The Media Trainers

Media Training helps prepare you for crisis situations as well as normal, everyday communications.

Yesterday I spent a wonderful day conducting media training for a major corporation with two media trainers I highly respect. One, Bill Salvin, is an excellent trainer I used for many years while at Amway. He started working with us back in the ’90s when he was with The Conner Group, founded by Tim Conner. The other tainer I worked with was Tim Conner himself.

I’ve always enjoyed working with Tim, an accomplished trainer with extensive experience working with the aviation/aerospace, defense, energy, high tech and healthcare industries.  He’s conducted hundreds of programs for companies such as DuPont, BP, Lockheed Martin, United Space Alliance, NASA, Starbucks, Expedia and more. Plus, he’s a Commander in the Navy Reserve and, between his service and his consultancy he’s worked on six continents and nearly all 50 states and 20 foreign countries. He was an award-winning journalist earlier in his career  and covered presidential primaries, interviewing Bill Clinton and George Bush as part of his work.

Tim, with whom Bill started his media training career, has an equally incredible career spanning four decades and touching nearly every corner of the communications industry. He developed training programs for and consulted with some of the world’s largest corporations. From airlines and energy companies to retail fashion and government agencies, Tim is one of the most sought after communications consultants. He too began his career in the media, starting as a writer and reporter in radio and television while earning his degree from Coe College in Iowa. He alter earned his graduate degree in communications from Syracuse University, then flew jet fighters for the Marines for five years.

Having dinner with Bill and Tim essentially is tapping into a wealth of expertise and history and stories. I enjoy both of these guys so much. A company that hires these two guys to do media training, meanwhile, taps into some of the best training available to prepare company executives and spokespeople to represent their organization in front of the cameras during a crisis.

SO, working with them this week to train 15 execs of a major U.S. corporation was a GREAT honor for me. I’ve done media training internally at Amway for many years and have helped prepare a few clients for the cameras as well.  Working with Bill and Tim, however, is really working in the big leagues, and I think our sessions went really well.  I did practice interviews and provided counsel to four of these execs, helping them understand some basics about going into media interviews with an agenda and using simple bridging tactics to get to their key messages.

I’m looking forward to future opportunities to work with Bill and Tim and to providing media training to my own clients as well. I truly believe that the things we taught during these sessions will help the trainees not only in times of crisis but also as we prepare for just about any meeting they go into.  How prepared are you for your next crisis?  How prepared are you to talk from the podium? How prepared are you for your next staff meeting?

Late Night Wars: Reputation Winners & Losers

Late night talk shows produce some reputation observations. Who won? Jay, Conan, or Dave?

I’ve always been a bit of a night owl, often still up after the 11 p.m. news to see who is up to what on the talk shows. For the past decade, my preference was Letterman. I just didn’t think Leno was that funny. I know that for others, it is the exact opposite.

Even I have limits, and I didn’t typically stay up for O’Brien’s Late Show. He always pushed a little too far over some boundaries on his later slot, in my opinion, but when he moved into The Tonight Show, I thought he was reined in nicely and was very smart and funny. For the first time in more than a decade, I actually had to choose between two night shows (usually, scheduled guests were the deciding factor). Many of the Leno loyalists moved on, I guess, and as a result The Tonight Show dipped in the ratings (as did the new Leno show in the 10 p.m. slot — no surprise).

So, NBC president Jeff Zucker decided to cry “do over!” and put everyone back where they were. Except Conan wasn’t going and, by contract, didn’t have to.  And that’s where the fun began.

Conan began ripping on NBC.  Dave began ripping on Leno (and NBC).  Leno kind of tip-toed through the whole situation, although he took some shots back at Dave.  Leno also had Jimmy Kimmel on his show, who used the opportunity to take many jabs at Leno’s expense.  And the rest of the world was taking sides.  On Twitter, swarms of people used the #TeamConan or #ImWithCoco tags to demonstrate their support.  There were few taking Leno’s side.   On Facebook, I was only involved in one conversation about the situation, and most in that dialog seemed to like Leno better.

So, here’s my assessment of reputation winners and losers in this one. Please note: This has nothing to do with whom I think is funnier or more deserving of the show. Just observations.

Conan O’Brien — Hard to say that the guy who lost his seat behind one of the most coveted desks in comedy is a winner, but the huge public rallies held to demonstrate support and the outpouring of sympathy on the part of guest celebrities seem to indicate that Conan will have his show (Fox? Comedy Central? Something on the web?) and will be able to write new chapters of late night entertainment. Oh, plus he got his mega-millions payday just to walk away.  He earned additional reputation points for getting severance packages for his staff, for the huge ratings he delivered in the final weeks and, last but not least, his final show, which included a raucous guitar performance on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird (with Will Ferrell and an all-star band) and a goodbye speech that thanked NBC for the opportunity to realize his dreams and begged viewers to not by cynical. Instead, “If you work really, really hard, and you’re kind … amazing things will happen to you.”  Sounds a little like what I was talking about in my last post!  In any case, Conan can walk away with his head held high.

Jay Leno — He comes back to The Tonight Show, but it’s really hard to understand why a guy would want to gain it back in that manner.  Sure, he has his fans and they’ll come back. But I bet there will be a goood chunk of people who will stay away on purpose. I have a feeling there are even certain guests who might not come back (although, if you’ve got something to promote, it would be hard to stay away). Jay didn’t say a lot to hurt his reputation, but he also didn’t just walk away from the mess and give Conan the chance to rise or fall on his own merits (he would have been welcomed back a year from now had Conan continued to flounder ratings-wise).  Further, Dave Letterman ripping into Jay, claiming this was “vintage” behavior from the comedian, further sullies his reputation.

Dave Letterman — Dave benefitted from Jay’s departure to primetime, since Conan’s struggles resulted in a ratings boost for his show. With Jay coming back, some of those new viewers will likey return to their Jay roost. Some of Dave’s routines this past week were very funny, targeting ex-employer NBC as well as Leno, the man who stole the show that he had thought would be his birthright after Johnny Carson’s departure. At the same time, however, he may have come across seeming a little mean-spirited. In the end, he’s not host of The Tonight Show and he’s going to lose some viewers back to Jay. He does serve as an interesting model for Conan to follow though.

Jeff Zucker — OK, reputation-wise this man’s in a free fall. His programming acumen is in serious doubt. His handling of this entire situation has been lacking.  He is being lampooned throughout the media critic circles.  But he probably doesn’t care.

NBC — The network has seen better days.  I still remember when they ruled nearly every segment of television. They owned primetime, they owned news ratings, they were the leaders in sports.  And they had the venerable Tonight Show.  They’re no longer the network king of the hill, which is a shrinking hill anyway as a billion cable channels siphon off viewers left and right.

Jon Stewart etal — Alternatives like Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Colbert Nation with Stephen Colbert will continue to chip away at the networks.  They too, of course, will see ratings erosion as people turn away from watching live or recorded TV altogether to just watch clips online.  Jimmy Kimmel has a very specific audience, and I don’t think anything going on between Dave & Jay & Conan had an impact on him.  Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson are on too late to matter in these discussions, unless someone were to be pushed back into a later slot (as was NBC’s suggestion for Conan).

In the final analysis, I’m not sure how much reputation matters in TV, especially the late night variety. But it’s fun to watch.  It was “reality tv” at its finest.  Like Survivor, its “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.”  Jay might have suffered a reputational blow, but in the end he’ll still share some chuckle-inducing banter with guests and viewers and ride home on his Harley, knowing he won the game.

You just never know

How is what you are doing today preparing you for tomorrow (regardless of what your plan is). You never know what’s around the corner.

Last year, I was part of a small group that became active participants in the life of the East Hills (Cherry Street) neighborhood of Grand Rapids.  We were exploring the area as a possible site for expansion of our Presbyterian church. That never panned out, but we developed some nice relationships with some community activists, with the neighborhood business organization, and with the underserved elementary school in the area.

Related to that effort, I wrote a brochure promoting investment in the Wealthy Heights Initiative, a six-block area along Wealthy Street.  The first meeting to talk about that initiative was at The Sparrows, a coffee shop that, in recent months, has become my “office” (free wi-fi, good coffee and music, creative atmosphere) now that I am an independent practitioner.  I wasn’t planning on needing an office away from home last year when working on the Wealthy Heights Initiative. 

As part of our community outreach, I attended a meeting last summer about a tree study in the East Hills area.  I learned a lot about the economic, environmental, and “quality of life” benefits of trees at that meeting. For instance, how does cutting all the trees along a city street affect the property values and resulting taxes?  What is the impact on air quality with the loss of each broad-canopied tree? What about water run-off issues and habitat for wildlife and the benefits to home heating and cooling costs and, well, the pure aesthetics of a well-treed neighborhood. 

When a potential client with a product to save ash trees (rather than simply cutting them down due to the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, which has been the approach taken by many municipalities) approached me yesterday, I already knew the topic well based on that meeting last year. When I went to that meeting at what was once the Diamond Street fire station, I wasn’t planning on getting a call from this company; providence has a way of preparing you for what you don’t know is going to happen.

After talking to the prospective client yesterday, I was sitting in The Sparrows mulling over in my mind what I remembered of that tree study meeting. In walks Johannah, my contact for the Wealthy Street Initiative — the first time I’d seen her in six months. She sat down and we caught up and she immediately knew all the people I needed to talk to and, further, suggested a few additional people. 

Last summer I thought we were doing a church plant. Since that didn’t happen, it could have been considered a failure. Instead, it led me to a cool community that has provided an “office” away from home, contacts who can help me with potential clients, and good friendships.  You never know how the relationships you build today will help you at some point in the future.  I don’t necessarily believe in karma, but I do believe that adding value to the experience of others you meet is more likely to reward you later than simply being a “recipient” in your relationships. 

What happens when a person who has added no value to anyone else’s experience loses their job?  Who is there to help them?  Who is there to provide encouragement, advice, job leads, a cup of coffee?  Rich DeVos spoke at Calvin College’s “January Series” of lectures the other day, and from the news coverage I see that he spoke about being a “life enricher,” a topic that he’s spoken on many times before. 

When you are a positive force in other peoples’ lives, you help them and you help yourself.  Because, as I have come to find out, you just never know.

Publicity, Advertising and Results

RV Show benefits from publicity and advertising, resulting in foot traffic and, hopefully, sales.

For the past few months I’ve been working with ShowSpan to publicize their Grand Rapids Camper, Travel & RV Show, which opened yesterday.  I have been very impressed with ShowSpan’s “behind-the-scenes” operations supporting the show, which is one of many they produce (they also do the auto show, the home & garden show, the golf show, and others).  ShowSpan works with an ad agency as well, of course, to place ads on TV, radio, print and billboards. They have a good online presence.  And they have me.

For the past few weeks, I’ve helped keep ShowSpan spokespeople pretty busy.  This morning we had Fox17 out here between 6 and 9 a.m. which also meant that the show manager was here as well as a few of the vendors we were featuring.  Later this morning the RV show will be featured in an EightWest segment on WOOD TV8, the result of a taping yesterday with Rachel Ruiz.  Last night the show was on Fox17’s evening news and was featured as part of WGVU TV’s “Ask The Expert” with Shelley Irwin.   WZZM13 also has been here and that show appeared yesterday. 

Last Sunday The Grand Rapids Press featured the show on the back cover of the sports section and John Gonzalez made the RV Show one of Gonzo’s Top Five picks for the week. Add in all the radio interviews and the media interest the show will continue to generate (NASCAR favorite Johnny Benson’s here tomorrow … that’ll bring a crowd), and it all equals a lot of exposure for the RV industry.  One result of that was record crowds arriving for the Thursday open of the show, now in its fourth year.

The exposure increases  interest which generates traffic which, hopefully, results in sales for the RV industry. Talking to some of the RV dealers who are showing their wares at the show, interest is high among show attendees to buy.  That’s a good sign, because the RV industry is a leading indicator for the overall economy.  It’s the first to decline when the economy softens, and it’s among the first to rebound when confidence rises.

SO, I’m not a trained expert in this field, but I do sense a strengthening economy and hope that my role supporting one show in one city for one industry is a part of the solution.  As for you, it’s time to plan your vacation, and you should at least explore RVs as an option. Benefits include family bonding, flexibility, cost benefits, and more. I’ll send you the news releases if you’d like.  :-)

Travels With Charley revisited

Doing publicity work for the Grand Rapids RV Show has renewed my wanderlust and the desire to write about the world around me.

For the past few months I’ve been working with ShowSpan to promote the Grand Rapids Camper, Travel and RV Show that starts this Thursday. The discussions I’ve had with area RV dealers and manufacturers has reawakened in me the desire to travel across this great country on the road, one mile at a time.  I’ve been all over the U.S. and my native Canada, but mostly via air travel, dropping in on a city for a few days and departing  when my business was finished.

When I was a teen, I read John Steinbeck’s book Travels With Charley, about his cross-country trip in 1960 to rediscover America with his french poodle Charley. I don’t remember a lot about his travels, other than the fact that he documented experiences that reflected a country that was simmering and no longer lived up to his expectations. That, and the fact that he created a special camper to meet his own tastes and needs. I recall he created a special “clothes washer” that churned and agitated on rubber bands while he drove.

Ever since that time I wanted to do something like that … travel across the country and stop wherever I wanted, with no particular schedule or destination (or, obviously, financial limitations).  Steinbeck made the trip in the twilight of his life. His son later said he thought his dad took the trip because he knew he was dying and wanted to see America one last time. Of course, I don’t have the same sort of motivations Steinbeck may have had.  As a journalism and English major in college, Steinbeck and Hemingway were my heroes. I appreciated Hemingway’s journalism background and Steinbeck’s documentation of the human condition. Travels With Charley was a first-person narrative and brought home the power of sharing your experiences with audiences.

What I like about the RV show this week is that there is a movement toward simplicity. As one dealer stated, “our industry is on a bit of a diet,” which is to say that consumers are looking for a little less RV and a smaller pricetag right now. Much of that is driven by the economy, of course, but also by a growing concern for environmental “footprints.” The cool thing is that the industry is responding with lighter RVs that require less horsepower (and fuel) to pull or drive, streamlined profiles that have less wind drag, and use materials that are renewable and provide healthier environments for their human occupants.

Last week I talked to the owner of EggCamper, a company in Grandville that produces two RVs that are super light, made almost entirely of molded plastic, yet very strong and kind of retro looking.  I’m looking forward to seeing them in person.  The smaller one, the Teardropp, is very petite and would be perfect for a couple looking to get away and “sort of” camp, rather than simply vacation in a “rolling house.”  With four kids, I doubt the cozier versions of the RV lifestyle are in my near future.  But someday.

I Heart GR … Does GR Love Me Back?

I love Grand Rapids. I hope it loves me back!

For exactly half my life now I’ve called Grand Rapids home.  I came here from Canada to go to college and since my Junior year I’ve never gone home for more than a week at a time.

West Trenton
West Trenton

Home for me was the small town of Trenton, Ontario, with a population of about 15,000. Most people in Canada would only know Trenton as the home to one of the country’s largest air bases. Many of the factories that once provided valuable jobs for the town have left that area, although I believe Domtar is still there. You could always smell the creosote treatment of railway ties when entering Trenton from the north. When I’ve gone back in recent years, I’ve been saddened a little that the town seems to have fallen on rough times.  Last summer I went home for a week and revisited some of the places of my youth.  Let me just say that, although there was an element of nostalgia, I was happy that I have a new hometown — Grand Rapids.

When I first came to Grand Rapids in the late ’80s, I was happy with a city that offered so much more than the small-town I grew up in. Don’t get me wrong, I like Trenton and my upbringing there helped make me the person I am today (which is to say, I’m happy with who I am!). What’s amazing about that statement is that Grand Rapids is so much better today than it was 20-some years ago!

The complete renaissance of downtown Grand Rapids has been nothing short of amazing. Shortly after graduating from Calvin  College, I went to work for the Grand Rapids Business Journal which, at that time, was based in the Trust Building on the corner of Pearl and Ottawa. It was exciting to work downtown near the bustling office buildings, restaurants and traffic. After five o’clock, however, downtown pretty much emptied out and became a ghost town.  Now, with the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, Civic Theatre, numerous condo developments and scores of restaurants and bars that didn’t exist just 20 years ago, downtown has become a destination for the region.

Grand Rapids Skyline
Grand Rapids Skyline

Now, with events like ArtPrize and festivals and celebrations and spontaneous, social media-driven events, there’s a buzz around the city’s core. That buzz extends to the edges too.  Meijer Gardens is a beautiful attraction bringing people from all over to our city. The Whitecaps and their beautiful ball park were still just a vision when I first came here, and now they’re well-established and sometimes an afterthought with everything else that’s going on around here.

I love the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. I’m in Alger Heights, which has been a wonderful place to raise my children. I hang out in coffee shops in Wealthy Heights and East Hills and Gaslight Village and savor the unique attributes of each micro-community. I love that West Michigan businessmen have stayed loyal to their hometown and contributed greatly to maintaining its viability and vitality.  I love my own neighbors and the fact that there are very few fences on my street, allowing our kids to run back and forth to enjoy each others’ companionship.

Since September, I’ve been working on establishing my own public relations consultancy. It’s slow, hard work to gather together new clients and service their needs. I am asked all the time by friends, “How’s your new business?!” and have to reply, honestly, it’s a lot of work and it’s very slow to get started.  I remain confident in my abilities, however, and in the fact that the economy will improve and that I will be well-positioned to obtain and service new clients when it does.

That said, other opportunities are out there.  By that, I mean in other places.  And while I work hard to establish myself here, I owe it to my family to explore other options as well.  The few interviews I’ve done have been for jobs in other cities.  And if the right opportunity with the right employer comes along, I’ll have to go.

In the meantime, I’m gonna continue to love GR and hope the city loves me back!  It has for more than two decades.  It’s provided  me with education, employment, entertainment, family and friends.  And now I’m hoping it’ll provide enough clientele to help Luymes Public Relations not only survive, but thrive, in a way that will help me give back to this community for the decades to come!