We asked a handful of publicity mavens to reflect on their long and frequently storied careers and share a particularly memorable moment with us. Some recalled their best, some their worst. A few gave us one of each, and a former colleague somehow managed a twofer.
Bryn Bridenthal, Bridenthal & Associates: I was in New York with Elektra/Asylum, and we were honoring Teddy Pendergrass with a big event at Lincoln Center. This was going to be his first public performance after the car accident that had left him paralyzed from the waist down. His voice was still there, and he'd recorded an album, and this party was the kick-off. There was going to be a brief film about Teddy and a presentation and then this momentous performance, and we knew it would be very moving.
We wanted to make the setting as elegant as we possibly could. We'd arranged for crystal and silver and white orchids ... Everything would be sparkling. I used a caterer I'd worked with many times and knew personally and we'd gone over everything very carefully. So I show up at Lincoln Center the day of the event and there's NOTHING there. No white tablecloths, no silver serving trays, no nothing. The caterer had sent everything to the wrong event. It was a three-day weekend and I couldn't get ahold of him. I had no way of even finding out where the stuff was. I thought, there are hundreds of people coming to this event and those elevator doors are going to open and they're going to see ... nothing.
I show up at Lincoln Center and there's NOTHING there. No white tablecloths, no silver serving trays, no nothing. The caterer had sent everything to the wrong event.A few guests had already arrived. So some of my department commandeered people's limos and ran out and got wicker baskets and paper napkins and anything they could find. The food had somehow managed to arrive, thank God, but there was no presentation whatsoever at this major, major event that was supposed to be so special, the most sophisticated, most beautiful party ever. The good news is that when Teddy rolled off the elevator, he was all anybody thought about. But for me, it was a disaster, and I learned never to trust, to have every phone number, to double-check everything 43 times and anticipate anything that can go wrong.
Needless to say, that was my worst PR moment.
The best was when Nelly Furtado won the Grammy [for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 2002]. The promotion department had said she'd never be played on the radio. Sales had told me I was wasting my time. Everyone at the company had been down on her, and the Grammy win — on top of four nominations, including Song of the Year ["I'm Like a Bird"] and Best New Artist — felt like a victory on so many different levels.
I always knew she had magic; she had that thing where she walked into a room and made the air molecules vibrate. And she felt like a true artist to me. She's also smart — I took her to media training and she took notes and asked questions. And she worked really, really hard. The Grammy was vindication, but her success was also proof positive that press sells records, which has always been a hard thing to quantify. Partly because of the force of Nelly's personality, the media really responded to her and it all just connected.
Hal Bringman, NVPR: I'd negotiated my client Michael Robertson, CEO of MP3.com, onto the cover of the New York Times — not B1, but A1, the actual, for-real front page of the New York Times. I'd already gotten him a lot of press so you'd think fact-checking his name would have been easy. Not so much. God bless the hardworking folks at the New York Times, but when the story hit newsstands, his name appeared as Michael "Robinson." Ouch!
Then there's this one, which is good for comic relief: My client Brad Zutaut, CEO of Xingtone, was on CNN demonstrating the company's software. He turned his cell phone to the camera to give the folks at home a better idea of the functionality, thereby prominently displaying his phone number to the entire nation. Of course plenty of people called the number, some of them with, shall we say, unprintable solicitations. But that's a story for another newsletter!
Susan von Seggern, SvS PR: Best PR moment: ziplining in Costa Rica with Martin Bashir!
Worst PR moment (bad moment in general, actually): Watching the L.A. riots on TV in New York with the B-52s and Tom Tom Club, who were doing interviews — just before I was moving to L.A. None of us were really focused on the PR process that day.
He turned his cell phone to the camera, displaying his phone number to the entire nation.Cary Baker, conqueroo: I was at a nighttime Rolling Stone photo shoot that wasn't going terribly well. The photographer was immensely talented, but the leader of the band was being difficult, and she finally asked for photo approval. I explained to her that one doesn't really have photo approval in an editorial shoot. "Well it's in my contract," she insisted. "It's in your contract WITH THE LABEL," I pointed out. "Your implied contract in an editorial shoot is that they get to choose what they use." Under my breath, I added, "And this is Rolling Stone; behave, dammit!" At this point she stalked off and called the president of the label — at home. You can imagine my relief when the exec told her to get back there right away and to not piss off Rolling Stone.
Another debacle: The artist who insisted there be more hyperbole in his press release: "It's not enthusiastic enough."
Amy Welch, Charm School PR: Once upon a time, I did tour press for a very popular band, and the last night of the tour happened to be in the city where I lived. Near the end of the show, the band began to thank people from the stage. I thought I heard my name but wasn't sure and didn't want to be a jerk by asking strangers next to me if the band had just said my name.
It was a best PR moment (most bands never say thanks and I'd worked especially hard on that tour) AND a worst (they could just as easily have NOT mentioned my name and I very nearly made an ass of myself saying, "Uh, did you thank me?" only to, potentially, find out they hadn't). I guess a miss is as good as a mile, but I still shudder when I think about it.
Ilka Erren Pardiñas, Fly PR: Iíd been working with my client Smog Veil Records on their new, sustainably built live/work space in Chicago, the Wis Tavern Building. We'd placed a big piece in Dwell, which we were very excited about. We were also going after more trade-oriented publications like Architectural Record and Solar Today. Suddenly I had a freelancer for Metropolitan Home (which had already done a story on the Wis Tavern Building for the Chicago Tribune) asking about an exclusive feature. I discussed it with the clients and — gasp — they weren't interested! But Metropolitan Home was relentless. This was before the green trend had fully developed so the story WAS unique.
The real moment here was when this top-ranking editor at Met Home, a huge national magazine, began clamoring for the story. I remember being on the phone and hearing her heels click-clacking down some busy New York street while she pitched me a mile a minute in her very refined British accent about just how critical this story was to her publication. I honestly couldn't believe it — big-shot editor at Met Home pitching li'l ol' me to get my proto-punk label to acquiesce and give her the feature. (For context: I'm usually getting patched straight through to voicemail, and THAT'S when I'm only trying to talk to the local calendar-section guy about some band I have rolling through town.)
In the end, we did the exclusive with Metropolitan Home, and man, I will never forget that call.