All posts in By the way

  • Curtis Cunningham

    Career Tail End Spin

    “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” –Mark Twain

    As professional communicators, we all strive for excellence. We also strive to be masters in our fields and mentors to the next generation.  Eventually, through hard work and determination, we reach that magical plateau.  This goal may be to own of your own business.  It may be to reach a certain title or place within a company.  It could also be financial; hitting a certain income level.

    Once we become the masters of our professional domain, then what? For me, that was when an unsettling complacency set in.  After 30 years, I became comfortable. The problem with comfort is that it can lead to self-absorption, boredom, and discontent.

    Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect,” says people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who remain stuck in routine. “Breaking your own mold can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life,” she says. To grow as a human being, I needed to become uncomfortable.

    Bam. This past spring, I decided to shake things up. I went looking for a new opportunity.

    I wanted to finish out my second half doing something meaningful.  Don’t get me wrong, my previous endeavors accomplished a lot of great things and I worked with wonderful people. But I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I wanted to be a part of a greater community good. And I wanted to be part of the arts.  Enter the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

    I had known about The Gilmore for many years.  I was a fan and a vendor. I had often thought of how great it would be to work there.  In the Spring of 2017, their Director of Marketing and Public Relations position opened up. I applied and interviewed. Three months went by.  I continued to check in and was notified that a decision had not been made.  I continued to follow up.  They finally started calling all of my references.  I knew they were going to make a decision “tomorrow.”  As judgement day lingered on, it got to the point where I could not stand it anymore. I contacted them and said “what else do I have to do to get this job?”  I was told that I must have ESP and to stay tuned. Three hours later, I got an offer and accepted.

    I could not be happier. I am working long hours, constantly challenged, discovering new things and loving it.  I truly feel that I am on the path to making a difference.

    Is it time to step out of your comfort zone?  My advice: leap.

    “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” –Mark Twain

    The only thing worse than letting your career path be determined by random chance is having it determined by regrets.  Be alert for opportunities that may arise, but also go out and make them happen.

    Curtis Cunningham is the Director of Marketing and PR at of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo.  He is one smiling in the car next to you.

  • Gretchen Johnsom

    A Message from our President, Gretchen Johnson

    As we enter 2018, I begin my last six months as InterCom’s president. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve. But I also know that the younger board members who have joined our team in the last two years bring an incredible energy and excitement to our professional association. That means great opportunities are ahead for all of us and it is time to let them lead.

    If you were able to join us for our annual Holiday Gathering at The Union in December, you may have felt the same excitement and momentum that I experience every time we come together. I was impressed by the many ideas shared in informal discussions — new ways of connecting, new ideas for programming and new technologies that can extend our reach and deepen our professional development. These ideas came from a cadre of new members and prospective members.

    The success of this event was in large part due to the work of our young board leaders. I can only imagine what the future may hold under their guidance. But they cannot do it alone.

    If you are seeking to grow professionally, I’d like to suggest you consider contributing to InterCom in a more formal capacity. Join the board or volunteer to serve on a committee and help shape our association’s future. As Ambraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And you can create your own future while also contributing to the betterment of our shared profession — and the greater Kalamazoo community —by serving InterCom.

    The rewards I’ve earned from my InterCom board service far outweigh any work it required. It has enriched my life personally as well as professionally. Beyond the vast professional network it assured, I have gained many friends. I look forward to continuing to support and contribute to this important group in a new capacity. And I look forward to many exciting changes ahead.

    This piece was written by Gretchen Johnson, InterCom President and 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.

  • Professional Development – We Can Help!

    We’re less than a month away from 2018. Are you where you want to be in your career? Do you have a plan for moving forward? As communication professionals, we know that strategy is essential to success. But like the shoemaker’s barefoot children, we also tend to put our own needs last. Not to worry, we have a few suggestions that won’t take much time.

    1. Mark your calendar now so you don’t miss any of our 2nd Friday meetings. In January, we’ll kick the year off with a special career planning strategy workshop. There, we’ll explore “Top Trends Driving Change in Communication” that you need to know about as you plot your professional path. Whether you’re building a consulting business or climbing the corporate ladder, we’ll discuss what changes are occurring, what skills and abilities those changes demand, and what you’ll need to think about to get you from where you are to where you want to be.

    We’ll continue our career-building theme in February with “Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset.” You’ll learn to apply the principles of entrepreneurial success — innovation, continuous improvement, collaboration and doing work you love — to your professional development.

    And that’s just the start of our season!

    2. Talk to us. Especially the board, but other members too. I’ve personally made connections for lots of members that I know led to work. Some introductions led to employment opportunities, other to client work. If we know what you’re looking for, we’re happy to help.

    3. Make a point of meeting new people at all of our InterCom events. Whether it is our 2nd-Friday series or our three annual evening gatherings, networking is baked into everything we do. Why? As Carl Jung said, “Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see it.” In other words, that person you don’t know may be looking for someone with your exact skillset. Or they may know someone who is. But only if you’re open to meeting them and having the conversation.

    4. Get involved with InterCom in a deeper way. Whether you’re looking for stronger career ties or you want to build skills, InterCom is a great way to give back while helping your own career along. We’re always looking for talented volunteers to help with events, event planning, and even board service.

  • Find talent. Build your career. Grow your business.

    Find talent. Build your career. Grow your business.

    One of the best benefits of your InterCom membership is your direct connection to work opportunities throughout the region for communication professionals.

    We’re actively seeking employers who are looking to fill top jobs.

    If you have a communication job posting, make sure you tag InterCom in your Facebook or LinkedIn posting. It will not only reach our network, but our social media team will share it — and many of our members will, too. That expands your reach exponentially to a highly targeted population of professional communicators.

    We’re connected to top companies that are looking for talent.

    If you’re looking for work, make sure you’re receiving our notifications in your social media stream.  And let your network know you’re looking, especially the InterCom board of directors. We’ll discreetly keep our ears and eyes open to new opportunities for you. Because we’re connected to many businesses throughout the region, we often hear about job openings early in the search process. Sometimes before the position is even posted.

    We are frequently asked “Do you know anyone who does…”

    If you’re looking to build your business, we often receive requests for people with various skills. Let us know what you’d like to do more of! When we get request from clients, we can connect you.

    Kudos and congrats to…

    Several InterCom board members have made recent career moves. In addition to celebrating their success, we know that a job move for one professional can sometimes spell opportunity for someone else.  Please join us in congratulating:

    Curtis Cunningham is now the director of marketing and public relations for the Gilmore. He is joined by former board member Anders Dahlberg, who steps in as The Gilmore’s director of operations. Note that The Gilmore is currently seeking a digital marketing coordinator.

    Kelly Durlach is now director of marketing and advertising for Migala Carpet One Floor & Home and ProSource Wholesale.

    Jessy Wilson is now a communication specialist at Bronson Healthcare. Jessy was most recently at Communities in Schools, which is currently seeking a full-time marketing coordinator. (

  • Don’t Forget to Renew Your InterCom Membership!

    Every year, for many years we have tried to make the month of May the time when InterCom members renew their membership to InterCom.  Typically we have a small percent of members renew in May with most members renewing beginning in May through December, making it difficult to manage membership and our budget for programming.

    Online and web-based technology for managing payments has improved dramatically in the last couple of years and InterCom has just invested in STRIPE to manage our renewal and payment process.

    Here is what you need to know:

    • Our renewal system has launched June 1, 2017.
    • Because no InterCom members have joined or renewed through the new STRIPE system, the system this year will ask you to JOIN, even though as a member you are just renewing.
    • If you paid your membership last year (2016) before June 1st, you will be receiving an email at the end of May informing you that it is time to “Join” InterCom – and on June 1st you will be sent an email invoice for renewing.
    • The links in the email will take members to a payment site where you can pay with your credit card.
    • The system will send an email receipt documenting payment complete.
    • In agreement with all 3rd-pary payment applications, InterCom has no access to any financial or personal information, and STRIPE (similar to Paypal) is a certified and secure payment portal.
    • All members that paid their membership fee after June 1st of last year will receive an email seven days before their membership anniversary telling them that they will need to renew and will receive another email invoice the day their membership expires with a link to JOIN (which is a renewal)
    • The system is designed to do automatic renewals after a payment process has been entered into the system. Therefore, if you do not wish for it to auto renew, please uncheck the box.
    • All new members going forward will be processed through the automated STRIPE process.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Gretchen Johnson ( or Kristi Droppers (

  • 2017 New Board Members

    Welcome New InterCom Board Members: Ema, Kelly, Gerah, and Meredith

    InterCom is excited to welcome four professionals to serve on the InterCom Board: Ema Cuturic, Kelly Durlach, Gerah Dutkiewicz, and Meredith McLean. They have already been hard at work this summer planning and supporting membership, programming, sponsorship, marketing and social media.

    Here’s a little bit about each of our four new board members…

    Ema CuturicEma Cuturic

    Ema works as an Account Manager at Roguebotic. She has a passion for creative advertising, marketing strategy, and client relations. She received her Bachelor’s in Marketing and Advertising from Davenport University. In her free time, she enjoys giving back to Kalamazoo and helping the community grow.

    Kelly DurlachKelly Durlach

    Kelly works as a Director Of Marketing And Advertising at ProSource Wholesale.



    Gerah DutkiewiczGerah Dutkiewicz

    Gerah works as a Graphic Designer at LKF Marketing. She is a creative communicator and has spent the last 16 years working with a wide range of clients to meet their various design needs and marketing goals.


    Meredith McLean, InterCom Board MemberMeredith McLean

    Meredith works as a Communications Coordinator at Consumers Credit Union. She is a marketing professional currently specializing in digital marketing. She brings a wide array of professional experience from website design and social media management to writing and graphic design.


    We would encourage you to meet these hard working professionals at our next 2nd Friday Speakers’ Series.

  • Coffee & Coffee Beans

    The Power of InterCom: A Member’s Testimonial

    This is a testimonial shared by InterCom Member, Mari Wielopolski, President and Owner at Crowne Marketing, LLC and Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Kalamazoo College. 

    My personal story of the power (and importance) of InterCom starts with a significant change in June 2014. After 35+ years in the professional work world, my marketing leadership position was eliminated. Once /I worked through my devastation, I realized I had not made any professional contacts within the city where I lived – Kalamazoo. I had been working I Grand Rapids for the past 10 years and Detroit for 17 years before that! I better get crackin’!

    Through LinkedIn, I made contact with professional women in the greater Kalamazoo area, ultimately leading to coffee with Gretchen Johnson (InterCom President) late that summer. During our coffee conversation, Gretchen invited me to InterCom. My first few “2nd Fridays” were spent introducing myself to a very accepting, inspiring group of like-minded marketers. The guest speakers expanded my thinking and broadened my understanding of several topics while wakening me to all that Kalamazoo has to offer.

    Then, one Friday, Jeff  Palmer, an InterCom member introduced his Kalamazoo College associate as our speaker, there to familiarize us with K College’s Arcus Center. I knew very little about K College and nothing about the Arcus Center but learned a lot that day.

    As a Hope College grad, I was intrigued by K’s mission so asked Jeff if he’d be open to a cup of coffee. During that exchange, Jeff offered to introduce me to the Econ/Bus Department Chair. He and I then grabbed coffee (by now, I knew a lot about the unique coffee shops all around Kzoo).  The Department Chair introduced me to the Professor teaching the majority of the Marketing courses. In the spring of 2015, she invited me to guest lecture and then assist in judging students for their term long project.

    That fall, the Marketing Professor asked if I’d fill in while she was on sabbatical sprig 2016. Of course, I jumped on it! The Department Chair asked if I’d please create an entirely new course so that if it was successful, I could teach it again after the Marketing Professor returned. Oh boy…what had I signed up to do!?!

    Well, create a class I did. And, teaching that course was one of my top 3 professional experiences. Bright, engaging students, challenging yet fun material. I loved it! And, in the fall of 2016, the Department Chair reached out and asked me to teach that course again this spring!


    That IS the POWER and IMPORTANCE of InterCom.

    InterCom encourages members to submit short articles about trends, testimonials, or things that are happening in their communication field of business. Submissions may be sent to Gretchen Johnson at We encourage our members to consider leveraging our By The Way section as a way to gain both recognition for the subject and professional recognition for the member. Submissions are subject to review and approval by the InterCom Board. 

  • 6-Nonprofit-Budget-Stretching

    6 Nonprofit Budget-Stretching Ideas

    By Gretchen Johnson

    InterCom will be sharing results of our recent nonprofit communication survey for the Kalamazoo region at a special 2nd Friday event April 14. As you might expect, one of the biggest challenges facing these philanthropic efforts is the need to do more good with fewer dollars.

    There are lots of arguments for nonprofits to spend more on advertising and marketing. David Pallotta made this point with his famous TED talk. But let’s face it: Few nonprofits have the resources to communicate and promote their work to the extent they’d like. There’s still a perception that “overhead” is anathema in any social venture, and, unfortunately, marketing and public awareness efforts are still viewed as “fluff” by many philanthropists. But we all know that marketing and communication actually improve an organization’s reach and impact. So what’s to be done?

    The right answer is that every organization is unique and should take a strategic look at goals and objectives to determine how best to spend communication dollars. But there are also some broad solutions for making tight dollars work harder. During my time on the client side of the desk, I once had a supplier describe me thus: Gretchen’s the only person I’ve every worked with who gets more out of her budget without making me feel like I’ve been used. (I’m paraphrasing — and cleaning that up a bit.) I’m not sure it was meant as a compliment, but it’s a badge I still wear with honor. So here are a few suggestions for making your marketing communication dollars work harder for your nonprofit (or small business, or any marcomm effort)…

    1.  Plan ahead

    One of the most effective ways to get more done with less is to plan as far ahead as is practical. If you know what print, radio, social media, etc., you need to complete in the next six months — or better yet for the year — you can save money by attacking multiple projects at once.

    Let’s look at printed materials, for example. (In the order of importance, local nonprofits rank printed materials as a fourth priority, following websites, social media and event planning.)

    Will you be doing an annual report? Newsletters? Point of service flyers or other service line handouts? An annual appeal brochure? Special mailings to donors? When you have at least a general list of what’s coming, you can plan both your content and your artwork ahead of time. You may even be able to print them on the same press.

    2.  Invest in good photography and good art

    Maybe you’re lucky, and you have creative folks on staff. If they’re not trained in design or photography, it’s worth hiring a professional to help you at least establish a framework from which to grow. Take photography, for example. Cameras today — even smartphones — make it possible to take high-resolution images. But the purpose of a photo is to communicate. If your image is soft and it’s poorly framed, a bad photo can actually detract from your purpose.

    On the other hand, you can get a lot of mileage out of professional photography. When you reuse artwork, photography, videography or even content multiple times, it reinforces your message and your brand. (Just make sure you’re clear with your supplier about usage rights.)

    We see our materials every day, but stakeholders don’t. As a rule, organizations tire of their materials seven times faster than their audience. When you can, take lots of alternative photos and video (b-roll) to use later.

    3.  Tap your vendors’ expertise and ideas

    I realized early on that the folks providing printing, photography, design and other support services knew a whole lot more than me about what they did. Printers could help me squeeze every inch from a press. Videographers often had stock content to supplement my budget — and they always knew how to organize the day to maximize the shooting schedule. I just had to ask.

    4.  Team up with your supply chain or community partners

    If you’re a human service organization, there are likely many providers who have contact with the people you serve. Look for creative ways to promote your work together. Consider a shared ad campaign or special event. It not only stretches the budget, but it can also spread the burden, enabling you to get more done with less effort.

    5.  Learn from your peers

    It may seem impossible to take time from an already hectic schedule to ask your colleagues from other organizations what’s worked for them, but this is an incredibly effective approach.

    6.  Follow nonprofit marketing blogs and sites.

    They’ll help you keep up with trends in everything from fundraising to social media to reporting results. Many of them offer free tip sheets, e-books and other resources. Here are a few to check out:

    Both ONEplace and InterCom offer regular gatherings for networking and casual discussion. They’re usually free or charge a nominal fee only, and you can learn from the best practices of others. Like a campaign they’re running? Asking them what worked and what didn’t. Who’d they use? How long did it take? What might they do differently next time? Not only will you learn, you’ll help them think through the experience and be better prepared for their next project.

    Gretchen Johnson is President of InterCom and President/CEO of WordPlay Marketing Communications. WordPlay 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.



  • Supercharge Your Professional Development? Join the InterCom Board

    A few years ago, I read a post by Dan Blackmore about how quickly and significantly joining the board of a nonprofit organization can boost your career. Dan worked for International House in the Greater New York Region and was writing for Career Idealist.

    I remember thinking how good Dan’s advice was. InterCom is currently seeking new talent for our board of directors, so I dug out Dan’s article, and I am sharing his four main take-aways with you. I’ve added a local perspective.

    If you’re a communication professional in the greater Kalamazoo region and you’re looking to make your mark — on our shared profession, our community, or your own career — please consider taking a closer look at InterCom’s board.

    Dan’s Reason #1: Expand your network

    As an association that’s committed to the professional development of our members, networking is baked into everything we do. But the board’s professional outreach goes much deeper. Last year, for example, we organized two community-wide media discussions that brought news leaders to Kalamazoo from around the state. This year, we’re planning events designed to advance communication best practices for both nonprofits and the local small business community. If you want to broaden your network with community leaders, joining the InterCom board will do so quickly.

    Dan’s Reason #2: Raise your profile in your organization and profession

    I would add, “within the region.” We’re especially eager to have young professionals step into leadership positions with InterCom because they are our community’s future. We’re hopeful that — like the community leaders before them — they’ll put forth bold ideas that transform this “place” where we live and work in a way that leaves a positive legacy for generations to come.

    Dan’s Reason #3: Strengthen project and team management skills 

    As a working board, InterCom offers lots of opportunities to build specific skills such as financial management, event planning, scheduling and organizing, and other skies-the-limit special projects. You’ll also find yourself working with people from many organizations — of different sizes and with varied areas of focus — and the people who work there. Some of these folks will have complementary strengths, and some will have conflicting ones. You’re guaranteed to grow and learn.

    Dan’s Reason #4: Become a better coach

    I’ve always heard that the best way to remember what you’ve learned is to teach it. And the best way to grow is to do work that benefits others. Joining the InterCom board helps you learn and grow, and it will feel great. You’ll form career-long relationships with peers who actually “get” what you do. But there’s more to these relationships than congeniality. These are folks you’re likely to encounter in tangible ways through your work in the region. You may work for them – or they you! Almost certainly you’ll find yourself working alongside one or more of these colleagues as you leave your creative mark on our shared field and community.

    Sound like the opportunity for you? Please contact me at, or call me at (269) 377-8069.

    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.

  • this sign will accomplish nothin

    What Is Communicated In A Protest?

    This article was written by Kristi Droppers, Managing Director, Collective Know-How, LLC.

    Protests have been an everyday occurrence over the last 10 days, beginning with the inauguration and followed by the Women’s March, March for Life and demonstrations at airports against President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration and refugees. Given the chaos within just the first days of our new president’s term, we can probably expect there to be more protests from all sides.

    If you’ve ever participated in a protest or march, you know that there are lots of chants, signs, speakers, music, drumming, flags, hats, etc., and they all serve as mediums for communicating individual or collective messages. Like many, I was mesmerized by the news reports showing the thousands of signs left behind after the Woman’s March, lining the fence a short distance from the Whitehouse. They showed both the diversity of messages and the common themes woven through a one-day protest in that city alone.


    With so many differing messages, what gets communicated?

    With a world and culture dominated by social media and electronic communication, we’ve grown used to competing messages and information overload and often are not aware of its anesthetizing capabilities. The onslaught of so much noise at a protest, like signs, chants, banners, speeches, etc., make the clarity of the message difficult or, for some, impossible to find.  News pundits have argued that they don’t see a consistent, clear message from these protests and therefore don’t know what the protestors hope to accomplish, especially if there is no singular demand or a recognized leader. Some commentators suggest that protests lacking a clear message have little impact or can be dismissed.

    Today, we can sit in the comfort of our WIFI-enabled homes and email, post, tweet, text or digitally sign a petition as our act of protest. It may be easy, but in reality this is “invisible” protest. With so many channels for communicating online, no one can find the message in the clutter, and it never feels as if our elected officials pay much attention to our petitions or email rants, anyway.


     Im a little upset


    With dizzying myriads of messaging, why protest?

    The Indivisible Guide, created by Obama staffers as a tool for resisting Trump’s agenda, has received lots of attention and commitment across the country.  People are signing up to form Indivisible groups and learning how to contact their representatives to make their voices heard. These groups are doing more than calling and leaving messages. They’re showing up at their representative’s offices in person. And their calm requests and questions are SCREAMING in the ears of their representatives.  Face-to-face human engagement is more powerful than any voice recording on a congressional representative’s messaging system. By showing up, people force the recognition that there is a message to be shared, even if it’s ignored or debated.

    The mass protests seen this past week, with hundreds of thousands of people marching for various reasons, make clear that no matter how different the signs, chants or reasons for being there, human beings are bringing themselves as the message. That’s the message that can’t be ignored or misunderstood.

    The communication of being present as a human being with others in protest sends a stronger message than signs, chants, emails and signatures on a petition. It is powerful because of the physicality of human beings coming together – real, observable, vulnerable, strong, demanding and clearly bearing one message: “We are paying attention!”

    And, that might be the most valuable signage of our times, no matter where you stand politically.