Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lessons from the Moon Walk

Front Page of the Wapak Daily News; Steve interviewing Mrs. Armstrong

45 years ago today (7/20/14), I was a young Associated Press reporter covering astronaut Neil Armstrong’s parents while he walked on the moon. Even though we reporters spent most of the 10 days in the garage, it was an amazing experience! Being teamed with veteran AP photographer Gene Herrick made the assignment even more special!

Some of the lessons I learned translate to association management.

1. Learn the territory
  • Gene and I went to Wapakoneta a month before the moon walk to do a preview story. In the process, we met key leaders of Wapak (as it is called in Ohio). A NASA contract with Time Magazine prevented Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong from talking directly with other reporters. So we (thanks to Gene) kept digging. We found the location for Neil’s grandma’s farm and drove out to it. (The Time contract did not extend to her.) Turned out that Neil’s mom was there too. While she didn’t talk with us, Gene was able to grab a photo of her. (Knowing the location of the farm paid off later.)

2. Don’t check out until you are on your way out of town

  • This advice came from Gene in stories about his global photo assignments. He said “things can change so don’t check out until you know you are leaving.” We each had rooms in a Wapak hotel (one of few in town at the time). The morning after Apollo 11 landed back on earth, I checked out. Gene did not. Sure enough, about noon, the AP office called to say that the Governor would be coming to Wapak the next day and we needed to stay. Thankfully, I was able to stay the night in Gene’s room!
3. Eat a big breakfast
  • Another tidbit from Gene: eat a big breakfast because you don’t know when you will be able to eat again. We spent most of our 10 days in Wapak in the Armstrong garage so we had time for lunch. On a couple of days, however, the busy schedules kept us moving and there was no time for lunch.
4. Outwork your competition
  • From scouting to sports, I’ve always been competitive. At the AP, United Press International (UPI) was our competitor. The goal for major stories was to get the story “on the wire” before UPI did. Starting with the preview story that June, our goal was to be ahead of UPI with our reporting. From “man-on-the-street” interviews to grabbing quotes from the Armstrong family, we tried to be first. All our prep worked paid off on our final day in Wapak. The governor arrived in a state plane at the small Wapak airport. I grabbed a couple of early quotes and raced to the airport’s only phone (remember, this is pre-cell phone and pre-internet). I called in the story and they stayed on the phone while the UPI reporter paced outside. When the governor’s caravan left (headed for Grandma Armstrong’s farm), the UPI reporter left because she did not know how to get to the farm. Having successfully blocked the UPI story, I jumped in the car and drove to the Armstrong farm where the stories continued.

Four lessons for association professionals:

  1. Get to know the territory. Visit members and member prospects at their place of work. 
  2. Don’t check out until you have finished your work.
  3. Eat when you can and don’t be afraid to work through lunch if needed to get the job done.
  4. Recognize you have competitors (any entity seeking time and money from your members or prospects) and outwork them.

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