by Adriana Benitez Malinow

“Write what you know.”

That’s the message I got from Brian Clarey after he offered me a go at a Fresh Eyes column, the result of a month-long attempt that my husband would come to catalog as plain-old stalking. “The guy is probably afraid of you,” he said, “You write this, he gets you off his back.” Unfazed by what was probably the naked truth, I giddily looked again at the message feeling like an award-winning writer. Write what you know. Alas, the infinite possibilities of a blank canvas!

Take 1: A Bee Gees song pops immediately into my head. “You should be dancing, yeah!” — an all-out, live rendition with the funky trumpet riff following the chorus and all. This, of course, would be totally normal if I were a music critic or a Bee Gees fan. But I’m neither. Realization: Writing about what you know is not that simple, especially if your brain decides not to cooperate. Hopefully it doesn’t mean that you don’t know much about anything.

Take 2: Kids. This is not Parents magazine. Move on.

Take 3: Being Hispanic. How racist of me. Next.

Take 4: Public relations. Twenty years at it should equate to knowing something about it. Note to self: Make it current or expect sudden narcolepsy from your readers.

Three cups of coffee later, my gut and I went with Take 4, namely, an essay on what’s currently trending in my brain: The Pope, Greensboro and Oscar the cat; with a small side of PR.

And so it goes.

In the PR world, building relationships is a thing. And, believe it or not, the thing can be an art form.

Get a brand to strategically build symbiotic, fairly even-keeled, meaningful relationships with its public and great things start to happen. It takes a lot of “ings” — like listening, observing, engaging, trusting and appreciating… pretty much the type of stuff we mortals do when trying to make and keep friends, particularly good ones. It takes work. It’s about forming the type of bonds that get people to wear your brand’s T-shirt, and not just to the gym.

Take Pope Francis, the recently elected leader of the Catholic Church. He nailed the cover of the Rolling Stone this past February. Aside from maybe Mick Jagger, not many men in their seventies have such broad and solid fan bases. According to Mark Binelli’s RS article, attendance at papal events has tripled to 6.6 million since Francis’ debut. Talk about drinking the Kool Aid! You’ve read the articles. You’ve seen the pictures. The guy smiles, for God’s sake! And he even tweets. His Twitter handle — @Pontifex — means “bridge-builder.” That’s according to Greg Burke, his PR person. Oh, did I forget to mention the pope has a PR person? The man is a rock star and I want a T-shirt.

And speaking about T-shirts, it wasn’t long before I bought my own Greensboro “Home” tee after settling down here. Although we’d never heard about the place before, Greensboro folk proved to be quite adept in this relationship-building thing.

It was like rapid fire. Just two weeks after we’d landed, in he came through our front door carrying a small, rattan couch and two chairs :“We’re not using these at home, figured you could.” A gentleman who worked at our building had seen us watching TV, spread out like campers on the floor of our barren apartment. He knew our furniture shipment would take weeks to complete its voyage from Puerto Rico and thought he’d help make us more comfortable. REALLY? And so it progressively followed. The email from the owner of a downtown market on Christmas Eve, as he remembered the pumpkin we bought from him would be used in a rice and beans concoction being served that evening. And so on so forth. At one point, our 10-year-old said that the people here were so nice that it felt like we were on a movie set. Bring out the Oscar!

And speaking about Oscars… the first couple of times he came by our house, Oscar the cat meowed shyly at us from behind a nearby bush from which he was most certainly observing us. He quickly learned that my husband was a softie for cuddly cats and that my kids loved animals, that our dog Lola didn’t mind her species’ nemesis and that I would feed anything that moves. I swear that by the time he had progressed from the bush to our favorite couch on the porch, he had mastered a slight Hispanic accent. By the way, did I mention it took us a month to learn he was the neighbor’s cat? Deceptive, maybe, but still a feline PR phenomenon. T-shirt’s in the mail.

Adriana Benitez Malinow is a corporate-communications and PR specialist living with her husband, their children and the neighbor’s cat in Greensboro.


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