Shifting Seats

Moving to a new job doesn’t mean the end of old relationships. Your circle has just expanded!

A couple years ago, I was upset that some families we were close to had left our church. A wise elder said it was OK, sometimes people just need to switch seats. They continue to be part of the larger “church.”   That same wisdom applies to relationships established in the work world, I guess. In the past 18 months I’ve shifted seats a couple of times — once when I didn’t really want to — and now my circle has expanded.  I get to know and appreciate a new crowd even as I strive to maintain ties with those I called “friend” at my workplace.

Yesterday I was asked to write up some memories of one person I worked with, Cindy, who is celebrating five years at Amway Corp.  Here’s what I sent to her current manager:

I met Cindy when we both served on the WMPRSA board in the early 2000s. She impressed me as smart, competent and accountable. She got things done. Plus she was nice. A few years later, when we had an opening for a new editor at Quixtar, Cindy applied and I was thrilled to be able to bring her on staff.  Very quickly she became one of the superstars in Communications…she made every team she joined better, not just because of what she contributed, but because of the impact she had on others. Her team members became better because she helped them focus and because she was such a great example.

Later, organizational shifts changed reporting relationships and the editorial team reported to a creative director while I managed external communications, including PR, advertising, digital marketing, and sponsorships. Again Cindy applied for an opening on my staff, this time managing all things digital, and again I didn’t have to think twice about welcoming her aboard. She moved into the new role and immediately whipped Amway U.S. social media and digital outreach programs into shape, working with outside agencies and internal partners. 

I am glad Cindy and so many others I managed continue to contribute their strong talents to the ongoing global success of Amway. I often feel like my biggest achievement during an 18-year Amway career was the great people I brought into the company. And among the greatest of those is Cindy. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s been only five years for her given all that she’s already accomplished within Amway (not to mention having two kids in that same period of time!). 

…I can’t begin to single out a “favorite memory” with Cindy or with any of the great people I worked with at Amway. I enjoyed my staff and many of my peers throughout my years at Amway and loved nearly every minute of being with the company. At least, I think I did. I guess it must have been pretty good if my “afterglow” memories are so favorable!

At Davenport, I have the pleasure of managing Rick (who has considered Cindy a mentor in the past) and Sasha.  We had a late afternoon meeting yesterday to talk about what we’ve already accomplished since I joined the university in September as well as the opportunities that still lie ahead for us.  Thinking about the staffs I’ve worked with in the past and the one I work with today made me realize that all of us are always shifting seats somewhat, but that doesn’t mean we have to change who we are and what we bring to the table.  And it doesn’t mean we have to lose our old connections, either. Social media helps us stay in touch. So do industry gatherings, community events, and good old-fashioned “let’s do lunches.”

Although my new life is very full, schedule-wise, I need to make time to stay in touch with those  I used to (and still) call “friend” at Amway Corp. I saw some of them at a WMPRSA meeting this past week and at holiday gatherings last month. I do have the occasional lunch with these friends.  I hope to see more of them all in the weeks and months ahead!

A Year in the Life

In a few weeks I start the next chapter of my career at Davenport University as Executive Director of Communications.

The day after Labor Day I begin the next chapter in my professional career when I report to Davenport University as the newly appointed Executive Director of Communications. I’m excited to be joining a university that is “on the grow.” With a brand new campus near the junction of M-6 and M-37 just south of Gerald R. Ford International Airport, there’s a new excitement surrounding Davenport and the programs it operates statewide.

The position will provide a wonderful opportunity to contribute strategically to the university, and I look forward to sharing more about what I’ll be working on after I start!  Meanwhile, I’m working on finishing up assignments for some of my Luymes PR LLC clients, including LEAD Marketing Agency, Brann’s Steakhouse & Sports Grille, the Alliance For Health, IMN Inc., RapidGrowthMedia.com, and more. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with so many great companies this past year.  From Adoption Associates to Zondervan, West Michigan is blessed with quality organizations.

My Davenport start date is just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of my last day at Amway Corp. It’s been a great year learning what it means to be an independent consultant, to be an entrepreneur, to service clients even as you seek new ones. This past year was marked by the generosity of so many others who gave of their time and counsel to me, referring business, and offering unlimited encouragement.  While starting a new business is always difficult and typically not so profitable in the beginning, I am happy that I was able to come out on the plus side and have such a rich experience as well!

This story, I am certain, is to be continued!

PR and Social Media

PR is strategy; Social Media is tactic. To me, Social Media is best managed within the organization by PR.

I’ve had many conversations about PR and its use of social media.  It’s been discussed in various chats on Twitter as well as at conferences.  On a few occasions now I’ve heard people talk about the PR work that they do managing a client’s social media account. I do believe wholeheartedly that managing a social media account for an organization should be under the direction of the public relations discipline. 

The social media engagement, however, should not constitute an organization’s complete PR program.  Perhaps there are a few organizations out there that can get away with that, but to create a mutually beneficial experience for an organization and its target publics, more than tweeting will be necessary. Meanwhile, people who haven’t been trained in public relations and really don’t fully comprehend what PR is shouldn’t claim to fulfill an organization’s PR needs simply because they track friends and fans and followers in Facebook and Twitter.

Some of this was part of what Jenny Luth and I talked about at the Grand Rapids Social Media (GRSM) lunch event yesterday. A good group joined us for the excellent dialog about roles and responsibilities in social media and what constitutes effective PR for an organization.

Street Talk

Sometimes PR people are in the news. This time it was just a former employer having a little fun.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the Steve Heacock for Congress campaign to lead communications efforts.  After meeting the candidate and the team, I accepted the role.  The same day I joined the campaign team, Rick Treur was brought in as Campaign Manager, a role he filled for Vern Ehlers previously.

In addition to developing a communications plan for the campaign, one of the first tasks was a news release announcing Rick as the new campaign manager. A couple outlets picked it up, including the Grand Rapids Business Journal, which mentioned the release in its “Street Talk” column.  It wasn’t quite the “pick up” I was expecting however.  Typically the PR person remains behind the news, not in it.

The problem is that I used to work at the GRBJ.  Back in 1990-91, I was a reporter covering manufacturing, banking and the economy.  Shortly before I left I was approached by Seyferth & Associates which, at that time, was Grand Rapids’ leading PR firm. After a couple of meetings, I accepted their offer of a job. At the time, I was a young guy with a young wife and a little baby girl trying to pay off college debt and live on the meager earnings of a reporter. I worked nights at a video store to earn extra cash.

Along comes a PR firm offering me a significant upgrade. Of course I took the job, even though in my heart I still was a journalist at that time. My Editor, Carole, took me to Teazers, a bar down the street, and bought me a couple beers while she tried to talk me out of taking the job.  That’s what led to the following portion of the column:

“…the news came in a release distributed by Robin Luymes. The Business Journal clan knows Luymes well from his start as a fresh-faced reporter with the BJ.  No amount of adult beverage at the time could keep the pride of Canada from traveling down the path that now has him stumping for political types and other interests as an independent PR pro. We tried.”

I was flattered (although embarrassed) to be the focus of Carole’s comments, because the real news was Heacock and the Treur announcement. But I’m thankful for my start with the GRBJ because it was my work there that earned the notice of Seyferth which led to my PR career. Ironically, I never did go to work at Seyferth.  Before I could finish my “two weeks notice” I was approached by Amway.  I interviewed and they offered me a job too (one representing a significant upgrade from Seyferth’s offer). 

The rest is, as they say, history.

Are you at your Town Hall meeting?

I did a guest post at Jen Fong’s blog about the need for companies to jump into the online dialog about their brands.

I blogged about the need for companies and brands to check out what’s being said about them over at Jen Fong’s blog.  Essentially, the point I’m making is that companies and other organizations would make a special effort to prepare for and attend town hall meetings where they were being discussed.  The same needs to be true and, unbelievably, there are still company executives holding back from diving into the dialog about their brands.

Jen is a great social media resource, especially to the direct selling industry.  Last year I was on a panel with her at the Direct Selling Association’s national conference. She also was super active in round table sessions about web reputation that I led at the conference. When I first left Amway last September, she was one of the first to talk to me about being in business for myself, and I am very grateful for the advice and help she’s provided since then!

Check out my post at Jen’s blog and, while you’re there, check out the rest of the great content she and guest bloggers have created!

Tear jerkers, empathy and PR

Crying at movies = empathy = public relations?

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I cry at movies. I’m reminded of that last night as I watch “Bridge to Terabithia” with my kids. We saw it in the theater a few years ago and my kids thought it was funny that I cried during the movie. SPOILER ALERT … Read no further if you still want to watch this movie!

OK? Alright. Well, the movie is about a boy who is a bit of an outcast because his family is poor.  Then, a new girl moves in next door and she’s a bit of an outcast too because she’s different. The two become friends and, after school, spend time creating their own imaginary kingdom in a nearby woods called Terabithia. They also join forces at school to deal with a few of the bullies that make their lives miserable. So far so good. As far as family movies go, it was imaginative and interesting. Then, out of nowhere, the girl dies!  The boy took a special trip with a teacher and wasn’t around when the girl visited “Terabithia” and accidentally drowned in the engorged stream running through the woods. The boy was devastated … his only friend had just died and he felt somewhat responsible.

Just a movie? I guess. But I love good stories and my problem(?) is that I empathize with the characters. There are lots of movies that have pulled me in that way.  Like in “Forrest Gump,” when Forrest (Tom Hanks) asks Jenny (Robin Wright Penn) if his son is “like him,” meaning mentally challenged …  like after George (John Travolta) has died in Lace’s (Kyra Sedgewick) arms in “Phenomenon” and then she is alone, on the porch, overcome with grief … or when Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) breaks down toward the end of “Schindler’s List,” wondering how many more Jews he could have bought with his car, his ring, his watch.  I can remember each scene and why it brings tears to my eyes … feeling the anguish of the characters and placing myself in their situations.

Good acting, yes. Great stories, certainly. They made me empathize with these characters. They made me feel their emotions, even though they were just acted out. Of course, that empathy extends to the real people I meet and know. There is the grief I have personally felt … but also the heart pangs for others’ losses.  The love I’ve experienced … and recognizing it in the way others might hold hands or look at each other.  There are the distressing moments I’ve lived … and knowing that look in another’s eyes.

The ability to empathize with others is, in my opinion, one of the most important skills required of PR professionals. It’s not just the ability to write well or know how to use the communication tools of the trade. Turning a good phrase and knowing which side looks better on camera and having an idea which editor will lend an ear to your spiel are all good to have in your PR toolbox.  But knowing people and what they need and what they feel and why … that’s what defines true PR pros.

When you understand and empathize with people in their situations, you better understand how they will receive information and respond.  Not only that, you have a better sense of what your organization needs to do to make them happy. PR’s role is to know its audience. Not just who they are and where they are, but why they are and how they are.  To truly know why and how, you need the ability to empathize.

Why is the disgruntled person that way? It requires understanding of their experience and then imagining how you would feel in the same situation.  When I was with Amway, I met a number of the online “critics” of the company. Few of them were truly against the Amway business; most felt there were some flaws with how the business was being conducted and felt the need to inform or warn others. Simply disagreeing doesn’t help. Acknowledging their experiences and explaining what you’re really doing to change the situation might. 

Empathizing with key audiences requires a lot of work. It’s not merely found in a white paper. It requires living and breathing, it requires experience, it requires wading through the lives of others.  

The kids are on Christmas break, so today I took Dillon and Jack to see “Where the Wild Things Are.” You guessed it. I got all misty eyed again at a movie made from a kids book.

January Series at Calvin College

Calvin College’s “January Series” is bringing an eclectic mix of excellent speakers to the West Michigan community.

As a Calvin College graduate, I’ve always been proud of the school’s wonderful January Series of lectures. Now in its 23rd year, the award-winning lecture series always brings an eclectic mix of incredible speakers to the campus with one lecture per day, free to the public. This year’s lineup once again promises to inspire and educate.

Opening speaker T.R. Reid, global affairs correspondent for The Washington Post and NPR, will talk abut the “Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.”  The closing speaker, Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee, will talk about “Unity Within Diversity: Myth or Reality.”  In between, there are 13 other speakers addressing topics ranging from the theological to cultural to political.

Of particular interest to me are three of those speakers. The topic for CBS News Correspondent and best-selling author Kimberly Dozier is “Breathing the Fire: Reflections of a Foreign News Correspondent.” You’ll remember that, while covering a story in Baghdad in 2006, Dozier was seriously injured in a car bombing that killed her camera crew, an army captain and their Iraqi translator. And now Dozier reports from the White House on President Obama’s administration and new foreign policy developments. To me, that sounds like a strong basis for many intriguing stories.

Next on my list of top three is Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway and a former Calvin student. He will speak on the “ten phrases” that were the basis for his most recent book encouraging others to live with a positive attitude that can change lives, communities, and the world. I’ve heard Rich speak numerous times and have read his books, of course, and I always appreciate his grasp of basic human nature and how what we say and do affects those around us. He’s a master salesman and, when you hear him speak, you begin to understand why.

Finally, Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales will speak about “Democracy and the Internet.”  I use Wikipedia all the time as a quick research tool.  It embodies the idea that, through the inputs of many, we will arrive at the truth. It’s not always completely accurate, because it truly requires inputs from all sides of an issue or idea, and there are times that some parties won’t or can’t participate. But it is fascinating all the same and is probably the one session I’d go to — if I only went to one! 

If you’re interested in going, check out www.Calvin.edu/January for more information about speakers and dates. The Fine Arts Center at Calvin is going through an expansion/renovation, so they’re conducting the series out of the Calvin College Chapel. The talks begin at 12:30 p.m. on weekdays from Wednesday, Jan. 6 through Tuesday, Jan. 26.  But you better get there early, especially for the more noted speakers, because it’s usually a full house.

Fortunately, Calvin has created remote web cast sites so that more people can benefit from these lectures, including several around West Michigan.  Included among the 28 webcast sites across the country are the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, and the Dogwood Center for the Performing Arts in Fremont.

Work and personal schedules allowing, I hope to hit my top three and perhaps a few more!

Do what you love

Do what you love, and be true to who you are. And other stuff about PR.

Last night I spoke to a class of marketing seniors at Davenport University, some of whom are considering a career in Public Relations.  I shared some advice as they start their careers (below), and I shared some of my experiences over the past 20+ years, including decisions I made that led me to a career in PR.  Because, frankly, when I was their age I didn’t even know what PR was.

I decided to study journalism at a community college near my hometown after high school because my top university choice didn’t accept my application on the first try. Thanks Queen’s.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life anyway, and my mom had MS and was confined to a wheelchair, and I didn’t want to leave my dad with the sole responsibility of her care.  So, instead of going to my second or third choice universities, both of which had accepted me, I went to Loyalist College which, like other community colleges in Canada, was very focused on providing career training.  The only program that sounded appealing to me was Print Journalism, which prepared students for a career as a two-way (editorial and photography) community journalist.

I loved it. I liked telling stories through words and pictures. I loved the art and science behind good page design. I loved working in the dark room and at the big Olivetti typewriter — the kind you needed muscular fingers and a lot of enthusiasm to manipulate well.  I loved being a reporter for the school paper and for my internships but, upon graduation, I did not immediately go to work. My girlfriend decided to go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I followed.

She and I didn’t last. But I did meet the beautiful girl who would become my wife and I did obtain my B.A. in English.  And I did get a job as a reporter several months after I graduated. The Grand Rapids Business Journal wasn’t a big publication, but that probably was a good thing for me.  I got to cover stories and conduct interviews I never would have been assigned had I worked at a larger publication.  The pay wasn’t good, but I really liked what I was doing.

As newlyweds sometimes do, we had a child, and “I really liked what I was doing” no longer was enough. When the PR sirens came singing, I boldly took the plunge. Even though I hadn’t studied PR (few had, at that point), I knew it involved writing and that it still was part of the reporting process.  Journalists called it “selling out” and, well, that’s how I felt about it too.  But there were bills to pay.

What I came to discover, however, was that PR was indeed an honorable, respectable profession that includes a responsibility to the public good. PR certainly has some image problems of its own, brought on by some practioners within its own ranks. It’s one of the reasons I am such a big fan of PRSA — the Public Relations Society of America.  The PRSA educates on best practices and advocates for ethical behaviors and awards Accreditation in Public Relations to its top practitioners.   What I learned about being a PR practitioner came from working with excellent professionals at Amway and through PRSA involvement. Next week when the West Michigan PRSA chapter board meets I assume my new role as 2010 President. I also served as WMPRSA President back in 2003.

My advice to the students? First of all, I told them if they weren’t passionate about PR, they shouldn’t do it.  Lack of passion is a dead-end street in the PR profession. Besides, who wants to do a job for the rest of their lives that they are not passionate about? I want to love what I do, and do what I love.

Next, I told them to write. Write for paying clients. Write for non-paying clients. Write for fictional clients. But if you’re not writing in this profession, you won’t get far.  The PR professional won’t ever reach campaign planning status if they cannot write persuasively.

And I told them to be true. I told them that Honest, Open, Transparent communications are critical to the reputation of a firm. Dishonesty is eventually discovered and reputation is destroyed.  Avoiding the tough conversations about your business destroys trust. Selectively sharing only the facts that you believe place you in the best light is an invitation for your critics to share the facts you’re avoiding. Outing yourself on difficult information is always better than being outed by someone else.

To the students at Davenport, and at Calvin, and Grand Valley State University and Loyalist College and Queen’s University, at Harvard College and Grand Rapids Community College — do what you love, and be true.

GEQEZNANXN9P

aimWest, young man

aimWest ConFab was chocolaty social media goodness through and through.

Yesterday was the 1st Annual aimWest Social Media ConFab, featuring keynote Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio in Twitter, who co-authored Twitter for Dummies. Like many, Laura thought Twitter was kind of dumb when it first came out.  I know I also blogged about it a few years ago, questioning its value. Laura gave it a chance (as did I, eventually) and immediately saw her leads increase.

There’s a great Grand Rapids Press story about the conference today, and #aimWest was a top-1o trending topic yesterday as conference attendees twitted their thumbs away. Congratulations to aimWest for pulling together such a great event!

I was a panelist for a morning session on social media boosting productivity and collaboration in the workplace.  With me on the panel were Melissa Chiaramonti of Meijer (@mgenta on twitter) and Harrison Withers of Media 1. 

I talked a little about my experience within Amway and use of sharepoint sites and the like.  For teams, sharepoints and wikis can be great, but it requires full participation in order to be truly successful.  Key voices missing from the conversation might result in a flawed collaboration.  My “Beatles Social Media” example was that, if that four-person team had made collaborative decisions via social media, the outcomes resulting from dialog that only involved George and Ringo probably wouldn’t have made the band the success it became.  John and Paul’s inputs were necessary for the true success they eventually achieved, not to mention the voices of others such as their manager and their producer.

My main point, I think, was that organizations need to get intentional about their use of social media internally, just as many already are for external audiences. Within the company, people already are using social media tools but there’s little measurement occurring to determine if it’s effective — largely because most companies don’t even know it’s happening to the extent that it is.  Rather than having social media “just happen,” I think an organization will reap more benefits by planning and supporting the social media tools internally.

Melissa and Harrison — both of whom are true experts on this topic — really brought great ideas of what to do and how to do it to the audience.  While they were talking, I was scanning the #aimWest tweets on my laptop. It was almost like I could see thought bubbles rising above the heads of people in the audience, and it led to some of the questions we addressed as a panel.

I went to the social media “slam” session after that, where attendees shared experiences and questions “open mic” style. I’d been to a Social Media Slam conducted in a similar way this summer, which led to a YouTube video about my experience at Amway and how my 80-year-old dad met his wife online.  This one was much bigger and people did their little talks from where they sat, which gave it a different feel, in my opinion.

There was a great panel on Power Networking, but most of that session really focused on Facebook, since one of the panelists was Tom Chisholm, a Director at Facebook. The most excitement was generated over the question from the audience about when Facebook would add a “dislike” feature to go along with its “like” button. Tom started to say the “hide” feature was sort of the same thing, which aroused a Joe Wilson-like response from the audience (thanks @Maniactive).

Late in the afternoon, I was very proud of the great presentation by Cindy Droog of Amway, who was part of the panel discussing social media measurement.  She did a great job and received a lot of twitter love from the live tweeters. 

Between the Wednesday evening Tweet Up and the all-Thursday conference and the necessary follow up on emails and tweets today, the ConFab really chewed a big hole into this week. BUT, that hole was filled with gooey, chocolaty social media goodness, and area companies that didn’t send their PR/Social Media/Marketing staff to participate and learn really missed out!

Social Media for Internal Collaboration

This Thursday is aimWest’s first annual Social Media ConFab at the JW Marriott, at which I will be a panel moderator.  According to my source, the numbers of attendees were still creeping up this week (she’s still hoping for 300) and yesterday’s GR Press story might help reach that goal!

The panel I’m moderating is about how social media is helping (or can help) internal collaboration within companies and organizations. The panelists will be Melissa Chiaramonti of Meijer and Harrison Withers of Media 1.  Most often in the past I’ve spoken on web reputation, with social media being an important aspect that companies and organizations need to monitor and manage.  Too many people don’t actively monitor what people are saying about their companies and brands online and, as a result, suffer reputational damage that could have been neutralized earlier just by becoming part of the conversation.

I am less of an “expert” on social media as a collaboration tool.  Or am I?  I used and participated in sharepoint sites while at Amway, which is the first thing that came to my mind on this topic.  Thinking more broadly, with Independent Business Owners (IBOs) an extended part of Amway’s “internal” communications, I blogged for five or six years in ways to educate and seek the support and engagement of that key audience.  I created content for the Web, including leading the “Interns Expose Amway” project that got our younger staff involved.  Even the way we obtained approvals for communications was a form of social media.  I was even part of the first (and probably last) virtual meeting held by Amway employees in Second Life.

I spent some time the past few days researching the topic of “internal collaboration” and, amazingly, I didn’t find a lot that really excited me.

To me, the biggest barrier to the success of social media as an internal collaborative tool for a working team is the weakest link.  The one who just doesn’t get how to use social media tools or the one who needs to see the actual facial expression accompanying the real-time feedback they get from a peer. 

I’m not one that would like to see an end to meetings because I do think they can contribute to quick collaboration and ensure the entire group is clear on direction or certain agreements.  But these days, with far-flung teams, business travel and so many other meetings competing for everyone’s time, the use of social media can keep collaborative conversations alive that might have been stymied otherwise.  And, after awhile,  you get to know others’ writing styles and understand their tone of voice and those “facial expressions” aren’t even necessary anymore.