The BLACK paPR Report


PR from an African American Perspective

Box Them In

I love my mentor who also happens to be my godmother, Bernardine D. Douglas. Bernardine is a retired veteran radio station sales and general manager. One of the first people to support her during the start of her career was Joan Crawford, the legendary actress who had a seat on the board of directors of PepsiCo. The older tough cookie gave the younger, Negro (as we were called then) tough cookie a huge sales order and it was on and popping from that point forward. 

Over the years I have learned a lot sitting at the feet of this precious woman. She’s is in fact the first person to recognize my talent as a publicist and practitioner. She is the first person to recognize that I have this odd gift of connecting people with other people or to what they need. For all of the above, I’m extremely grateful.

Here is a partial list of the things she has taught me:

  • Never enter into agreements with people who complain about previous service. They will complain about you too.
  • Always ask potential clients or customers, What do you need? What are your goals? How can I assist?
  • Sidestep foolish people. Loosely translated: Don’t waste a time of your talents and time on someone who makes silly choices.
  • Be teachable. It’s okay to be a know-it-all but remain open to learning.
  • Don’t operate in false modesty. Accept compliments, simply say thank you. 
  • Don’t lie or embellish.
  • It’s okay to burn bridges. You really don’t want bad energy or people to follow you. And you don’t want to introduce them to the good people you know and will meet. (Future blog post.)
  • Always make fast talkers repeat themselves and then repeat back what they say to them. 

But this is by far the best advice she’s ever given me, “Box them in, baby. You can’t make them do right but you can make it hard as hell for them to do wrong.” It took me a few tries but I not only get this but use it, sadly, frequently. I’ve even passed this advice onto people who thought they got it and used it on me, the wrong person. (It’s really difficult to use the lesson on the teacher, especially if she didn’t pass on the intricacies of the lesson. The didn’t know the intricacies.) 

At any rate, boxing people in has come in handy for me in business. I don’t understand underhandedness and deceit to the extent that I can outthink it. I don’t understand the hustle, so I won’t always recognize it in its beginnings. And I don’t understand how or why people like to use other people. 

Boxing folks in helps in deterring crazy and helps me to discern when someone is just not right. 

For example, some years ago an evangelist asked me to ghostwrite a book for him. I sent a quote, which was half of what he should have been charged for the project. He told me that he had people to do it for free, and that I should do it as a gift to the man of God. After careful consideration of his offer, I declined. And that book has yet to be written. 

How did I box him in? I merely agreed that if he could get it done for free, then he should go for it. I wasn’t terse in my response to him at all. I just relied on a biblical principle: If you do something for nothing, you will get nothing. And my debtors wouldn’t be too happy with that decision. 

The other thing that made it necessary to box the evangelist in was the fact that I am a woman working for herself. Some form of compensation should have been offered in my best interest. Oh well…

I honestly wish Bernardine could teach a course in this, but it’s advice that is best explained on a as needed to know basis. 

Best, Robin

Filed under: Help for the Practitioner, PR Standards & Practices, The Business of PR & Publicity, Uncategorized, , , , ,

One Response

  1. Cedrick says:

    awesome teaching from a mentor.

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