One of the leaders in our industry retired recently, but unless you were among the 200 people who attended her retirement celebration, you may have missed it.
She wasn't one of the esteemed agency founders or CEOs. She didn't manage a huge corporate communications department in a Fortune 500 company. As far as I know, she never made the PRWeek "Most Powerful PR People" list. I'm also pretty sure she never picked up any industry statues along the way. But what she has done is worthy of our consideration just the same.
Her name is Arlyne Soodik. For many years, she held court as the chief receptionist for Ketchum. I met her during my time as a client of the agency. Every time I saw her, she made me feel like the most important person on the planet.
Her contributions went far beyond greeting clients and prospects. Whenever I was at Ketchum, I watched the way Arlyne influenced those around her. She was an adopted grandmother to the young staffers, a calming presence in the tense moments before they gave their first big presentation. She gracefully handled the occasional larger-than-life egos who would sweep through her space, expecting and getting VIP treatment. If their demands or attitude were a little over the top, she could always disarm them with her down-to-earth charm.
Ray Kotcher, Ketchum's CEO, toasted Arlyne at her retirement party by noting that, "reception is reality." How true that is. The way we are greeted by a firm - an indelible moment of truth in client service - speaks volumes about the agency's culture and commitment. One of the Arthur Page Society principles is that "a company's true character is expressed by its people." In Arlyne's case, the expression was truly authentic.
What I think Arlyne understood was that she was the CPRO of Ketchum. That is the Chief Personal Relationship Officer. She developed and nurtured the relationships with her colleagues in the agency, new prospects and long-term clients that the firm depended on for lasting success.
Her lessons are ones that we should strive to teach others as we educate them on the basics of this business. We should never be above fetching a cup of coffee for a visitor, making someone feel more relaxed, putting an arm around a co-worker who is having a bad day, or showing our humanity to each other in a selfless, caring way.
These are just a few things I learned from Arlyne over the years. Her laugh was contagious, her smile was genuine, and her advice was impeccable. What I sometimes see in our profession is a lot of people taking themselves way too seriously. Yes, ours is a serious business and we should strive to conduct it in a professional manner. But every now and then, we need to take a deep breath, relax the shoulders and remember that there is more to life than that next critical e-mail we're about to read.
Tom Martin is an executive-in-residence, Department of Communication, The College of Charleston. He also serves as a senior counselor for Feldman & Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.