Sunday, August 17, 2003

Three Questions

While I was never on the debate team in high school, college or at a very progressive pre-school, informal training as a naturally curious individual provided me with adequate opportunities to hone my skills. I rather enjoyed taking the role of “devil’s advocate,” which was probably prompted by a repressed rebelliousness to my conservative religious upbringing. Not everyone has appreciated my inquisitive nature, however.

I still remember a traumatic experience in eighth grade, where my homeroom teacher, Mr. McEachran, publicly limited me (and me alone) to three questions per class. This created quite a bit of stress for me, as I then had to constantly evaluate whether each new question I pondered warranted being one of the sanctioned three. While I obviously still harbor some deep-seated resentment towards Mr. McEachran, I can now appreciate that having to make these hard choices was a valuable experience.

Fast forward 20 years, and I find I am using these same skills as a pubic relations professional. Okay, wait, before you start slamming down your misguided anvil of judgment, let me debate the innocuousness of my particular role in this dubious profession. I do not represent Exxon. Nor do I represent companies involved with logging, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, or things your mother would frown upon. Sometimes, do my efforts make large corporations buy software with more functionality than they’ll ever need? Yes. Of that I am guilty, but a nice kind of guilty that lets me sleep at night and happily cash my pay check to buy frivolous consumer items with more functionality then I’ll never need.

Now that I’ve hopefully coaxed you down from your horse of elevated stature, I will continue with some droll observations on how my adolescent years prepared me for my current position. The bulk of my days involve writing press releases – those wonderful 2 or 3 page documents that litter the email boxes of editors around the globe. Of course, the difference between my press releases and other ones out there, are that mine are the ones that editors should care about. This is an important distinction.

As I think about what makes a really good press release, it pains me to realize that Mr. McEachran’s questionable middle school injunction has most likely had a positive effect on my current press release writing capabilities. You see, with a press release you have to carefully choose 2 or 3 main points you want to get across. Forget the small stuff and quickly get to what’s important – for you have to get your point across in a span of time that is dictated by how long it takes an editor to maneuver the mouse to the delete button. If you’re lucky, the mouse’s roller ball might be gummed up with lint, dust and skin cells, which could buy you a fraction of a second more. However, if you’re unlucky, two words: optical mouse.

My experience providing metaphorical legal representation for the prince of darkness has also proved extremely valuable. Essentially, it’s better that I poke holes in overblown corporate marketing claims that were recklessly created during a binge drinking session with the company Kool-Aid(tm). If I don’t, editors will. They love that sort of thing. But really, don’t we all?

There’s something satisfying about letting someone know they got their facts wrong. Like the other day when someone claimed that it was late president Van Buren that tried to buy Cuba. Everyone knows it was Buchanan, and it was while he was Secretary of State under Polk. Despite the obviousness of this blunder, my innate graciousness led me to merely correct this person politely. But I digress, when really I should be wrapping this up.

The point being that you often learn valuable lessons from difficult experiences, and secondly, that not all PR people are evil. When it comes to professions with the worst reputation, I believe that lawyers have edged us out of the top spot, and I hope this little expose helps to keep PR out of the number one position. So in light of all this, someone might question whether it makes sense to still hold resentment towards Mr. McEarchran. Unfortunately, I believe that someone has already used up his three questions.

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