“Shine your own shoes, and iron your own shirt.”
This was not the advice I was expecting to receive at my first ever PRSSA National Conference keynote address. Yet, I found it applicable and profound, and I took it to heart immediately.
Scott Williamson, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications at Coca-Cola North America, was the keynote presenter on Saturday morning, November 7, in Atlanta, Ga. He presented his “Six Lessons Learned” to an audience of 1,200 public relations students.
The first lesson Scott presented was to “ignore the data.” The public relations field as of late has put such an emphasis on analytics, measurement and research that collecting this data can sometimes overshadow the purpose of doing so.
“Never let the data overwhelm your gut feeling,” said Williamson.
His second lesson was to “be simple, be clear, and be awesome” when it comes to communicating. Williamson illustrated this point by reminding us that the Gettysburg Address was written by Abraham Lincoln on the back of an envelope and mostly on a train car, yet the speech’s impact was incredibly profound and its meaning far-reaching — farther-reaching than Lincoln himself probably ever could have dreamed.
Scott’s third lesson, and my personal favorite, was to “sweat the details.” He shared the story of his first employer wanting to get his shoes shined and offering to pay for Williamson to get his shined as well. Scott declined the offer, but his boss persisted and even offered to pay for the shoeshine. He declined again, and when his boss asked him why, Williamson replied simply that his dad had taught him how to shine his own shoes.
Additionally, Williamson said that the first time he stayed at a nice hotel for a business trip, he asked at the front desk if he could borrow an iron. The hotel employee patted his shoulder and gently reminded him that this was a high-end hotel and that there would be an iron in each room but that the hotel laundry service would be more than happy to have the shirt ironed for him. Just like the shoeshine scenario, Williamson declined, and he ironed his own shirt. His boss later told him that that is why he hired Williamson: because he ironed his own shirt.
“Shine your own shoes, and iron your own shirt,” this is a piece of advice I will not forget.
The fourth lesson was that belief matters. Williamson said “to believe in Coke is to drink it.” Williamson has not eaten at restaurants that serve Pepsi since he started his career with Coca-Cola two decades ago. Now that is what I call brand loyalty!
Williamson’s fifth lesson was to “question the impossible.” Coca-Cola’s goal was once to make their signature beverage available to any soldier overseas for just a nickel, which they did during World War II. Since then, Coca-Cola has set and accomplished a number of significant goals, most recently becoming water neutral. They soon hope to distribute their beverages in plastic bottles made completely from plant material. Nothing is impossible if a goal is set and strived for relentlessly.
The final lesson was a bit quirky but highly relevant: “hold out for both marshmallows.” Williamson told of a study done by Stanford University in which children were offered one marshmallow immediately but were promised two if they were willing to wait. The researchers were astonished at how many children chose instant gratification over delayed fulfillment. Williamson encouraged us to be patient and to wait for that second marshmallow, the outcome we have always hoped for. Do not settle: what we wait for is always better than the first thing that comes our way.
Scott Williamson’s address was full of inspiration and encouragement, and it is one I will carry with me as I continue my public relations journey.
Maura Fenske is a sophomore Public Relations major. She serves as the social media coordinator for the Waynesburg University Public Relations Student Society of America Chapter, executive editor of the Mad Anthony Yearbook and an account executive for Red Brick Communications. Maura hopes to combine her passion for public relations, writing and sports in her future career.