Do I have OCD or Am I Bipolar?

It snowed last night.  Not the fluffy, dry snow that is easily removed from driveways and sidewalks, but the heavy, wet snow that sticks to tree branches, even the smallest, skinniest of branches.  It makes looking outside at the trees feel like you’re staring at an Ansel Adams photograph, you know, everything black and white with lots of clarity,  depth and contrast.  Very nice to look at.  Quiet.  Serene.

But looking outside, I also see the potential problems with this type of snow.  One primarily being, that this is the exact type of heavy, sticky snow that can cause branches and power lines to snap, resulting in severe injuries and even death (from falling branches) and the indefinite loss of television and computers due to power outages.  I’m not kidding about the death part either.  Several years ago, during a particularly heavy snow fall, there were a few people killed by falling branches in NYC’s Central Park.  Of course, being killed in Central Park is just a part of living in NYC, and something you should always be aware of, and prepared for, should your number come up one day.

Anyway, I find that looking at the snow, on the trees, outside, makes me contemplative about lots of things.  Like today, I’m thinking about how I always have a “noisy” mind, I really can’t sit still for very long and have racing thoughts about innocuous things that make my head spin.  For example, after waking up today, I looked down at my shoes at the foot of the bed and I thought about how I always line my shoes up perfectly.  All “left” and “right” shoes must be next to each other, with the tips pointing perfectly straight out and the soles of the heels of all the shoes within the line up touching their “neighbors” as best they can for the entire length of the shoe — heel to toe.  I also find it necessary to do a similar thing with other objects that I place on a desk or a dresser at the end of the day.  Things need to be lined up, only they don’t have to be touching, but they do need to be equidistant from each other, and always in a perfect line.

So I’m wondering now, “Do I have OCD?”  No, I say to myself, it’s not like I’m Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets” —  the movie in which he plays an author with severe OCD, and needs to turn the lock in his door 3 or 4 times, back and forth, back and forth.  He does the same thing with a light switch in the movie.  Before leaving a room he turns the light off, then back on, then off, on, off, on….. .  His character is also obsessed with cracks in the sidewalk and must avoid stepping on them in such a way that he appears as though he’s playing some bizarre game of “Twister,”  weaving this way and that while hopping over the cracks as he weaves.

His character is a germophobe as well, bringing his own “plastic ware” to the diner where he eats every day, at the same time, at the same table, ordering the same thing, from the same waitress (played by Helen Hunt) who must serve him everyday. I can’t blame anyone for being a germophobe, what with this being a really bad flu season and Key Opinion Leaders from the medical community appearing all over the news (unless you have a power outage) warning everyone about the dangers of shaking hands and catching the flu and dying or being hospitalized.  In fact, the flu is so rampant, that it’s now reaching the tipping point and may soon be categorized as a “pandemic,” which coincidentally makes me think of the word “pandemonium.”

So, am I a person who suffers from OCD?  I googled it and, while I have many of the symptoms associated with the disorder, I don’t know if I qualify as having full-blown OCD. I did find out, while googling, that I may indeed have low-level bipolar disorder (bipolar 2 to be exact).  There’s a whole checklist of behaviors/symptoms listed that, if you can check more than 5 or so of the boxes, indicate that you may suffer from bipolar-ism.  For instance, one symptom is talking too much, too fast, due to an onslaught of racing intrusive thoughts (I have that, check the box).  Another symptom is saying inappropriate or off colors things at the inappropriate time, in an inappropriate situation.  I do that too, check the box!  I also engage in “risky” and “self destructive” behaviors sometimes so I guess I can check that box as well.  Although, truth be told, isn’t choosing a career in public relations in and of itself, risky and self-destructive?

All of this sounds a lot like Larry David’s character from “Curb your Enthusiasm” — a character I not only identify with, but actually empathize with.  Yes, I feel and act like Larry David much of the time.  I have specific examples of that as well. Last week I wrote about taking a walk at the beach and coming across a “salt water taffy store” and a “fudge store” and discussed how those products are almost exclusively sold at the beach and why that bothers me so much.

This past weekend, it was a relatively nice day, so I went to the beach for another walk.  I came upon an older guy sitting on a bench with his wife, and at his feet was a huge slobbering dog.  I asked him, “Is that a Saint Bernard?”  He replied, “No, it’s a Bernese Mountain dog.”  A Bernese Mountain dog is much bigger than a Saint Bernard, and can probably carry a keg of beer under its chin, unlike a St. Bernard, which can only carry a small, wooden cask of whiskey under its chin, to bring to lost mountain climbers so they can drink the whiskey and at least feel good for a little while before they slowly freeze to death.

I leaned over to the man’s extremely large dog to pet him, doing it the proper way, with my palm facing upwards and slightly below the dog’s chin (which did not have a keg of beer under it) and the man said, “No, don’t do that, he doesn’t like men.  He only likes women and dogs.”  Without missing a beat I said, “Oh, I get that.  Me too. I only like women and dogs, and sometimes when I’ve been drinking too much, I like the women more than dogs.”  A racing thought, the inability to hold my tongue, saying something off color and inappropriate.  Another symptom.  Check another box.  I got lucky though, everyone laughed and my inappropriate comment suddenly became entirely acceptable and a welcome addition to the conversation.

I’ve found that I’m very lucky in that I can get away with saying inappropriate, off color things most of the time.  In fact, my good friend Sherri, in response to anyone other than me saying something inappropriate or off color, will often say, “Okay, that was really over the top, only Russell can say what you just said and get away with it.”  Thank you, Sherri, for having my back and making me less concerned about whether I truly have OCD or bipolar 2 or not.

And then there are things that also pop into my head that I am unable to shut down without saying something that, while not entirely inappropriate, cause people to stop, and stare at me as though they are wondering why in the hell I would say something that I just said. Like the other day.  I was at the dentist getting FOUR cavities filled and while I was sitting in the rather comfortable chair, tilted at a near 180 degree angle like the seats they have in the First Class cabin on the better airlines (Virgin Atlantic and British Airways if the client has enough budget), I had my eyes open during the whole Novocaine, drilling and filling procedure.  I started thinking to myself, “I wonder how many people keep their eyes open while getting worked on at the dentist versus those who keep them closed?”  So, at the end of the procedure, I asked the doctor (very much like Larry David would), “So Doc, whaddya think?  Open or closed?”  He looked at me, then at  his assistant then back at me and said “I’m sorry?”

It always bothers me when someone says “I’m sorry” or “pardon me” or “excuse me” just because they didn’t quite get what you said to them.  I mean, it’s not like they did anything wrong that they need to apologize for.  So why not say the more accurate thing like, “could you repeat that” or the more “New England” blue blood response, which is to simply say,  “say again?”)

But he didn’t use those “more accurate” responses, he said, “I’m sorry?” (with the up-inflection at the end so I would understand that it was a question and not a admission of any wrong doing).  I explained my question further, saying to him, “You know, with patients… eyes open or closed?”  To which he replied, “How do you mean? Do you mean, do I prefer my patients to keep their eyes open or closed while I’m working?”

“No, no,” I replied, somewhat frustrated at his inability to grasp my rather simple question.  “I meant, what do you see most often, like, do the majority of patients keep their eyes open or do they keep them closed?”  (No need for up-inflection as I had clearly asked him a question).  He looked at me, squinted his eyes a bit and said, “You know, I never really paid much attention to it.”  He then turned to his assistant and said, “What about you Jen, have you ever noticed whether more patients keep their eyes open or closed?”  She had no definitive answer for that and they both agreed that it was probably “fifty-fifty.”  I replied, “Hmmph, okay, I was just curious” and I thanked them and left, completely unsatisfied with their response.

So here we are;  I’ve rambled on long enough and given you all (hopefully) something to think about today, as I still ponder the question of whether I have OCD or bipolar 2 or not.  I’d like you to consider “liking” this story so I’ll know if I should keep writing or not and, equally important, PLEASE, “share” this story with others as you be would be:

  1.  Doing a tremendous service to those who do not have OCD or bipolar disorder but have friends or family or colleagues who do, that they must deal with on an ongoing and frustrating basis.
  2.  Helping those who do have OCD or bipolar disorder to recognize some of the symptoms so they can seek help from a medical professional and get a proper diagnosis and treatment for either of these conditions.  (As long as they are not on a MAO inhibitor, have liver disease, glaucoma, Crohn’s Disease, Epilepsy, migraines, double-vision, or have visited a foreign country within the last six months).

A Publicity Stunt I Call “Toast n’ Eggs!”

Many years ago while working at a large PR firm, I assisted some of my colleagues with a publicity stunt to help raise awareness and increase sales of citrus products.  The client was a trade association that represented citrus growers that our agency’s Food Group had represented for decades.

It was early Fall, and America was getting ready to “Fall Back” —  the annual act of turning clocks one hour back to make better use of the long daylight hours that we enjoy during the summer months.  I think the tradition began a long time ago so farmers would have an extra hour of daylight during which they could harvest their Fall crops.  I think.  I’m not certain, so don’t quote me on that.

Someone in the Food Group at the agency came up with the idea that we should hold a publicity stunt that would employ the use of “costumed breakfast characters” stationed in high-traffic commuter locations, helping early morning commuters “wake up” after losing that precious hour of sleep by handing out free cups of orange and grapefruit juice.  Press releases, media alerts and fact sheets were drafted, high-traffic commuter locations were secured, permits were obtained, costumes were sourced and rented, and we were ready to go.

I have to say I was very skeptical about the whole idea of trying to secure media interest and getting local TV station camera crews, print news photographers, etc., to cover the “event.”  In fact,  I was thinking about the people in the Food Group and wanted to say to them:  “Really?  Do you actually think a news director would send a camera crew to shoot footage of people dressed up in costumes looking like toast and eggs handing out little paper cups of orange juice?”  Instead, I said nothing because I knew someone would accuse me of being negative, too pragmatic, or some other undesirable adjective that would stick to me for all eternity like, well, sticky orange juice that just doesn’t want to wash off.

We were a day or so away from the clocks “falling back” when someone — who did not work with the Food Group —  stumbled upon the press materials (that had already been printed out in large quantities) and pointed out that when you “Fall Back” you are actually GAINING an extra hour of sleep, not LOSING an hour of sleep,. the reaction from the many people who worked on the project was like, “What?  Really?  Oh sh*t!”

I don’t remember any finger-pointing or too much in the way of violence or mayhem, just a lot of foul language being thrown around as people scrambled to fix the problem.

The solution:  the press materials would be revised and our costumed breakfast characters would still go to high-traffic commuter locations and hand out free orange and grapefruit juice, only now they would be doing it “to help Americans celebrate the extra hour of sleep they got due to the annual “Fall Back” tradition!

With the corrections to the press materials made, it was time for me and a few of my colleagues who worked in the Broadcast Media Group, to place pitch calls to morning news programs, assignment desks and day book planners to try to get  — what we were now calling “Toast n’ Eggs” some coverage.  If I remember correctly, we were holding these events in New York City at Penn Station (maybe Grand Central?) and similar high-traffic locations in several other top-ranked media markets.

I was absolutely shocked beyond belief when I saw on the local New York evening newscasts our “breakfast characters” giving juice out to happy commuters who, despite rushing to the their offices to get to work, stopped to get their orange juice and get their faces or even better, their sound bites, on TV.

From that day forward, whenever my pitching partner Marie and I had to pitch a hare-brained stunt or a weak story and later found out that it worked, we would shout out “toast n’ eggs!”  And, when someone pitched a half-assed idea at a brainstorm, I’d look over at her and quietly say “I don’t know, it might work, ya know, I mean it could be another toast n’ eggs.”

 

A RANDOM MUSING ABOUT “NUTELLA” (Sorry, No PR Talk on Saturday)

 

Okay, so, it’s Saturday morning.  It’s 4:10 am Eastern to be precise.  You may be wondering what I’m doing up so early as I myself am wondering the same thing.  I’m thinking it could be a function of getting older, I mean, I’ve always heard that “You don’t need as much sleep when you get older.”

Does that explain why older people need a nap at mid-morning and eat dinner at 4 pm?  Or do they eat at 4 pm because it’s so enticingly cheap? You know, the whole early-bird special thing?  (Hmmm, I’m thinking Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel, IHOP and — as they say down south — “All you can eat meat and three buffet,” which is Southern for as much as you can possible eat of one choice of “meat” and three “side dishes.”  Get it?  Meat and Three.  It’s kinda catchy don’t y’all think?

This has now led to another random thought that’s  rattling around my head that I can’t make go away —  “Will I one day retire and move down to Del Ray Beach, Florida and live in one of those communities with names like ‘Dowager’s Hump Landing’ or ‘The Estates at Pine Box’ (Coming soon, see agent for details)?  No, that’s wrong because I am a “goy” and as such, would not be entirely welcome in Del Ray.  I would have to move to Boynton Beach, where, as my ex-mother in law used to say,  “that’s where the ‘goyim’ live.”  In Boynton Beach, not only would I fit in, but I would be able to find communities with more “goy-centric” names that are more closely related to my Irish DNA,  like, Irish Springs Estates, The Pines at Dublin, or The Gatehouses at Guinness.

Anyway, so, now  I’m thinking things like, “Will I be able to pull off wearing white, patent leather shoes in the winter, and sandals with black socks against impossibly pale, white legs in the summer?  Will I obey the community pool rules that insist that you must shower before entering the pool?  And will people I don’t know yell at grand children of people I don’t know screaming things like, “Can’t you read the sign?  There is no horseplay or expectorating in or around the pool at anytime!”  Will I have my day disturbed by annoying public service announcements delivered by bored, impossibly good-looking young pool staffers shouting “Shuffleboard and Spin Class to the Oldies begins at 2 pm in the Lido Deck area!  Don’t be tardy for the party!” Will I drive my obscenely large Buick in the left lane of I-95 at 50 miles per hour (with the top of my head barely cresting over the dashboard) causing everyone else to pass me on the right?  Will I watch games shows and CNN for hours on end waiting until it’s time for the “meat and three buffet” to open? Will I wear knee-high length socks to keep my legs out of view from the prying eyes of the desperate widows who seem to lurk around every corner?

Sorry, it seems I’ve drifted off point with all this talk about Florida when I was supposed to be talking about my first intrusive thought of the day, which is that it’s starting to bother me that I’m getting up early everyday, even though I still go to bed at midnight — the same time that I’ve always gone to bed.  One negative thing about me getting up very early (I think) is that I’m in such a fog that I will usually have some random, thoroughly ridiculous thought “pop” into my head that keeps percolating in throughout the day, building into a near obsession that I just can’t make go away.  This morning at precisely 4:05 am, while drinking my first cup of coffee with a nice, delicious cigarette I was enjoying outside (I don’t smoke indoors), I had this disturbingly intrusive thought:  “Where the hell did ‘Nutella’ come from?  How come I never saw or heard about it until just a few years ago?  Experts attribute the lack of awareness of some things like Nutella to “Bader-Meinhof Phenomenon (a phenomenon that occurs when something has been right there in front of you the whole time, but you just never noticed it before).

So how did it come to be that Nutella is now in your face at every imaginable place you go to buy food.?”  I mean, up until a few years ago, I had never heard the word, “Nutella” — even though it is a lot of fun to say.  Nutella, Nutella, I’ll tell ya, Nutella! Good Fella, Nutella, You’re swella, Nutella.  Don’t forget your Umbrella, Nutella.  In fact, I love the word so much that I would consider legally changing my name to Nutella but I’m afraid people might shorten it to simply “Nut.”  And I can’t have that, what with the whole thing about possibly moving to Florida and trying not to expectorate near the pool while wearing the “knee-high” length socks that I discussed earlier!

With the word Nutella firmly embedded in my head, and likely to stay there all day if I didn’t do something about it, I decided to do some research and write about it.  So here goes.  Nutella was invented in 1946 by Pietro Ferrero, a confectioner by trade who lived in a small town in Italy called “Alba”  (no relation to Jessica Alba, who I’m disturbingly infatuated with).  Apparently, chocolate was really scarce at that time so Pietro made a hazelnut paste and mixed it in with the chocolate (to make the limited cocoa go further/farther?) and molded it into a loaf that people could slice (think chocolate and hazelnut meatloaf) and put on bread.  Yeah, he “stepped on it.”  (Which is a saying borrowed from drug dealers who mix ‘God knows what’ into their products to increase their  profit margins.)

And that’s the way it was sold and served until 1964 when his son Michele decided to turn the formula into a spreadable mixture he named SuperCrema.   I never took Italian classes in school but I’m pretty sure it translates into “Super Cream” or “Super Creamy.”

It was an overnight success and soon became so popular that it came under the scrutiny of the French Government who, concerned about the amount of the palm oil used in the spread and the adverse effects it might have on the health of the people of France, passed what became known as the “Nutella Tax.”  There was such an outrage, and chaos over this, that a coalition (lobbyists?) was formed and senators from both the Communist and Conservative Parties came together and had the “Nutella Tax” repealed. (You know how the French are when it comes to food). Anyway, all was back to normal with the good people of France and throughout the whole of Europe where Nutella was — and still is — wildly popular.

It wasn’t until 1999 that Nutella began advertising in the U.S., and within five short years, sales of the product tripled to more than $240 million in annual sales.  Soon the product gained a cult-like following among millennials, who as part of a unique and elite “foodie” culture, love the “cool European Edge” Nutella has, and parents of young kids (who view it as a healthier choice over peanut butter). The product has become so popular here, that four years ago, when the brand was celebrating its 50th Anniversary, Nutella-branded food trucks appeared in 16 regions throughout the country where consumers were bombarded by people (PR agency interns? Volunteers?) wearing Nutella T-Shirts while giving out stickers and coupons to enthusiastic passersby.

The response from the peanut butter competition has resulted in Jiff (#1 brand of PB in the U.S.) and Hershey, launching their own versions of the spread.  No word on how that’s going yet as I got tired of researching so, if you really care about it, you can look it up yourself.

Global sales of Nutella are now at more than 10.3 billion (euros) annually, but insiders say the brand is in danger of losing its edge due to over-commercialization, promotions that feel “forced” and “in-your-face” tactics that turn consumers off, which may cause an early end to the honeymoon, and Nutella , a product usually spread on toast, may soon become “toast”itself.

Happy New Year and the Problem with Celebrity Spokespeople!

 

This is the third installment of me reminiscing about a situation that occurred — this time involving the use of a celebrity spokesperson — that derailed a publicity tactic due to forces beyond my or my client’s control.  I share this story with the hope that it will educate PR newbies (and old “hacks” as well) to some of the things that can happen that you simply may not have planned for.

Many years ago, after I had left a large, Global PR agency, and co-founded a sub-specialty company, RCM Broadcast Communications (specializing in SMTS/RMTs, B-roll Production, PSAs, Social Media Videos, etc.) I had the distinct displeasure of working with a celebrity who had become a true cultural icon and was regarded as the undisputed global “ambassador” of New Year’s Eve.  I should also mention that it was 1999 and there was much attention and panic being paid to the arrival of the New Year, with people worrying about Y2K and other impending doomsday scenarios that may befall us as we ushered in the arrival of the 21st Century.  There was also a built-in media interest in anything having to do with the upcoming New Year, which made having a spokesperson regarded as the official ambassador of New Years Eve a real coup.

The PR firm I was contracted by represented a pharmaceutical company’s popular cholesterol-lowering drug that was soon going “off patent” which meant the big push was on to gain greater consumer awareness and generate stronger brand loyalty.  The PR firm came up with the idea to create a traveling exhibit that would enable consumers to have their cholesterol checked while getting educated about the very scary medical problems associated with having high cholesterol.  Consumers were also encouraged to “talk with their healthcare providers” about medicines that can help them reduce their cholesterol “number.”  (The results of the campaign could then be used to demonstrate to healthcare providers how wonderful the pharma client was in helping to drive people into their offices, increasing their revenues through patient visits, and rationalizing why doctors should feel good about prescribing their cholesterol drug to more of their patients.)

The campaign had a real catchy name and enlisted the help of the celebrity I alluded to earlier, and was now hitting the road, taking the program on a national tour that included a stop in Cleveland, that would also be the location from which I would be holding a satellite media tour using the celebrity-cum-ambassador-cum-spokesperson as the mouthpiece for the drug company’s Rx medicine.

Prior to the date of the satellite tour I found out that this spokesperson had been used as the “talent” in a NYC studio (that I worked out of all the time) just a few weeks earlier, but for a different client’s satellite tour to promote the new Chrystal Ball that would be dropped in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve.  This was in clear violation of his contract, which stipulated that he would NOT participate in any sponsored/paid media activities for at least a 3 months preceding “our” tour.

On the morning of the tour we conducted the first two interviews, during which the spokesperson plugged the new Chrystal Ball and the name of the makers of the ball, but neglected to mention the name of the cholesterol drug; the makers of which were footing the bill for the tour and paying his salary!  My client pulled me aside in near panic and asked me to play “bad cop” and “get him to mention the damn drug.”

I walked onto the set and made up a story about how the last interview he did with a TV station in San Antonio resulted in several calls to the station from viewers wanting to know “what cholesterol drug” the celebrity was taking (he did mention that he was being treated for high cholesterol).  Without even looking at me he replied:  “I’m not saying [insert name of drug], they’re not paying me enough and I won’t do it.”  I immediately replied (in a not so pleasant tone), “Okay, if that’s the case then will you please refrain from mentioning [insert name of Chrystal Ball manufacturer’s name] in anymore interviews?  I then added, “Oh, and by the way, your friends at [insert name of NYC studio he worked out of just weeks prior] said to say ‘hello.'”  I may have also mentioned something to him about his contract and the pharma company’s team of lawyers

He would not acknowledge my presence or take any pointers or direction from me for the rest of the morning.  I had become persona non-grata and I didn’t really care.

My advice:  when securing a spokesperson make sure the contract is ironclad, let the spokesperson know that you will be engaging the services of a media monitoring company to track his or her media activities leading up to your project, and don’t be afraid to call him or her on something that is clearly not cool with you as it relates to your program objectives.

Another Unpredictable, Unavoidable PR Disaster….

Yesterday I posted an article I wrote about an unavoidable occurrence (the death of Bette Davis) and how it negatively impacted a major PR publicity event.  Today, I continue the theme with an additional instance in which a PR effort tanked due to an unpredictable event that transpired causing a normally effective tactic to crash and burn with no on-the-fly solutions that could reverse the unfortunate turn of events that occurred.

In the late 1980s I worked at a large, Global PR agency with some very creative and talented people who were responsible for representing an internationally-recognized, category-leading brand of consumer batteries (that did not have a pink bunny as a mascot).  Faced with the challenge of increasing brand awareness, and boosting sales during the 4th quarter, a key time of year for battery purchases, the team came up with the idea to create an annual “Kid’s Toy Test Survey.”  This made perfect sense since many batteries are bought in the the fourth quarter to provide power for the toys that kids receive for the holiday’s.

The survey was implemented by soliciting toy manufacturers during the summer, encouraging them to provide us with toys that would be new to the market and on store shelves just in time for the upcoming holiday season.  Next, YMCA after-school programs were contacted in about ten cities and toys were sent to them along with a “play” book that the after-school personnel would use to keep a log of what toys children were most interested in playing with based on the toy’s “play-ability” and several other criterion that would help us to develop the “Top Ten Toys List.”

The program was wildly successful and within a few short years grew to include more than 30 after-school YMCA programs through the nation participating.  The client budget also grew exponentially which, of course, made everyone at the agency very happy.

In  early 1989, with Ronald Reagan in office and the whole world talking about the “Evil Empire” (Russia) and the current climate of “Glastnos” (Mikhail Gorbachev’s willingness to create and promote “more openness and increased government transparency”) and “Perestroika” ( his effort to promote reform within the Communist Party), the idea came about to open talks with whomever the right person was to talk to about pulling back the Iron Curtain to include Russian children in the toy test survey.  The idea being, “Would Soviet kids like the same toys as their American counterparts? And really, does it matter or not if they do since it will be a major coup with the media regardless of the outcome?”

So contact was made with the Soviet Children’s Museum, negotiations took place and toys and play-book manuals were sent to Russia (after they had been thoroughly vetted by members of the KGB, I’m guessing).

Two agency vice presidents flew over to Russia with a video crew and gathered footage of the little Russian kids (who were dressed in outfits straight out of a 1950’s American clothing catalog, complete with hair bows and everything and saying things like “Spasibo”).  The footage would be used to accompany footage that we shot at the YMCA centers to let reporters and indeed the rest of our country, “compare and contrast” the differences between the cultures.

It (the kids and the whole Russian Vs. American kids thing) was all very cute but we needed more “cuteness” so someone came up with the idea of calling the exchange of the program between American and Russian kids  “Peres-Toy-Ka”  (a play on the work perestroika that I described earlier).  VERY CUTE and very enticing to the media!  A press conference to announce the best toys, as rated by the kids, was planned, a meeting room at the Helmsley Plaza Hotel-NYC, was secured, pitch calls were made, and every member of the media that we cared about, planned on attending.

We arrived at the Helmsley, set up the standard card table outside of the room, arranged the press kits, the pre-printed press badges, goodie bags and media sign-in sheets and waited patiently for the arrival of journalists that promised to attend.

As the time of the start of the press briefing neared, we started to panic as there were no members of the press there yet (they usually come early to eat whatever food you put out for them… doughnuts and such).  We soon found out why no one was there.  The Berlin Wall had come down just hours before our briefing, with hordes of East and West Germans still attacking the wall with hammers, pick axes and anything else they could get their hands on that would facilitate smashing the concrete barrier into oblivion.

After the initial shock wore off, an eerie quiet settled over the room as we slowly began making calls to NY-based media to see if anyone would still come, even maybe an intern (pleazzzzze!) — anyone to help fill the many seats facing the riser with a podium on top and signage hanging from everywhere and from every angle (gotta make it impossible for cameras to snap a photo or shoot footage without them getting the signage in.)  The calls to the media were not going well.  Not at all.  Really bad.

I was assigned the task of calling the national morning shows and I will never forget calling my contact at CBS This Morning (her name was Carol and probably still is, unless she’s no longer with us) who told me “I was out of my  mind and to please ‘lose’ her number and never call again.”

This all occurred one and one-half years after Ronald Reagan, in a now famous line he delivered at a speech in West Berlin, said,  “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that Wall!”

As I said yesterday, “Man plans and God laughs.”  Or maybe it;’s “PR Pros plan and God laughs.”

PR Foils, Foibles and Disasters

I often think about the many unfortunate, unpredictable and sometimes outlandish things that happened during my early years of my public relations career.  The simple fact is, that the old saying “Man plans, God laughs” certainly applies to public relations professionals.  All the time.  So purely for your entertainment and perhaps to demonstrate my empathy to situations you may also have experienced that did not go exactly as planned, I offer the following:

One of my first experiences with an unforeseen and unavoidable event that destroyed the finale of a very successful year-long PR campaign was the death of the film icon Bette Davis.  The consumer products group of the PR agency I was working at had come up with a brilliant idea for our client, a multi-national consumer products conglomerate that made and sold a large portfolio of bar soaps.  The idea was to hold a nationwide “Singing in the Shower Contest” in which entrants would need to incorporate the name of one of the clients’ bar soap brands into a well-known, recognizable, song, and sing it while standing in a move-able bathtub complete with a shower head that traveled throughout the country, appearing in shopping malls where contestants would perform their “acts.”

It was wildly successful, generating tons of coverage in the local markets in which the contests were held.  There was coverage that announced the upcoming contest, coverage the day of the contest and coverage announcing the local winner who would qualify for the semi-finals, with the final competition taking place at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California.

The PR team pulled out all the stops in creating a highly-visual and festive stage on which contestants would perform, and we feverishly pitched national entertainment media who responded positively, verbally committing to attend and cover the final event.  We’re talking “Entertainment Tonight” “Inside Edition” and “Hard Copy” as well other national, and local, print and television outlets.

Our event was to be held on October 7, 1989.  Bette Davis passed away late in the evening on October 6th.  The “war room” we had set up at the Sheraton Universal was exploding!  We all scrambled to confirm that reporters and television producers and field reporters would still be coming to the grand finale of the “National Singing in the Shower Contest.”  They said “no, they would not be coming.”  In fact, many hung up on us immediately upon hearing our pitch.  I remember calling a producer at Entertainment Tonight (E.T.), using one of the two “mobile” phones that our agency let us use once we “signed” for it.  The phone.was called by many back then a “brick” due to it’s size and weight.  It was ugly and cumbersome with a stubby, rubber clad antenna, back-lit rubber dial push buttons and only had about thirty minutes of talk time.

At any rate, I called this producer at E.T. to try to convince her that they should still cover such an important, fun, interesting and highly-visual event that was happening right in their own backyard!  She said something along the lines of, “Are you [deleted] kidding me?  Ms. Davis just died last night and everyone has dropped everything else they are working on to cover it!”

Having already endured so much rejection by reporters already in my short career, I had learned to never take “no” for an answer and that there is always a way you could “spin” a story to make it impossible to ignore.  So, of course, I replied to the producer and asked her if I could change her mind if I got a large, foam core board with Ms. Davis’ face printed on it and we could have someone say a few, kind words about her passing and hold a moment of silence at the event.  I don’t remember exactly what she said back to me but it was something along the lines of me being “despicable” or “an opportunistic pig” or both.  And no, they did not attend, nor did they cover, our event.

If you have any similar “war” stories you’d like to share with me, please do so!

Greetings Professional Communicators

I’ve thought about starting a blog for years but never really had enough drive, determination or inspiration to do so.  I don’t know if I necessarily even have it now, but yet, here I am.  Blogging.

I guess a good place to start is writing about something that I have seen, heard, experienced and really LIVED in order to construct a story that is interesting, entertaining, authentic and with a little luck, something people will want to read and engage with (read:  please share with everyone on the planet that you know so I get more followers!).

I’ll begin at, well, the beginning of my interest in and subsequent career within the highly-esteemed Public Relations Profession (now more commonly referred to as Marketing Communications).

I was attending college in New York City at an institution that mainly consisted of curriculum geared toward the fashion industry but had one major titled “Advertising & Communications” which I elected to to focus on.  I fully intended on securing a career in advertising until I took an elective publicity course.  I was immediately drawn to it as I thought to myself:  “Anybody can produce an ad and it will be seen by millions of people because the client will be paying huge sums of money to advertise it.”  But PR?  Now doing that takes some real gall.  In my mind, writing a press release or having an event and getting reporters to cover it was like “getting over on someone.”  After all, way before Trump said it, PR was sometimes referred to as “manufactured or fake news.”

I was overjoyed at the idea of pulling the wool over peoples eyes with my clever insights and my ability to turn a brand’s messages into a print or newscast worthy story thus gaining increased brand awareness and influencing consumers’ purchasing choices.  I must say that I soon realized that we (as an industry) were not creating “fake or manufactured news” we were helping to develop and disseminate helpful and relevant material to reporters who, in turn, would communicate it to their audiences.  In fact, many of the campaigns I worked on with others actually helped to save thousands of lives and reduce thousands (if not millions) of hospitalizations.  These were campaigns that raised awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated against influenza, meningitis and “whooping” cough, all potentially deadly diseases.

So, along I went headfirst into this career at a time (late 1980’s) when the industry was much like the TV show “Mad Men.”  I had a distilled spirits client so, of course, I had a makeshift bar in my office. I also had a basketball and other toys and an overflowing ashtray so I could smoke incessantly without any interference at all while ordering margaritas from a tiki-bar on Lexington Avenue called “Okona’s.” (I wonder if it’s still there?)

Yes, times were a lot different than they are now.  Back then we had IBM and Wang brand computers with a word processing software system called “Word Perfect” and if I remember correctly another one called “Q&A.”  We did not email draft press releases to clients because there was no such thing as the Internet.  We FedEx-ed them (and didn’t see a response or have to make revisions for a few days!) and later, sent them via facsimile machine that used “thermal paper” that you dared not put a hot coffee mug on for fear of burning the mug’s image onto the document.

We also did not have our own printers — everyone’s computer was connected to a central printer the size of a large washing machine that you would send your document to and then wait on a queue until such time as it decided to print yours.  Or, worse.  One agency I worked at required you to save your documents to a “floppy disk” (look it up) which you then had to bring to a central printer-dedicated computer, insert your floppy disk and print your material, often far distances from your office and your makeshift bar and your ashtray and your toys.

In the “old days” we did not “feed” our Video News Releases or B-roll packages via satellite or have them hosted on a downloadable Multimedia News Release micro-site, we had videotape dubs made on an ancient format called 3/4 inch “U-Matic” tape stock (google it!).

The men wore suits and ties to work everyday and the women wore pant suits or other appropriate “business attire.”  That is, until the early 90’s when “casual Fridays” came into vogue and Khakis, Chinos and tie-less collared shirts and polos were permitted.  Only later, after starting my own company, RCM Marketing Communications, did I start wearing jeans, cowboy boots and Harley-Davidson and other logo-ed tee-shirts to work and sometimes to off-site client meetings.

We had our own buzzwords back then too.  Words like Zeitgeist, Yuppies, Buppies, Integrated Orchestration, Interactive Innovation (fancy way of saying brainstorm) and Ideation, etc.  We also used phrases like, “Let’s run it up the pole and see if it fly’s,” or “Let’s push the envelope on this one guys.”  We talked about the “story” not the “narrative.”  We used blurbs not “memes”  and we said “more clear” not “clearer.” Oh, and we never said “awesome” though I’m not sure what we said instead.

At any rate, I believe in the power of PR/MarCom agencies and the people who made this career choice, especially since we are now faced with competing in the increasingly crowded arena of “social media” which everyone (PR firms, Ad agencies, Social Media Marketing specialty shops, etc.) now offer in an effort to get a bigger slice of the client’s marketing budget pie.