A message from an overworked employee: Tell kids to stay in school

A young woman studying with a laptop to her right.
From Flickr:English 106

This week, I went to pick-up my car from an auto body repair shop after a minor accident. I remarked to the woman, who was my representative throughout the entire process, that she always seemed to be there and inquired what her hours were. She said she worked 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and worked-through lunch by eating at her desk. “Wow,” I commented, “Just four days a week, right?” “No,” she explained, “I work Monday through Friday those hours, then 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and then, depending on how busy I am, I come in some Sundays.”

After this, she paused, then said, “You work at the college, right?” I told her yes. She said, “Please do me a favor and tell those kids to stay in school; it’ll be worth it. It’s tough to get a job without an education. I’m one of the lucky ones in that I make good money, but I work a lot. It’s a tough job too. I deal with angry customers and get yelled at a lot. I actually have a song I made up and sing to my grand kids. In it, I tell them to study hard, graduate high school, graduate college, then get married and have kids. They are too smart to not go to school. I want them to have a good life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Take her advice and stay in school. If you need further evidence it’ll pay off, check out this article, Education Pays, by Huffington Post.

Yes, Virginia, it’s still ok to ask the question

The phrase used to be “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Recently, however, I’ve had several people tell me that, in the age of Google, this phrase is no longer relevant, that there now IS such a thing as a stupid question. Although I understand where they are coming from, I’m going to have to argue the opposite in my usual old school/contemporary way. So here are four reasons that I think there is still no such thing as a stupid question:

Let me Google that for you homepage screen shot

The phrase used to be “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Recently, however, I’ve had several people tell me that, in the age of Google, this phrase is no longer relevant, that there now IS such a thing as a stupid question. Although I understand where they are coming from, I’m going to have to argue the opposite in my usual old school/contemporary way. So here are four reasons that I think there is still no such thing as a stupid question:

  1. The complete phrase is “There is no such thing as a stupid question, there are, however, lazy questions.”  This phrase I agree with and fully believe in, especially in the age of Google. If you need the formula for percentage change, it’s a simple Google search away.  So is the date that the movie Back to the Future traveled into the future and who holds the World Record for the longest fingernails. These are factually based answers that are just a click away. So, yes, if you ask one of these while having access to the internet, it’s a lazy question.
  2. There is a lot of incorrect information out there (and it gets repeated). The Internet provides the fuel for old wives tales and rumors to spread like wildfire.  There are some ways to tell the crap from the good stuff, but they are no foolproof, and if it’s a topic that you are not at least somewhat knowledgeable about, it’s going to be hard to decipher the good information from the bad information. If you already know an expert, it’s much more reliable to ask them. At the very least, they can point you down the right path.
  3. Sending “Let me Google that for you” links is rude.  I don’t care how you try to rationalize it, sending one of these links as an answer to someone’s question communicates that you think they are stupid or lazy. Clearly, this is not the best way to build a relationship with someone.
  4. Asking questions is one of the most fundamental ways of having a conversation with someone.  If a person is asking you a question that isn’t covered under #1 or #2 on this list, then they are probably more curious about your slant/opinion/view of something or they are just plain interested in you. They are not looking for the standard information they are going to find online. They are trying to form a relationship.  If you are on the opposite side of this equation, and you are nervous that you might get a “look it up” type of answer, consider rephrasing the question to say something like “I’m curious your personal thoughts on,” or “What does x mean to you?” This takes a lot of practice and self-discipline not to just think “I’ll Google that later,” but it’s much better for your relationships.

Got it? Or do I need to Google it for you?  Smiley Face

What burning toilet paper and high school teacher reminded me about marketing and pr

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.

 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.   

Burning toilet paperI 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. A smiling teacher in front of a class of 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?