R in PR is ‘relationship’

Part 2: Practical application

SPE_5916The drilling job I was scheduled to cover in Ohio was suddenly replaced by an emergency job order: an Amish family’s well was bringing up sand.

The only source of water for the family and all of its livestock, the windmill-style well probably had a casing failure at the bottom. Manual labor is a fundamental tenet of Amish culture, but the community’s presiding cleric permitted modern technology in this instance.

My client and were allowed to follow along. He let me out at the homestead’s drive so I could run ahead of the rig. I saw an opportunity to show its maneuverability in confined spaces as the driver positioned it next to the windmill.


Got it!—but then I immediately recapped my cameras. They were hanging low at my sides as I watched as the Amish father stride off his porch across the frozen, rutted ground to discuss terms with the driller. He was repeatedly looking over to me. I made it as obvious as I could, I was not going to take more pictures without permission as I approached them. I waited patiently for a break in their conversation.

At a convenient moment, I introduced myself, explaining my purpose and asking what concerns he might have about photography on his property, assuring him I would abide by his wishes.

I could tell he appreciated the consideration. He bridled a bit at my humble recognition: he was in control of this property, his home.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw gratitude in the driller’s regard of me. Distracted by the sudden change in plans, he wouldn’t have anticipated the potential conflict of bringing a photographer to a camera-wary culture. My intervention, though, wasn’t simply to diffuse it. I am myself a homeowner, a father, a family man. I have genuine respect for this man, as the driller himself does. And I have years of experience working for an agency where the R in PR is for relationship. This is what I do, every job, every story.

SPE_5928 remove faces from windowThe Amish father surprised us: “I guess we aren’t supposed to allow any pictures of people, but otherwise a few of the drilling will be all right.” He looked me straight in the eye, repeating, “But no pictures with people.”

I worked fast, balancing respect for the farmer against doing the best job for my client. Within the hour the Amish father was alongside me again. Had I gotten enough?

I understood. I capped the lenses, telling him, “Yes, and thank you again. I am done now.” I stowed my gear away.

The father’s body language changed from nervousness to eager hospitality. He invited me in for coffee.

I found myself next in a warm kitchen of bonneted women in billowy blue dresses and white aprons. The coffee was a richly aromatic brew, strong and flavorful, brewed in a pot on the kitchen’s wood stove. Given more baked goods than I could cradle against my chest, a chair was pulled out for me as I was guided by numerous hands to the table. After only a few nibbles, he showed me around his home.

A little bit of respect won lavish Amish hospitality, gratitude from their driller and smiles from my customer.

Ellcom doesn’t get in your way while we’re getting the job done. Just like you, we put people first.





Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

R in PR is ‘relationship’

Part 1: Lesson in humility, learned on a photo shoot

My Peruvian driver had pulled over to indulge my irresistible urge to photograph the near-vertical gardens of Andean farmers in the shadow of El Huascarán. Lost behind my viewfinder, the sound of hooves bearing down on me gave me just enough time to step precariously near the road’s cliff-side edge making way for a family of mountain people on donkeys.

Huascaran in morning light

They drove their little herd of goats to pasture past our high-tech, low-emissions automobile on the freshly paved asphalt road. I was caught for a moment in a time warp, past superimposed on present. Instinctively snapping off a few shots, I lowered the camera, seized with guilt for presenting myself as some tourist. These were people, not landscapes, not objects. I hastily recapped my lens and lowered the camera behind me to my side, nodding at men in ponchos and limp, wide-brimmed hats.

I haven’t deleted the files, though. One of them in particular is my private reminder of the lesson. In spite of striking cultural differences, we are the same: doing our jobs, sustaining private lives. Against the backdrop of the majestic Andes Mountains and wearing the traditional knit-cap chullo of the mountain people with tasseled ear coverings, a young boy on a donkey is leading his father and uncles toward me, smiling for the camera, looking straight into my viewfinder. Behind him his father on his donkey is also looking straight into my eyes—not smiling. It shames me to see his scowl even today, rekindling my sensitivity.

vegetable gardensI had at first thought the juxtaposition I encountered that day was something I had to go to a different country to see. Not so, as shortly thereafter, while driving across Minnesota to cover a story in Wisconsin, I saw a Mennonite buggy driven by a bonneted woman clop across the overpass of Interstate 90 I was about to pass under. It brought a wide smile to my face: We have our own overlapping cultures living side by side. I did not take her picture.

My awareness of our shared humanity doesn’t extend just to strikingly different cultures. None of us is ever merely an object to be captured and framed, posted around the Web to amuse someone’s friends. These are real people, doing real jobs, supporting real families, many of them carrying on a family line, a legacy, created and built upon by multiple generations.

I learned early in my tenure with Ellcom that the R in PR stands for “relationships”: our relationship with you, the relationships you have with your customers, and the relationships they have with the people they serve.

Every time I go into the field, is a practical application. I will get the job done, but respectfully, mindful of the carefully cultivated, continuously nurtured relationships that make it possible for me to be there in the first place.





Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.