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Posts Tagged ‘Grand Rapids’

How Not to Handle Controversy You Invited Upon Yourself – ArtPrize at The BOB

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

ArtPrize Controversy at The BOB

As ArtPrize opens in Grand Rapids, an actual controversy has finally broken out.

It’s not the usual controversy (ie art snobs being upset that “commoners” are allowed to express opinions on what constitutes “good art).  It’s actually controversy over work considered to be obscene. Read more…

I Demand Better Graffiti

April 25, 2012 1 comment

Gerald R Ford Graffiti at the Ottawa Ave Exit

Recently someone in Grand Rapids, Michigan started adding Banksy-esque stenciled images of former president Gerald Ford on walls downtown.  The first image that appeared depicted a standing figure of Ford, which later had a word bubble added with the words “Motu Viget” (the city’s motto which is Latin for “Strength in Activity”).

Another figure appeared more recently of Ford with his arm raised and the infamous quote from Ford’s Oath of Office speech in 1974: “our long national nightmare is over.”

There are also other works I haven’t had the chance to see yet depicting Ford and his quote “I am indebted to no man,” and even other local celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, Jr with the quote “all work is easy work.”

I’ve been amused by these works and am now keeping one eye peeled near the I-196/US-131 interchange for more of these illustrations, wondering about the motivations of the individual(s) behind them, what they’re building toward and hoping that the Michigan Department of Transportation is slow to act on its threat to remove the graffiti.

This morning, however, I noticed that someone had scrawled the words “War Criminal” in red spray paint with poor handwriting next to the first Ford illustration.  It upset me.

I wasn’t upset with the characterization of Ford as a war criminal, there’s certainly a case to be made for that.  Rather I’m pissed at how utterly lazy and unimaginative the response is.  I’ve decided that I don’t hate graffiti – I hate CRAP graffiti.

  • Crap graffiti is some jerkweed tagger plastering the exact same sloppy, rounded uninventive image of their inane alias over every available surface out of view of a security camera.
  • Crap graffiti is some lazy, ignorant suburbanite teen adding a wobbly swastica to a school wall for shock value – completely unaware of the origin of the icon or the weight the symbol carries.
  • Crap graffiti is what adorns so many railroad cars – though there’s slightly more time invested, it still is the same unoriginal design: a crunched, barely-legible thickened font filled in with swirls of color.

T Rex "King" Graffiti on Division Ave in Grand Rapids

If you’re going to post something for hundreds of people to see each day as they walk past a transformer box, don’t you take enough pride in what you do to make a good show of it?  Ostensibly you’ve got the need to communicate (which you’ve demonstrated by risking misdemeanor charges) – if you’re going to go to all that trouble don’t you want to be effective and original when you do so?

So you want to critique President Ford – fine; add to the stencil illustration and give him an arm offering a thumbs-up to Suharto to massacre East Timorese civilians, or add a stencil of Henry Kissinger doing the same.

That goes for anyone that puts up a billboard (which I usually consider to be visual affronts more offensive than graffiti, distinguished only by the fact that they’re more expensive to produce and are officially-sanctioned).

Can’t we do better?  If you’re going to confront me with your message – at least provide me some value; a bit of humor, a spark of originality, an artistic flourish, a new font … ANYTHING.  Maybe social media has ruined me – but I now expect to extract something of value from attempts to get my attention and I refuse to believe I’m the only one.

So taggers and advertisers – give me better graffiti.  Make it art.

For Valentine’s Day – The Story of a Social Media Wedding Proposal

February 14, 2012 9 comments

Derek and Adrienne - "Mad Men" Style Courtesy of Autumn Luciano

As today is Valentine’s Day, I thought it fitting to finally get around to writing about how I romanced my wife into marrying me using social media.

The Backstory

In grad school, I met a bright and vivacious colleague who was always the first person to start up conversations with the room before class started.  Fortunately her extroversion overcame the introversion that plagued me throughout my time in school and we became friends.  In addition to being funny and kind, she was smart and hard-working which made her an ideal partner for group projects.  She also shared my fondness for snark and would sit in the back row with me, actively contributing to the running dialogue about the class (nowadays the kids call this “tweeting”).

After grad school, we kept in touch and remained friends.  She always had great insight when I was facing challenges at work, and I was more than happy to come speak to her colleagues about social media and lend a hand in the charitable efforts she was always investing herself in.

Everything always remained friendly and platonic because we were both in long term relationships.  At some point both of our relationships ended and created the opportunity for a romantic spark.

The Proposal – Ver. 1.0

I can never do anything the easy way.  Like most people who muster up the courage to make a marriage proposal, I wanted it to be as special as the person I was proposing to.  I quickly realized this would be impossible, so I tried to think of something 1/10th as special as my future wife. Read more…

A PR Pro’s Plea to TV Journos – Don’t go Geraldo Like WWMT

January 25, 2012 3 comments

WWMT Pulls a Rivera

A colleague of mine recently had an unfortunate experience with WWMT Channel 3 here in West Michigan.  One of their reporters burst into the offices of Patriot Solutions with cameras rolling and accusations flying.

It offers a “teachable moment” to point out two problems I see public relations professionals encounter with their counterparts in the news media:

Problem 1 – Not Doing One’s Homework

The basis of the investigation is that Patriot Solutions is classified as a “service-disabled, veteran-owned company.”  WWMT noted that the disability rating of the owners is “0 percent,” so they are alleging some sort of fraud.

The problem is, as the National Veteran-Owned Business Association could readily tell you, having a “0 percent” disability doesn’t mean that a veteran wasn’t disabled as a result of their service to their country.  What it means is that their disability is not at a “compensable level” – meaning it doesn’t “substantially [limit] one or more major life activities.”

So, for example, a veteran could have a “0 percent” disability rating if they suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but are able to make it to work every day and lead a relatively normal life despite suffering from mental health issues.

Problem 2 – Asking Questions One Knows Can’t be Answered

What WWMT did with their ambush interview was put Patriot Solutions in an impossible position: every journalist worth his/her salt knows that any employer has to decline to comment on private personnel matters.  It’s against the law – employees have privacy rights.  Same with patients; showing up at a hospital and demanding information on someone being treated is a HIPAA violation.  Further, the same is true of students; their privacy is protected by FERPA.

Veterans of the Marine Corps and the Army (which the owners of Patriot Services are) deserve respect and fair treatment as much as all other citizens (if not moreso).  What WWMT essentially did was attack these individuals during business hours and demand that they cough up sensitive, personal medical information because its reporter doesn’t know how to use the  Google Machine.

Dick move, WWMT.  Dick move.  Hopefully they do the right thing and nix the piece before they do more damage.

What we Learned From the Passing of a Best Friend Carried on the Fleet Feet of Social Media

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The Passing of a Best Friend Carried on the Wings of Twitter

A sad note that marred an otherwise unseasonably-warm and dry week in Grand Rapids was the death of a blogger’s dog after a careless right turn by a man driving a truck who then left the scene (even though he later admitted to being aware that the distraught owner was trying to flag him down; I also refuse to believe he didn’t know he’d hit something).

The dog’s owner wrote a moving essay about the experience that has touched all of us.  He also provided an example of forgiveness and compassion that I’ll think long and hard about for the rest of my life.

The Incident

There were witnesses to the tragic accident and the reaction of the driver of the truck.  As is increasingly the case, those witnesses had access to smartphones and tweeted what they had witnessed.  One witness, who I’m proud to call a friend, took action and captured information about the truck and its driver.  The truck was a work vehicle, so it was emblazoned with the name of the business – and the witness also managed to get (and tweet) the license plate. Read more…

The Future of the Post Office and the Digital Divide

September 14, 2011 1 comment

The Digital Divide

What does the future of the United States Post Office hold for the people affected by the Digital Divide?

I wish I knew.

What I do know is that the current state of Internet access in the US is completely inadequate for us to consider ourselves a functioning democracy.  As the New York Times and SavetheInternet.com just noted, we’re behind ROMANIA in terms of Internet speed (25th out of developed nations).

Here are just some of the reasons that Internet Access should be considered a basic right for all people:

Political Involvement:

  • Legislation moves quickly enough now that the standard “snail mail” (plus the added time it takes for legislators to screen their mail given the threat of terrorism) means it’s really too slow anyway and now the spectre of privatizing the mail service is in the future which will increase costs to send a letter (because it’s no longer subsidized by the government).
  • Want to send a fax to your legislator?  Unless you own a fax machine, most places charge a dollar or more per page.
  • Many required disclosures by public organizations have moved online, and virtually all historical documents and records are available online.
  • Citizen Journalism is a burgeoning phenomena that could potentially bring a great deal more transparency to the world we live in, but it also requires high-speed Internet access to work.

Career Advancement:

  • Moving onward and upward without Internet Access is extraordinarily difficult.  Consider the impact of the decline of the newspaper industry on access to classified ads for jobs.  Many organizations have moved to online job listings through web-based services like Monster.com, Indeed.com, Beyond.com, etc.
  • Networking still happens face-to-face, and it’s still valuable, but networking (and maintaining networks) online is rapidly becoming a new norm.
  • Social networking and other web-based platforms are now integral to most work that pays a decent wage – using those tools requires a considerable amount of time online to learn and practice skills.

Entrepreneurship:

  • The other day I saw a van for a local HVAC servicing company wrapped with branding imagery that included a Facebook button.  The “Flat Earth” has brought about a revolution in commerce and anyone can easily start up a business with far fewer resources because so many things can be accomplished inexpensively online (from payroll to managing finances to setting up an e-commerce platform).

Not enough attention is being paid to this issue.  Here’s a great example; even PBS has retired its Digital Divide site:

PBS Digital Divide Site Retired

Edutopia has a well-written piece on the state of the Digital Divide in the US which was recently updated and includes contextual information on the last decade of attempts to address it.

One of the ways to address the digital divide is to break the stranglehold the for-profit telecommunications industry has on Internet Access.  Attempts nationwide have been made to provide low-cost or free Internet access – like municipalities purchasing and providing wi-fi for their citizens (which have been fought tooth and nail by the telecoms).  That’s the main reason I was so excited about Google Fiber; the possibility that experiment holds for bridging the digital divide is promising.

GoogleFiber4GR

Even Grand Rapids has attempted to bring low-cost or free Internet access to its citizens (GR’s “The Rapidian” has a good write-up about the current efforts involving a company called Clear“) but progress has been slow.If the Post Office is dramatically cut or eliminated outright, that’s going to dramatically ramp up the need for a “digital” equivalent of those “analog” services.

Case Study: Kids’ Food Basket “Toyota 100 Cars for Good” Social Media Campaign Results

August 24, 2011 1 comment

Andrew Zimmern Retweets Adrienne Wallace's Appeal for KFB

As promised, here is the analysis of the social media campaign used to help win Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Kids’ Food Basket a much-needed delivery truck from Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” campaign.

To show all the public relations majors out there that “Management by Objective” isn’t just an esoteric concept you memorize in a PR 200 class and subsequently forget, I’ve framed the analysis of the campaign in terms of the “RACE” acronym (Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation). Read more…

For my Next Trick I Will Win a Truck Using Only the Power of Social Media

August 5, 2011 2 comments

Screen Shot of the 100 Cars for Good Voting Results Late in the Day

[Warning: the title of this blog post is entirely facetious.]

Kids Food Basket

One of my favorite charities in West Michigan, Kids Food Basket, may just have won a much-needed delivery truck to replace the one from their meager delivery fleet that died (the results aren’t in yet, but they were leading the vote count all day).  Many thanks go to Toyota which created the “100 Cars for Good” contest to not only give a bunch of highly-deserving nonprofits a chance to win a vehicle, but also raise their profile both locally and nationally.

Kudos to Toyota for putting together a first-rate publicity package for the entrants.  As most in the public relations world are aware, nonprofits are often at a significant disadvantage when it comes to promoting themselves because they’re not only challenged with resources, but staff time as well.

Toyota 100 Cars for GoodIt’s tempting to chalk up the success to the ethereal “power of social media” but in reality, it played a far smaller role than it appears on the surface.  Here’s what really was at play:

  1. A Great Product: it’s no accident that Kids Food Basket has exploded in popularity in West Michigan in the past few years – it’s a great organization with a great staff and noble aims.  The great outreach the organization has done to grow itself to the point where it now serves 5,000 students per day when school is in session is the single most important factor that made the promotional campaign for the “100 cars for good” campaign successful.
  2. A Great Community: I’m certainly not the first person to remark on the generosity that exists in West Michigan from the Kalamazoo Promise up to the gleaming buildings on Health Hill in downtown Grand Rapids.  Social media serves only as a convenient conduit to people who would drop what they’re doing to help virtually any good cause if asked even if it wasn’t via a Tweet.
  3. Great People: Like so many nonprofits, the staff of Kids Food Basket is packed with exemplary human beings who commit themselves totally to the cause.  They work long hours for meager pay because they love what they do and who they serve.  People like that are the best any institution can hope for, because they’re the kind of people who have deep and durable networks in the community which are exactly what you need to leverage for communications efforts like this.  Here’s why these people are so critical:
    1. They give enough regularly to be able to ask: You can’t ask for anything via social media unless you’ve given something to the people you’re asking.  In fact, the standard level of distrust means you have to give a whole lot to earn the right to ask.
    2. They’re established (and thusly believable): You can’t post this many requests for anything unless you’re well-established online as someone who is credible.  You’ll quickly be labeled a spammer.  Surprisingly, it’s pretty easy and fast to detect and ignore the fakers – remember, even computer algorithms can detect them.
    3. They’re willing to do the work (which also builds credibility): what this essentially means is that they use as few shortcuts as possible to get things done.  That means making as many individual, personalized messages as humanly-possible.  As we all know, people are far more likely to take action when asked to do so one-on-one.  Social media just lets you engage in that tried-and-true activity more quickly and without geographic barriers.

All of those pieces have to be in place for any social media campaign to work.  Those are the facts.  Anyone who promises you success regardless of your people and your product is lying to you.  No viral video, no search engine optimization, no iPad app, and no amount of bought followers can shine a turd.

Unfortunately there are plenty of Fauxcial Media experts ready and willing to do that – so caveat emptor.

If you want to know the details of precisely what plan we followed – I’ll detail those in a subsequent blog post.  As with any practical exercise in public relations, I gained a lot of valuable insights.

Public Relations – Why Relocate America’s Ranking of Grand Rapids Matters

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Spotlight on G-Rap

Recently, ReclocateAmerica.com ranked Grand Rapids as #2 on its “Top Ten Places to Live” behind Austin, TX.  Way cool, right?

Apparently not.  Both before and after the publication, three pieces have been written about how Grand Rapids shouldn’t be seeking external validation at all:

Salient quotes from the three articles (in order):

“Despite the reality of all our advances, whether replications of another city or other ideas that are completely our own, maybe we need to stop trying to make people love us and simply learn to love ourselves a bit more. When we focus so hard on what the world thinks of us by jumping up and down in a childlike manner, maybe we are saying, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me.'”
– Tommy Allen

“But I would suggest to Tommy, and to everyone else, that he not lose the thread he tripped over – the idea that maybe we need to start by pursuing contentment in our own eyes and judging ourselves by our own measures.  For every top 10 we chase, for every passing mention on meaningless morning TV we crave, we need to ask ourselves how we could have, should have, turned that effort inward.”
– Stad diPonzi

“Halfway through reading that, I came down with a serious case of List Fatigue. The news here is that we got named one of America’s top 100 cities and then enough visitors to the site pushed Grand Rapids to No. 2. Which is cool, if this is the kind of validation you seek. […] Grand Rapids’ placement on this particular list appears, more than anything, to be an expression of pride on the part of various community members. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But does Grand Rapids, as “diPonzi” suggests, suffer in general from a disproportionate need for outside attention?”
– Troy Reimink

I think they’re missing the point.  Lists like these have little to do with validating our egos – they’re all about stimulating discussion about quality of life and promoting economic development.  What the lists do is provide away to include our city’s name in the national dialog.  The (perhaps unfair) reality is that sort of thing matters a great deal.  It’s an important part of public relations.

As writers like Dan Gardner have pointed out – the research shows that human beings make very important decisions (like where to live) based on irrational and limited information or perceptions.  The news and discussion generated by “top ten” lists like this is just the kind of data floating through the ether that attaches itself to peoples’ perceptions and drives decision-making.

If you don’t talk about yourself (or encourage others to) – it’s probably not going to happen.  So as distasteful, slimy, and decidedly un-Midwestern as it may be – we need to promote ourselves.  Everyone (even cities) could use a little self-aggrandizement.

After all, what is SXSW if not the city of Austin saying “Look at me, look at me, look at me!”  … and it works.

There’s a great analog to this in Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize Competition: though it publishes “top __” lists – that isn’t the point.  The point is to inject a discussion of the arts into the public consciousness, and in so doing – help promote and encourage all artists in the process.

I shouldn’t have to lecture three guys with published opinion columns about the importance of self-promotion. :-}

Absences and Presences in the Era of Radical Transparency – the MyGR6 Censorship List Deconstructed

July 7, 2011 3 comments
Screen Capture of the Banned Words List in the MyGR6.com Entry Form Pulled from the Script on the Page

Screen Capture of the Banned Words List in the MyGR6.com Entry Form Pulled from the Script on the Page

Courtesy of Grand Rapids social media maven Laura Bergells (@maniactive), there’s now a screen capture of the full list of words/phrases banned by the MyGR6 contest entry form.  Or, at least, this was the list banned when the contest originally debuted earlier this week.  Mark L. Curtis (@Mark_L_Curtis) observes that the site appears to have switched to a paid service for content filtering. Read more…