Why I Hate Butterball Turkey

16 Mar

ImageWhen I was 22 I knew everything.  I knew I was very smart, I knew I was going to be successful and I knew the first step to my success was to learn the business world.  What this “business world” was I didn’t exactly know, but I knew that I had to work for “the man” for a few years before I could go onto loftier things – like save the world.

I decided that public relations was the perfect career for me.  I didn’t know what public relations was, but I had a lot of friends, I liked to talk and I was an English major, so it seemed that I naturally already possessed all the qualities that made a great Publicist.

Since I knew everything, I knew that the number one PR firm at the time was the place for me.  I applied online, sharing my experience as an Editorial intern at the Journal of American History where I hadn’t even been required to use a computer and my time as a sales associate at Hollister.

Each day I checked my email, eagerly awaiting the letter that would tell me I got the job (!) or at least an interview.  Months went by and shockingly I heard nothing.

It was my Senior year of college and the end was quickly approaching.  I watched my other Business major friends go on interview after interview.  I asked my other English major friends what they were going to do and heard things like, “oh, grad school,” or “I think I’m going to go camping for a few months like in the woods.”

I did not want more school nor did I want to be a modern day Thoreau – I didn’t even like camping.  My roommates (who were Business majors) went on about the importance of networking, so I decided that was the next step.

After reaching out to my extensive network of friends and family, I discovered that I had a cousin who already worked at that chosen PR firm.  I asked him to put in a good word for me – again I was told to apply online.

Months later I arrive home, jobless – though I have a degree!

The first week back I go dinner with my parents and grandparents, my grandma spots our neighbor  across the room and starts to wave excitedly, while my Mom hisses at her to, “Stop!”  He spots us and ambles on over.

My neighbor is 70 and is on a date with a woman named Maureen.  As he chats with the ‘rents, I chat with Maureen.  Maureen is in her 60s, is blond, kind and suddenly I’m telling her my whole story.  She says “don’t worry about it, my niece works at that PR firm”.  She tells me I’m special, and I secretly agree.

(I think my thank you note to her included a Streetcar Named Desire reference like ‘I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers’)

Two weeks later I am entering the Aon Building at Michigan and Randolph.  I am a PR intern!  To prepare for my new role I buy PR for Dummies, not registering the irony of the title.

I sit in a large, white room with six other girls called ‘the Pit.’  Each of us is armed with a computer, a phone and a long list of people to call to pitch various Fortune 500 brands.  The accounts that I’m put on are Butterball, Qwest and La Choy.

Chloe, the VP of my accounts, is a skinny brunette who I secretly want to be.  Chloe and I are really alike, even if she doesn’t realize it and I know we’ll be friends forever.  The other woman I report to is a porcelain, semi-chubby, carrot-colored twenty-five year old.  I like her less.

Since I know everything and am very likable I look at my five fellow interns as friends.  When I ask them to hang out one of them tells me, “I have enough friends.”

However, I know that I am better than them.  That’s why I’m so good at calling strangers and getting them to promote our products.  Others start to stop by the Pit to congratulate me on my success, and I accept the accolades knowing that, of course, it is my destiny to be good.

Being so amazing, I decide to go to every brainstorm for our Winter campaigns.  The interns are encouraged to go to these to see ideas from start to finish.  Most don’t talk.

Butterball Turkey is the firm’s oldest client and the entire Consumer division was required to go to this brainstorm.  I was excited to make my mark and show everyone my genius ideas.  Also, we were getting cookies.

The day arrives and we all gather, scattering crumbs across the grey floor.  It had been decided that we were going to hold a contest to promote both Butterball and the Turkey Talkline ladies.  These were professional ‘home economists’ that you could call day or night during the holiday season with your Turkey emergencies – kind of like 911 for cooking.

My compadre Missy suggests that the winner of this contest (format still undecided) win a Turkey Talkline lady.  While she wouldn’t exactly own the woman, the lady would come to the winner’s house on Thanksgiving and cook the families Turkey.  It was here that I saw my opportunity.

“Honestly, who would want some stranger at their house on a family holiday?  It’s not like these Turkey Talkline People are celebrities.  I don’t think anyone would want to win that.”

Silence….

Later that afternoon Carrot pulls me into her cube and berates me.  Apparently Missy is the Head of the Consumer division.  Later that afternoon I notice an enormous picture of her on the wall of our office with hundreds of branded Butterball products – she was also apparently used in an Ad.  I wondered to myself how I had missed that.

Also, later that afternoon my “best friend” Chloe pulls me into her office and bursts out laughing.  She had agreed with me, it was a terrible idea.  At the time I didn’t notice that Chloe had kept her mouth shut and didn’t offer up her opinion in the brainstorm.

A week later Chloe quits and Carrot gives me my three month review.  Needless to say it wasn’t very good.

I panic.  It is almost guaranteed that I will now not secure that fulltime position after the internship, but Chloe tells me not to worry and puts me in touch with another top PR firm.  A few weeks later she reaches out to me via personal email and asks for the contact information of the reporter I had connected with at O magazine.

For those not in PR this is unethical.  Contact information is sacred and competing firms do not exchange it.  The first step to any successful PR campaign is getting the attention of the most prestigious, or top-tier, media interest – O magazine is definitely top-tier, and an intern connecting with the publication was a coup (hence the earlier praise).

“Best Friend” Chloe was using me to look good at her new job.  However, in exchange it was implied that I would secure a position with the firm she had put me in touch with; it was as clear as the windows I glanced out at each day, overlooking skyscraper after skyscraper, asking myself what kind of person did I want to be?

My email back was, “Sure thing Chloe, just tell me who to run this by to get it approved.”  It had taken me two days to write, and I never heard from her again.

In business often compromises are made that are immediately beneficial but chip away at a person’s integrity.  We only have to look at our economy to see the far-reaching consequences.

I now know that I knew nothing at that time.  I was arrogant and had no interpersonal finesse.  I knew how to be a great friend, but I had no idea how to be a professional.  Chloe had cool clothes, told me about her boyfriends and was fun, Carrot had humility and integrity.  Carrot tried to warn me.

Now, I’ve been a Publicist for five years, living in a city that I never dreamed to live and working in an industry that I never thought I could break into.

What I tell people now, those young hopefully, if arrogant 22 year olds that ask for my advice (many who seem smarter than I was at that time) is you really don’t know as much as you think.  That the more you learn, the more you understand how much there is to learn, and that’s real humility.

I tell them that it’s probably going to be much harder than they think and its going to take a lot more time, but that the very least you can do is shut-up, listen and try to be a good human, the professionalism will come eventually.

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2 Responses to “Why I Hate Butterball Turkey”

  1. barbara March 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    i hate the butterball hotline lady. her turkey sucks anyways.

  2. Amy Robinson March 20, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    My favorite entry so far! Congrats Sam, these are really great to read!

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