All posts in By the way

  • Jessy Wilson, Board Member

    Bringing a millennial’s perspective to the InterCom board

    InterCom recently welcomed Jessy Wilson of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo to our board of directors. Read on to find out more about her and what brought her to Kalamazoo!

    A Millennial’s Perspective

    By Jessy Wilson

    Having grown up in a small town in Southwest Michigan, I was well aware of the existence of Kalamazoo, but that’s about it. I had no idea how truly special this community is. It doesn’t take long to learn that Kalamazoo is rich in culture, diversity, philanthropy and so much more. Read more

  • A look back before moving forward

    A look back before moving forward

    InterCom spearheaded two important events this summer on the topic of local news, Breaking the News 1 and 2. It was an opportunity for us to reach outside our comfort zone a bit, and include the community in conversations we believe — and the public’s interest seemed to confirm — are essential to our long-term well-being. Read more

  • Celebrate & Commiserate: 10 Ways InterCom Makes Life Better

    InterCom has been there for me through three decades as I’ve worked in corporate, nonprofit and educational settings, and now as a freelancer. I’ve been a member since 2011 (and also for a few years in the late ˜90s).

    Professional communications is a demanding career choice: You work long hours, you may struggle with being both an introvert and a perfectionist, you find yourself correcting passive voice a lot, plus almost no one really gets what you do (and the pay often reflects that).

    That’s why InterCom is so beautiful. People who understand! People who get what you do, and sympathize with your struggles and joys as a communicator! That alone is worth the 45 bucks a year. But wait; there’s more! Here’s my Top 10 List of InterCom membership treasures:

    1) Friends and Mentors

    Fellow InterCom members tend to be smart, funny, amiable folks: Great friend material and excellent mentor material. I’ve been fortunate to connect with a true friend and mentor through InterCom (our board prez, Gretchen Johnson!) who has helped me stretch, develop and grow, both in my career and personally. My InterCom friends are wonderfully welcoming. They’re excellent conversationalists. They tend to have an outstanding sense of humor. And they make me smile. Bam.

    2) Shared Prosperity

    My InterCom cohorts have also been incredibly generous in referring me for contracting work “ jobs I never would have known about or pursued if I hadn’t been connected through InterCom. We’re a sharing group of people. We spread the abundance. That’s how we roll.

    3) Truly Valuable Volunteer Opportunities

    When I joined the InterCom Board of Directors in 2015, I knew it was a working board. But I had no idea how much I’d be challenged and pushed (in a good way!) to learn new skills on the fly, to produce great material quickly and to try new things. My board service pushed me right out of my comfort zone, for my own good (and my clients’ too!). I’ve received much more than I’ve contributed.

    4) Community Savvy

    Thanks to the diverse lineup of InterCom speakers we’ve hosted, and the many opportunities to network with colleagues, I’ve been utterly thrilled to learn WAY more about Greater Kalamazoo than I (even as a native and K-College grad) ever knew. InterCom has expanded and filled in my inner map of our community. This enriches my work and my life.


    5) Gabbing, Meeting, Getting the Inside Scoop — aka Networking

    So much of what’s happening in the local communications field is only gleaned through face-to-face interaction. I’m not talking about gossip, but information flow. If you want to know the scene, and know who to ask about x, y or z, you’ll want to join InterCom. Today.

    6) Skills! Skills! Skills!

    Every speaker we host inevitably shares real tools that are immediately applicable to a professional communicator’s work. From promoting a tourism-boosting beer trail, to harnessing the power of digital marketing, to a behind-the-scenes look at the renovation of a community institution’s brand, InterCom provides a platform for sharing best practices that matter in the real world.

    7) Idea-Sparking

    This is one of my faves. Being around creative people, hearing innovative speakers and working on the board expose us to new ideas and concepts that inspire us to think bigger. Deeper. And even to take risks. That’s how Breaking the News 1 & 2 happened. We had no idea how it’d go over ¦ and it was spectacular. (See a recap of Part 2 here.)

    8) That Push

    Speaking of risk: InterCom can give you just the right nudge to consider doing something new and different. To challenge your preconceived notions of what your job is or how your career should progress. How? By exposing you to people at all stages of professional growth, in all kinds of different job configurations, from business owner to freelancer to director or manager or specialist. You get to see all the work options out there, and connect with the people living them — and, perhaps be inspired to make the leap to something different.

    9) Fun

    This is crucial. We put the joy in joining. There’s no excuse for a professional association to be boring. We take our fun seriously. Come to one of our evening events, in particular, and you’ll see.

    10) Celebration & Commiseration

    Finally, InterCom is that friendly space everyone needs where it’s safe to be who you are, in all your professional-communicator glory. When things go great, we want to know about it and celebrate your successes. And when things are tough, we have your back. We’re here to listen, support and commiserate. Because we’ve all been there.

    I could go on. But I think you know exactly why joining InterCom (or renewing your membership) would be a perfect move. So I leave you with this link to do just that.

    Cathie Schau is a writer and communications consultant with a small outfit called GoodPoint! She’s also a proud InterCom board member, a kindly troublemaker and an advocate of all working people.





  • Community-minded new board member to focus on outreach

    InterCom recently welcomed Janet Veach of Advia Credit Union to our board of directors. Read on to find out more about her, including what she loves about Kalamazoo!

     Let me introduce myself

    By Janet Veach

    In 2012 my husband accepted a position with Parker Hannifin Aerospace in Kalamazoo. This was a pretty big deal for us, as we had lived our whole lives, and raised three sons, in a small community in downstate Illinois. While I bid my husband adieu in February, I had much to do before I would join him in September: resigning my position as public relations director of the Alzheimer’s Association Central Illinois Chapter, prepping and selling our two-story farm style house, sending our youngest son off to college, and finally, packing up our Australian Cattle Dog and driving northeast to the mitten shaped state we now call home.

    Was it easy? I can answer that quite simply “ no. My 81-year-old mother has yet to forgive me, our neurotic 4-year old dog was disorientated for far too long and the experience of moving to a new community where everyone is a complete stranger is at once liberating, frightening, lonely and exciting.

    Fast forward four years and I can tell you that my husband and I love Kalamazoo and are always seeking new adventures. We especially enjoy the biking and hiking trails, going downtown for Art Hop, trying new restaurants and microbreweries, and attending festivals, concerts and live theatre. We especially enjoy the energy that comes with living in a university/college town. In March of 2015 I accepted a position with Advia Credit Union where I oversee community and public relations in 4 regions. I love my job because it allows me to get out in the community and partner with charitable organizations, area schools and local businesses to make our community a better place to live.

    Last year I also joined InterCom so that I can continue to hone my writing and public relations skills, meet new people and network with other professionals in a casual and friendly environment. I attend many of the lunch time programs with the goal of learning more about the Kalamazoo region and its movers and shakers. I have not been disappointed. I love learning how our city’s professionals utilize social media, plan innovative and successful events and work together to create dynamic partnerships.

    In July I joined the InterCom board of directors. In my new role I will be overseeing a Member Relations Plan that includes reaching out to members to make personal contact with them and determine how InterCom can better serve their needs “ both personally and professionally.


  • 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.