social media platforms to more grassroots initiatives such as having street teams go out and talk to consumers one on one.

Seyferth points out that no matter how wide a brand’s umbrella, people still select what apps they want on their smart phones and computers, and use tools such as TiVo to choose what information they want to see on their televisions.

“The consumer will pick, and the (brands) that are the most relevant will win,” she said.

Because of the variety of clients and the broad range of needs, Seyferth has assembled a staff with diverse professional backgrounds, from corporate to nonprofit to political or journalistic backgrounds. Beyond what’s happening here and now, the staff is encouraged to look for what’s coming next.

Lately, that’s meant helping companies understand the vital need to attract talent — not just to the business, but to the community.

“It used to be when you got out of college, you just went where the jobs were. Now, (the current) generation — those who are coming out of school — are picking where they want to live first and where they want to work second,” said Seyferth.

“Communication and public relations is playing a role in that because it’s really how they’re going to manage those companies in the future. And areas of the country that don’t have talent will lose companies.”

SeyferthPR professionals have become involved in various local initiatives such as CEOs for Cities, GRid70 and, most recently, the small business incubator MoDiv on the corner of Monroe Center and South Division Avenue.

Seyferth said she remembers always having an interest in what connects people and how they relate to one another. She and her husband of 25 years, Robert Boss, along with their two children, Michael and Katie Boss, have been hosts to about 15 foreign exchange students. Seyferth said the experiences have enriched the lives of her family and have given Michael, a student at the University of Michigan, and Katie, a student at Michigan State University, connections with people all over the world.

In high school, she was the first female president of her class in school history.

“I grew up in a time when breaking the glass ceiling was critically important,” said Seyferth. “That ceiling keeps raising, and we need to keep breaking it.”

Seyferth has met many challenges in her career, but it’s always been important to her to be held to the same standards as her competitors.

“I don’t like to be rated just as a strong woman-owned business,” said Seyferth. “I think that we’re a great PR firm. We just happen to have a woman investor.”

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