Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Power to the People

Last week I had the unique, and might I say, unprecedented, opportunity to attend a gathering of enthusisasts for a car that is not even built yet. The car, the Chevrolet Volt, is an electric vehicle designed to go 40 miles on electricity alone, and then using a small motor to recharge the batteries for another 600+ miles.

So what's the big deal about this event? The event was hosted by Lyle Dennis, founder of a Volt enthusiast blog, http://www.gm-volt.com/. The short story is that Lyle, a NY-based neurologist, found out about the Volt at its debut last year and created the blog shortly thereafter. He quickly gained a large following of individuals anxious for the Volt to arrive. Last year he approached some people at GM about the possibility of doing an informal town hall meeting with GM and some members of the GM-Volt.com community. And so, Volt Nation was born.

It was amazing to see a few hundred enthusiasts (sorry for the low quality pics; I took them on my camera phone) come from as far as California to have the opportunity to get an insiders view of what's going on with the development and production of the Volt. The event was hosted by Lyle, and GM was simply a guest. We allowed Lyle to use they Chevy display at the NY Auto Show for the meeting, and made sure he had executives and subject matter experts on hand to answer questions. Our vice chairman, Bob Lutz was there to speak to the crowd and answer questions. He even brought a few pictures of the Volt's battery pack to share with Volt fans in attendance.
I say that this event is unprecedented because of the people in attendance. Normally at events like this all you have there are media. This time it was just everyday people with a passion for the vehicle. Not only did they get to see the car up close and personal, but they even had the chance to mingle with and ask questions of the executives and subject matter experts. Furthermore, this was not an event hosted by GM, but by a blogger. We simply gave him the resources he needed to make it happen.

Volt Nation, in my opinion, is an excellent example of good public relations practices. Volt Nation allowed GM to have two-way communication between the company and the people who will actually buy the Volt when it comes out. It was candid, open conversation. Doesn't get much better than that.

Links to stories about Volt Nation:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Working for Free: Pro Bono PR

A while back I read an article in PR Tactics, PRSA's monthly newspaper, about the power of pro bono public relations, and I was absolutely intrigued by the concept of volunteering to do free PR work. I had the opportunity as an assignment in one of my college classes to spend the semester volunteering for a local nonprofit. I chose to volunteer for a small, start-up aquarium in Utah, and learned first-hand how much value PR people can add to small nonprofits. They were overjoyed to have me help (only person with PR experience there), and I can honestly say that that internship was the most personally rewarding of any of the four internships I completed.

So what's the point of volunteering one's PR skills to your community or a nonprofit? I'm sure that many would answer that it's another opportunity to build your resume and enhance your PR skills, but for me it goes far beyond that. On one of the entrances to the campus of my alma mater, BYU, there is a sign that reads, "Enter to learn, go forth to serve." I've often pondered that statement, and I truly believe it is incumbent upon us all to apply our knowledge and understanding not only to our jobs, but to give back to the community and those around us.

Maybe I'm too altruistic in my thinking, but this is truly what I believe. Since I read that article I have been thinking about where to best volunteer my PR skills, and it looks like I've found the perfect opportunity with Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium, a group of volunteers working to reopen the aquarium that the city of Detroit shut down a few years ago due to budget restraints. I look forward to taking what I learned in school and from past jobs and interships and applying it to a cause I believe in.

Do you do nonprofit work? If so, where and why?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A great explanation of Twitter

If you've never seen the "Plain English" videos on Common Craft, I highly recommend you check them out. While the folks at Common Craft have done a number of these videos on varying subjects, I suggest checking out the Plain English videos on blogs, social networks, RSS, social bookmarking, wikis and online photo sharing. We've used these videos here at GM in social media training sessions with our PR colleagues. Common Craft does an amazing job of taking something that appears very complex and simplifying it to the point where anyone can understand it. I used these videos to understand RSS and social bookmarking, two concepts that I could never quite figure out before.

The most recent video is a great explanation of what Twitter is, and how it can be used. Check it out below:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Traditional PR

I have to be really careful in my role in social media here at GM not to lose track of other valuable PR skills that may not employ social media. I am adamant that social media is not the silver bullet for everything we want to accomplish in PR, though it is quickly becoming a huge part of what we do. As I've stated before, social media helps us get back to the very basics of what public relations is all about: buidling relationships between an organization and the publics upon whom the organization's long-term success depends.

That said, then, are there some PR practices that are timeless? Are there some things PR people have done for years that are just as effective today? I say yes. Here are some aspects of PR that I don't think will/should ever go away:

  • Press releases -- Though I would advocate we shorten them and use them more strategically.
  • Traditional media relations -- I'm not one of those people who believes getting a story in The New York Times is the greatest achievement a PR practitioner could hope for, but there is a big place for tradtional media relations. Furthermore, I don't think the Internet marks the end of print media. Many believed the advent of radio would kill newspapers too, but they're still around.
  • Soliciting feedback from publics -- Two-way communications is and will always be a "must- have" in our PR work
  • Research -- whoever can figure out the best way to measure ROI of specific PR activities will make a great deal of money!

So these are my ideas, but I'm sure there are others. What are some of the solid PR practices you think will never go away?