This post is a little different because it isn’t directly about public relations, though indirectly it is. My topic is how we deal with the people we encounter in life and our attitudes toward them, whether they are powerful, powerless or somewhere in between.
Before I started my own firm, I headed up the PR department of an ad agency. One day a colleague there shared a story I’ve always remembered. It went like this:
In his second month of night school, a student breezed through the questions until the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans this building?”
Surely this was some kind of joke. He’d seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, brunette and in her 50s, but how would he know her name?
He handed in the paper, leaving the last question blank. Before class ended another student asked if the last question would count.
“Absolutely,” the professor answered. “In your lives, in your careers, you’ll meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.”
“I’ve never forgotten that lesson,” the student wrote many years later. “I also learned her name was Dorothy.”
I love that story because it speaks so clearly and strongly to the ways in which we can easily overlook others. As this professor pointed out, in our lives and careers we will encounter all kinds of people. We should never forget that each person is significant and deserving of attention and care.
In the PR profession, we’re pretty good at taking the time to get to know the names of key journalists, bloggers and other influencers who we hope can help us in some way. But this story reminds me that there are other people whose names I should be learning as well, because there’s no such thing as an unimportant person.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.