Tales from the PR crypt

20140425095036aaaaaaaaaaa105_0001Even though Halloween’s a long way off, I feel inspired by New York’s cold and blustery weather to share two tales from my personal PR crypt.

The first is ancient and the other is real-time.

So, pull up the bed covers to your chin and don’t worry; those noises you’re hearing outside are only the wind…

1.) Tale one occurred in the earliest days of Peppercomm. As Ed and I slaved away in his squalid, one bedroom apartment, we became increasingly desperate to land just one, paying client.

Finally, like manna from heaven, I received a call from a colleague at a previous employer. He’d just landed the top human resources gig at a major chemical company and had employee communications reporting directly to him. He wanted to hire us ASAP.

I used the hot lead as my rational for moving us out of Ed’s hellhole, and into a Sam Spade-like detective agency in the venerable Graybar Building. We set up shop just in the nick of time to greet ‘Joe’ and his two direct reports.

After some idle banter, Joe got to the point. He wanted a refresh on everything the chemical company communicated to its global employee base, and was willing to spend big. He wanted the plan and budget, and to get started ASAP.

After we finished high-fiving each other, Ed and I scrambled to line-up a freelance team to execute what we promised we could deliver. I wrote the plan and FedEx’d it to the prospect. Days passed without a response. Undeterred, Ed and I felt confident enough to begin investing in such necessities as a second computer, a voice mail machine, real stationery, etc.

Long story short, we never heard back from Joe. After repeatedly calling corporate headquarters, I was told “Mr. Jones is no longer employed here.” Ouch. I dialed his direct reports, and reached one who said, “I have no interest in working with you or your firm. Good-bye.” Brrrrrrr…..

2.) I occasionally invite a client or prospect to provide a quote or piece of thought leadership for my Repman blog.

I see it as a win-win-win. The client gains some slight, additional visibility. My column gains some slight, additional credibility. And the poor reader gets a slight break from my proselytizing.

And so I sat down with a client CEO to discuss native advertising. I could immediately tell by his swagger that he thought highly of himself and believed he was the second coming of Steve Jobs.

We nonetheless had a fascinating conversation. At the conclusion, I asked my typical question:

Me: “Anything else on the subject you’d like Repman readers to know?”
Him: “No, but there is something you should know. You’re fired!”
Me: “I’m what?”
Him: “Your firm’s failed to produce any big hits in the past few weeks, and I’m ending this relationship right here and now!”

I was tempted to let out a blood-curdling scream, but bit my lip and said, “Well, if you feel that strongly about it, then it makes sense to end things.”

It was obvious that anything short of having this guy’s profile carved into the wall at Mt. Rushmore wouldn’t be enough.

And, those are today’s tales from the PR crypt.

Do you have some crypt-worthy stories to share? There’s nothing like a good scare to kick-off a windy, rainy weekend.”

9 thoughts on “Tales from the PR crypt

  1. In the 80’s my friend and I ran the Orlando office for a national firm. On occasion, we were approached by clients who wanted to “compete with Disney World.” In one case, the client had an IMAX like dome and at the press event over half of the media who attended walked outside after the viewing and threw up. It gave them motion sickness. Another wanted us to get the national media away from the Mickey’s big birthday party, the biggest media tour ever. They had a discount mall a mile from Disney World. So we used their electronic sign and created the biggest birthday card ever, happy birthday Mickey, and got certified by Guinness. I think we got two reporter spouses to attend.

  2. These are great, Judy. I’m especially fond of the press event that ended up making the reporters in attendance sick to their stomachs. You cannot make up some of this stuff……

    • There was the time my client seemed to fake a real estate auction so that a mansion wouldn’t have to sell to the lowest bidder. I’d done my job so well that the Wall Street Journal (who did a cover story a few days earlier), Atlanta Constitution, local TV outlets and the AP attended and wanted answers NOW.

      The high bidder screamed bloody murder, I was getting hounded by reporters at home, and we eventually had to go on NBC News and tell the real story to Brokaw himself. Let’s just say I learned a lot.

      Every time someone offers a lucrative media relations gig, I’m reminded of this.

  3. Always thrilled to have you call our apartment (and the birthplace of Peppercom) “squalid” and a “hellhole”,even almost 2 decades later :)

  4. Ha. I embellish, Pam. I embellish. Your apartment was gorgeous (except when Efrem was there). And, no exprience will EVER top the food from the Vinegar Pit.

  5. Many years ago I was responsible for a major launch to the lighting industry. The CEO was to make the introductory speech. Camera, light, autocue were all ready, but no sign of him. I finally pursuaded someone to go into the men’s room where they found him locked in cubicle, refusing to come out. The crowd grew restless and started shuffling about. I managed to get the sales director to just read the autocue. I never saw the CEO again.

  6. Wow… these stories are amazing… Keep ‘em coming. I think we PR pros need to reinforce to one another that no matter how hard we try, no matter how many amazing placements we land, there will always be a-hole clients who think “anyone can do PR” better than the pros.

  7. I agree, Julie. In fact, there’s a book here just waiting to be written. I think it’s important to share these war stories on a quasi-popular blog like mine. That’s because the PR trade media do a miserable job of covering what’s really happening in the business world. By painting a utopian picture of PR, the trade journalists set-up unsuspecting college students and junior executives for failure.