Undertaking a Difficult Sales Job

Below the Beltway
(Eric Shansby)
By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, March 19, 2006

I solemnly swear that what follows is an actual phone conversation I just had with an actual person.

Me: Hi. From time to time I talk with public relations people, and sometimes I confess I feel as though I am talking to soulless machines. But as soon as I read your name I knew there would be something warm and comforting and human about you.

Heather R. Huhman: Thank you!

Me: I am in receipt of a pitch you sent to a reporter at The Washington Post on behalf of a client. I am summarizing here, but basically you begin by noting that The Post has recently been covering the controversy over the sale of port management contracts to an Arab Muslim country. Then, employing a non sequitur of breathtaking proportions, or possibly one of the most tasteless transitions in the history of written communication, you say that, in a related development, you represent the National Funeral Directors Association.

Heather: This is making me nervous, as a PR professional.

Me: So, I kept reading. And, basically -- correct me if I am wrong here -- in an effort to garner good publicity for your clients, you are proposing a positive story on how funeral directors will be helping us bury our dead in the event of a terrorist holocaust that will annihilate thousands of people.

Heather: Well, you are incorrect. That is not in context.

Me: Okay, here's the context: "To follow-up on the articles being written in the Post about Bush's port deals, John Fitch, VP of Advocacy for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), can discuss how America is planning to handle the potential mass fatalities from a terrorism standpoint -- and perhaps more importantly to you, how small business owners (funeral directors) will play an important role. Most funeral homes are owned by the same family for an average of four generations."

Heather: Well, yes. The roles they will play in mass fatalities.

Me: I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I think I love you.

Heather: Okay . . .

Me: What is love but a feeling of intense empathy? I can't imagine many more difficult jobs than being the PR person for the Funeral Directors Association.

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