Tag Archives: PR


If you dabble in social media, and are active in the West Michigan social media scene you are probably familiar with iwearyourshirt.com (IWYS) , and its founder Jason Sadler.

So what exactly does IWYS do?  Well companies hire them for a day, and they will wear whatever T-Shirt the company provides for them on that specific day, and then IWYS team of 5, tweets, take photos, records videos, and do live streaming of the IWYS team wearing the T-Shirt and promoting the company.  Here is how it officially works and for the curious here is the pricing.  Amazing how one guy can bring in $333,000 a year, plus $60,000 for monthly sponsorships just for wearing a different shirt 365 days a year (though I suppose he has to pay his other 4 employees).

So why do companies have such a fascination with IWYS?  Initially looking at the business model it seems like an awfully stupid idea, that companies would pay people to wear their shirt just because they will tweet, shoot videos, and take pictures of themselves with the shirt.  It doesn’t seem to be a very sound strategy for engaging customers.  They do have a large following but are those followers actually potential customers?

But for some reason West Michigan companies have really jumped onto the iwearyourshirt.com bandwagon.  For 2011, the following are companies have partnered with IWYS:  The Stow Company, JW Marriott and

Yes that is a Griffin

Amway Grand, Experience

Grand Rapids (the CVB) and Good Life Granola.


If you are a loyal reader of The Ledger you will immediately recognize the connection between these some of these companies… Stow Company, JW Marriott, Amway Grand.   That’s right they are all associated with the DeVos family (It’s crazy what businesses are in their portfolio).

In any case, these companies paid Jason Sadler of IWYS to promote their companies and arranged for him to travel to West Michigan during the week of June 6 through June 12, 2011 and put him up in the Amway Grand and JW Marriott hotels, where he wore the following shirts:

2011 hasn’t been the only year that IWYS have been leveraged by these companies, some have a history as well.

The Stow Comapny

  • Amway Grand and JW Marriott hosted Jason for a whole week in 2010 – Though he only wore the JW Marriott t-shirts on June 14, and Amway Grand on June 21, he was still in Grand Rapids attending area events and promoting things for the hotels.  Looks like those other T-Shirt sponsors during that time got the short end of the stick.

Does IWYS actually do anything?  Looking at the comments on the company’s calendar day web page, they are either non-existent or lacking depth, I am surprised I don’t see any “First” comments.  Additionally who really wants to sit through 10 videos (5 YouTube & 5 UStream) on the same company (don’t even bother looking at the comments on YouTube), not to mention new videos are out there everyday of the year (it might be difficult to get caught up if you miss a day).  I’ll admit that I am not a big on watching online videos, and sitting through at least 2 minutes of promotion & pitching 10 different times doesn’t sound appealing even if I was.

What is the fascination with this marketing medium?  Have they had a good return on investment with this?  The only company, which a campaign like this would make, sense is Good Life Granola, since their products are relatively inexpensive consumer products that can be ordered online, quickly and easily with little thought.  It would be easy for anyone following IWYS to quickly and easily purchase some granola…but not so easy to do for a city, or hotels.  But for these other companies that don’t sell cheap tangible items, it doesn’t seem like a good fit.  For the hotels alone they spent over $3,000 for their days, not including the travel, lodging, and dining expenses that I am assuming the hotels paid for (at least on their days).  But I do give all the companies involved credit for coordinating the visit with IWYS, I wonder how many secret backroom meetings it took to get it all hammered out.

This relationship still leaves so many questions… but through the Twitter (follow me here) I was able to ask a couple of questions to Ryan Slusarzyk, Marketing Manager for the Amway Grand and JW Marriott hotels, so he was able to provide some insight. For the hotels at least the goal was not to sell rooms, but to increase their social media presence and to sell Grand Rapids as a destination to visit.  As a result of the IWYS campaign in 2011, the Facebook pages for the two hotels gained over 2,000 followers (many from Michigan and the Midwest)  and there was “significant impact on twitter. “  The hotels also used this visit to promote “The Hotel Kitchen” product line, which features tangible products that can be ordered and shipped.

Ok so I am starting to turn the corner a little bit on this because when Jason from IWYS was in Grand Rapids, he did many videos showcasing Grand Rapids, its restaurants, and things to do.  So I can definitely see that as being a benefit.  Selling a product line of dressings, salsas, and chutneys, is much easier to purchase and cheaper.  Though if he didn’t come to visit Grand Rapids, I would have to think that the campaign would not be as effective.  Something tells me IWYS other employees did not have very interesting/effective videos since they were promoting from their home base.

So who knows exactly how much value the IWYS campaigns bring in, especially for these intangible objects.  But according to Ryan, he is pretty confident that the hotels will partner with IWYS again next year.

What do you think?  Is this an effective marketing channel, and a good use of marketing budget? Will anyone dare leave a “first” comment on my blog?


Zipments.com – Manufacturing a Story

Read this article in The Grand Rapids Press “Got a spare hour? Zipments.com will pay you to move something across town“.

For those of you too lazy to click, here is the excerpt from the article:

The day before the launch of an international conference, organizers have better things to do than schlep 15 boxes of brochures and other materials from Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

So Ryan Vaughn, an outreach consultant for the Center for Entrepreneurship, went to Zipments.com, a new online venture in which people who need things delivered can connect with people who will make the delivery. And the senders name their price.

He posted the job for $50, giving a window of time in which it had to be done. David Tilley, a registered courier with Zipments, signed up. He picked up the boxes, and the job was done.

Zipments.com is local courier service in West Michigan, where customers can post local “shipping” jobs, and couriers can bid on these posted shipping jobs. The customer picks the winning courier out of all the bids received for that job.

As a recently launched business Zipments.com has been doing its share of public relations, but after reading this latest Grand Rapids Press story something just didn’t feel right to me. So let me lay out some facts that might make you look at the Zipments.com article a little differently.

Innocent Shipment, or a Not Very Well Concealed Public Relations Ploy?

In reading the above facts, can you see the many possible conflicts of interest? It doesn’t seem right in my opinion. I don’t have a problem with any of the above people doing business with each other, but to use the example of Ryan Vaughn of Center for Entrepreneurship, using Zipments.com to move boxes, and Dave Tilley was chosen as the courier, seems so…… manufactured, especially as the lead in the story.

In fact the article now brings up many more questions. Like was Grand Rapids Press Reporter Cami Reister aware of these relationships outlined above? If she did why was the story run as is? If she wasn’t aware, how come more fact checking wasn’t done? In regards to Zipments.com, did they suggest this as a story? Why? As mentioned in the article they had about two other Zipments.com couriers which they could have easily led the story with.

For me knowing the above facts, does change the story, it’s like the shipment never happened and gives me the impression that Zipments.com is a crony run business (rightly or wrongly). As noted here, I am just a blogger and not a journalist or a public relations guy, so maybe this isn’t odd at all. But something this story just isn’t right. What do you think?

Schaap & the West Michigan Media

I have never been in a West Michigan news room, but I imagine it would go something like this:

Not an image of a reporter working on his deadline story.

Editor: “Johnson, do you have your article ready for the next issue?”
Reporter: “Boss, I thought the deadline for my story was next week.”
Editor: “JOHNSON! I need an article on my desk by tomorrow morning”
Reporter (to self): ” Damn… I need a story fast, I better call Schaap”

It's Schaap. Wonder if the yellow face might be sort of a Bat Signal, when media needs a story.

Every publication has written at least one article on Aaron Schaap.  But many have written two, three or even more, therefore providing proof  to my above hypothesis.

Who is perpetuating this cycle… the journalists or Schaap?  Are journalists tripping over themselves to get a recorder in front of Schaap or is Schaap pursuing the journalists with a barrage of calls, emails, and press releases?

Yellow face in background again must be the Schaap signal

So why is everyone writing a story on Mr. Schaap?  By the looks of it, he has a lot going on with his companies (The Factory, Elevator Up, Downstream), and with the local start-up and tech scene.  Is it a prerequisite for any business publication in the area to do a story on Schaap?  Probably not but the man does get a lot of coverage.

Seems like there would be an easier way to hold a pin? or is it an elevator (up) button?

It’s no surprise that the Mlive/West Michigan Business Review and the Grand Rapids Press have been working on the Schaap angle for years.  Fortunately not all of their stories focus solely on Schaap, they also include some other people, but they have some great photos (my personal favorite is the Tech Industry one):

Sharing the Thunder - One of the rare Schaap photos featuring other people

If you ever read the Holland Sentinel, they rarely have any business stories in their paper.  You have to search their website to even find their business section, and the actual stories in the paper are usually just AP wire stories.  So it is even more surprising that they have two stories on Schapp (Pitch Night, and Momentum) and even had Aaron as respondent on Street-Talk.

Grand Rapids Business Journal finally got in on the action with a Schaap feature just last month – “On-The-Job Training as an Internet Entrepreneur“.  I am surprised it took them that long (by the way GRBJ search function is awful, searching for Schaap will not bring up that story, and it is quite a pain not being able to actually read any of the stories…definitely a bummer).

MiBiz also has a few stories covering Schaap – DownStream, G33k, Entrepreneurs (you will have to log-in to read these stories).  As has Rapid Growth in covering his Pitch Night and Factory news.  The Rapidian touched on Schaap in a couple of stories (here, here) and even GrubSheets did a story.

Aaron levitating

Lastly the newly launched Startup Stories vlog did their first vlog post on Schaap and his Downstream company (honestly who else would have they done their inaugural story on?… Carl Erickson and Atomic Object, yeah right)

Mr. Schaap does have a great story, (which is surprisingly open and candid) and the guy is quite a good marketer of himself and his companies.  But his relationship with the media somewhat reminds me of Rob Bliss‘ relationship with the media (but without Mlive commenters making derisive comments), with the constant coverage.

Damn it, I just wrote an Aaron Schaap story as well.

Happy that The Ledger did a story

Sleepyhead in Michigan: An Entrepreneur’s Tale

Entrepreneurs amaze me.  The ability to conceive an idea into a product, service, and then turn that offering into a company is impressive.  (You can probably tell I like to focus on them from these past posts – iLean, ClipCleany, Cornhole).

So when I was approached with the opportunity to interview one of the founders of Sleepyhead, (Facebook, Twitter) a Chicago based nighttime relaxation drink manufacturer, I found it hard to say no.  But allow me to get into a little bit of background, before I got an email (how to contact me) from Sleepyhead’s public relations staff.  Back in early August my brother, a Chicago resident, came to visit for a weekend, and brought a surprise.  A can of Sleepyhead.  Side Note: My brother enjoys beverages, and in fact he bought me a case of Water Joe (caffeinated water) for my birthday – I still have some left if anyone is interested.  Anyone interested in a giveaway – leave me something witty and insightful in the comments and I will send you a bottle of Water Joe if shipping is not too expensive.  So I was quite intrigued by this can of Sleepyhead, and then my brother throws this in.  He knows one of the co-founders of Sleepyhead, and mentioned how they just up and left their desk jobs.  My jaw hit the floor.  So I took that can of Sleepyhead and put it in my cupboard.  See I rarely have a problem falling asleep, in fact my wife tells me I am a pro at it.

Alright back to the story.  Sleepyhead PR guy emailed me and mentioned that Sleepyhead is expanding into Michigan and wanted to find out if I would be interested in speaking with one of the co-founders.  I mentioned my familiarity with the product, and eventually I had a conversation with one of the co-founders Chuck Hammon.  Here are a couple of interesting things that came up during the conversation:

  • Chuck and his partner Eli developed this idea after meeting after work at each others residences for a period time
  • Eventually they hammered out the idea for Sleepyhead and decided they wanted to start a company.  So they both quit their jobs in corporate America and became beverage entrepreneurs
  • They got some guidance from their local SCORE chapter (I can’t say enough good things about SCORE – Grand Rapids especially has a great chapter – personal experience with them) on some things they didn’t think of or needed to develop better.
  • Per Chuck now in this down economy is the best time to start a company, because banks, vendors, suppliers, retailers who would have never down business with you in the past are all more cooperative, willing to negotiate, and eager to work with any new business (This one surprised me, because I could see both sides of it, but thought most people would be conservative)
  • They learned more in the months of working in bringing Sleepyhead to market than they ever learned in school or at their corporate jobs

Now a little more about the drink, Sleepyhead was developed by Chuck and Eli as a product that they would use and wanted to use.  Their target market is young professionals 22 to 35, men and women, who have a lot going on their lives, and have difficulty falling asleep.  They developed the product to help people unwind and relax, and help get them to bed and get them to sleep.  The product was originally launched in Chicago, and is now available at 7-11 stores, and numerous other convenience type stores or local grocers.  They decided to enter into the Michigan market because they have some local friends in the area who put them in touch with a beverage distributor called Galaxy Wine Distributors in Livonia.  Apparently they were a good match and the timing seemed right so now Galaxy is helping promote Sleepyhead launch in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.  I was hoping that there would be some cool promotions, launch events, or creative publicity for Sleepyhead but it seems like it will be pretty low-key.  Chuck and Eli have set up a schedule with Galaxy to go out and visit accounts carrying their products to learn more about how to support the retailers and what some of their challenges might be.

Well seeing that Sleepyhead is taking a low key approach to launching in Michigan, I thought I would help them out with some ideas…. Enjoy

–       Reach out to the Mommy Bloggers in the area, there are a bunch and many of them do product reviews, and no doubt many live busy lives between, children, family, and blogging, and might be interested in something that may help them relax and get to bed.

–       Our local start up community for entrepreneurs seems like it always has something going, perhaps work with them or speak at an event or provide a nice product placement of Sleepyhead for participants. Perhaps Sleepyhead can talk at one of these upcoming events, and support these fellow entrepreneurs.  I am sure they all have their thoughts racing at the end of the day thinking about what to do next and how to do it.  Seems like a logical fit, and a welcoming group.  Here is the list:

As an aside if you are looking for some entrepreneurial resources do check out the local SCORE Grand Rapids chapter, and GVSU has a great list of resources here.

I would like to say congrats to all the entrepreneurs out there, for taking an idea and making it happen.

Have you tried Sleepyhead, thoughts?  What do you think of the whole slow down and relax beverage segment?

Oh and apparently this week is Global Entrepreneur Week in Grand Rapids.  Good timing right?  Here is a link to more information & schedule.

What I Learned from the Zeeland Pumpkinfest Parade

Living in Holland, Michigan or for that matter any town in West Michigan, and chances are pretty good that your city has parades, not just one parade but multiple parades a year, all through the historic downtown area.  As an adult (in my humble opinion) you see one parade you’ve see them all. But I have children, children who enjoy parades, and of course they smile and laugh a lot at parades, and I love it when my kids smile and laugh, so we go to parades, lots of parades.  So as part of my parade activities, besides eating the candy my kids don’t want, is to pay special attention to the local businesses that are in the parade.  So at the 2010 Zeeland Pumpkin Fest Parade, I came across the following companies that caught my attention.

Lakeshore Candle Company (facebook link) – They wisely were handing out candles at the parade to almost all of the women in attendance.  But they were not just any candles they were Pumpkin Spice (extra points for relevance) votive candles in a glass container to boot.  Perhaps even more significant is the 3″ x 3″ card affixed to the packaging.  The card had company info, a list of all area stores in Holland and Zeeland that sell their candles and a 10% off coupon for Lakeshore Candle products at those local retailers.  The card also had an invitation for their 1st annual open house, at their headquarters at 9434 Pentatech Drive in Zeeland.  The open house is from October 5th through the 7th with tours available at 10am, 1pm and 3pm daily.  Perfect.  Lakeshore Candle Company used the parade and hit a home run with their marketing, by immediately capitalizing on this event, and getting everything out of it that they could. 

They know their market – women (I think it is fair to same that a vast majority of women enjoy scented candles), and they controlled their free sample giveaway to exactly the market they wanted to hit, they walked the parade route and handled candles to the women in attendance.  Secondly, they took this opportunity a step further with their 3″ x 3″ card that was included.  To build upon this initial sample giveaway, they allowed the samplers two different opportunities to “take the next step” with the company, by A) either buying another Lakeshore Candle Company product at an area store with their 10% off coupon or B) Become more intimate with the company by visiting their facility for an open house and tour the week following the parade.  By visiting the facility, a consumer might feel even more of a connection with the company because they were there, they were welcomed, and they got a free candle at a parade.  So chances are next time they are shopping for candles they should be more inclined to choose the candle company that treated them well.   Face it when was the last time Yankee Candle Company gave you a free candle and glass, plus a tour of the headquarters and a 10% off coupon?  Oh and they also had candy for the kids.

My Trail Buddy (facebook link) – was the second Zeeland company that caught my eye. They had about 6 guys on these off-road (trail) motorcycles.  More like smaller motorcycles.  I liken it to a pony where as the motorcycle would be the horse (I am sure those guys at My Trail Buddy appreciate that comparison).  Could be a new slogan “My Trail Buddy the pony of motorcycles.”  Anyways those things looked like fun, and I had to look them up online.  My Trail Buddy builds classic reproduction trail 70 bikes, and creates and sells parts for these bikes as well.  You can buy kits for their trail bikes as well.  From what I could gather you take these bikes out on the trails just like an ATV, and if you have no idea where trails are they do have a link to some trails.  I wish they were giving our free samples.

Thank you Lakeshore Candle Company and My Trail Buddy for catching my attention at the Pumpkin Fest, nice job!

Who is going to the open house?

Paper Airplanes – Taking Flight with WMAA

Last week the West Michigan Airport Authority (WMAA) which runs and maintains the Tulip City Airport off of 58th Street between US-31 and I-196, sent out an Informational WMAA Brochure on the airport.  It appears that the brochure was sent to all addresses in Holland, Holland Township (maybe because they did vote down a millage), Zeeland, and Park Township.  The collateral contained information about Tulip City Airport like latest developments, testimonials, and messages and identifying WMAA board members.  The  collateral also included something different and unique (which is why I am blogging about it), three paper airplane templates and folding instructions.  This in my mind is a smart move, and a value added bonus.

If you recall, back in November 2008 there was a millage on the ballot regarding whether or not to approve an tax increase which would help support the airport.  It was quite a bitter dispute between both sides, and even though the millage did end up passing, lot of people were left unhappy.  One of the main arguements for proponents of the millage was that the airport creates jobs for the lakeshore community, because local business such as Herman Miller, Haworth, Gentex, Johnson Controls, Tic Tock Studios, and Trendway use the airport to bring customers into Holland, which would lead to more sales, therefore creating more jobs.  Of course this is a difficult example to quantify exactly how much revenue each business has generated as a result of the airport.  But it is understandable that many residents of this area, which has/is experiencing high unemployment. are frustrated with this statement when they find themselves or others they know without work.

As you can imagine, the airport is still a pretty divisive subject in the area, and it is my thought that this marketing piece is one that could help the WMAA earn some brownie points, at least with the kids.  Not to mention actually communicating and detailing what some of the intiatives and current activities are for the airport so that people can see what the millage is actually doing for the airport.  Though I would have also included some information on their “A Ride in the Sky” program, where pilots fly customers over the area, I saw a billboard a few years back on this and I remember a big $50 on it (this is going on my “To Do List”).  I wonder if the airport was used in the wooing of LG Chem to Holland, if so it seems like that would be a massive oversight, it would have fit perfectly with Lakeshore Advantage’s Randy Thelen’s quote, and be a direct example of the airport leading to job creation.

One other thing, whenever I receive some sort of direct mail piece at work or home, I wish that somewhere on the collateral it would identify the company that created it, even if it was created internally.  I want to know who the clever firms are, who is doing interesting stuff, it can be their showcase.  Anyways through some sleuthing (they were mentioned as helping the WMAA craft a communication strategy) I was able to determine that The Image Group in Holland created the brochure, and confirmed it via Twitter (plus Google).  I liken it to an artist who signs their work, and why not – inquiring minds (well maybe it is just me) want to know.

If you want to create airplanes -download the Informational WMAA Brochure here.

Twisted Rooster – Emphasis on Twisted

Please read the comments section for an update & for a good example of customer service

Twisted Rooster is now open, and I am feel a bit conflicted.  Even though I am a lowly blogger, I feel that I have contributed to Twisted Rooster’s successful launch and opening of their restaurant (but if it fails then I hereby retract the previous statement).  Let me give you some background and you can let me know what you think.  On May 27th I wrote my “Breaking the Chain – O’Charley’s becoming Twisted Rooster” story.  I also tweeted the story at 1:19 PM on May 27th.  On the same date  Twisted Rooster retweeted my tweet (screen shot below and you can also visit their twitter page and scroll down to May 27th on their twitter page and see it). 

Also on May 27th Twisted Rooster posted a link to my blog post on their facebook page, which was “liked” and “commented” by others.  This wall posting that Twisted Rooster put on their own wall was recently removed (I viewed it earlier this week, and now it is nowhere to be found).

Additionally, as soon as my blog was being mentioned on facebook and twitter, Twisted Rooster began using the term “unchaining”, which I first used in my original post (second to the last paragraph)
“So what do you think is this going to be a continuing trend, the “unchaining” of restaurants?  Can we expect more restaurants to go this route?  What are your thoughts and is this a good thing or bad thing?”

So now Twisted Rooster is using the term “unchaining” and in conjunction with Grand Rapids Social Diary they hosted a un”CHAIN”ing Party for their soft launch on July 21, 2010.  Where they invited a list of VIPs to attend.

To recap – Twisted Rooster removed a wall post that they posted about my blog, Twisted Rooster and Grand Rapids Social Diary took “unchaining” term and ran with it, and with what could have been a nice PR move, I was not invited to the soft launch. So it seems to me like they are taking all the credit for the term “unchaining” and then trying to erase the source of this word, me.

It is not like I expect any monetary gain or special treatment, but it would’ve been nice to be recognized for my ideas.  Being invited to attend the soft launch would have been a nice gesture, but again not something I expected to happen.  Let me clarify that I do not have a problem with Twisted Rooster’s actions by themselves, but coupled together and with the Facebook wall post that was deleted (let’s just call this the straw – final one or the one that broke the camel’s back – you decide), just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  I am having trouble coming up with any other reasons why Twisted Rooster would delete their facebook wall post, besides trying to erase their link to me and my post.  So here I am writing about how Twisted Rooster took my idea and pushed me aside instead of writing a follow-up on how cool it was that  they borrowed my idea, gave my blog great publicity, and how I stopped by for lunch the other day.

So what do you think?

a) Shut up stupid blogger, and go back to your mother’s basement
b) Yeah I can understand your frustration but that is life
c) If that happened to me, I would be super pissed and would stand outside of Twisted Rooster with the no rooster sign pictured above
d) I don’t care, just write about something interesting