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All hail the unsung heroes of PR: the extra phone call, the selfless story tip

Former players Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox, Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees, Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays (front to back) being honored in 2002.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Maybe it's helping coach my son's baseball team for the second straight year, or it could possibly be my passion for baseball trivia. Most likely, both are playing supporting roles in my rising appreciation for the "unsung heroes" whose key, supporting roles are indispensable in setting the stage for heroics to occur.

Consider Mike Davis, the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder who batted before Kirk Gibson in the first game of the 1988 World Series. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Dodgers trailing by one run to the heavily favored Oakland A's., Davis (a sub-.200 hitter during the regular season) coaxed a walk out of relief ace Dennis Eckersley.

By keeping the game going, Davis paved the way for Gibson to limp his way into legendary status: barely able to walk, let alone swing a bat, Gibson somehow managed to slam a home run that won the game for L.A. Fueled by that comeback, the Dodgers went on to a 4-1 Series upset over the A's without needing to call on Gibson again.

The little things count for a whole lot in other arenas too. In public relations and marketing, what those unsung acts or attitudes can be is as varied and extensive as the people behind them. Two of my favorites, because they have proven so effective in laying the foundation for success, are making the extra phone call and offering the selfless story tip:

Making the Extra Phone Call

This might be a follow-up phone call to a reporter that you have already contacted. He or she has either not replied or displayed only vague interest in the story you are pitching. It would be easy to move on to other reporters, and count this media contact out.

Or this could be contacting someone for the first time, either making an initial contact on a given pitch or touching base with someone for the first time in your entire life. You may regard them as a long-shot to be interested in the story, and perhaps you worry that you will be seen as overly aggressive or out-of-touch with their interest area if you give them a call.

In both scenarios, don't succumb to the pessimist inside your head. And that acceleration in your heart rate? Rather than a sign that you should back off, it's really a cue that you are on the verge of going beyond your comfort zone and expanding your potential for success.

Credit for that insight goes to longtime Amway Diamond Matt Tsuruda, who as a college student in Hawaii went from flat broke to a strong and enormously successful business leader. Along with his wife, Sandee, he applied that principle of pushing beyond the status quo, and doing the uncomfortable, while working within the World Wide Group (WWDB) organization.

In your brand-new contacts with the media, you can buffer your concern about overstepping by beating the reporter to the punch: acknowledge that you realize the reporter may not be interested, and ask (if he or she is not interested) for a referral to a colleague.

Offering the Selfless Story Tip

This past week, I came across quite a spectacle not far from my office. Three young men were in handcuffs while at least five Oak Park Police squad vehicles were parked nearby. Two or three officers were standing nearby. Walking into a nearby Jimmy John's to buy a sandwich, I asked an employee if he knew what was going on.

As it turns out, he was well aware: one of the restaurant's drivers had gotten into his car and had been jumped by one or more of the men. I asked a few more questions, walked out with the sandwich and took a photo of the scene while strolling past it one more time. Moments later, I tipped off a local newspaper editor with the details that I had gathered and e-mailed the photo to him.

I wasn't advocating for Jimmy John's, or the police, or anyone else at the scene. I was simply taking a few minutes to help a media outlet get the jump on a story.

Sure, doing so adds another layer of trust and reliability with someone who has influence over future pitches that I make. But it's no guarantee of any favorable coverage--all that is certain is that it was a helpful thing to do.

And as with that one extra call and the walk drawn by Mike Davis more than a quarter-century ago, it would be a mistake to try to gauge complete value of the selfless story tip in isolation. Only when it's placed in a broader context, over the coming weeks, months and years of my relationship with the editor, will that value be revealed.