News Coverage Interruptus!

I’ve written about several public relations and/or publicity efforts that have come apart at the last minute, either fortuitously, by an act of God, or just plain by mistake.  Sometimes these things happen and you just have to make the best of them with what you’ve got, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do except just grin and bear it.  Here are a few more enticing tidbits of cringe-worthy moments that have happened over the years…

Many years ago I had a PR agency client who represented a nationally-recognized brand of hair color products (in this case, inexpensive, fast-working hair color for women).  The agency had secured a “celebrity” to act as spokesperson for the brand.  She was an actess who had been very popular a couple of decades prior, part of a trio of actresses who played sleuths on a cop show in the seventies.  We secured  about 25 interviews and were set to go on the morning of the tour with our clients happily conversing in the green room, excited about all the interviews that were about to take place.

Then there was “breaking news.”  Deadly words to hear when you are about to conduct 25 live shots with local morning shows who will now be pre-empted by the networks.  The breaking news story was the release of the Linda Tripp/Monica Lewinsky tapes (recorded phone conversations between Linda and Monica regarding her affair with then President, William Jefferson Clinton).  This is where things got ugly,.  Real fast.  It seems that no matter how much you prepare a client and the spokesperson for the possiblity of being pre-empted, they just don’t get it when it happens to them.  I mean, really, what’s not to get?  The networks have pre-empted local programming, you tell them.  There is no Good Morning Dallas, or Houston, or Atlanta, today… the networks are broadcasting on their stations.  Still, they don’t get it.

We explained this to them and suggested that we just wait it out and see what we can salvage if the networks stop pre-empting.  Worst case scenario, we can reapproach everyone we’ve booked interviews with and reschedule for another day.  Uh, uhnn.  Can’t do it.  Celeb will want more money and studio has to charge us for another day.  We’re all dead in the water.  So we sat for what felt like an eternity while the celeb(?) sat on the set, angrily reading The Wall Street Journal, practically tearing the pages out of the paper as she turned them.  Hopefully we’d have better luck at the event we were having at a New Jersey mall later in the week (cue the scary “Jaws” music).

Okay, so Part II of the story goes like this:  the celebrity will be appearing at a mall in New Jersey to encourage women to get their hair colored to help benefit a national charity that this celebrity was fond of.  For every head colored a pittance would be donated.  We arrived at the mall, got the celebrity seated in the mall meet-and-greet area (after much time spent on her hair and makeup) and were good to go.  (“Jaws music builds…..).

Women were lined up and our celeb was signing autographs and everything seemed fine, until it didn’t.  The spokesperson excused herself to go to the ladies room and promptly disappeared.  Our clients were frantic, and a search ensued to locate this purportedly nationally-recognizable celeb that no one recognized as leaving the mall.

We found out much later in the day that she had experienced a panic attack, and flagged down a mall security guy in the parking lot who was in one of those little SUVs with yellow lights on the roof and made him drive her all the way back to her hotel in Manhattan.  End of event, end of coverage, end of story.  And yes, I do mean “end of story.”  I’ve got nothing more to say about this as I’m still to this day, traumatized.

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.