Within the last week I’ve been reminded twice of why I chose this profession, in spite of my favorite journalism professor asking, with all sincerity so many years ago, “Grove, why would you want to waste your education to become a flack?”

Why…because every once in a while, one is able to turn the media’s oft distracted attention to stories that serve a greater good than selling orange juice, promoting yet one more “next new thing,” calming a crisis, or sadly, spinning a political candidate. For example, one man’s determination to rebuild his life and those of those around him through hard work and sobriety…one day at a time. We weren’t asked to launch a new app or celebrity product…just focus some media attention on a thirty-year-old company run by former alcoholics and addicts.

But when I was really reminded of what I love about this job and this profession, was the sad announcement this last week of the passing of a great, but little-recognized man, Ernest Michel.

Ernest Michel at Auschwitz

Ernest Michel at Auschwitz in 1983. His penmanship helped spare him from the gas chambers. Credit Robert A. Cumins

Michel never invented the next new thing or built a business empire or sought personal fame or fortune. But Michel did something so much grander and so much more significant, he survived six years in the Auschwitz death camp, stayed in Germany long enough to cover the Nuremberg trials as a journalist before migrating to the United States where he continued to fight to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. In addition to founding The Museum of Jewish Heritage, Michel also was a founder of The United Jewish Appeal (UJA), helping to raise millions of dollars to benefit Jewish causes. I had the great privilege of meeting Michel when my firm was enlisted to raise media awareness of the plight of Jews in the former Soviet Union…not exactly front page news in the mainstream media in the early 90’s. Over the next twelve months, myself and my PR team became foreign correspondents and videographers, traveling to Moscow, Central Asia, and flying on midnight rescue flights from Tashkent to Tel Aviv with refugees; all the while collecting their stories to retell to the American press. We convinced the TV networks and major secular press to use our stories and video and assisted the UJA in raising nearly 800 million dollars for the cause. Never have I been prouder of the PR profession nor of my team of PR pros.

“Why would I want to waste my education to become a flack?” Why indeed.

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