Lessons from a Telegram to Katie Couric.

My first real job out of college was with a firm that did car dealership advertising. We represented about 22 dealerships in all.

Whew. Fun times.

One of the men who owned the firm was an interesting man. He had a very nice luxury car (makes sense, right) but he was absolutely TERRIFIED of driving. Part of my “job” was to drive him places. One of the things he loved to do was send telegrams. (No, not with the app, but with the older version from Western Union. Look it up if  you have to…) 

I am not kidding, THOSE telegrams.

Mostly he sent them to Katie Couric. She was on the Today Show at the time. I remember one telegram in particular to this day.

It went like this:

Dear Katie STOP You looked very nice today STOP Might I suggest your lipstick is a tad bit too orange STOP.

After sending this particular telegram to Katie I remember asking him WHY he sent her telegrams so often. “Do you think she reads them?” He said, “Yes. Of course. She has to. It’s a telegram.” He paused quietly for a long moment in the passenger seat of his luxury car he was afraid to drive and simply said, “It makes me happy. I like to think they make her smile.”

I remember thinking to myself “That was it. That was all. That was the only reason he went out of his way once or twice a week to send Katie a telegram.” He never really asked for (or got) anything in return. It just made him happy to think of her smiling in her dressing room. Maybe she tossed them aside. Or wondered who the crazy creep sending her these random telegrams was. Maybe she switched lipsticks. Maybe she asked her assistant to quit bringing them to her. But in his mind, he imagined her smiling and enjoying them. And that was enough. That made it worth doing.

Looking back on it now, I see it a bit differently.

We were doing newspaper ads. All day. Every day. Bad ones really. With stupid, punny headlines and seriously bad clip art. It was a crazy way to make a living. And well, telegrams were a much more old-fashion (even back then they were old-fashioned) and elegant way of communicating. Maybe he also knew the days of telegrams were numbered.

The last telegram was sent in in 2006.

Either way, sending these telegrams came to be something I looked forward to, it felt like a nice contrast to our “normal”.

Maybe we both just needed a break from our reality.

Now my work is much different. The work we do at Brains on Fire triggers emotions and action. We connect people. I suppose the goal of most communication is to trigger a response. A response that works for both the sender and the receiver.

Which is perhaps the real lesson my first boss and his wonderful, crazy telegrams were trying to teach me.  Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been working for a while like me, the lessons we learn are really in the little details of our lives, don’t you think?

So. What lessons did you learn from your first job? Or what have you learned today? Come on. You must have a story to share. 

P.S. The photo above is a from two day blitz we did right before Thanksgiving. I asked Andrew, one of our community managers, to send me a photo from that day. He took a moment to title the jpeg: “People You Love” before he emailed it to me for this post. I smiled. Actually it made my day. 

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