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.

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!