By Sam Bartlett
I grew up in a small community in Northern Ohio. One day last week was “Drive Your Tractor to School Day,” a hometown favorite (yes – it’s actually a thing). When I was telling my coworkers about the beloved event, I started thinking about what growing up in a one-stoplight town taught me about being a PR pro. Here are five important lessons I’ve learned:
- Tradition matters: People look forward to some annual events each year, and they are going to notice if certain things AREN’T there, even if you’ve replaced them with seemingly better things. For example, one year in my hometown (where Independence Day is a huge ordeal) they decided to add extra entertainment to the celebration, but in order to compensate the additional cost, they had to cut food truck options. I can’t say I remember more singers, but I do remember only two food choices.
Lesson: Listen and know what audience wants – if they aren’t happy, chances are you won’t be either. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
- Word travels fast: Not long ago, a woman in my hometown decided she wanted to open her own salon, after working for other shops in town for many years. She purchased an old building and it took more than a year to get it ready. She took every precaution and didn’t open her shop until it was perfect. Once it was ready, she had overwhelming support from her friends, family and the entire community – and everyone appreciated the extra work she put into it. There weren’t many complaints about being added to a waiting list for a haircut.
Lesson: When you tell your audience details about an exciting new project/building/event/etc., you can bet they’re going to tell everyone they know. So, it’s important to put your best foot forward and make a good first impression, because it could make or break you. Make sure all your ducks are in a row before making a grand entrance – you don’t want to fall on your face over details that can be refined and polished prior to launch time.
- Offer a helping hand: In a small town, you best believe the guy who just asked you for a favor is the same guy you’re going to need something from next week. For example, in Northern Ohio there seems to be a lot of tornados and other natural disasters. When I was in high school, there was a bad tornado and it destroyed a family’s home. The entire community came together and provided them support, clothes, toiletries, appliances – you name it. The next time a bad storm came through – they were the first people to offer their help in clean up.
Lesson: Build a strong team to accomplish goals, and you’ll be amazed by the results you get by putting together more than one head! Don’t hide from someone asking for help and then turn around and ask them for something; you won’t get very far.
- Stand out: In my hometown, there are two small restaurants. One building has gone through its fair share of different restaurants because each just didn’t deliver what the town wanted. But, the most recent concept appears to be scoring a home run - they use meat from a local butcher shop, and everything tastes like Grandma made it.
Lesson: People and companies are constantly being compared to one another, so it’s important to stick out and be unique. Offer people something different; something they won’t find anywhere else. Give people a reason to come back, even if it’s as simple as a loyalty card.
- Build relationships: My entire graduating class from high school was 94 people, which meant we all tended to know EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. That goes with the entire community; it’s a tight-knit group that continually is interacting and helping one another. As a whole, I always see people working together and offering opinions and knowledge about certain subjects, which makes our community stronger and better-rounded at all times.
Lesson: This goes back to offering a helping hand. If you continually build strong relationships with all of your audiences, you will not only learn and grow from them, but they will continue to be loyal. You never know when someone will become a resource, so try to build at least a friendly relationship with everyone you come across.
I’ll also throw in two more of my favorite expressions that also apply: “Don’t be too big for your britches!” and “You'll catch more bees with honey than vinegar!”
What did growing up in your hometown teach you about life in the professional world?