She looked awesome in that early ‘90s lavender gown that barely revealed the polish on her yellow pumps – yet more than enough of an opening to fuel the imagination of her pimply-faced date. Her bangs were teased just high enough to nearly incite a jealousy-fueled riot in the Aqua Net aisle at Wal-Mart a few hours later. The corsage squeezed her tiny wrist, practically launching her onto the dance floor in a blurry wisp of stale red and white carnations. And man could she move.
But for a few brief moments, before she shredded the “Running Man” and before the ill-fitting tiara proclaiming her queen of the freshman dance wrapped around her head in an awkward embrace of rhinestone angst, she represented rejection. Shrill, Vanilla Ice-voice inducing pain aimed at the gut.
Why did she embody such torture to be compared to the worst in White Boy rap? Because, at the last moment, after her date had clipped on the hand-me-down tie and tucked it underneath the previously-worn beige vest that rested underneath the oversized jacket of his Goodwill suit, she called to say she would not be arriving at the dance in his arms. The corsage fell from his hand. He was crushed.
But he would have redemption among his peers. Her bony hand in his sweaty palm at midnight felt like jewels that might slip away with the slightest tug – for he was king of the freshman dance.
The same awkward ritual plays out in modern-day PR offices around the world. Flacks spend hours crafting the perfect pitch with the hopes of luring that sequined journalist to the dance floor, only to be flirted with – sometimes outright rejected, inducing epic mascara runs – and left wondering if their date will show. But when he does, he gleams like Deney Terrio (look him up kids) and spins their PR dreams to all corners of the media world, their client gladly clapping in the background while clasping a stogie.
It’s a tumultuous relationship. Fifteen years spent in the bowels of a newspaper – the last nine in the newsroom of a major metro – saw the dance played out on every stage imaginable. From the journalist’s perspective, it begins with annoyance, because, like that skinny rail of a freshman weighed down with Coke-bottle glasses, the PR pro might as well not even exist. The truth hurts like a bad 90s ballad.
PR pros would do best to not take it personally. They wail in pain, “Why won’t this (expletive) reporter respond to my emails? Why is this (expletive) ignoring me? This. Is. A. Great. (Expletive). Story!” The beating of breast commences. The truth? Your story sucks worse than White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” And like that crappy ballad, your pitch took up four minutes of valuable time and singed ears.
The news hole has shrunk. Air time has been squeezed. As a PR pro, you have to realize that reporters get exponentially more emails than requests you receive to brainstorm ways to publicize your clients.
Think outside the dance floor. Remember that scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty McFly’s image is slowly fading from the photo? That’s traditional journalism. Be the smacker that George McFly plants on Lorraine at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance to resurrect Marty’s “Johnny B. Goode” electricity by offering digital/social media avenues, like video easily attached to a website. The news cycle has evolved, so capitalize on the social media-driven world of people checking smart phones before the early morning bathroom break. The best part of waking up is your client’s news alert.
Like the king who overcame rejection, do not take a reporter’s distaste of you personally.
At the end of the night, with his second-hand suit crumpled in a heap near his Sega Genesis game console, the freshman king of the dance stared at his bedroom ceiling. Vanilla Ice was a distant memory. He could still feel the queen’s soft lips on his cheek, the pat of classmates’ hands on his back.
Rejection can be so sweet.