Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

An unexpected invitation started me thinking again about Tommy.

Tommy was one of my first bosses. He was a friend who never met a stranger. He was a mentor to generations of “flower girls”. He brought beauty into the lives of others by digging in the dirt on his knees. He grew first impressions.

In September, a statue will be unveiled at the university Tommy served for more than three decades. It will be a unique statue. Tommy himself was unique. He wasn’t a distinguished teacher or a revered researcher or a skilled administrator or a Phi Beta Anything or even a winning coach of any sport. Tommy was chief of the campus landscaping crew.

Each spring it was his responsibility to hire students as part-time assistants – guys to do the digging and girls to do the planting. All were under Tommy’s green thumb. As one of Tommy’s “flower girls”, I gained invaluable insights that carry over into business and life.

Under Tommy’s supervision, we were responsible for planting, weeding, watering and caring for thousands of plants across a far-flung campus. Getting it done wasn’t good enough. Tommy insisted that it be done right. No flower could be out of place. No wavy lines. No colors in the wrong place.

Do it right the first time or do it over. The days could be long and hot, still Tom always approached his work with vigor.

He didn’t stand on the sidelines pointing and directing. Tommy was down in the dirt with the rest of us, teasing, encouraging, teaching, laughing, spurring us on to do each job better than it had ever been done before.

Tommy never took a class in business or public relations, but he was a master of first impressions. Every day he put the university’s best foot forward. Through his work and dedication to detail, Tommy was selling the university to all campus visitors, everyone from prospective students and their parents, to faculty and staff being recruited by various academic departments, to donors and benefactors.

Tommy was creating first impressions. More important, Tommy was creating first impressions that were positive.

Not all first impressions fall in that category.

Negative first impressions don’t take much creating. They happen through lapses, inattention, slip-ups, indifference, failures to communicate, or whatever. Although causes can be corrected or eliminated, the damage is hard to overcome. Negative first impressions aren’t like a gallon of milk. They don’t come with an expiration date.

It’s important for businesses to periodically take a critical look at themselves. That entails stepping outside your corporate skin and looking back inside. Strive to see your products and services through the eyes of customers and clients, current and potential.

Seek input and feedback to marketing and communication strategies. Involve the sales team in discussions of what positive first impressions should be, then allocate the time and resources to reinforce positive first impressions.

Businesses increasingly are utilizing focus groups and surveys to gain more objective data that go into making positive first impressions. Such data are crucial in distinguishing public perceptions from public realities. The same data can be applied to bridging gaps between perceptions and realities. It can shed light in dark corners. It can open minds to new possibilities. It can validate good ideas. It can expose practices or procedures that have been outgrown or are getting in the way.

Tommy’s bottom line was growing positive first impressions. Every business bottom line is impacted by positive first impressions.

That’s what I’ll be remembering when I rejoin the “flower girls” to unveil Tommy’s statue.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.

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