Build a relationship in a tube

It was a classic small town groundbreaking of a major new development for our client. The Mayor was there with two or three town council members, the Chamber president and his entourage of five or six people. The client’s associates were exuberant in their excitement for the new project.

The ground was soggy but not really muddy, the sun was out but it was still early-Spring chilly, and the 8’x8’ pop-up tent, furnished by the local rental center, stayed up.

The economic development guy welcomed the new project, the Mayor talked about the new jobs, the client representative talked about the company. The newspaper reporter and the radio reporter were reporting.

It was a great event.


The newspaper reporter came over to me and said (and I hate it when they open with this), “I have a bone to pick with you.”  Uh oh, here we go, I thought.  The news story had been misleading, something was misspelled, the information was outdated, I had the wrong street name, the not-for-profit organization name was wrong.  Whatever the problem, I was dreading to hear it.

“I can’t find tomato sauce in a tube in your store!  They used to have it. The store down the road doesn’t have it, either,” said the reporter.

“Have you asked the manager?  They are usually pretty good about customer requests,” I advised.  She hadn’t. I half-promised to look for tomato sauce in a tube to send her way. She walked away unconvinced.

Fast forward three months.  We found a store that carried tomato sauce in a tube.  In a light-hearted manner, I sent the tomato sauce in a tube to the reporter: “I bet you thought I’d forget about getting you the tomato sauce in a tube,” I said.  “I always keep my promises to reporters,” I concluded.

A week later I received a sincere hand written thank you note from the reporter.

Fast forward a year, to now.  Our company vice president is working with the same reporter for a different client. The reporter finishes an email with “Thank David for the tomato sauce in a tube.”

I made a friend…a relationship with a reporter.  A relationship not built on Twitter, or Facebook, or Pinterest but a relationship built on converting a little “bone to pick” into a low-cost action step and sensitivity to hearing what the reporter was asking.

There is a certain element of real human interaction, of listening and hearing real words and feelings coming from real people that leads to real relationships. And real relationships are what the public relations business is all about.


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