Thou Shalt Not Emulate a Certain Connecticut Volunteer Fire Department
A few weeks ago, you may recall that I was having little success in joining the staff of the volunteer EMS and fire departments in my neighborhood along the Connecticut shoreline. Well, last Tuesday I was sworn in as a member of a local volunteer fire department. Four days later, I quit the department in disgust.
Looking back at that brief and disastrous incident, I can see a great many cogent lessons that can be applied to the PR world. Pay attention, because you could wind up accidentally setting your own fires if you follow the mistakes I encountered.
1. First impressions are too crucial for words. In PR, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And my impression of that nutty volunteer fire department was quite an eye-opener: the monthly membership meeting. It was not a civil function, by any stretch. It was a chaotic, disorganized mess where everyone was speaking at once, where the leadership of the department was openly ridiculed with vituperative taunts, where one semblance of kindness (a letter from a resident praising the department) was subject to ridicule by the firefighters, and where the one truly serious problem facing the department (a considerable amount of debt owed to various sources) went unanswered.
My impression of this meeting: these guys are a bunch of assholes! And, for those who keep sociological tabs, they were a bunch of white guys – a wildly lopsided demographic reflection of the community they were supposedly serving.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: HR is a sibling of PR. If your corporate culture is a disaster, word will spread and wreck your public image.
2. If you promise information to someone, deliver it. During the meeting, two members of the department (including the “public information officer,” a guy named Mike) promised to get me the contact data for the Firefighter One training I would need in order to be an active member and participate in emergency calls. I never received the information and I wound up spending two days making repeated phone calls in an attempt to track down where in the state I could receive such training. (I think it would be easier to locate Amelia Earhart than find the nearest Firefighter One class.)
This boo-boo is actually fairly common with PR people. The only silver lining here is the fact that it is not unique to PR people – even firefighters don’t deliver promised information.
Well, if you are like most in PR, when it comes to award submission, first thing you do is look for a winning sample. Here's one: a reader has absolutely set the bar. Below is a nomination letter for the first annual PR Douche-Bag Award.
Use it for reference. It's very good and frankly describes rather poignantly just the type of DB we think deserves recognition.
Note: The identifying information has been [redacted] to the extent necessary to ensure overall fairness in the Award judging.
Sent: Thursday, August 02, 2007 12:11 PM
Subject: Douche Bag Nomination
[REDACTED] Public Relations CEO, and my former boss, [REDACTED], deserves this very honorary award for the following reasons:
He's a liar. He lies to his clients. He lies to the media. He lies to his
wife. He lies to his mistress. He lies to his attorney. If his lips are
moving, he's lying. He's a manipulative little prick. He always fails to get the facts, and instead, just makes shit up. He shamelessly promotes himself before his own paying clients. He's constantly seeking approval from others because he lacks any kind of self-esteem. He has no integrity, and no respect for others. He is unable to reason, and instead, flies off the cuff at every little thing, sending the entire office into a tizzy. Instead of seeking solutions to problems, he point fingers, and of course, it's never HIS fault. Every time he loses a client, he loses his head, and someone loses their job. (But he DOES have enough money to buy himself a new Mercedes every 2 years, plus multiple front row seats to overpriced concerts for his dip-shit son and daughter, and a hefty mortgage on his [REDACTED] Hills mansion.) He undervalues and underpays everyone. He screams, yells, throws tantrums on a daily (make that hourly) basis. Every other word out of his mouth is "fuck." He has the worst halitosis you've ever smelled. He has the table manners of goat. He's just plain rude. Rude to his staff, rude to his wife, rude to waiters and waitresses in restaurants, rude to everyone he comes in contact with.
In three years I worked there, I witnessed countless breakdowns from all members of the staff, no less than 5 firings, and at least 10 assistants walked in and out the front door.
[REDACTED] is a world-class douche-bag! I recommend strongly that you consider him for Douche Bag of the Year.
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