Today, January 31, is the birthday of my late grandfather, Bernard Berkowitz. He lived through the Depression, World Wars, and made it to the cusp of the 21st Century. He had a tremendous sense of humor and a sharp eye for bull. At various points in his life, he worked in a tiny family grocery store, made money (literally) at the US mint, delivered dentures, and owned and ran a corner bar.
It rocks my world that today is also a celebration of the Chinese New Year – a moment to celebrate life and our ancestors. It is also the first of the Jewish Lunar Calendar Month of Adar – a time to treasure the silly and topsy-turvy in all of our lives.
In honor of this amazing chronological convergence, here are three lessons from my Grandfather, blended with thoughts on the calendar, to guide our communications thinking.
Find the funny
No meal with Bernie was complete without a few belly laughs, either as the result of a story from his past, or his ability to draw a story out of you. Or best case, he would just seize the moment to engage our funny bone – and those are the memories that really stick.
All of us as communicators can sometimes lose the funny. The lesson: Let’s not take ourselves, our causes, or our products so seriously that we can’t find the humor. Think about Oreo’s use of the Superbowl blackout as just one example. And if we can’t find it, we can make it.
Try not to blow smoke
The knock on communicators is that we sometimes operate with smoke and mirrors. That in some way we “spin” the truth. It’s one of the most difficult criticisms to hear as a PR professional. The question for us to ask is “are we delivering accurate and useful information in a way that can be heard?”
Here’s my take – based on what I learned from Bernie: audiences expect us to shoot straight and be clear with them, regardless of the platform. We shouldn’t have to rely on their B.S. detector – we should rely on our own judgment well beforehand to make sure our work is straightforward.
Just get it done
The celebration around the Jewish month of Adar relates the story around the holiday of Purim. At its core, it’s a story about finding yourself in a position to make significant change…and then choosing to risk everything to make it happen to do something positive for humankind.
Bernie felt the same way. In story after story he shared with us, the crux would always be that nothing happens unless you make it happen. He was an inspiration that nothing is handed to us as communicators or individuals – we have to work for it. That’s a lesson we apply everyday.
As communicators, it’s easy to feel we’ve done “enough” to get the message out…but have we? The Lesson: There is probably always one more thing you can do to help get your message out there – ask yourself if you’ve done it.
A final thought
FCP’s office is adjacent to Oakland’s Chinatown. Outside our office today, the air is clouded with firecrackers from the Chinese New Year celebration. Each “POP” of a firecracker for me is a moment to reflect on what I learned from Bernie and a moment to think about how I can put it into practice for our clients and causes.