My blogs are usually inspired by conversations I have with friends and acquaintances and this one is no exception. The other day I had a discussion with an acquaintance about an event being held in her town that was being sponsored by a local business. She went on and on about how great it was that this business was doing something nice for the community.
Of course, this led to the discussion of altruism, because I’m just cynical that way. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s awesome when businesses give back to the community. The company I work often sponsors fundraisers and events for local charities and schools. It’s important that businesses become part of the community they work in.
Companies, I explained to this person, do these things for two reasons. First is because they truly want to do something helpful for the community. The second reason has to do with the PR they get in return. Let’s face it, the reason you hear about all the wonderful things these local businesses do is because they send out press releases to the local media to advertise that they were doing something nice and, well, if you are going to do something nice you might as well make sure everyone knows about it.
Enter Ivy Lee into our discussion. Anyone who has ever taken a marketing or public relations course knows about Ivy Lee. For those of you who may not know him, let me introduce you.
Ivy Ledbetter Lee was born in 1877. He was well educated and worked in the field of marketing and public relations. In fact, he is often considered the father of public relations.
Lee worked for the Rockefellers, (how’d you like to have THAT on your portfolio) and was instrumental in helping them improve their image after the Ludlow Massacre. This massacre took place in Colorado where several men, woman and children were killed by the Colorado National Guard and camp guards from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company owned by the Rockefellers. It is about this time the term “Robber Baron” came into play in the media to define people like the Rockefellers and there was a big divide between the ‘have’s’ and the “have nots” during this time.
Ivy Lee convinced Rockefeller, Jr. to travel to Colorado to meet with the miners. Miners back then were underpaid, had no access to healthcare, worked in dangerous conditions and lived in company owned tent camps where the standard of living was extremely poor. The miners were striking against these conditions when the massacre happened.
While in Colorado, Rockefeller, Jr. ate with the workers, danced with the wives and toured the mines. He talked directly with the people and listened to their grievances. Lee made sure the reporters were present, watching it all and reporting it back to the public.
In the end, Rockefeller left and nothing changed except the workers attitudes. Having met with Mr. Rockefeller in person and deeming him a great guy, they happily went back to work in the dangerous mines and continued living in substandard conditions.
It is because of the story of Ivy Lee and the Rockefellers that every time I read in the paper or hear in the news about some big business doing something for the community I stop and think, well that’s great…but.
There are people among us who do things just because. The nice lady down the road who knits hats for the infants at the hospital, the man who opened a store downtown with his own money and solicits donations that he in turn freely gives to the homeless people. The children who sell lemonade from a neighborhood stand and then donate the money to the local SPCA. You don’t see these people splashed across the front page of the paper. Why? Because they do what they do for the act of doing it, not for the notoriety it brings, not so they can keep a wall of “shame” (as I like to call it) of all their noble acts that have been printed in the paper and certainly not for the sense of superiority it gives some people.
No, these people, and there are many of them out there, give freely of their time and abilities no matter how seemingly small and do so under the cover of anonymity.
Now before some of you write me and tell me how cynical I am and how businesses do great things for the community around them, let me just state for the record that businesses that give back to the community are awesome. Just because they are getting something in return for their efforts doesn’t diminish the effort. And it’s quite possible that these people would do these things even if they didn’t own a business in the area. The public relations and advertising they gain from doing such things helps build their business and makes them look good in the public eye. I am all for this.
The people I truly admire are those who do these same things, on a much smaller scale maybe, but with the sole purpose of doing good with no thought of getting something in return.
So the next time you read a press release in the paper about a local business donating t-shirts to the local sports club or sponsoring event, or any such thing, please take an opportunity to thank those businesses. They are an integral part of the community.
And the next time you see someone giving to the community or local charity for the sole purpose of just wanting to do something nice…give them a big hug for me. They are truly some of our unsung heroes.
Here’s your chance to give a little PR to those people who deserve it. Know somebody who quietly gives to the community and asks for nothing in return? Feel free to post something about them in the comments.
(Please note my tab on terms and conditions. Unfortunately, I have had to add this for certain reasons. Thanks for understanding.)