PR’s answer to Don Draper

Long before 'Sex & the City', 'The Hills' and 'Kell on Earth', there was What Makes Sammy Run?

310-1 For those of you unfamiliar with the 1941 book, it was written by the legendary Budd Schulberg (best known for his Academy Award-winning “On the Waterfront” screenplay).

What Makes Sammy Run? follows the sleazy, backstabbing ways of Hollywood publicist, Sammy Glick. Although dated, I highly recommend it for anyone plying the PR trade, or aspiring to do so.

I also highly recommend a far more obscure tome entitled, The Build-up Boys. It was written by someone named Jeremy Kirk and first published in 1951. Unlike La-La Land's Press Agent Extraordinaire Sammy Glick, however, Kirk's protagonist is a New York and Washington, D.C.-based public relations “agency man.”

Although The Build-up Boys reads more like a Raymond Chandler detective novel than an insider's view of PR, it's funny as hell and, sadly, still highly relevant. To wit, check out this passage: 

“There were about as many ethics in the public relations racket as in a contest to see who could gouge out the most eyes.” Ouch.

The build-up boys tracks the progress of “…Clint Lorimer, a smart and ruthless operator who had every qualification for success as a public relations expert except for a small, deeply-buried shred of self-respect.” It also follows Anne Tremaine, “…an advertising agency expert who was successively Clint's partner, mistress and boss.” Sounds just like any of today's prime-time TV dramas, no?

In fact, Clint Lorimer is PR's answer to Don Draper. He has an answer for every client and a wink for every attractive woman. And, like the quintessential Mad Man, Lorimer positively thrives when the chips are down.

He even delivers some of the same strategies we would suggest in similar circumstances today (i.e. His firm represents a failing dairy company that's tanking because its CEO would rather deliver milk bottles at sunrise than examine P&L statements at sunset. When Clint meets the shrinking violet of a CEO and his marketing chief, he recommends doubling both the advertising and PR budgets. The clients are incredulous. “Are you nuts?” asks the marketing chief. “Nope,” says Lorimer. “We're going to feature your CEO in a national ad and PR campaign about a big man who's not too big to do a little man's job. John Q. Public will eat it up and wash it down with your milk.”). It's a brilliant suggestion and exactly the strategy I'd recommend today.

Sammy Glick and Clint Lorimer are sexist, unscrupulous and, at times, loathsome. But, they're also successful PR executives who GET business strategy. I'd recommend any student of PR analyze the protagonists' professional approaches, deep-six their personal proclivities and see if you don't learn a new trick or two from these old dogs. Oh, and here's one other reason to read both: there are still plenty of Sammy Glicks and Clint Lorimers out there. Knowing what makes a Don Draper type tick will make it that much easier for you when you eventually bump into him.

And a tip o' Repman's straw boater to Thomas Joseph Powers, Jr. for this idea.

5 thoughts on “PR’s answer to Don Draper

  1. Thanks for the heads-up, PEngelinNYC. I’m not familiar with that particular movie, but may put in a Netflix request just to see how Hollywood portrayed Mad Men in real time. BTW, Dana Andrews rocked in another of my all-time favorite flicks, “The Best Years of Our Lives.’

  2. Thanks for posting this, RepMan. It sounded very familiar, like an obscure and very mediocre film I saw on Fox Movie Channel during a bout of insomnia. It’s called “Madison Avenue,” with Dana Andrews as Clint Lorimer:
    I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one. It was dated even in 1962.

  3. What a great endorsement for a book. I can’t wait to read it. Someone should write a sequel that includes the media properties that cover the industry. Eye-gouging level ethics for a few of them, too.

  4. Another good film about PR guys — “Sweet Smell of Success” starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.” Great line.

  5. Following the previous post, I’d be interested to know how many kids quizzed for the blog post below know about “On the Waterfront.”
    As for this book, I will surely get my hands on it once done with Liar’s Poker (working backwards through Lewis’ stuff, I guess). Thanks for the tip, Tommy.