Early on in my public relations career, when I was toiling as a young freelancer in Portland, Maine and hustling to make a living with my craft, I learned an important lesson in perspective.
I’d been hired to publicize an event promoting a new recycling project a local print shop was launching on Earth Day. There wasn’t much to it, really: for every pound of paper customers brought in for recycling they’d get a certain discount on their next order. My hooks were the timeliness of the event and the visual element of an antique freight scale that was used to weigh the scrap paper.
I worked that job for all it was worth, reaching out to everyone at the local and state media outlets including newspaper reporters, magazine editors and radio and television producers.
On the eve of Earth Day 1995 I assessed my situation, having lined up an interview with the Portland Press Herald and segments with two of Maine’s television network affiliates. The client was prepped for the interviews, happy with the work and anticipating a big start to the day the following morning when the doors opened. We did one television interview for the evening news and it went well. I went to bed satisfied that I’d done everything I could do.
The next morning I got dressed and made my way to the shop, met with the owner to make sure everything was ready, waited for the doors to open and for the satisfying culmination of all my hard work. The day’s interviews were to commence starting after 10:00a.m. in order to ensure there was a good activity in the shop and an accumulation of paper near the old scale.
Then the phone rang. It was for me. It was the network affiliate. Breaking news. The interview was canceled. Thanks for understanding. Then the Press Herald, called. They were out, too. I was stunned and disappointed by the turn of events. My moment of triumph had been taken from me. I talked with the client and tried to make sense of the situation.
A few minutes later the value we’d placed in a promotional affair in Portland, Maine was rendered insignificant by events some 1,700 miles away in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where, at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a truck bomb had been detonated beneath the facility’s daycare center. One hundred sixty-eight people were dead, including nineteen children. Hundreds more were injured.
Twenty years later that tragic event has stayed with me; not just because of the historical significance and emotional imprint, but because of the professional perspective I gained that day. Whatever news or events I’m working to promote on behalf of a client, there are things happening in the world that are affecting people in ways that are wonderfully significant and also, far too often, devastatingly horrible.
I never want to forget that. I never want to lose that perspective.