As a young child, I was quite the outgoing chatterbox. On an airplane trip to visit grandma in Florida, I asked a man across the aisle if I could have his chocolate cupcake. He was in a tough spot, how do you say no to a cute curly haired little girl? He graciously handed over his cupcake, as my mother apologized for my boldness. If only he had known about my motion sickness problem, he might have held onto that cupcake!
My mother tells another story about the time when I was 3 or 4 years old and she left me playing with my toys in the living room while she was upstairs with my baby brother. Mom said that she heard me chattering away and thought that I was talking to my dolls. When she heard a second voice in the conversation, Mom raced down the stairs to find that I had invited a six-foot-tall Avon Lady into the house!
Years later, talking to strangers would be a requirement in my post-college career in public relations. In addition to writing pitch letters and press releases to promote clients and their products, I had to talk to editors, TV producers and a multitude of strangers on a daily basis. My first clients were dentists, plastic surgeons, diet centers, and beauty product companies. My job was to promote the clients and their products and services in newspaper and magazine articles or on TV and radio talk shows.
After a couple of years, I moved to a smaller “boutique” public relations firm. I decided to pitch fun clients in the food and toy industries. I set my sights on a few toy companies with offices in Manhattan and sent out my pitch letters. A sales rep for one small company based in Japan, returned my phone call and said that the company owners would be in town for the annual Toy Fair Expo. I set up a meeting for the next week and prepared the materials, new business proposal and hand-outs. At the last minute, my boss said that she couldn’t go to the new client meeting with me. So I took a cab downtown, by myself, and went to meet the prospective client.
When I arrived for the meeting, the sales representative ushered me into a small windowless room. Five Japanese businessmen stood up and nodded their heads as the sales rep introduced me. The men sat back down and appeared very serious. I was not sure if they were fluent in English but I launched into the many wonderful publicity ideas our firm planned to use to give their new toy visibility in the American consumer market. I gave my spiel, presented examples of product publicity I had achieved for other toy companies, and handed out my business card. The businessmen stood up and nodded at me and I was ushered back out of the room. We got the account!
A few months later, I pitched two small food companies and won both accounts. As part of the publicity campaigns, I developed recipe booklets to promote their products. I was invited as a guest on a morning radio show to talk about dessert ideas on behalf of my client, Baby Watson Cheesecake. I had rehearsed with friends all weekend to prepare for my on-air interview.
The radio station set me up with headphones and a microphone. The live interview segment was going well until the host announced, “Let’s take a few calls from our listeners.” What? Suddenly I was answering questions from Vinny in Brooklyn and Maryanne in Kew Gardens. It was great! Talking to strangers about dessert toppings was a piece of cake!
Kim Kovach gets lots of good story ideas from talking to strangers. Please visit her website at kimkovachwrites.com.