Nothing Stops These Physically and Mentally Challenged Entrepreneurs
Clients with special needs share the same compelling desire to tell their story to a waiting public as do our other clients. The PR practitioner must be flexible and patient to be successful in conveying to specified markets the success story of people with special needs.
My practice has included clients who are blind, deaf, illiterate, manic-depressive, and a stroke victim. Each one required separate adaptation strategies on my part and in serving each client I was personally rewarded in different ways by the successes enjoyed by these wonderful people.
The stroke victim was an older gentleman who had authored several books and wanted to share his rich ideas with readers. Interviewing this author was a special challenge for me, and subsequently the media, because the stroke severely limited his ability to talk clearly. When talking with this client, I learned to slow down the pace of the interview, listen closely, and when needed ask him to repeat his words. I did find a gifted radio host who was patient enough and willing to conduct an interview with this client. But that host was a rare find and so radio was not really an outlet I could pursue.
Because he was a good typist, my client would communicate with media representatives by email and that worked great. If he were younger, I would have set up interviews using electronic chat rooms but for a proud member of the World War II generation that would have been too much of a stretch. We used the debilitating effects of the stroke on his life as a pitch and so the media was forewarned of the special needs this gentleman had and most were willing to accommodate.
Another author I represented, Jackie Miles, author of Cold Rock River, had highly-productive creative writing surges that produced almost unbelievable results, such as writing one-fifth of her first book in a single setting, without intending to write a book. When she started her second book, she wrote 20,000 words on the first day. Miles experienced such creative bursts because she was bipolar.
This client, when in the manic stage of her disorder experienced speeding up of thought and activity along with elevated mood and self-esteem. At times, though, she could not communicate a single thought. I was fascinated when Jackie shared that if she could take a magic pill and end her condition she would in a flash, even if it meant she would never produce another book.
Not only has Miles become a successful author who is in demand for book signings and radio interviews, but Jackie has also become an advocate for people who are bipolar. We revised our strategic marketing goals to promote her as a bipolar expert and advocate as well as a compelling author.
Jackie Simmons, another author client who wrote romance novels, as a teen was functionally illiterate with a low self-esteem. While babysitting she came across a romance novel that interested her. Allowed to take the novel home, Cynthia spent weeks devouring it – teaching herself to read by looking up word after word in the dictionary. Jackie engaged my services to promote her first book, a romance novel. She was very pleased with the results of the book promotion campaign and then, like Jackie Miles, expanded her strategic goals to be a popular and credible voice in the teen literacy campaign.
Another of my clients with special needs was a blind author who was upset by the violence in children’s nursery rhymes. She wanted to recite wholesome poems to grandson Jack and so wrote him a book of non-violent nursery rhymes. Her dream was to have an impact on children’s literature so that grandmothers across the nation could have better choices in bedtime reading for their grandkids. We launched a PR campaign that resulted in this blind poet being interviewed by numerous media outlets including WCBS-TV in New York.
The media responded to Marie Gebel in a big way, not because she wrote nursery rhymes but because she was blind. The media was curious to learn how Marie coped with blindness to write, proofread, communicate with publishers and book editors, and read her poems to grandson Jack. Driven by this curiosity, the media arranged interviews with Marie and learned how she kept a tape recorder in every room of her home to record ideas as they came to mind. She would speak her lines of poetry into a recorder instead of using a keyboard. A loving and supportive husband would transcribe the poems from the recorders to a computer and serve as a go-between with publishers and editors. And instead of “reading,” Marie recited from memory her poems to grandson Jack at bedtime.
In this case the story was Marie’s blindness, and the media soaked it up. And it was a great story of how a successful children’s author overcame the adversity of being sightless by developing coping skills and adaptations to share warm, loving, pure and funny thoughts with children. Marie conducted great interviews and cheered her listeners with her positive, never-give-up outlook on life.
Another client, Lisa Whaley, was a successful executive for a Fortune 500 corporation when she became so lost in a world of depression that she contemplated suicide. The struggle to overcome depression, prioritize values, and seek balance in her life resulted in Lisa writing the best-selling “Reclaiming My Soul From the Lost and Found” and “Prisoners of Technology.”
Again, in working with a client with a “handicap,” our aim became to spread hope by telling how she overcame, the lessons learned, and the coping strategies evoked. We not only promoted Lisa as a successful author but as a highly effective Life Coach and as founder of Life Work Synergy to help others achieve balance between work and home.
As a PR practitioner one of my greatest challenges came when a deaf person wanted to engage my services. I had to educate myself with TDDY services and how the equipment worked and with Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) for the deaf. TRS is a telephone service that allows persons with hearing or speech disabilities to place and receive telephone calls. TRS is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories for local and/or long distance calls. There is no cost to TRS users. The client contacts a TRS operator by dialing “711” who then calls me and serves as an interpreter. The notes are transcribed and shared with the client and myself. The system works great and it’s free to both parties!
As president of Westwind Communications, Inc., I did not wake up one morning in moment of inspiration and decide to pursue clients who are deaf, blind, bipolar, suicidal, or a stroke victim. But I certainly never once considered not contracting with a client because of the existence of special needs.
I have always been committed to being flexible enough, patient enough, and understanding enough to be ready to adapt to the needs of my clients – whether market needs, content needs, or special needs. After all, isn’t it really the task of all PR professionals to tell the stories of people who cannot tell the story by themselves? In this sense, all of our clients need special help communicating their message – some more than others.
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