The networking style of Tommy Ray

In a striking coincidence, while I was typing yesterday’s blogpost, a ping alerted me to the arrival of email from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Special Agent Tommy Ray had forwarded a recent news story in the Bradenton Herald about yet another homicide solved through the distribution of cold case playing cards bearing photographs of homicide victims, a technique used to publicize unsolved crimes. Tommy Ray developed the cards in 2005, and the program has since been adopted by a number of other agencies, most effectively when the decks of cards are disseminated to prison inmates.

In March ’07, when two other volunteer journalists and I were struggling to locate law enforcement professionals we could engage in productive discussions about new ways of using the Internet to solve crimes, Tommy came through for us without hesitation. He spoke to me at length for an online story, and he followed up when a few of its assertions caused me the unnecessary heartburn of a novice reporter.

Tommy’s email yesterday reminded me of something crucial to all of us. The traits that make him a phenomenally successful communicator are also the qualities possessed by most A-listers, be they bloggers, technology experts, authors, politicians, agents, activists, or marketers. Tommy’s peculiar attributes, while not exactly mysterious, can be a bit of a challenge to describe. Here—for emulation by anyone who wants to excel at networking—is what I see:

He’s genuine. Tommy is apparently guileless. That’s an incredibly rare trait in a law enforcement investigator. I guarantee anyone reading this would walk away with the impression they knew him after nothing more than a minute or two of conversation. Imagine the effect that has on an informant or a crime victim.

He’s unmediated. Technically, there is—or at least there was—a telephone greeting delivered in an exquisite Georgia drawl by the administrative assistant who answers calls to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. And the Cold Case Assessment Team Tommy heads has a website that elicits information from the public. But generally, you deal directly with Tommy by phone or in person, because he’s hands-on.

He flies solo. This is a guy who doesn’t come with a PR spokesperson, a team of handlers, assistants, a sidekick, bodyguards, or a script, although I understand he knows how to enjoy the professional conferences to which he’s invited as a speaker.

He’s unflappable. Because Tommy is his own brand, he doesn’t seem to need—shall I say—to squint a lot, swagger, or express annoyance when a cell phone call is repeatedly disconnected. His smooth layer of Southern-style self-deprecation makes it hard to imagine a situation he couldn’t control.

He’s empathetic. He listens. He asks questions. He offers suggestions. He returns calls. He responds to email. He takes part in the discussion; he doesn’t fend off skepticism with sarcasm. There’s no shortage of unsolved crimes, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to devote to solving them, but Tommy never makes it seem as though he’s too busy to be bothered. It may not be the reason his coworkers call him “Hollywood,” but it’s what makes him a rock star.

I have only one side of the story, and I’m doubtlessly opinionated, a pleasure in which professional journalists haven’t the luxury of indulging. Ironically, my 1,800 former colleagues will tell you I’ve never been known for pulling punches (metaphorically speaking, of course). Cynicism is more my style. Maybe some of Tommy’s coworkers will notice this post and leave their comments here to set the record about him straight, but even though I’ve never met the guy in person, I don’t think I’m wrong about Tommy Ray.

Anyone who wants to master the art of networking, for whatever purpose, can learn from his example.

~~~

If you arrive at this post because you need more information about the investigation of unsolved crimes, Stacy Horn launched a very good website to publicize her book The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad. She maintains a list of cold case squads and other relevant resources, including Tommy Ray’s Cold Case Assessment Team in Polk County, Florida.

3 thoughts on “The networking style of Tommy Ray

  1. davidbcoe

    Thanks for visiting my blog, Robin. I thought I’d return the favor. I found your post about Tommy Ray interesting, not only for the obvious reasons — fascinating guy, strong insights on your part — but also because as a writer who is branching out toward some mystery work, the cold case angle fired my imagination. One more connection for you.

    Cheers,

    David Coe

  2. Robin Mizell Post author

    Hello, David:

    It’s nice to have your comments. You popped up in my Tag Surfer, and perhaps you’ll get a kick out of knowing I shifted you over to Blog Surfer for my reading pleasure. (For readers who don’t blog at WordPress.com, those are two WordPress features that can be extremely distracting—in a good way.)

    I told the detective who inherited an especially troubling unsolved case here in Columbus that I regretted retiring before it was closed. I hadn’t seen the linked classified ad until this moment. What a coincidence that it was posted yesterday, unless it appears daily. Connections, as you say.

  3. Norma DePlume

    Wow Robin. You hit the nail on the head. That nail being Tommy Ray. He doesn’t get near the credit he deserves.

    I had the opportunity to meet Tommy in the Polk County SAO a couple of years ago. My husband had been one of his informants and we stopped by on our way out of town. Tommy took out one of his business cards and jotted his cell number on the back saying if we ever needed him we should call. As it turns out I would need Tommy, on several occasions. Sometimes in the middle of the night. Tommy always answered, always listened, always calmed my nerves. Genuinity is putting it mildly. He does everything he tells you he will and has never let me down. He told me once not to worry because he wasn’t gonna let any killers come get me. I have faith in those words and trust him with my life.

    There’s a lot that goes on in a murder investigation. Stuff that never gets spoken about or reported to the press. The world will never know the great lengths Tommy has taken to solve old homicides and bring peace and closure to victims’ families. If he was Catholic, they’d be looking at him for sainthood.

    In my book he’s already a saint. Thanks for bringing attention to Tommy’s accomplishments.

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