For the Love of the Word
April 24, 2014
There are few individuals in this field of mine willing to admit – even for that moment, even for those few seconds when their hands freeze hesitantly, arthritic with self-doubt, above the keyboard – that PR can be a despairingly thankless profession. Do not misunderstand me – I’m not referring to recognition or praise from superiors and colleagues for a job well done. I speak of the never-to-be read pitches, stories, pre- and post-briefing announcements, the introductions to introductory pitches, the follow-ups and the secondary follow-ups and the tertiary follow-ups…all making their home in the junk mail of a blogger whose page my two-year old nephew could code and has a circulation even CisionPoint wouldn’t debase itself to recognize as anything but “not applicable.” It’s this of which I speak.
Briefly, of course. For those Seattle PR’ites looking down at the dark abyss under the Aurora Bridge, poised with your toes curled like a vice over the chilled, bespeckled iron, don’t jump just yet. I haven’t renewed your faith.
A few months ago, I found myself in front of my computer attempting to write Mitch, the owner of a house recently put up for sale. Earlier in the evening, two of my dearest friends informed me that they had fallen in love with the property and it was perfect for them and their two boys, and it had a yard, and a fireplace in the master bedroom, and a fantastic view, and an art studio, etc., etc. The house had been on the market for a day and it had already triggered a bidding war. I responded with the appropriate, “Wow, sounds nice. My entire apartment would fit in the garage and my view is an asphalt wasteland. Good luck with that!”
“We want you to write a letter to the seller and convince him to let us buy the house.” Hmm…I was to write a letter (in their voice) to convince someone I’d never met to select my friends to buy a house I’d never seen? “Aerin, you’re a writer. You can write. Write it!” The level of paranoia in her voice was beginning to make me a little uncomfortable. “Make us cool. You can make us cool. Remember, Mitch is an Artist. We have corporate jobs – we’re just titles on a page. Make us…” I waited for further direction before realizing that I wasn’t going to get any. “Real. You want me to make you real.”
I asked them to each write down five adjectives and their official corporate titles. Then I took my dog for a walk. For any individual reading this who has ever experienced writer’s block, I have this advice: Get a dog. Over feed him. Take him for a walk. By the time you arrive home with five bags of dog shit in your hands, trust me, you’ll have a different perspective on life.
To be clear, I will never consider myself a writer. Steinbeck was a writer, Fitzgerald was a writer, Rushdie is a writer. I spell phonetically and was 17 before I realized that my “oops” was spelled “opps.” Opps. Flaws aside, I am in love with the written word. When used correctly, words can bring down empires, establish religions, forge laws and catalyze revolutions. Words can also get your client a feature in the New York Times, an article in Fortune, on the road to getting acquired or prepped for an IPO. In some very rare cases, words can get your friends a house.
Remember: Me and you – we wield a powerful wand. In PR, we use words to tell stories, to create and share ideas, to amuse and subtly cajole. We bring the human element, utilizing words to make an otherwise flat idea or person colorful, substantial and relevant. It’s not about luck – it’s about skill.
My friends were outbid by more than $100,000 but they got the house anyway. They move next month. Apparently, the owner really, really liked their letter.
That, dear readers, is the power of PR.