A couple of months ago, I was rushing to a local food place at lunch to grab some food before heading back to the office. On the corner of the block right before the food place sits a local high school. When I rounded the curve, I noticed that students were filing out of the high school and heading to the other side of the road. I stopped at the corner while student after student came filing out which teachers encouraged them to be calm, but move quickly. And that’s when it dawned on me; they were evacuating the school.
I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I assumed from their pace that it was a false alarm or something minor. The next day, I learned from the local paper that it was because some students were burning toilet paper in the bathroom and set-off the alarms. In any case, I had a lot of time just sitting there watching student after student come out. Like watching a cargo train when you are late for a meeting, it seemed like the stream of students would never end.
But at that moment, what my eyes and ears were drawn to more than anything else was a young male teacher interacting with the students. He was the one assigned to stand in the middle of the road and coax reluctant students across the road. He was energetic, he was encouraging, and he seemed to have respect for each of the students in the line. There was no yelling or even a heightened sense of stress. Instead, all I could hear was “Great job guys. Keep going. You all are doing awesome. We really appreciate you helping us with this. Keep going.”
Finally, as the last student emerged from the building and started to cross, another teacher came up and said something to the male teacher in the middle of the road. His shoulders dropped with a sigh. I could tell immediately what the news was; they had been given the all-clear. The students needed to come back in.
After a second of frustration, like a wind-up doll that gets rewound, he perked back up and immediately went back to his work with the same energy and optimism as he coaxed the students back in the building. By now, many of us had been stopped at this intersection for quite a while and some were getting very frustrated. As the last few students crossed the road, the male teacher, recognizing this, did an amazing thing. He walked a few steps closer in the direction of each car on the intersection, looked each driver in the eye, waved and shouted “thank you!” When it was my turn, I smiled and waved back. I was late, and frustrated, but that melted away with that simple gesture.
Before that day, if you had asked me what I thought of the instructors at that school, I’m not sure I would have had positive things to say. But after that interaction, I couldn’t stop talking about that young teacher and how he interacted with his students. He reminded me of a simple marketing and public relations principle that sometimes gets lost in our quest to utilize new digital media tools and creative expensive advertising campaigns. At that moment of burning toilet paper, a high school teacher was the face and the marketer for the school. Had he behaved inappropriately in front of all of those cars, it would have been disastrous for the school. Instead, he behaved in a way that left a long-standing impression on me about the quality of the teachers at the school and the quality of the school in general.
We, as marketers and public relations professionals, need to promote our organizations to the best of our ability through traditional advertising, press releases, digital media, etc. But we must never underestimate the power of interactions with employees of our organizations. An advertising campaign may bring someone to your organization, but whether or not you gain a customer is all about the interactions that customer has with employees.
So I challenge you to ask yourself: Are the employees at your organization doing a good job being spokespersons for your organization?