Public Relatin’ Ain’t Easy!

I got fired from my internship as a public relations representative about a week ago. It’s a epic and pathetic tale, covering one of the most important aspects of a writer’s life: mistakes. Let me untangle it for you.
My old teen theater group, which I helped revitalize at one point, is the company in question. My theater director (who will most definelty read this, in which case, hello! Good luck with Little Women!) offered me the job when I asked how I could help out the group while out-of-town. She gave me a long talk about how I was supposed to act and what duties I carried. The first duty involved sending out emails to various schools, churches, and newspapers, asking them to spread the word and the posters. I did well, mostly because I was given a very strict format to follow and just had to fill in names and show details like Mad Libs: Sensible Edition. Managing the facebook page? That duty is where things got messy.
My mission each week consisted of updating the page three times, once with a poster, once for Throwback Thursday, and once for a random actor’s bio. Like with the emails, the actor’s bio consisted of just copy and pasting from another source, in this case the main website. Here are some examples of what I did on the other dates.Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 7.41.48 PM
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Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.37.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.38.28 PM
Things go more or less ok (I missed a couple updates, but didn’t receive many complaints about them) until December. One of the photos I tossed up for Throwback Thursday was this.
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My caption was “On this week’s Throwback Thursday, get a load of that outfit!” For context, my friend was wearing a costume and this was a scene in the play in which he played an exaggurated character. It’s not like he wore that normally or that I made fun of the actor instead of the role. Regardless, this post was soon deleted after I put it up, just like a couple others that were also, as described by my theater director, too playful and casual in tone for the group. I was supposed to be professional in this.
So then I started thinking. And for future employers who might read this, watch out for when I start thinking. I asked myself, how can I be professional while still remaining interesting and creative? The solution appeared in a grainy wave of thought: be as boring and nondescript as possible. Not just mere uninteresting, but so dull and mind-numbing that people start to question who’s that behind the facebook wall and what frontal lobotomy did he receive. Looking back, I was probably influenced by the likes of Jaden Smith, and I will bet money that he wouldn’t have so large of a twitter following if he wasn’t so goddamn weird. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this idea wasn’t a little influenced by my confusion about what I was doing wrong and the potential to mock the dry people behind a lot of corporate Facebook pages. But I still maintain that there was no malice or attempt to destory the group’s reputation with this. My creative spark was not to shout “Rebel, rebel!” but to ask, “Bueller? Bueller?”
My first attempted at this involved a Throwback Thursday. I posted this picture and wrote, “On this week’s Throwback Thursday, there are four people sitting in a car.”
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And then things turned disasterous. Remember that poster I showed you for Almost Maine and the heart-shaped northern lights? I reposted that and added, “A group of people stand under an inaccurate description of the northern lights.” The wave of pre-prepared posts I created for the last month had ended, so I came up with this one on the fly and left to go see Selma. When I came back from the show, people were pissed. My theater director told me that one woman called up and said the post made the troupe look incompetant and that it disgraced us all. And according to the director, 13 people unliked us, out of about 150 followers. She’s never lied to me, and I still have trouble believing that saying the northern lights aren’t heart-shaped would cause such a heated response. She revoked my administrator and email privileges (it didn’t help that I accidently looked up some youtube videos while logged into the email account and she spent two hours wondering who hacked her email to watch Ultimate Dog Tease), and now any facebook posts would have to go through her first.
My stint as the world’s most interesting boring man lasted less than a week. And that’s my first lesson to you youngin’s, or oldin’s, or middle-agein’s: you can only subvert the system when you’re dealing with idiots. My director is no idiot, and though I never thought she was one, my actions didn’t show it. Most people are smart enough to know where the boundaries are and when you’re rubbing vaseline on them. If you want to know if you’re dealing with people who can’t outthink you, ask them if they think vaccines cause autism or something. If you walk in thinking you’re the smartest and most creative in the room, there’s a good chance you’re the dumbest and most likely to get schooled in the room.
I didn’t realize this right away, so my first batch of posts sent for approval still stunk of boredom. She read them and sent feedback along the lines of “we are not a preschool” (since I labeled a picture with a bike in the email “a bike”). She gave suggestions for revision. At this point, I wised up and followed her suggestions to the letter, and she said my revisions showed impovement and a good step forward.
At this point, I didn’t know what changed in her opinion regarding my posts, so I looked back through the Facebook wall and revisited my work. I told her about some of the now-questionable posts I made, including the Giver one, and she mentioned that she hadn’t been monitoring me beforehand. In short, she trusted my judgement and I didn’t deliver. With this new understanding, I expected to move forward and commit to running the Facebook page the right way.
To understand what happened next, I’ll have to lead you to a slight pit stop. The last LATTE play I was in was also it’s first full length play, Leaving Iowa. I played the main character, Don, who spends the story looking for the right place on the road to place his father’s ashes. At one point in the journey, he despairs making it anywhere significant to his father and considers just leaving his dead dad’s remains in a grocery store, to “place in Aisle 7 next to the kitty litter.” It’s a fun line, and nearly everyone I talk to who has seen the play remembers laughing at it. So now you know what I’m refering to when I’m talking about my September post “On this week’s Throwback Thursday, find us in aisle 2 next to the kitty litter!” (Ok, I forgot the exact number, but I remembered the line).
Well, this was one of the posts my mentor found that was “innappropriate,” and she told me so in an email. And one of the tips she gave me for future posts was to use the writer’s own words to describe the play I’m referring to. I sent back a response:Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.36.17 PM
She replied “A frame of reference,” then elaborated in a separate email:Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.37.12 PM
I returned:Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.38.25 PM
And then she called and left a message that said in more-or-less words that I was fired. At least my public relations career died with me doing what I love: debating english.
Writing this, I’ve gained more sympathy for the position my theater director’s in. She doesn’t really control her audience. If I wanted to gain, say, a following from the MRA, I’d just have to post something like “Women only complain about rape when the rapist is ugly” and watch the inevitable and inevitablely stupid avalance of nasty nogoodniks bang their keyboards in support like headbutting walruses. Point is, I can control who my audience is by what I say. My theater director? Her audience is the parents who send their kids to the group and the senior citizens that live in the place her troupe performs. She’s stuck entertaining a specific group, and I don’t see how she can get out of it.
A couple of years ago, long after I left the troupe, this theater ensamble produced The Giver, a great story that’s still relevant. I can’t say it was their best play, but it certainly was one of their most emotionally powerful ones. Someone called my director “evil” for putting it on. Now, personally, I would love for someone to call me evil. For one, I’m usually too polite and mild-mannered to be called that, so it’d be a first. Secondly, not only would I know I produced a strong emotional reaction, I would know I produced a strong emotional reaction in an absolute git that is exactly the type of person that The Giver is condemning. But you shouldn’t take my word on these kind of things, because I am a weirdo. Being called “evil” usually hurts, and it certainly hurt my theater director, who has strayed away from controversal plays and has produced lighter faire ever since. That insulter, deplorable and dumb as he or she may have been, also represents a lost supporter who will never again donate his or her time, money, or kid to what is admittedly a small and fragile theater group. My director’s livelihood is based on people exactly like that. My risks managing the theater page seemed to be only of the creative variety, but those “small” risks finanically and socially hurt a group I love and a mentor I love. Just writing that truth makes my gut churn and my arm reach for the ice cream.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever go into public relations as a career. But I did take some valuable writing lessons from the experience, if not in the way I hoped. My theater director and I are still looking to produce a play of mine in the near future. I hope this hasn’t damaged that, because those are works where my creativity is a boon instead of a hindrance. But let’s not kid ourselves. If I make myself feel better at night by telling myself I was too creative for the job, it’s a statement on par with saying that my blanket will protect me from the monsters. There’s a time for creativity, and all of us need to figure that out.

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4 thoughts on “Public Relatin’ Ain’t Easy!

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