Friday, October 16, 2015

Debonair facial hair

I learned a valuable PIO life lesson today…from mustaches.

Every autumn, several fire and police agencies in my community raise funds for charity by holding a mustache contest party, an event billed “Octoberstache.”  My hypothesis is these fall-time follicle fundraisers are only thinly-veiled excuses to  grow mustaches (which men love) while skirting the ire of significant others (who get a little plucky against them), under the guise of philanthropy. I’m helping with outreach.

A debonair 'stache
This year our cause is an organization that helps athletes with disabilities.  Specifically, to buy a sports prosthetic for a local boy whose leg was amputated due to illness. His dad’s a cop. The boy likes to play soccer. Soccer is hard to play on crutches.

As I set about constructing a media outreach plan, my proverbial PIO salivary glands began to water.  Let me get this straight- You want me to pitch a story that has kids in need, triumph over disability, and handsome firefighters in mustaches?  Why, all I need is a baby animal involved somehow and I’m golden!

But then I paused to reflect.  As PIOs, by nature, some of our tasks are easier than others. Sometimes we have to narrate disaster and quell fear, apologize for the knuckleheads in our agencies and the knucklehead things they do, look good on camera while wearing yellow brush coats (no one looks good in yellow), and report on ghastly things we’d soon rather forget.  These are the hard parts of the job.

Touching stories are easy pitches to the media
But on the flip side, sometimes what we do is so, so easy.  We get to carry forth beautiful stories –tales of communities coming together, great acts of sacrifice and courage, events with compelling visual elements.  Some of our pitches are so inherently solid they get snatched right out of our hands. 

How do we react when these latter opportunities occur, however? It’s easy to get sidetracked with that little dance about how many cameras will show and re-tweets we'll rack up and how hard the Chief will pat us on the head.  But ultimately, what we do is not about us, but it's about the people who benefited from our work. Whether that benefit equates to attendees showing up for fundraisers or people getting out with their lives.

For those of you granted the gift of gab and pen who use it in service to others, carry on humbly in this dedicated service of your community.  That’s what I will be reflecting upon solemnly next Friday, as I fit a box of puppies with costume mustaches.

Loralee Olejnik
Southern California PIO

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