All posts in By the way

  • Help map the future of news coverage in Greater Kalamazoo

    Breaking the News Part Two:

    This August 25, InterCom continues our community conversation about the changing local news landscape. Breaking the News, Part Two is a solutions-focused, Kalamazoo-centered follow-up to our May panel discussion. There, we discovered what’s happening throughout Michigan and around the country. (A video of Part One is available here, courtesy of Public Media Network.)

    Mapping local coverage

    At Part Two, we’ll explore how state and national trends translate for our community in a World-Café-style setting. Participants will join Kalamazoo-area editors, publishers and broadcasters in conversations about what topics and trends are being covered, what’s not, and how to address the gaps. We’ll create a Greater Kalamazoo media landscape visual that members can access after the event.

    Critical discussion, real impact

    This will be a fully interactive, facilitated session where all participants will have the opportunity to share what’s working and where there are opportunities for improvement.

    This is a rare chance for both publishers and broadcasters to meet collectively with communication professionals and community members in Greater Kalamazoo. We believe this meeting is critical to improving how local news and stories are distributed and how they reach their targeted audiences “ for a stronger community.

    Join us!

    Our event begins at 6 p.m. with appetizers a cash bar. Cost is $20 for InterCom members, $25 non-members and $15 for students (ID required). Seats are limited, so register now to save your spot.


  • It’s time! Renew or join InterCom today as we kick off a new season of networking, speakers, field trips and more

    As we close out the 2015-2016 InterCom season, we hope you’ll take a moment now to renew your membership for next year. It’s a quick few clicks, and the cost remains just $45. If you’ve heard about our association but haven’t taken the membership step yet, we hope you’ll consider doing so and join now. If you do, you’ll enjoy our June 10 encore 2nd Friday lunchtime event, World’s Best Commercials from Cannes, free of charge.

    You decide your time commitmenttime to restart

    InterCom was launched in 1989 when joining a large professional organization was as common as taking a lunch break. But who does that anymore? Yet professional development is still a crucial part of career planning. And developing a professional network is especially important for communication professionals. Today, InterCom lets members make as big or as limited a time commitment as their schedule allows. You can attend every event we host, share ideas and offer input into the organization that’s helping to shape one of the area’s most vital professional segments. Or you can simply stay connected through our electronic newsletter and social media posts.

    Don’t miss our signature lunchtime events

    If you were part of InterCom from its beginning, you might recall hearing from a guy named Larry Bell who introduced his small craft beer business to the region and shared the company’s early marketing strategy. This season kicks off Sept. 9 with second-generation Bell’s VP Laura Bell. Today the company employs more than 400 people over a 23-state area and has seeded an entire industry around it. Oct. 14 we’ll hear from KVCC’s Mark De Young, with insight into the changing field of graphic design. And don’t miss our 2016 presidential election post-mortem Nov. 11 with John A. Clark, WMU Professor and Political Science Chair. Jan. 13 is a working session with Raquel Binder of both KVCC and WMU, on TED, the Game-Changer. Free to members, these lunchtime events offer insight and instruction. Featuring best practices and case studies in communication, they also provide a behind-the-scenes perspective on some of Southwest Michigan’s leading companies and nonprofits. For a full line-up of the year’s happenings, check out our events page.

    Discover new members-only benefits

    Want the inside track on local resources for communication professionals? This year we’re adding members-only field trips to our long list of member benefits. We start with a stop at the Kalamazoo Public Library’s tech hub, which now includes access to 3D printing.

    Gain access to the region’s top prosstart

    Membership in InterCom offers instant access to a cadre of top local communication professionals. But you’ll also meet people leading organizations and initiatives that are central to our region. It’s been said, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, as you build your career. We believe both are important, and we’re committed to helping our members develop both knowledge and a vital professional network. We hope you’ll join us.

    From the desk of Gretchen Johnson, President of InterCom and owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications.

  • BREAKING NEWS from Breaking the News: New voices joining our panel of Michigan media experts

    InterCom’s May 19th community forum on local news is just days away — and we have some late-breaking news of our own:

    • We’re pleased to welcome WMUK’s news director, Andy Robins, to our panel this week. Andy has been a full-time radio journalist since 1980, and worked as a reporter, anchor and news director at stations in Benton Harbor-Saint Joseph and South Haven prior to joining WMUK in 1985. He was a reporter and news producer for WMUK before taking on his current role in 1998. Having started his radio career right out of high school in 1974 at WKPR-AM in Kalamazoo, Andy adds local context and a long-term view of changes in broadcast news to the discussion. Operated by Western Michigan University, WMUK 102.1 FM is a charter member of National Public Radio. The station is celebrating its 65th anniversary on May 18.
    • Due to a scheduling conflict, Phil Power of The Center for Michigan is unable to participate after all. We’re sad to lose Phil’s perspective, but we’re thrilled that Bridge’s senior editor, David Zeman, is available to take his place. With two decades’ experience as an investigative reporter and editor at the Detroit News (where his team won the Pulitzer Prize among other national honors), David brings to the panel an in-depth perspective on the power of journalism.

    David and Andy both add unique and valuable perspectives to our forum, so we’re excited to welcome them as panelists, says InterCom president Gretchen Johnson. With such a diverse (and sometimes competing) mix of media voices on board, it promises to be a highly informative and lively discussion.

    Registration and more information about the event are at

    More Info on New Guests

    Andy Robins has served as WMUK’s news director for nearly 20 years. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting. Robins has worked as a radio journalist full-time since 1980, after beginning his broadcasting career right out of high school in 1974 at WKPR-AM in Kalamazoo. Robins held reporter, anchor and news director positions at stations in Benton Harbor-Saint Joseph and South Haven prior to joining WMUK in 1985. He was a reporter and news producer for WMUK before taking on his current role in 1998.

    David Zeman is senior editor at Bridge. Previously, he was director of content and communication at Education Trust-Midwest. Zeman worked for two decades at the Detroit Free Press as an investigative reporter and editor. As editor, his reporters won some of the nation’s highest honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award, the Worth Bingham Prize and the National Headliner Public Service Award. Zeman also worked as a reporter at The Miami Herald and The (Raleigh, N.C.) News and Observer, and spent two years as an attorney at a law firm in Miami. He holds a law degree from the University of Miami, a master’s in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.




  • Beyond calendar listings: Local arts & culture scene deserves real news coverage


    I was sitting in a Nashville country/western bar with one of the judges of the Gilmore Keyboard Festival in November 1993 as she explained why Ralf Gothoni was her choice to be the second Gilmore artist.

    It’s like being Diogenes with his light looking for an honest man, she said, referencing the lamp-carrying Greek philosopher. You’ve got your light and you’re looking for someone who will play the piano and touch your soul.

    Gothoni touched the judges’ souls earlier that night in a recital at Vanderbilt University, a recital surreptitiously arranged by the Gilmore for the benefit of the selection committee members. They scattered throughout the audience so as not to draw notice to the group. The committee confirmed its choice in a meeting after midnight and surprised Gothoni with the news around breakfast time.

    It was news, but not just for the Finnish pianist who had always spurned piano competitions. It was news for the Kalamazoo region through the stories I and other arts reporters wrote for the Kalamazoo Gazette. It was news for a broader musical world, and reported in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and in classical music magazines.

    The Gilmore still rises to the level of news in the current version of the Gazette/MLive, but not to the same level of reporting the festival once commanded. Staff cutbacks and shifting priorities to state-level news have seen to that. Many arts, entertainment and cultural groups in communities across the country are facing similar reductions in coverage. It’s easy for news outlets to view arts and entertainment coverage as mere promotion, relegated to a few lines in calendar listings, because calendars attract the most clicks. Since most media allow arts and entertainment organizations to fill in online calendar forms themselves, it’s cheap, reader-generated journalism.

    Except that it’s not journalism, and a click is not news.

    Arts and culture offerings have long been known to be integral parts of a community. They give a community vitality and add to a region’s quality of life. Their shows and exhibits pump dollars into the local economy. Events such as the Gilmore or the monthly Art Hops add vibrancy to our town. But it’s not just the big events. It can be a classical concert at Chenery, a rock band at the State Theatre, a play at the Civic or an easy-going brass band at the Old Dog. All of it makes Kalamazoo special. The arts and culture scene provides many of the stories that lie at the heart and soul of what makes us a community.

    And when we write and report on the artists and performers who touch our community’s soul, that’s news.

    InterCom is offering a two-part series, Breaking the News, on reinventing local news coverage. Part 1 on May 19 brings in a panel representing Michigan news outlets to talk about what they’re doing to maintain and improve local news coverage. Part 2 in August will take a close-in look at the varied local and niche media that already exist here, and perhaps some newcomers to our media scene.

    Tom Chmielewski is an InterCom board member and a writer/editor for his own company, TEC Publishing.

  • Journalism is dead. Long live journalism!

    Article by Tom Chmielewski, Writer/Editor/Publisher of ‹TEC Publishing and InterCom’s Treasurer.  

    The age-old refrain announcing the death of one king and proclaiming the new reign of his heir can be applied to the current state of local reporting, but editors and reporters are finding the crown of the latest New Journalism rests uneasily on their heads. The old ways of journalism are still breathing, but barely, and the latest attempts at reporting the news are suffering from extended immaturity. Publishers are having a hard time making the new ways work financially as they transition from newspapers to new media.

    The unfortunate result for local communities such as Kalamazoo is a decreasing level of resources to report local news. Yet even if the outlook for local journalism is murky, it’s not necessarily bleak. There are instances, both in Kalamazoo and statewide, where journalism is being practiced well. InterCom is hosting two events, the first in May, to explore what is working in journalism, and what we can learn from it.

    With InterCom’s May 19 panel discussion, BREAKING the News Part I, we’re bringing in representatives of news organizations that recognize the importance of local journalism in Michigan and can provide a state-level perspective of how local reporting can still be practiced.

    Hearing an outside perspective can be valuable for those of us in Kalamazoo who recognize the need to devote more resources to local reporting, and help us effectively use those resources in a viable manner. In a follow-up session in August, BREAKING the News Part II, InterCom will take a closer look at efforts by Kalamazoo media outlets and how communicators can find new avenues to share stories of Kalamazoo with the public.

    The Reinvention Cycle

    It may seem like a daunting task to find new ways to report local news, but journalism has done it before. It’s how American journalism got its start back in the 1800s when newspapers switched from recording actions by state and national legislatures (while their publishers pontificated about the results), to reporting on news events in a relatively small area around a publication’s office. A number of newspapers began publishing with a raucous style of reporting, sensationalist headlines, and outright hoaxes being foisted on the reading public. European newspapers at first decried the American style of event journalism, but with the advent of electronic reporting via the telegraph and then the telephone, the disruptive forces of technology and ingenuity laid the old style of newspapers to rest.

    Sound familiar?

    With the means to publish to a wide audience available on anyone’s laptop or tablet, and the ability for anyone with a smart phone to broadcast live, on-the-scene updates, we’re really back to where American journalism started, with all its rough-hewn edges, false starts and too-often hidden gems. If old models no longer work, new business models will adapt to the current changes. As our screens are flooded with click-bait headlines of redundant, empty promises, there’s a growing recognition of the context and depth of stories we’ve been missing. Even Facebook has announced it will give less importance to click-bait sites in its ad placements and give higher rankings to sites with context and depth.

    Publishers of the latest outlets of journalism, sometimes mixing old forms with new, are still finding their way. But once they do, you won’t believe what happens next.

    Actually, if it’s good journalism, maybe you will.

    Photo: New York Times newsroom, 1942. (Library of Congress)


  • Cultivating Great Clients

    From the desk of Gretchen Johnson, President of InterCom and owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications

    A friend and colleague reached out to me recently for advice. How do you deal with clients who drive you crazy? she asked.

    The best answer isn’t always practical. Don’t work for people that drive you crazy. Unfortunately, we don’t always know what another person is like at the onset of a relationship. And sometimes we just like to eat too much to say no to a paying gig.

    So how do we deal with problem clients? This particular friend wasn’t the first to pose the question. Here is my best advice for short-term and long-term solutions.

    1. Find out what’s really going on. Sooner, rather than later.

    In this particular case, the client was emailing and calling several times a day to ask for changes to their online content, which my friend had agreed to update. Is this new behavior? I asked. If so, why? I suggested she consider these possibilities:

    • It could be that she/he’s getting pressure from a superior and needs help. You could make your client a hero by assisting them in proactively addressing workflow or other internal issues.
    • Perhaps the project is the problem. Is the wrong audience being targeted? Is the messaging wrong? This isn’t a short-term challenge and the earlier you deal with it, the better.
    • Is there an underlying concern about your work? Or the value of what they’re getting for their money? If the core relationship has problems, it may be better to cut bait than to keep fishing. On the other hand, solving a problem together can forge a stronger relationship for the long term.

    2. Revisit your original work plan. If expectations weren’t clear, clarify them.

    There are many reasons we don’t take the time we should to clearly indicate how we plan to interact with our clients. We want to appear easy-to-do-business with. Statements like, No more than two rounds of client changes, may seem restrictive, or suggest that we can’t hit the creative mark within a round or two. These are lessons we often learn over time. One client’s confusion teaches us to preempt the issue next time. Not every challenge can be anticipated, but when they do arise, nip them in the bud.

    I suggested my friend explain how repeated interruptions might result in a lousy end product. “Unless there is something actually wrong ” a serious language problem or an incorrect fact like a price or date ” the changes are best addressed by pooling them. One change can lead to the need for others. Batching changes once a day or a few times a week helps identify trickle-on issues your changes create. In addition to potentially wasting time, interrupting the creative process also stymies it.

    Fast Company estimates that each interruption takes more than 20 minutes to get back on track. There is a cost for your time. To track my time, I use a phone app called TimeMaster from On-Core that lets me create client and project profiles. Then I just tap that item on my phone to turn on and turn off a timer for each project. At the end of the month, all my costs are pretty clear. I don’t always pass these costs on, but it does help me analyze my time and provide better estimates for future projects. Your client relationships will improve if you can set up clear expectations going into a project. I’ve seen some companies set up ranges of time/interactions and use a good, better, best approach to their fee structure. For example, We’ll provide 30, 90 or 120 minutes/month consultation as needed in addition to the specific parameters of XYZ project. Those costs are¦”

    If the problem is simply that the client is disorganized and unable to provide changes and direction in a manner that facilitates good workflow, you have some options.

    • You can decide the project isn’t worth it and walk away.
    • You can charge them more appropriately for what they’re getting.
    • Or, you can try to find a middle ground. This approach should also result in extra fees, but perhaps you can pool the changes on your end. (Set up a smart email box, for example, for his/her emails, and agree to check them once or twice a day. This allows you to measure and charge for the changes. Ultimately, your client needs to know that you have their best interests in mind, but you’re also a professional and expect to be compensated for your expertise and your time.

    3. Build an ideal client base

    Some of the best advice I received when starting my business was this: think about the kinds of clients you want to work with. Imagine that every client meets your ideal profile. What would that be? What are their values and ideals? Their goals? How do they approach serving their clients? (Here’s a worksheet that may help you get started.)

    This exercise is about more than identifying a particular niche and pursuing clients within that space. It’s about finding relationships that work. It’s about finding clients with whom you can create great results. From my experience, it works. I feel so strongly about this approach that I use it to describe my business. And after nearly 13 years as a small business owner, I find myself surrounded by clients who share my values. Clients who aspire for positive change. Clients I’m eager to work with every day.

    Gretchen Johnson is President/CEO of WordPlay Marketing Communications, which specializes in helping individuals and organizations develop messages and tell powerful stories. A common thread among clients is their desire to reach higher ” and connect with and engage their stakeholders ” for the purpose of creating lasting and positive change.

  • SEO, Links and Google’s Penguin Dance for 2016


    Search engine experts around this time of year always make bold predictions of what trends and changes we’ll see in the SEO industry and how the ranking of our web pages will be affected.

    Admittedly, in the realm of experts who make bold predictions about anything, those who specialize in SEO are a bit timid. That’s because when they gaze into their crystal balls, mostly what they see is Google, and the giant in online searches isn’t eager to tip their hand too early.

    Penguin Update Pending

    Google continues to make strenuous efforts to rank highly those Search Engine Results Pages that emphasize valuable user experience, and punish those websites who use paid links and keyword scamming to hook in unsuspecting visitors.

    This year, SEO experts are eagerly anticipating the release of the latest version of Google’s Penguin algorithm. The original release of Penguin was a dagger aimed at the heart of search engine scammers. It didn’t merely devalue bad links. It labeled them as toxic, requiring webmasters to remove those links, conduct a link audit and disavow any links considered spam. Even if webmasters obeyed Google’s dictum, it would take a while, sometimes a very long while, before a Penguin refresh would return a website to Google’s good graces and preferred search ranking.

    The new version of Penguin is to be released any day now, if the experts are to be believed, and there are indications Google has already been conducting live tests on the Web. Penguin hasn’t been updated for more than a year, and was supposed to be released by the end of 2015. Google, however, announced it was delaying the release until after the holidays.

    The key change in the new release is spam link forgiveness in real time. Webmasters who have run afoul of the Penguin algorithm but have cleansed their sites of spammy links will see their sites return to approved rankings quickly rather than having to wait as long as months for Google’s forgiveness. If you’re one of those webmasters waiting to hear about your SEO parole, your wait may soon be over.

    Walk This Way, Talk This Way

    2015 was the year of Mobilegeddon, when Google search results began penalizing sites that weren’t optimized for viewing on mobile devices. This was a big thing for web designers as they converted sites to become responsive, making them easily viewed on any device, from desktop to smartphone. As the number of mobile searches grew, Google wanted to be sure they were sending viewers to sites they could actually see and interact with effectively.

    For sites that changed to become responsive, Mobilegeddon went by rather smoothly. But the change isn’t over yet. The way those searches are worded are changing, as search engines are receiving an increasing number of queries from digital assistants, such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now. The result is a more complex search query. When you type a search query, most often you use a minimal number of words, like Pizza Kalamazoo Now. Say that out loud and you sound like Tarzan in an old Hollywood movie. But if you pull out your smart phone, you might say, Siri, find me a pizza joint near here that’s open, and make sure it has anchovies as one of the toppings.

    Spoken queries are resulting in a new type of long-tail keyword. Web pages with content that is more conversational and colloquial can end up with higher rankings in mobile searches. It’s a continuation of Google’s trend emphasizing contextual matches over finding a few common keywords.

    Social Media Finds Its Place in SEO

    Search for news items, and you’re as likely to turn up a link to a Facebook posting or Twitter feed as you are the New York Times. And news items as reported on social media are likely to be turning up more often in 2016.

    Social media platforms are becoming more heavily indexed and readily available to search engines. Social posts will be ranked by their user value, similar to that given an independent web page. What’s the difference between a social media post and a web page? That’s becoming less clear all the time as the line between the two blurs even more in search engine results.

    If you’d like to explore SEO predictions further, here are a few other forecasts:

    Forbes: The Top 7 SEO Trends That Will Dominate 2016

    MOZ: 10 Predictions for 2016 in SEO & Web Marketing

    Econsultancy: SEO trends in 2016: What do the experts predict?

    Tom Chmielewski serves as Treasurer of the InterCom board. He’s a writer, editor and publisher with his own firm, TEC Publishing.

  • InterCom is proud to help promote Kalamazoo Social Media Week 2016!

    Social Media Week (SMW) set for April 11-15, offers opportunities for education and community transformation. How can you — your business, your team, your students — benefit most? Kalamazoo SMW would like to know. Take this three-question survey to help tailor the programs to your unique needs. And feel free to share it further!

    Answer this survey and you unlock FREE access to all our educational programs during SMW Kalamazoo!

    Take the survey here.

  • Let’s Get Visual: Communicate with Video

    By Curtis Cunningham

    Let’s face it. We like to watch.

    Next to face-to-face communication, there’s nothing more personal or effective than video communication. It’s a rich medium that allows us to tell our story with images and sound. It creates a platform for viewers to experience information. Videos also build trust. Being introduced on screen, whether it’s a product, service or experience, creates believability. We are human beings. We’re hard-wired to use the human face to tap into our emotions and this, in turn, helps us retain information.

    Video is quickly becoming the preferred communication medium for most people. If a picture is worth a thousand words, video must be worth 10 times that. So much information and emotion can be communicated in such a short amount of time.

    Thanks to faster Internet connection speeds, we’re watching more video than ever. Next to Google, YouTube is the second most-used search engine. If your company doesn’t have its own YouTube channel or at least videos on YouTube, the chance of you showing up in a YouTube search is slim to none. One hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Cisco says online video users are set to double to 1.5 billion and online video traffic will comprise up to 55% of all consumer Internet traffic next year.

    Take that leap

    Where are you in this video frenzy? Are you taking advantage of this ever-growing communications channel?

    If you’ve never created a video for yourself or your company, figuring out where to start may seem daunting. The first question is whether to hire a professional video production company or create it on your own. I will remain somewhat neutral on this issue. This decision is usually based on budget, time, expertise and marketing strategy. I would caution you to remember this old saying: If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.

    Once the video contractor is in place, let the cameras roll. There are many different approaches to take. I tend to lean more towards an on-camera testimonial approach. Real stories from real people at real locations are relatable, believable and reliable. This approach is more budget-friendly then a scripted epic with actors, wardrobe, props and a professional voice-over talent.

    Make the abstract real

    Graphics and animation also work well. Video enables you to use visual stimulation to summarize your points and simplify your verbal message. We all have different learning styles. Video allows us to more effectively communicate to these various learning styles. Graphics and animation are best used when you need to explain something that can’t be seen. Animation is a great way to create a scene that otherwise can’t be captured on camera.

    Whiteboard animation is another great way to communicate complex ideas simply, quickly and in a fun way. This relatively new concept is different from regular animation because it allows the viewer to watch the drawing unfold before their eyes. It’s as if someone is creating a visual narrative just for the viewer. As notes, whiteboard animation itself may increase the memory retention that’s already enhanced by watching video. The images are being created simultaneously for the viewer while new information is also being received. Here’s an example.

    Share big

    Regardless of how you create your video, when it’s done, get it out there. Don’t bury your video deep within your website — stick it on the front page. Post it on YouTube AND load it direct to Facebook. Link, share and link again.

    The process of video production can be complicated. But the potential for simplifying your message and engaging your customers will enhance you and your company or organization. Remember, show, don’t tell.

    Curtis Cunningham is a member and past president of the InterCom board. He is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Lawrence Productions, Inc., a digital storytelling company specializing in custom video production since 1985.


  • Going Rates for Communications Pros in the Kalamazoo Region

    Where do you stand?

    For example, what’s your level of experience? Are you just starting out? Or do you offer decades of expertise in your field? Do you have experience in a particular niche like sales support, the medical device industry, the food industry, grant writing, etc.? What’s your track record?

    What services do you provide? A service like copywriting/freelance writing, photography or graphic design may not garner the same fee per hour as someone who can provide all three. Turnkey services save clients time and should command a higher fee per hour. This is one reason full service agencies are able to charge more.

    What level of consultation do you provide? Some clients need a task completed. Others need help and guidance about the best way to approach a challenge, develop a strategy or implement an entire campaign.

    Can you expand your reach?

    Don’t forget that your ability to work digitally is another factor. Southwest Michigan offers enormous talent that’s often on par with some of the top marketing and communication firms nationally. Yet our cost of living can make us highly competitive compared to other markets. You must consider this when setting fees for projects outside our region. And if you’re not already working outside the region, you should think about expanding your market nationally or globally, if the services you provide enable you to do so.

    Health of the industry

    It’s also helpful to know your competition and what’s happening within your particular market. The publishing industry, for example, is fiercely competitive in Southwest Michigan and it puts pressure on publishers to keep costs low, which drives down wages for writers, photographers and designers who depend on this industry. This is also an industry that tends to set its fees for service, as opposed to corporate clients that rely on the service provider to establish a cost per hour or cost per project. And it’s an industry that has seen major disruption in the past decade from the introduction of digital technologies and the recession. Writers were hit especially hard. This is another reason to consider your market as being greater than Southwest Michigan, especially for writers. Not every community has such a deep writing bench and it’s an easily portable skill.

    So, let’s do the numbers

    Variables aside, I realize my colleagues are looking for specific recommendations. Following is what I know about some of the ranges of rates I’ve encountered throughout my career.

    Fresh out of college in the mid ˜80s I was hoping to supplement my income as a freelance writer while looking for fulltime work in marketing communications. I interviewed folks at Grand Rapids’ budding The Wordsmiths, which was a new concept at the time. They provide a single-stop resource for commercial writing to the West Michigan market. I was told then that they charged $45 an hour. This was in 1985.

    A decade later, during my career in corporate communications for a couple of local manufacturing companies, I worked with several freelance designers and writers and at least two large agencies. I left to start my own firm in 2003, but was paying $125/hour then for an agency that provided a full range of services that included everything from help with strategy and planning to web design, graphic art and copywriting. (Enticed back into fulltime employment in 2004 for a brief time, I hired a copywriter for $65/hour. That same writer is now charging just under $100/hour with a break for nonprofits. On the other hand, I’ve spoken with folks who charge $25/hour and others who charge $150/hour for the same service.)

    Employers’ perspective

    Here’s some additional data from the client side of the desk. Southwest Michigan First ” the economic development agency for the greater Kalamazoo region ” provides wage estimates to prospective business that may be considering locating in the nine county region of Southwest Michigan. For the category of communications/public relations/advertising, Southwest Michigan First’s wage survey shows that folks working within companies ” as opposed to contract or freelance talent ” with titles drawn from these specialties make an average of $95,284/year. This is based on 53 companies that responded to their questionnaire for this category. The salary average breaks down to an hourly rate of $45.81 with a high of $87.22/hour and a low of $15.22/hour. Keep in mind these wages don’t include benefits, which are typically estimated at an additional 33% of salary above and beyond wages. Find the full survey here.

    Relationships: The ultimate value

    As you can see, there’s no easy answer or typical fee. My best advice is to find a rate that’s in the ballpark of what I’ve provided. This is what the market is or has borne for the region. The variances are based, I’m sure, on experience, expertise and perhaps most critically the relationship each communications professional has developed with his or her client. At their best, those relationships derive from satisfaction, profit and growth.


    Gretchen Johnson is President/CEO of WordPlay Marketing Communications, which specializes in helping individuals and organizations develop messages and tell powerful stories. A common thread among clients is their desire to reach higher ” and connect with and engage their stakeholders ” for the purpose of creating lasting and positive change.