A few years back, I caught wind of a pending newspaper article. A workplace reporter needed insights into finding employees who excel at customer service.
As it happened, I knew just the source, the manager of a diner I frequented in Queens, NY. I'd once complimented him on his ever-obliging staff and asked his secret. Hire people who genuinely like serving others, he informed me.
An interview I set up resulted in an article that ran, perchance, on USA Today's front page. The manager was quoted to good effect, with an accompanying photo of the diner. That piece hangs in a frame near the cashier to this day.
It's fun to do this sort of public relations – pro bono, of course, but also ad hoc, privately and independently – especially if it's unsolicited and thus unexpected, like a surprise birthday party.
In my 22-year career in PR, I've proven to be sort of incorrigible in this respect. I've promoted our local synagogue, whether for the cantor's retirement or for its annual book sale. I've represented an acquaintance who wound up imprisoned, in my mind wrongfully so, for selling apricot pits on the Internet as a cancer cure. I've championed the borough of Queens, the most ethnically diverse place on the planet.
Just last year, I pitched my long-time pal Al, a driver for UPS and, in the bargain, unofficial mayor of Forest Hills. Al had teamed up with his son Nicholas to handle deliveries from his truck during the year-end holiday season, forming possibly the only such father-son partnership in UPS history. The New York Daily News ran a full-page column.
None of which, by the way, qualifies me for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Still, I encourage you to resolve to do likewise in 2014. Take some time to conduct similar drive-by, grassroots advocacy. Of course, many of us are already committed to volunteering for CSR initiatives and crusade for certain causes on behalf of our agencies and our clients. But I'm talking here about a different order of public affairs.
A lot of our neighbors and local institutions – cops, teachers, schools, libraries, parks, doormen, merchants – are unable to afford PR. But they're no less deserving of public attention and acclaim. In leveraging your talents, you'll keep your chops sharp and deliver good deeds to better your community.
As New Year's resolutions go, you could do worse.
Bob Brody is a media strategist and editorial specialist at Powell Tate, a division of Weber Shandwick.