The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 12, 2013

Mike Pound: Statue of Liberty costume is PR at its purest

Derek Lasiter is a pretty upbeat guy, which is a good thing given his line of work.

Derek has the sort of job that demands good humor and a ready smile. He has the sort of job that brings out the best, and sometimes the worst, in people.

Thankfully, Derek sees the best of folks when he is doing his job.

“You do get to meet a lot of nice people,” Derek said. “This morning, a lady stopped and gave me a cup of cappuccino.”

I stopped by his Carthage “office” around noon to chat. Derek wasn’t in his office when I arrived, so I waited in my car until I saw him walking across the parking lot. I waited until he got to his office and started working before I got out of my car.

Derek’s office is a patch of ground on the west side of Grand Avenue, across the street from the Fair Acres Family YMCA. As usual, he was wearing a light blue Statue of Liberty costume and was busy waving at traffic when I approached him and introduced myself.

The 22-year-old Carthage resident is one of several people who work as greeters for Liberty Tax Service. As jobs go, Derek said, waving at traffic is a pretty good gig.

“Most people are nice, and they smile and wave back,” he said.

I asked about the occasional jerks, and Derek said he gets them too — mainly guys who shout insults or obscenities.

“But you can’t let that bother you,” he said. “They don’t know you and you don’t know them, so you just brush it off.”

The way Derek sees it, he’s working, and these days that’s no small feat. Derek works from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. He gets a 15-minute break during his shift, although he could take more breaks if he wanted to.

“But one break is enough for me,” he said. “You stand out here, and then go inside for a few minutes and warm up and come back outside.”

About that, it was about 35 degrees when I stopped to chat with Derek. He had a jacket underneath his costume, and he was wearing gloves.

“It’s not bad. We dress for the weather,” he said.

If it rains, Derek might hold an umbrella, but mainly he just works through the weather.

While we talked, Derek kept waving to passing cars. For the most part, folks waved back. I didn’t notice any jerks.

You see guys and gals such as Derek a lot during this time of the year. What the costume-wearing, traffic-waving folks are doing is public relations in its purest form.

Nowadays, the thing to do is go out and hire a big, expensive PR firm that will spend a lot of time and charge a lot of money to tell you what you probably already know. Ultimately, the best public relations plan is personal.

Want to get folks to notice your business? Hire people to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and wave to people driving by.

It must work, because Liberty Tax Service has been doing it for years.

“We’re really their main source of promotion,” Derek said.

The way Derek explained it, the whole idea makes sense. If you see someone smiling, waving and having fun, it just might make you smile too.

“Then you might think, ‘They seem like nice people. Maybe I should give them a try,’” he said.

Later, when I was back in my car, my wife called me. I told her I was sitting in a parking lot on Grand Avenue and that I had just finished talking to Derek.

“I wave at him all the time,” my wife said.

It’s Tuesday afternoon as I type this. According to the weather forecast, there is a good chance of some snow overnight. I asked Derek what he will do if there is snow on the ground today.

“I’ll be here waving,” he said.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at mpound@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.

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