Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Conversation With Steve Madden

Even if I had planned to interview the famed shoe designer, circumstances couldn’t have worked out better. We were sitting at a Starbucks kiosk right outside a Steve Madden store in Aventura Mall in North Miami Beach, FL. I looked up and there he was. You can’t miss him. He wears the same thing all the time -- baseball hat, white shirt and jeans.

I watched as he ordered his coffee, and then paced while sipping, blowing the hot drink. A fancy cell phone constantly glued to his ear. My husband questioned whether it was really he. I was confident that it was; I had seen his photo many times before.

As he walked by I waved a hearty hello letting him know he we were big fans. While I only own one pair of Steve Madden shoes, I felt a kinship. He, a famous designer. Me, a publicist always in search of famous people.

The minute he saw my hand go up, he came over to say hello. By this time my daughter who was shopping nearby joined us. It was a real celeb spotting experience.

Lois: “What are you doing here?”

Steve: “Visiting my mother in Boca.”

Lois: “Are you checking out your store here?”

Steve: “Not really. I leave that up to others. That doesn’t mean that I'm not always looking, thinking.”

Lois: “Yes, I saw you walk into Nine West across the way to check it out.”

Steve: “You can’t break old habits."

Lois: “Their current collection is shit. I was in there too.”

Steve: “I agree, they've had better.”

Lois: “So what have you been up to lately?”

Steve: “You know that I've been away for a while. Just got out seven months ago. I'm enjoying myself. I just got engaged. Going to get married January 15th in New York City."

He told me where, but I won't reveal till after the wedding.

Lois: “Is she Jewish?”

Steve: “No, a real shiksa. I am like Larry David and she is my Cheryl Hines.”

Lois: “Is your mother upset that you're marrying out of your religion?”

Steve: “No, I'm 48 years old. This is my first marriage. My mother and everyone else thought I was gay. I just couldn’t find anyone.”

Lois: “Where do you live?”

Steve: “The Upper East Side in a townhouse. I used to live in the Village on Mercer for almost 30 years, but my fiancĂ©e really likes the Upper East Side.”

Lois: “Is she after you for your money?”

Steve: “No, we've known each other for years. She's an office manager for Steve Madden. She's busy shopping right now. I expect her here any minute.”

Lois: “That is so funny. I would expect you with a girl who shops on Madison Avenue.”

Steve: “That is what is so great about her. She's comfortable shopping here, she's comfortable on Madison Avenue. Where do you work?”

Lois: "On 58th and Sixth.”

Steve: “My office is two blocks away on Sixth.”

Lois: “Here is my card. Maybe I can help you someday.”

Steve: “We use PMK.”

Lois: “They’re great. Oh well, if you ever need PR for something else related to cause marketing, charity work or anything extra, please call me.”

Steve: “Thanks. I'll be in touch.”

I feel like I am back in the dating game. I want him to call!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Made in USA, Exported to China

Julie Gaynin, daughter of HWH PR Executive Karen Gaynin, worked at our PR agency for a few weeks this summer. Julie is a Senior at Stuyvesant High School and spent last summer traveling in China. Since HWH is very involved in promoting many Asian products and services, I thought it would be interesting to read about Julie’s travels and her perceptions. Americans everywhere are reading Ted Fishman’s book, China Inc. and corporations/organizations are paying big bucks to hear him speak. We give you Julie Gaynin first hand for free.

Lois Whitman: Why did you decide to go to China?

Julie Gaynin:
For a while now I have had a growing interest in the “Asian world.” I spent the summer before my Junior year of high school traveling in China and this past year (Junior year) I became very involved with a program called the “Chinatown Literacy Project,” a free ESL class for Chinese immigrants. Then this past summer, I participated in a series of workshops geared at empowering the youth of the Asian American community in New York City. I didn’t actually intend to get so involved in the Chinese community. It just sort of happened. I guess it began with my father’s business trips to China back when I was in sixth grade. He went on average three times a year and each time he would bring back a heavy load of unusual, not to mention bizarre, gifts accompanied by an equally intangible story. Flash forward to high school when I heard from a friend about a company, “Where There Be Dragons,” that runs teenage-led trips to the Far East. Dragons (as the program is referred to) had one particular trip that took youths across China from the West border to the East, exploring the minority cultures and varying landscapes. As I flipped through the brochure I was immediately interested in a particular trip called “Silk Road” (because it traveled along the ancient Silk Road) and in the Spring of my Sophomore year signed up.

LW: What was the trip all about?

JG: The company took students to developing countries in Asia and South America with the premise that introducing young minds to different cultures leads to a more accepting and peaceful relationship between the two cultures.

LW: How long was the trip and what cities did you visit?

JG: The program lasted for six weeks during the summer. We traveled across China beginning in Kashgar and ending in Beijing. In between we saw Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang Province), Dunhuang (an oasis in the Gobi Desert), Lanzhou (Capital of Gansu Province), Xiahe (a small town in the Greater Tibetan Region), Xining (also a small town in the Greater Tibetan Region, yet more commercialized and exploited than Xiahe), Xian (famous for the Terracotta Soldiers) and Beijing. We traveled mostly by overnight trains, though on a few occasions we took very long bus rides. The idea behind this was that we would travel the way the common Chinese man or woman would travel and thus avoid any contribution to the exploitation that tourism has brought to each area. Almost each of the cities that we visited had some sort of attraction that degraded the city. For example, in Kashgar, peasants drank from the sprinklers on the sliver of grass next to the sidewalk because they did not have running water in their own homes. Another example is the Christmas lights that the Government placed on the rooftops of Buddhist monasteries to anger the monks while Tibetan schools lacked essential learning materials.

LW: Who else was on the trip?

JG: The trip was composed of 12 students from all over the U.S. and three leaders. Our leaders were all college graduates who had an interest in travel or East Asian culture. Two of our leaders were fluent in Mandarin, but by mid-way through the trip they pushed us students to navigate on our own and only translated when we were near death.

LW: What was the most memorable part of the trip?

JG: I liked many of the places we traveled to but had especially fond feelings for Kashgar. The city, which is located in Xinjiang Province, is the western most city in all of China. It was a major stop on the historic ancient Silk Road and is the home of the Sunday Market, the largest outdoor market in the world. Kashgar was both the most exciting and the most difficult place to visit. It was the most exotic and different place I had ever been to as well as the most underdeveloped. Many areas of the city were full of poverty and it was a very difficult experience for me. Another thing about Kashgar is that it has a very defining feel to it. Many of the cities that we visited were large, industrial and unattractive. After a while they began to look the same. Kashgar on the other hand had a very vibrant culture, a mixture of Muslim, Indian and Han Chinese that dates back to its beginnings as a crossroads for travelers on the Silk Road.

LW: What is the most vital message you can tell Americans about China?

JG: The thing about China is that it is not all Lucy Lius and Jackie Chans and most Americans do not know this. Of course much of this naivetĂ© comes from the Chinese themselves. The communist government is very tight on all tourist regulations and very strict about keeping visitors inside of the country’s cities. This way, the country’s heavily suppressed minorities and poor inhabitants are kept a secret from outsiders. It is important to realize that what you see in China, or in the media about China, is not what the country is necessarily like. Many stereotypes are fostered by this misrepresentation and the people of China are severely hurt by it. For example, the AIDS epidemic is growing in China at titanic amounts. However, the government denies the extent to which the disease has spread, which means that international organizations that fight the disease have made little effort, compared to what is needed, and more and more people continue to get infected because of this.

LW: How has this trip changed your life?

JG: The Dragons trip did more than just expose me to a new and different culture. It also taught me how to travel off the beaten path of a country in which I do not know the language (or even the exchange rate). They taught me how to be sensitive to a society’s culture, yet also cautious in regard to my safety and personal possessions (passport!). Most importantly they taught me the best time to use each attitude. I would like to say that going to China made me more knowledgeable on Chinese culture and language. Unfortunately it did not. Not really, no. What it did do though was teach me how to be open to different philosophies and viewpoints and how to keep my cool in overwhelming situations.

LW: Would you ever want to go back?

JG: Kashgar is definitely the first place I would go back to if I had the opportunity. China is modernizing so fast that a place in six months would be different from what it originally looked like. For example, when the SARS epidemic broke out, a major hospital for the disease was built in Beijing in just three days. I’d be curious to see how different each of the cities I visited have changed in five years.

LW: Why should Americans want to visit China?

JG: If you’ve ever been to Chinatown you know that Chinese culture stands out against any Western one. More than just a language, history, philosophy, Chinese culture has simply a different way about it. For example, in New York City, if you are walking down a street and asking for directions you might say “Excuse me, can you please tell me where the bank is?” In China, you would just say “Where’s the bank?” People are not as polite. At hotels they have buckets in the halls where people can spit into because spitting is something that the Chinese do publicly. I personally like this style a lot. It is much more honest and although they are blunt, the Chinese people are extremely friendly in a very sincere way. At the same time, the concept of Face is very important in Chinese culture. Face is about reputation and pride. You would never confess that you made a mistake nor would you tell someone that his or her cooking is awful because then he or she would lose Face with you. To lose Face is one of the worst things that can happen to a person in Chinese society. Of course, China does boast some famous tourist sites; The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Terracotta Soldiers, but it is more about visiting a country so different and so powerful.

LW: How will China influence the rest of the world over the next five to 10 years?

JG: In America, we would never believe that our economic success would exist without our Democratic politics. But China proves it doesn’t have to work that way. China’s government is Communist but it has many Capitalist properties. It is industrializing so fast that it literally builds over its past. The Government is very corrupt and it will be interesting to see how it will change as the country becomes more and more economically powerful.

Friday, June 10, 2005

NY Post Andrea Peyser Waits Anxiously For The Michael Jackson Verdict

"I want to go home already," moaned the famous and incredibly witty NY Post columnist to me this afternoon when I called her cell to pitch a story for the Samsung Four Season of Hope gig HWH is involved with this coming Monday night. "I might not make it home this weekend. The jury quits by 2:30pm Pacific Coast Time and there is no indication that they will reach a verdict."

Peyser has been hanging out outside the Santa Maria courtroom all week waiting with thousands of others to find out first hand the fate of the Gloved-One's future. "The crowd is swelling. Everyday more and more fans are showing up. Security is tight and so far everyone is calm. I don’t know what will happen if Michael gets convicted."

Peyser said that everyone is speculating whether the authorities will take him away immediately if he is convicted or he can go home to wait sentencing. "I have said from the beginning that he is not getting totally off."

Unlike most of the crowd waiting, Peyser has an upfront seat in the courtroom to see all the action when the jury come back in. Right now she is hanging out in a coffee shop across the street from the courthouse keeping an eye on the front door.

If the jury returns this afternoon Peyser will attend the Samsung event Monday night. If they don't, blame it on Jackson. He screwed me too.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Torre vs. Me

I just don’t understand how Joe Torre -- a guy who claims he can’t stand confrontations because his father was a mean son-of-a-bitch -- can take these difficult times with George Steinbrenner? I just finished reading a story in the New York Post this morning about how Steinbrenner summoned Torre, General Manager Brian Cashman and Club President Randy Levine to a conference call yesterday because the Yankees have been losing consistently to the Royals, Red Sox and Twins.

Steinbrenner didn’t fire anyone, but he wants answers. If you ever met Torre you know that a meeting like that, even if it is only a telephone conversation, is not going to be his best hour. I have the pleasure of working with him for the Samsung Four Seasons of Hope, a corporate philanthropy program that partners with Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation. HWH has arranged many interviews for Torre promoting the SFSOH cause by talking about the physical and verbal abuse his mother, brothers and sisters endured from Joe’s father.

After 28 years of being in business, I can truly understand the pressure Torre faces now. What I don’t understand is how he copes. I know I freak when a client questions me about strategic decisions, lack of home runs and the way we pitch. And I had the nicest father in the world. What does he say? I wish I could listen to his reasoning, his style, his approach. Maybe I can steal a first base tactic. Steinbrenner must have been ruthless. When reporters questioned Torre about the conversation, all he would say is that The Boss wasn’t happy.

The difference between Torre and I is that he has class all the way. I, on the other hand, become so defensive that I am on the offensive. Let me play out the scenario for you.

Steinbrenner to Torre: “What the hell is going on. You guys are playing like a bunch of third graders. You are losing games to the worst in the league.

Torre to Steinbrenner: “I am not sure what is going on. I can fix the pitching but I am not sure why we are not hitting.”

Lois to Steinbrenner: “How dare you question me. I have been giving you World Series Champions for years. Don’t you ever call my team third graders again. You have no clue what it takes to hit a home run. All you have is a big mouth.”

How long do you think I would last with Steinbrenner? I would have put Billy Martin to shame.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Lockhart Steele visits HWH and is featured in the New York Times

Lockhart Steele, managing editor of Gawker, recently visited HWH PR/New Media to tell us about trends in the industry, blogging do's and don'ts, and the status of blogs as news media.

According to Steele, blogs are fast becoming the PR and marketing tool of choice for savvy companies who want to generate buzz for their product or service. He drew examples from Gawker Media's extensive network of popular blogs to illustrate some of the positives and pitfalls in corporate blogging.

Here are Steele's Do's and Don'ts of Blogging:


  • Be brief
  • Use your own "voice"
  • Be spontaneous
  • Link to other blogs
  • Link to other web content
  • Comment on other peoples' blogs
  • Post pictures
  • Update frequently
  • Be edgy, interesting and entertaining
  • Use common sense when deciding whether or not to post information that might be sensitive, defamatory, inflammatory, in poor taste or just plain illegal


  • Over edit
  • Attempt to publicize your blog by sending an entire entry in a mass e-mail
  • Ramble on for paragraphs without providing links to other information
  • Let your blog languish for weeks without posting

I promise to start following his guidelines soon...

Steele and his Gawker colleagues are featured in an article about blogging in today's New York Times. See it here.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Print Stains on My Fingertips are Starting to Fade

I know a big secret. A lot of people know about it, but few are willing to talk. It could throw the entire newspaper and magazine publishing business into turmoil. Here it is: An increasing number of publication houses are making more money from their online versions than from their print editions. The media won’t publicize this story because it could result in the beginning of the end for many print periodicals.

It started happening last year, but really picked up in the fourth quarter when online advertising became more popular, hip, cutting edge, and savvy. Corporate marketers and the advertising world started experimenting with strategically-placed ads on search engines, newspapers, and magazines, and found very high responses. All of a sudden the ability in a digital publication to dynamically place an automobile ad next to editorial about the car industry became very sexy.

The advertising industry has fallen in love with the concept of buying space next to online stories that are associated with their client. For example, if I was the ad agency for General Motors, I could ask the New York Times to place my client’s ad next to any major or minor automobile story in their business section for a certain period of time. That means if any competitor to my client scores an editorial announcement, General Motors is right there, too, reinforcing its message.

This new means of advertising is driving companies with smaller advertising budgets crazy. Every time they manage to get an editorial hit, they can expect their deep pocket advertising competitors to be right next to them reminding the world of their existence. HWH PR/New Media is getting calls from current clients, former clients, and potential ones asking us if we can help them beat the new system. Two days ago, a client that is in the digital signage business issued a major funding press release. The good news was that it got picked up by their hometown’s online newspaper. The sad news was that their major competitor -- who they have been trying to beat to death for years -- magically displayed their multimedia ad right next to the story.

Advertising tricks like this one, plus so many others, are causing online sales to soar like crazy. Plus, a lot of publishers have privately told me that their costs for printing and distribution are at an all-time high and they’re losing more money than they would ever admit. Digital publications cost relatively little to publish, are much timelier (most publications are issuing minute-to-minute online news with the post time so readers immediately know how fresh the story is), and never run out of editorial space. Stories that used to get cut because of editorial space considerations are now prominently listed in a much more current and fashionable style.

Another major element that is causing the print death of certain publications is the ability to use a search engine for information that we all formerly secured from our print informants. I personally am finding it less and less important to get my decorating magazines by mail each month when all I have to do now is Google “minimalist contemporary furniture” and receive thousands of pages of information. Yes, I still like getting the monthlies, but the need is just not as great. A friend of mine used to rely on his monthly computer mags to tell him the hottest trends for his trade. Now he reads everything online and has cancelled his subscriptions.

The digital frontier has certainly changed the lifespan of print. Many of my friends who told me a year ago that they would never read a newspaper online are now turning on their computer in the morning with their first cup of coffee. The minute publications start to figure out a way they can shut down their print versions without signaling a major negative spin on themselves, you will see a lot of empty spaces on the newsstands.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Desperate Actress

I just can’t imagine what Kirstie Alley and her PR reps were thinking when she created “Fat Actress” (Showtime, Monday, 10 p.m.) It’s one thing to resurrect your career with a comedy about being fat, but it’s another thing all together to portray yourself as being fat, dumb and trashy. I know this new series is not reality TV, but it is semi-autobiographical. Her performance almost makes Anna Nicole Smith look scholarly. Has Kirstie Alley lost her mind?

From my PR perceptive, it’s okay to tell the world you are fat and you can’t stop eating. But why let the world know that you have a trailer park mentality and have no intention of changing? Everyone will think that’s who she really is and assume she just got lucky with Cheers and Look Who’s Talking (1, 2, and 3).

A few years from now, if Kirstie manages to lose some weight, she will look at this series and cringe. I can see it all now… Press releases will be issued -- “Scientology made me do it,” she will scream. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was in some other dimension.”

It might already be too late. Perception is everything and no one will ever forget this. Even the most ardent PR agent is going to have trouble erasing images of Kirstie tossing her weight around, trying to seduce anyone who will look her way and eating anything that is not nailed down.

I also don’t know who advised Jeff Zucker, President of television for NBC Universal, that it was good for his image to appear on this show using the F-word (not fat) after seeing Kirstie for the first time in years. “She is so F-ing Fat,” he repeatedly said (in character) to other NBC executives after meeting with her to discuss a possible TV series. Zucker is supposed to be a man of decorum, smarts, creativity, might -- an award-winning television executive. He looked and acted like he was in the ‘hood.

It upsets me that USA Today and the New York Times gave decent reviews to indecent programming. “Fat Actress” should have had an R rating for Raunchy and Ridiculous. I don’t understand how Robert Bianco of USA Today can compare “Fat Actress” to the partly improvised “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” One is clever; the other is desperate. Someday, Kirstie will understand the difference.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Business Conversations With Lois Whitman And The Guy Who Sees It All

David Silverstein is the CEO of Breakthrough Management Group (BMG), the world's fastest growing Six Sigma* training and consulting firm. BMG clients include Johnson & Johnson, Fidelity Investments, Siemens, Borg-Warner and Qwest Communications.

I have always wanted to do this -- share information that I’ve learned from my many business partners/associates/clients over the last 39 years. But I never had a platform before. Sure, I wrote for business publications and some Internet sites, but I had to fit into their standards.

I get around. I ask questions and touch on topics only close friends would dare to probe.

David was willing to give me the lowdown on corporate America. He visits more companies around the world than most business people. He gets very close to business leaders, hears their woes, and counsels them on business performance and innovations.

He looks like Lance Armstrong, speaks and thinks like Jack Welch, and interrupts business kind of like Jon Stewart does our government.

First sound bite from David: “Most senior executives today are not good strategic planners.” Ouch, do you really mean that? “There is a big difference between being a strategic thinker and a strategic planner. Strategic thinking means, ‘I have great ideas and I can see where to go.’ Strategic planning means, ‘I know how to put them into place to get where I want to go.”

David said most executives are missing core competencies today to be effective. The business landscape is changing so fast because of technology and globalization. Executives, he said, think they are learning every day because they sit in meetings, go to conventions, attend seminars, and read their journals. “That’s information gathering. It is impossible for them to process information they get today based on their education 20 to 30 years ago. They haven’t updated their ability to process the information and develop new skills.”

David’s remedy is to get senior executives back in the classroom. A formal education once in a lifetime is just not enough in today’s world. He feels we all need formal training every 10 years in order to have the skill sets needed to lead. “Fifteen years ago, most of us didn’t have a PC on our desk. Just look how the world has changed.”

In a Jon Stewart ”Moment of Zen,” David chuckles that many leaders still don’t have a PC on their desk and their assistants print out their emails.
For all of you who have never heard of Six Sigma, will never go back to a classroom of any kind, and are happy with the status quo, I got David to tell me eight salient points of business today.

1) Systems Literacy or Systems Thinking -- how to see a business as a complex system where all the parts are intertwined.

2) Processed Thinking

3) Strategic Planning

4) Product and Processed Design

5) Best Practice Discernment -- the ability to discern what is right for you

6) Learn To Think In Terms of Probabilities Versus Certainties

7) Strategic Structural Problem Solving

8) Culture Building By Design, Not Happenstance

I wanted to put David’s jargon to the test. What happened to Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard? Where did she go wrong?

“Carly was a gambler, not a risk taker. As a gambler, Carly played for the upside. It wasn’t her company. What did it really cost her if she failed? There were big financial rewards for her if it all worked out. It could have made her a billionaire. A good risk manager would have seen the imbalances between the upside return the downside risk. In the case of HP buying Compaq, the downside risk was far greater than the upside return. She gambled and lost. The downside was just too overwhelming. Carly was a great strategic thinker, not a great strategic planner. It is all about execution.”

Thanks, David, for your learned thoughts and for sharing them with us for free.

*Six Sigma means something different to every company. For some, Six Sigma is a total management philosophy, for others it is simply a process improvement effort designed to increase productivity and reduce costs. In its most simple sense, Six Sigma is a highly disciplined approach to decision making that helps people focus on improving processes to make them as near perfect as possible. The term “Six Sigma” relates to the number of mathematical defects in a process. Six Sigma practitioners focus on systematically eliminating the defects so they can get as close to “zero defects” as possible. If done properly, Six Sigma ensures that internal processes are running at optimum efficiency.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Spread The Word -- Pay For Play Is Not Reality TV

Just the other day, the New York Times ran a story by Anne Kornblut saying that David M. Walker, Chief of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a widespread warning that Federal Agencies may not produce newscasts promoting administration policies without clearly stating that the government paid for the program. The government is doing something about it, and now it is time for corporate America to say, “No!” to sponsoring phony TV news broadcasts.

“Prepackaged news stories," Walker explained, "can be utilized without violating the law, so long as there is clear disclosure to the television viewing audience that this material was prepared by or in cooperation with the government department or agency."

Bravo, Mr. Walker for letting Americans know that twice in the last two years, agencies of the federal government have been caught distributing prepackaged television programs that used paid spokesmen acting as newscasters and, in violation of federal law, failed to disclose the administration's role in developing and financing them. What this means is that Federal Agencies produced a TV show that looked like a news program but was actually a pre-paid video news release that was distributed to stations across the country. The two cases referred to by the GAO concerned the new Medicare law and an anti-drug campaign by the Bush administration. Now who is going to police Corporate America?

More and more, PR agencies and the clients themselves are looking for a quick fix to their publicity programs by paying anywhere from $25,000 to $150,000 to be a part of a phony TV newscast or a bogus TV feature that will provide significant exposure to their products or services. These productions are not done by legit editorial people who get paid by the networks to have unbiased opinions but rather by video production houses that know how to mimic the real thing. Many times the video production studios will even hire the likes of Morley Safer or Michael Douglas to act as hosts of their shows... I often wonder if these notables realize that appearing in one of these fake programs could mean the kiss of death to their careers.

These practices have been around for years and the phone calls from the 561 area code -- where a lot of these corporate video production companies reside -- seem to be creeping up more and more. Every day I get a call from a 561 area code video production company telling me that one of my clients is being considered for a feature story on hot new products for a holiday gift-giving segments. I get a good laugh when they twist the words about being considered. Instead of just coming right out and saying that for X amount of money the product will get top billing, the production houses pretend that there is an editorial consideration.

Boy, are they slick. Their pitch almost sounds like the real thing. Very tempting. But this old war horse has seen it all and pre-paid programs are no substitution for the real thing. Shame on PR agencies who try to pass this off to clients as true editorial placements, and shame on corporations who are so desperate for editorial coverage that they will pay their way to try to fool the American public.

I am happy to report that the American viewing public gets the last laugh. Most of the pre-paid TV news and feature stories never see prime time no matter how much the video production companies swear they have major viewing audiences. Most of their programs run in the middle of the night, in cities no one has ever heard of -- or in a lot of cases they do not run at all. There is a happy side to this that could satisfy their egos: Sad sack corporations or desperate PR agencies can pretend that they received quality coverage because they are furnished with DVDs of the program, which they can show to shareholders and/or clients. All they have to say is, “Here is a copy of that program that I told you we were featured on.”

Spread the word: “It is not real!”

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A Friendlier New York Is No Surprise To This Native

How can you be in PR -- based in New York, no less -- without commenting on "The Gates" in Central Park? I want to tell you what I think, considering I’ve been in public relations for almost 30 years representing anyone and anything from painters, authors and start ups to large corporations that rank in the top 10 in the world. I am also a New Yorker who grew up in Queens for my first 26 years, and have been right here in Manhattan for longer than that.

Anything that gets New Yorkers to smile at each other and talk about the abstract is a good thing – not to mention something that brings in the bridge and tunnel crowd on a weekend when they could be snuggled at home in front of the boob tube while their fireplace crackles away. I love it when you walk down the street and people smile at you, wave if you’re walking the same kind of dog, or go out of their way to hold the door for you. It just makes me feel so good.

Friendly gestures are really what New York is all about. It never amazes me when people visiting from other cities tell me how friendly New Yawkers are. I get a personal thrill when I see people from all walks of life -- tall, short, fat, thin, old and young -- helping each other out on the simple things in life. It was much more evident right after 9/11 when everyone in and around New York united against the enemy, the terrorists. Every cabbie, doorman, truck driver and traffic cop set the tone by wishing you well, bidding you good day, and giving you an acknowledging nod of “we are one” that made this place so special. Now, a few years later, we still have some of that, but people get caught up in their own preoccupations that make cheeriness something difficult to sustain on a regular basis.

Yesterday, I felt some of that underlining unification as thousands upon thousands of people came out to see “The Gates,” which are comprised of 7,500, 16-foot tall gates that hold panels of orange-colored pleated nylon swaying along the 23 miles of walkway in Central Park. The streets surrounding the park, as well as the walkways themselves, were jam-packed with diverse groups of people sharing comments on the artwork, their journey into New York, where they were going to eat, what they were going to buy the kids, and what else of value was to see near or around the area. People who never would have talked to each other found a common ground for discussion.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude call "The Gates" as much a public happening as it is a vast environmental sculpture and a feat of engineering. It has required more than 1 million square feet of vinyl and 5,300 tons of steel throughout the park at a cost of $20 million that they financed themselves. The artists love the fact that the crowds are talking about the art and talking to each other.

New York is all about getting things you can’t get anyplace else. I like the idea that we should be the city of smiles and congeniality. It is good PR for the city and it makes us feel good too.

Read what the NY Post has to say.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Trump fails to recognize the miracles of PR

I just opened the January 31st issue of PR Week to page 13, and after seeing a big picture of NY Mets superstar Mike Piazza signing autographs on boxes of Proctor & Gamble’s Crest Vanilla Mint Toothpaste for Team Apex on last season’s The Apprentice, I am angry all over again. What angers me so much is that the team lost the task even though they managed – in a very short period of time – to secure a major personality who agreed to brush his teeth at the public launch of this brand in front of a chanting crowd in Manhattan’s Union Square Park. Not only did he brush his teeth, he said out loud for the camera crews, newspaper reporters, and bloggers like to me to hear that he has been using Crest toothpaste all his life, never had a cavity, and liked the taste of this new toothpaste. He then greeted the thousands of fans who gathered around, signed autographs on promotional fliers and boxes of toothpaste that were given out at the event.

You just can’t put a dollar amount on this kind of publicity that is still making print and broadcast news months and months after the event took place. I want to remind everyone that Mike Piazza is not a full time pitchman for Crest nor does he get paid millions of dollars for endorsing the toothpaste. This was a one-shot deal for $20,000. Most celebs with his cache won’t even cross the street for that little money. I might add, many seasoned marketers that I meet in the business wouldn’t know how to hook Piazza without a big check and wouldn’t even be able to create such a great hook for the launch.

It was a genius marketing idea that even Team Apex had no idea would blossom this way. Yet, they had a strategy in mind and developed a concept in such a way that it allowed miracles to happen. That, my friends, is what great marketing is all about. Not to recognize this coup on prime time TV, and not to underscore the value it brought to Crest’s Vanilla Mint Toothpaste forever and ever, is just as dumb as marrying the woman who publicly told your wife on the slopes of Vail that you had been sleeping with her for years and the sex was the best she ever had. Just what are you thinking, Mr. Trump?

You bill yourself as Mr. PR, the comeback kid who just keeps getting richer and richer. Every idea of yours, every piece of property you develop, every woman you marry is supposed to be the pinnacle of greatness. How much did all of that cost you? Certainly not as little as the $5,000 Apex went over in the $50,000 budget you established to create a buzz for the new toothpaste. Yes, that is 10 per cent overdraw, but give me a break. You awarded the other team, Mosaic, with dinner on the Queen Mary 2 because they stayed within the budget.

I bet if you asked most of your viewers what the Mosaic team did to earn that reward, most would not remember. Let me recall the winning concept for all of my readers who can’t remember either. Mosaic gave away three $5,000 prizes in a circus-like atmosphere populated with fire-eaters, stilt-walkers and jugglers. Yes a crowd gathered, in Washington Square Park, but not nearly as many who jammed in to meet and greet with Mike Piazza. I dare you to ask any of the park goers that day what the event was for and they wouldn’t have a clue.

Let’s review why the Apex team went over budget. Some no name printer bullied them into over-time charges for printing the promotional flyers for the rush job. Apex asked the printer for a price when they commissioned the work, but the printer said he wasn’t sure. If the Apex team handled their finances in Trump-style they would have told the printer to take a hike on some of the inflated costs and stayed within budget. That is the real world, Mr. Trump, and you should know it because you created it and that is exactly the way you do business.

When I wrote a letter to George Ross (the corpse who sits beside you on each episode) complaining about Apex’s raw deal, he wrote back tersely that they went over budget and that was that. I am going to Google Mr. Ross to see if he ever had an entrepreneurial job, or is he just talented as your “yes” man? And to the two P&G executives who appeared on that segment of The Apprentice and who agreed with your decision, I say, “Thank your lucky stars that you can hide under the P&G brand.”