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!

Speak to your TRUE fans. They’ll do the rest.

Marketers using social media need to figure out social first.

When surveying the social media scene, it’s disheartening to see so many “experts” preaching ways to get more followers (with the end goal, I presume, of increasing the value of each individual’s “brand” and “reach”). Marketers are looking for ways to “use” social media to get their messages out and the easiest way for them to do that is to simply have a lot of followers.

What I don’t see a lot of them doing, however, is providing added value that would make them worth following. Sure, they promise a few lucky winners a free iPod or iTouch or iPad or iTunes gift card (why not a free Blackberry?), but the result of that is a lot of dropped followers once the contest is over. I would love to see a good campaign where people follow a brand because of the value of their content alone.

I know that there are many local examples, such as the famed “cookies are out of the oven” or “here’s our special brew of the day” tweets, but I’m not sure a BIG brand has yet found a way to be a “must-follow” tweeter because of their “must-have” content. Sure, that’s more expensive then a free iPod every month.

But maybe it’s OK to not have 10,000 followers.  Maybe it’s alright to just have a couple hundred key followers who will spread your content far and wide when you do have something sensational to share.  It is social *networking* after all. I appreciate viral campaigns that people spread because they’re just so cool or because the informations is just so vital. There are benefits to the brand marketer when their message spreads through the network rather than having the message arrive on the audiences’ virtual doorstep via their own direct tweets.

People listen to other people they know and trust and respect.  They do not value as much the marketing messages that come directly from the brands themselves. It’s advertising, after all, and Yankelovich studies have shown that 60% of American consumers don’t believe companies tell the truth in advertising. On the other hand, Nielsen reports that 78% of social media users find consumer recommendations credible, and MarketingSherpa says 84% trust user reviews more than “expert” reviews.  

When something arrives in my Twitter stream or Facebook homepage or via another social media platform from someone I know saying “this is cool,” I check it out. When it comes from a brand I am likely to skip over it, knowing that the brand itself is not an unbiased party when talking about its own products.  

When a brand selling coffee, provides lots of useful information about brewing and beans and baristas to coffee aficionados, they are providing a service. When said aficionados ask questions and the coffee brand responds with useful answers, they’re being good social media citizens. This earns them the right with their audience to slip in a marketing message now and again. This strategy might not get them ALL coffee drinkers as a direct audience (i.e., they won’t have a million coffee drinkers as “followers,” although they might have 1,000 aficionados).  However, when the aficionados re-tweet or forward information from the brand to *their* followers, the brand now has earned the benefits that come with third party endorsements, which are much more powerful.

That said, I do enter some of the contests now and again.  I doubt I’ll win an iPad as a result. But maybe. I do know that the brand that made me follow them in order to be eligible to win is unlikely to get a long-term follower out of me as a result. I haven’t seen one of the contest tweeters yet provide enough content to keep me interested.

I’m much more interested in the real people having a real dialog about what they (and I) love (even if that means I have to follow some of their silly foursquare meanderings). So, I follow people who love GR (because I do). I follow people who love PR (because I do). I might even follow some people who love hockey (because I do).  I don’t follow people who cram the same message into my feed day after day, because they’re not honoring the social agreement — this is a two-way dialog, after all!

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.  :-)

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!