Friday, December 31, 2004

Return of the Mack

I want to thank all the readers that have called me, emailed me, or IM’ed me or even posted on their own blogs in their support of me. And, each time, the people said or wrote the same thing: What was the issue? Why the attacks? Especially if my blog is, and I quote, "a little blog," what I write here should not have affected you the way it did.

And, to be truthful, I'm not sure. I wrote about PR and publicity, used one person as an example of things that happen in the industry, and it was taken personally. I could have used anyone for the example - and there are tons of examples in PR and publicity who would have been perfect - but Peter had the luck of the draw in being in an article that caught my attention.

So, I want to breakdown some things for my readers.

First: Declarations

  • This is my blog. It's a combination of news and opinions, as most blogs are.
  • I turned off the comments because unfortunately some people are immature and posted personal attacks; the comments will be brought back up down the road.
  • I want to thank the people for the groundswell of support via email, IMs, phone calls and posts, and for reminding me that I blog to bring up issues in PR.
  • I pulled down my old post - which I am reposting here in its entirety - not because of what I wrote, but because of the comments.
  • I get my ideas from the news I read, other PR and media blogs, and newspapers - something jumps out at me, and I blog about it. If there's a correction to be made, email me with the correct information, and I'll post a follow-up. I did it with Market Wire, I'm doing a follow-up to NewsBluntly, and I'm open to a real dialogue.
  • If you don't like what I write, well, you don't have to read my blog. Or, you can start your own blog (I like Blogger). Or, you can Email Me - the email address is right there under "Contact Me."
  • I've adopted the Code of Blogging Ethics. While not all fit for my blog, such as Blogger not offering trackback, I will continue to blog in such a way that is open to serious dialogue.
  • I have had disagreements before in the blogosphere - one where I have brought up my views with Steve Rubel (Ru Bell is the correct pronunciation). Now, yes, I have posted some testy comments on his blog, but we have spoken on the phone, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for Steve and Micropersuasion, his blog.

    Did I always have that utmost respect? No, but then we spoke. We hashed things out. We discussed blogging and the press. And, I ribbed him a little bit.

    But, you know, if someone is going to put themselves out there to be quoted, you are going to have to be able to take some heat. Rubel takes the heat like he's wearing asbestos boxers. And, for this, he has earned my respect and I will defend him until I draw blood (and I believe he'd do the same for me).
Second: Hating Lizzie
  • A lot of the commenters had nasty, spiteful comments about Lizzie Grubman. Most of the comments had to do with her wealthy father, buying her way into public relations / publicity.
  • The fact is - from sources that I respect - Lizzie does a bang-up job for her clients.
  • What is the problem that people have? If there is such hatred about Lizzie over her family wealth, these people need psychological help.
  • But, if there is such jealousy against Lizzie, those people - and they know who they are - must also hate and be jealous of the Edelman family for being involved in Edelman PR and the Zeno Group; ironically, Richard blogged about running a family business today.

    Or, they must hate the Pritzker family, for owning the Hyatt Hotels.

    Or, they hate the firms of Ruder Finn and RF/Binder Partners, which are also family-run PR firms.

    Or, they hate almost every owner of an NFL team.

    Are we beginning to see the hypocrisy of hating Lizzie so much? So, she started Grubman PR with the help of her father. She's succeeded into building it into quite the publicity shop, getting press for her clients.

Third: Responding to the commenters
  • I'm not the NY Post - if you were misquoted there, take that up with them. I am just doing what most bloggers do - linking to a story that strikes my fancy, and can be used for a larger post.
  • An IPRA/UN Grand Award, an IPRA Golden Award and 2 Silver Anvils. 'Nuff said.
  • If you can't take the heat or criticism, don't put yourself out there to be quoted as an analyst, an expert, or a consumer using the product.
  • When responding to a reporter's request for a user, a PR firm should not present one of its employees. I had this discussion today with a WSJ reporter; she chocked and started laughing when I asked her what she would have done if I had presented her with myself as a customer for a client.

    So, in the defence that you were in the article for Upoc, a client, seems flimsy. Why wouldn't a PR firm have a database of users to forward to reporters? And, reading the quote from the Upoc CEO, he seemed not that thrilled about the celeb stalker press.
  • PR people and publicists shouldn’t waste their time taking pictures of stars. We should be inured to such people. When I worked in LA at Shandwick, I’d see stars all the time in the building or at Rogers & Cowan. When I lived in NY, I’d see famous people walk down the street, and partied with some of them. I never went up to people … because in the end of the day, they are just people that want their privacy. And, who am I to steal that away from them?

Now, I have spoken to Peter in the past about Skype – we share a love for Skype – and he notes that we have spoken on other issues.

I will give him the benefit that he was grossly misquoted in the NYP article. As PR people, we have all been on the phone during an interview with a reporter – either going on background or on the record – and have that tingly feeling that everything we said is going to be taken out of context or misquoted. It appears that is what happened with Peter.

Peter seems like a good guy, and a mutual friend has vouched for him.

And now, the original post. And, this is the end of it on this subject.

There have always been discussions about the differences between public relations and publicists. Some people are in public relations, but call themselves publicists because they see that as more glamorous, while other PR professionals tend to wince when called publicists.

But, either way, both PR professionals and publicists are the face of PR/publicity, and it is how our industry is judged.

Recently, Liz Smith from Page Six had a screed against publicists, and Jack O'Dwyer, the industry stalwart, wrote a column on what she had to say.

The O'Dwyer article on Liz's story was:


Liz Smith, whose column is syndicated in 65 papers across the U.S., including the New York Post, used her entire Sunday, Nov. 28 column to attack PR people who she says are blocking access to their clients and employers.

The column not only rapped the big celebrity-handling PR firms like PMK, but PR pros working for "government and big business."

"Where the press once dominated publicists and treated them like slaves, the situation is reversed," she wrote.

PR people become "royalty" themselves when they represent a famous person and get in the position of being able to block access to that person, she said.

"The gates are locked against the press and much of the press, unable to do an end run, stands outside begging to be let in," she said.

PR's "iron control of the players themselves has created a vacuum where rumors, fancies and imagination run absolutely riot and the line between truth and fiction is utterly blurred," she continued.

She expressed sympathy for the "free-wheeling in-depth reporter out to get the truth (who) is stymied at every turn."

Dart Firing Cited

The starting point for the Smith column was the recent firing of Leslee Dart from PMK by Pat Kingsley.

Smith theorizes that the "powerful" Kingsley, after losing her No. 1 client, Tom Cruise, wanted to show that she was not "weakened in any way."

Another theory advanced by "Page Six" of the Post on Nov. 19 was that Simon Halls, a partner in the firm of Huvane Baum Halls, which was acquired by PMK, helped Kingsley to make the power play.

One possible reason thus far unmentioned by the newspapers is that parent Interpublic lost a record $587 million in the third quarter and that IPG may have sent word out to its many units to trim highly paid executives wherever possible.

Smith Likes 'Good Old Days'

Smith expressed her fondness for the "good-old/bad-old days" when publicists had to supply four newstips in order to place one favorable item about a client.

"There are no truly famous bylines anymore because PR types are more powerful than anybody writing or editing," she complained.

"Magazine editors and columnists alike go to the powerful PR companies and beg to be allowed to interview their clients, or even to get a simple question answered," she wrote.

The reversal of roles of PR and editors evens things up but the relationship is now "intensely adversarial," says the columnist.

She feels this "overt and sometimes hostile-guarded protection of stars and stories" is hurtful to the public.

"The reader of entertainment news is not made richer, nor is he much enlightened by so much control, spin and political correctness," she concluded, feeling "the three-headed dog of spin control (he can look many ways) is probably here to stay."

While Smith had some good points - points brought up by Jack O'Dwyer in the past - her main beef seemed to be that she misses the power that she had over publicists, making them bend to her will. You know, just like the good ol' days of the Sweet Smell of Success.

Jack had a good rebuttal of certain points, but had to agree on the barrier PR has become:


Liz Smith's venting about non-helpful PR people in big business as well as entertainment and government has a lot of truth in it.

The corporate pullback from actively building relationships with reporters started in the 1970s and was partly due to a wave of ethics that swept journalism in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

There was too much wining and dining of reporters in the '60s and '70s.

More to the point, it didn't have much effect on the media's coverage of the scandals of that day.

Companies figured, if it's not going to help us in time of need, why bother?

Our most frequent experience in calling a major company currently is that a PR aide will take the call and ask the reason for it.

Corporate PR pros almost never answer their own phones.

Whether they ever call back is a function of the status of the news medium you're calling from, the nature of the story, and the particular tack you're taking.

It's defensive. Large companies have major advertising and promotion campaigns under way and mostly don't need another mention in the press.

The marketing and legal depts. may have to be brought in on any dealings with the press, further complicating the situation.

Mid-Sized Firms Can Talk

However, mid-sized and smaller firms usually have no such worries.

Some have taken up the traditional PR burden, which is "educating" beat reporters and even roving reporters on how their particular company and industry operate.

There are plenty of companies like Omega Travel, the fifth biggest travel agency, that have a policy of spending time with reporters and helping them to get their stories straight.

"Reporters want to be educated and they're very grateful for it," says CEO Gloria Bohan.

This is where we see growth for PR in the future.

PR can get back to its roots if enough CEOs practice good press relations.

Traditional advertising has become too expensive for many mid-sized companies but an entire galaxy of communications techniques are now available, especially those that use the internet.

PR firms are moving into this area by positioning themselves as marketing communications firms.
Firms tell us they get much more attention and accounts when they bill themselves as marcom.

Short Definition of Marcom

What's marcom? The blunt definition is "pressless PR." Another definition is "everything but ads."

Clients don't have time these days to wait weeks or months while a newspaper, magazine or TV placement is set up. They need sales now.

Savvy "PR" firms are pitching "customer relationship management" to clients, stealing a page from the largest ad agency of all – Omnicom.

OMC says a third of its $10 billion business (actually $70B+ in value of ads placed, sales promotion, direct mail, etc.) is CRM.

The short definition of CRM is teach clients to improve communications with their biggest customers.

This is the quickest, easiest route to more sales and more profits. OMC practices this itself by concentrating on its 250 largest clients.

Activities include building websites for clients, creating direct mail pieces, staging special events, improving the graphics of clients, finding new markets, getting clients to participate in more trade shows, etc.

A major company told us that its biggest marketing goal at the moment is attracting prospects to its website. This involves having the proper "key" words that will multiply volume of visitors.

Don't Give Up On Press

There's no need to give up on the press. A company will get plenty of press if it makes its CEO and other executives available to reporters.

"Treat the press as you would a major customer," was advice given by West Coast PR and marketing guru Regis McKenna.

That advice is still worthwhile. Medium and smaller companies can build sales by considering themselves "educators" of reporters rather than adversaries and by using the host of communications techniques short of buying ad space that are now available.

The red carpet should be rolled out and a brass band should play when a reporter calls.

"Press calls have to be answered immediately," says Bohan, who has stacks of clips to prove the efficacy of this policy.

What companies don't need is a junior staffer blocking press access to their executives. Quite often executives have no idea of the number of press calls that come in.

A West Coast PR source told us the following story.

The CEO of a utility happened to be with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times and the utility's PR head.

The CEO complained to the reporter, "Why don't you ever write about us?" The reporter replied, "I call you all the time."

It turned out the PR head was pocketing such calls. The next day, the PR person lost his job.

Jack has previously noted that the job of PR is to be a bridge, not a barrier - including his interview with POP! PR and its blog.

So, looking back at both columns made me think of how public relations and publicists are viewed by both the public and the industry.

Lizzie Grubman seems to be vilified at every step of the way. As readers of my blog know, I have nothing but Lizzie love - and I think the vilification is pure schadenfreude. But, come on - the woman is a publicity machine - and not just for herself. She not only runs her own agency, but is partnering with another PR person to open another agency. When I read about Lizzie, I'm not embarrassed about our industry - well, we'll ignore the Hampton's car debacle - but think that she portrays a relatively good picture of PR and publicists. Let's just hope that the MTV show doesn't screw her over.

On the other hand, this story made me wince. The article was focused on the new generation of publicity hounds - people with no lives that snap camera phone pics of famous people. Out in front - the first few paragraphs, actually - is Peter Shankman, of The Geek Factory.

From this story - and apparently, there are plenty of stories with Shankman front-and-center - Petey reminds me of a person from the old Shandwick office in New York. The kid responded to every single Profnet query that he was a fit for. It became a joke in the office, and a redflag to his supervisors. The redflag was that he was concentrating so much on personal PR for himself - for that next job - that he was ignoring the billable work for his clients.

Now, I admit, I too have replied to Profnet queries - this USA Today article lead to the paper calling me about an editorial. It's only good business sense if you are starting out a small firm, and are trying to get recognition and press to get on the radar. But, I try to limit it to issues that have to do with public relations or communications. Case in point - recently, a reporter from a large business paper had contacted me about satellite media tours. That's PR related.

But, of all the ways to be presented to the public for PR people, does the industry really need publicists running around making fools of themselves? It's not the Lizzie articles that make me wince, it's these types of articles that present PR people as bunnies.