A friend of mine who works in entertainment publicity lives by the credo that her name should never appear in any story, so as to ensure that her talent, as she calls it, gets the proper credit. My suspicion is that Monica Pence Barlow, the Orioles’ former public relations director, would be embarrassed that so many people know her name and what she did.
I use the past tense here, because Monica Barlow lost her very valiant fight against lung cancer Friday at the age of 36. She was diagnosed with the stage four form of the disease five years ago and by every accounting, did her job efficiently and effectively without asking for special accommodations. In fact, the story was told repeatedly during the weekend that Monica Barlow, who was not a smoker, rejected the notion that she was somehow less deserving of lung cancer because she didn’t smoke.
In full disclosure, I only had two professional encounters with Monica Barlow over the course of her five years as Orioles public relations director. One was to receive a credential to do a story for WYPR on Manny Machado last summer. Though I was not one of the regular writers or broadcasters who manned the press box, Monica and her staff treated me like royalty, which I’ve come to understand was standard practice. Indeed, she personally interceded for me when I couldn’t get the time that I needed with Machado.
My second encounter came when she arranged a visit by centerfielder, Adam Jones to speak to my sports writing class at Morgan State University. It’s not easy to get active athletes to make appearances, especially in the offseason, when they are typically spread all over the country and the globe. But on the Monday after Thanksgiving, there was Adam Jones, speaking to a room full of prospective sports writers. While Jones certainly gets the bulk of the credit, there’s no doubt that not for the efforts of Monica Barlow, he wouldn’t have been there.
The relationship between publicists and the press can be a contentious one. Reporters, or at least the good ones, are intent on uncovering all aspects of an organization, positive and negative. Meanwhile publicists, or at least the good ones, are intent on presenting their clients in a positive light or minimizing the damage when negative things happen.
It doesn’t take Nostradamus to see that occasionally the purposes of the two sides clash. Good reporters and publicists make sure that the disagreements never get personal or get in the way of the ultimate goal for both sides, informing the public. It’s a remarkable tribute to the person Monica Barlow was that writers, bloggers and anchors alike have paid heartfelt tributes to her integrity and her work ethic, especially in light of her illness.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter broke down in speaking to assembled reporters about her death at the team’s spring training camp Friday morning. The team later released a statement in which he said quote “We lost a feather from the Oriole today,’ adding, It was a blessing to have her in my life. She made our jobs so much easier unquote.”
Monica Barlow would consider that high praise indeed.