Generally, I like when people create things. Art? Like it. Music? I’ll take it. A new technology? Some for me, please. Innovative event that showcases Michigan? Hey – now you’re onto something.
If you aren’t already one of his nearly 2,500 friends (no, I’m not exaggerating), then let me introduce you to Jason Brown. This snappy young man is the founder and principal of PublicCity PR. He also is one of the creators of the Great Lakes Showcase, an event that aims to partner Detroit-area media with businesses looking for some publicity.
Yes, this is a profit-making enterprise for both sides – Jason and the business that contract to attend the Jan. 16 event. The media gets lots of great story fodder, some finger foods and probably swag to take home. Another typical day at the office, right?
Well, I’d like to argue the other side. I think the idea has some serious potential and needs to be exploited on a much grander scale. I think Michigan itself – its people, its businesses, even its PR people – need to take a long, hard look at how this event could shape perception about our fine state. We need someone to take a long, hard look at us. We need attention. We need some action – and the only way this squeaky state is going to get some is through some serious SHOUTING from the rooftops.
Now, granted, Jason will be talking quietly and respectfully from the Southfield Westin Hotel. But he is moving forward rapidly with this idea, taking from inspiration to fulfillment within a matter of months. There was no such thing as the Showcase before this inaugural event. He created something out of nothing. And I’ve got to say that all of Michigan needs to learn something from the good Mr. Brown.
(Background on Jason: He started PublicCity PR in October 2008. It was, he argues, the worst economy in Michigan’s history. He and co-worker Monica Luoma have been spreading the word throughout the land ever since. The business went from zero clients to today when the firm has about 20 retainer/hourly clients.)
The inspiration for the Showcase? Jason said it was going to a similar show in New York City. That was an annual “gift guide” go-see-them thingie…you know, where reporters get scads of free stuff so they’ll write about it. And that gave him the inspiration to take this event into the Midwest…
“I can’t tell you how many times companies have said to me that they have been sending Press Releases out to media contacts and have never been able to get a story about their product/services. Sound familiar?” Jason told me this week.
His NYC trip was with a client, who showed off their product to more than 150 members of the media over six hours. Here’s the part that stands out for me – more than 150 members of the press showed up for this thing! Yes, we all love a freebie. But they also got the news out about their businesses to the general public.
This is a key message for the state and its denizens – you have to get out there to be seen and heard. I don’t know how many companies I’ve written about for the past decade or more that got coverage just because someone – a mother, someone’s cousin, an ex-girlfriend – got the bright idea to write a reporter. A simple letter. An email. A message got through the various gatekeepers. And, just like that, a sensation…or at least a decent small-business profile…is born.
“After attending this event, I truly thought that I could create a similar event in Michigan and bring some great Michigan success stories (clients/non-clients) in one room to meet media from across the state and engage them to potentially do a story about these companies/products/services or use them as a subject matter expert in the new year,” Jason wrote me. “Once I had the basics down, I called my friend Sherrie Handrinos of Boost 1 Marketing to garner the space needed, help manage the event logistics and leverage her contacts for exhibitors. It’s been a nice partnership thus far.”
So far, there are about 25 companies registered to date along with another 10 local non-profits. “Our goal is 50 companies and non-profits, so about 15 spaces remain with a month to go,” Jason said.
Lots of big companies have PR department that help spread the word about them. But lots of smaller ones – the ones that hire your mom, dad or sister and give us all a living wage – cannot afford such practices. The Showcase is a novel way for them to get their stories out, Jason said.
“For example, Urban Ashes, heard about the Showcase from the “Buy Michigan Now” organization. Urban Ashes is a collection of home furnishings made with Michigan urban wood salvaged from trees that grew on streets, in yards, in parks and in urban areas,” Jason wrote. “The founder Paul Hickman was excited when he heard about the showcase because he wanted media awareness about his company, but didn’t really have a PR budget and thought this was a good investment for his budget.”
I’ll let Jason have the last word. (In real life, this never happens….HA! Just kidding.) But I feel he has summed up my whole argument here. And it’s about time the PR guy actually gets to be heard rather than just acting as a ghost in the machine.
“Over the last few years, we have definitely seen Detroit get its 15 minutes of fame on the national stage, in a positive and negative light. We just need to continue focusing on the positive. I believe media and many other people across the country are rooting for Detroit to have a renaissance and want to help make that dream a reality. But we still can’t slow down and must continue to do things that will catch the eye of local and national media, so that story never gets overlooked.”
Ditto, my friend.