Deer in the Floodlights

I never set out to have a career in technology or communications. In fact, I arrived here through a series of serendipitous events that prove the "right time, right place" maxim.
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female hand holding computer...
female hand holding computer...

I never set out to have a career in technology or communications. In fact, I arrived here through a series of serendipitous events that prove the "right time, right place" maxim. Or, you get jobs because the people in a position to hire like you.

I thought I'd be a librarian forever. I received my graduate degree in library science from the University of Michigan in 1982. I pursued an arcane area of librarianship because I'm a practical person: my fellow classmates wanted careers in reference or children's, so I figured that choosing something different would make me in demand and it did. I quickly got my first professional position at a large university library, and just about as fast found that it wasn't working out. Apparently, I took too much initiative.

So, about a year after toiling in front of a dumb terminal (literally, in those days we used 'dumb terminals') as a serials cataloger, I answered a classified ad in the Sunday Chicago Tribune, for a 'Company Librarian' at Mindscape, Inc., a new game and educational software publisher. Amazingly, I got the job. Why this fledgling software firm needed a competitive software library, I will never know. But hey, it sounded fun and as I said to my husband, "Software's the future, right?"

I was fascinated by the business, and when it became clear to me around a year into my job that I was going to run out of things to do, I got involved in other areas of the company -- rights and permissions, proofreading manuals -- I was there for anyone needing a hand. Remember, I'm practical; I wanted job security. At the end of November 1985, Roger, the president and CEO of the company, approached me: the company's public relations director was moving out of state; would I be interested in her job? Being the idiot that I was, I asked, in this order: "What's public relations? Will I get a new title? Is there any money in it?"

And so it began.

Roger assured me that our highly competent and experienced PR director would spend some time with me to "show you what to do." My first major assignment was to "look at this list of reporters; you need to call them and get them to come see us at the Consumer Electronics Show." Let me make something crystal clear: I was a reader, but it never occurred to me that there were people who called the people who wrote to get them to write. I had never heard the term "flack." And that CES was the largest tradeshow on the planet, therefore, the most impossible to secure appointments.

In case you aren't keeping up: I knew nothing about PR, reporters or CES but I was now responsible for getting a dozen or more ink-stained wretches to a suite at the Alexis Park Hotel -- off the Vegas Strip -- to meet our CEO and watch demos of our latest games. So, I did what I was trained to do: I got organized and ready to research. I made index cards with each reporter's name and publication, alphabetized them, wrote a script for myself and called the first person: Charlie Cooper, Computer+Software News. In the script, I identified myself and said something like, "I'm a librarian by training, I've just been asked to do this new job here, I don't really know what I am suppose to be doing, but tell me how I can help you." And so, a reporter-trained PR person was born. I didn't bat .1000 with this strategy, but it mostly worked; it's all I had, and if you called Coop today over at CNET News, where he is executive editor, he'd also remember that first conversation. Because for the listener, it had to be priceless.

But wait, there's more. During my self-inflicted pre-CES boot camp, I was told that The New York Times Magazine was running a feature story on our most well-known game and its rock star developer at the end of the month, and I'd be responsible for working with them on fact checking. The only thing that saved me from screwing this up was my absolute neurosis with accuracy. CES+NYT=WTF!?

I survived CES Winter 1986; most of the reporters I called showed up and I'm still in touch with more than a few of them, even if their publications have folded or they have taken a new path in life. Technology communications and public relations became my long and accidental career. But I still love the library, and not a day goes by where my training doesn't play a role in my work.

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