The BLACK paPR Report


PR from an African American Perspective

Please, Thank You and You’re Welcome

Melvin Helitzer was a helluva PR pro and professor at Ohio University. On the first day of class, Mel met students at the door with an extended hand and a warm smile. After greeting us, he told us that he only had a few rules and if we expected any semblance of success in his class we’d never break them.

The first rule: Never come to class late and if you did, stand outside the door. Do not bother to come inside.

The second rule: Come to class prepared, which included class participation. No sleeping, talking or passivity. You will join in the discussion; you will interact with your classmates or “colleagues” as he preferred us to call one another.

The third rule: You will always behave with courtesy towards your colleagues. The classroom was the office or firm and it should be treated in that manner.

The fourth rule: Expect to receive an “A.” If your expectations were lower, then there was an open invitation to drop the class.

And the fifth rule: Follow rules 1 through 4 and you’ll make Mel very happy.

On the second day of class, I broke rule #2 and spent an hour in the hallway sitting on the floor with my ear inclined to the door. When class was over, I politely walked in and apologized and then asked the questions written in my notebook. The last act saved me great embarrassment and impressed Mel.

Professor Helitzer didn’t know but I’d been a practitioner before returning to college to complete my degree work. I’d tell him later and that was only to affirm the rules he’d set in place and their role in making me a true PR professional. So to this day, I’d rather cancel than show up late; research every client and project-related information I can get my hands on before a meeting; and expect to win.

In terms of the third rule, I cannot imagine leaving any situation without saying Please, thank you, and you’re welcome. I shake hands and greet people warmly. Moreover, I’m grateful that I have a reputation for making people feel incredibly comfortable with themselves and in potentially stressful situations. I owe that in part to my training and part to my personality make-up.

Manners go a long way in PR and publicity. Treating people well and kindly can mean the difference in a journalist ditching your pitches or running your releases and even interviewing your clients. It can also equal increased revenue.

Recently, I left feedback on a blog, a blog I happen to like, and the author of that blog didn’t take too kindly to my words. She expended a great deal of energy to respond to me, essentially getting me told. I was okay with her retort but I wasn’t okay with one thing: her manners.

You see the three professionals I love the most (Mel, Howard Landau and Bernardine Douglas) taught me something very special and that is to be gracious even in the face of criticism. All three taught me to extract the truth from the criticism and throw away the rest, all the while smiling or at the very least showing a poker face. I’d rather be remembered as being gracious and teachable than ungracious and irrational. Unfortunately, everyone didn’t have a Mel, Howard or Bernardine.

And here is the other sticky wicket: She didn’t research who I was or who I know. It just so happens that she is affiliated with a magazine and I just so happen to know the editor-in-chief.

Trust me, I won’t say a word. Nope. That kind of behavior has a way of telling on itself.

Pros, take classes in social and dining etiquette as well as protocol and decorum. Read books such as Basic Black: African American Etiquette, Advice and Social Customs, and anything by Emily Post.

Be Your Best, Robin

Filed under: African Americans, Help for the Practitioner, PR Etiquette, Public Relations, Social Customs, , , , , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. Mel Helitzer says:


    Many thanks.

    Now tell me more about you – where, what and why not.



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