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PR Tips for Prima Donnas (You Know Who You Are)

Good publicity is like free advertising, although we all recognize publicity isn't really free. In most cases you have to work at it to get it.

Well, at least most people recognize that.

But then there are those folks who don't get it, and they end up sabotaging great public relations opportunities.

Case in point (and cautionary tale for anyone seeking PR):

A while back I was ghostwriting a book, and my client's publisher lined up a prominent mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter -- sorry, I can't say who -- to "write" the introduction, partly for content and partly for promotional purposes. (Think Howard Stern's foreword to Artie Lange's Too Fat to Fish and you get the idea: Great name recognition, potential sales boost.)

The call was scheduled for 10 a.m. Then it got complicated.

Since he's famous, at least in the sports and MMA world, he tries to keep his phone number private. Some amount of contact protocol makes sense.

"Some" turned out to be an understatement:

  • 9:00: I received an email containing instructions, a phone number, and a code word.
  • 9:01: I texted the code word to the phone number.
  • 9:05: I got a return text instructing me to "hang tight." I spent the next five minutes considering how many other ways there are to "hang." I came up with "loose" and "tough" and "in there."
  • 9:10: The book's editor called. She was told to verify that I had sent the text instead of a deranged fan, even though in order to send the text a deranged fan would need to: 1) know I exist (good luck with that), 2) break into my office, 3) subdue me (no luck required), 4) pet the office dog (that's her nickname; she insists visitors pay proper homage), 5) read the email, 6) find my cell phone (good luck with that too), 7) send the text, and 8) find and distribute dog treats (the office dog would definitely insist).
  • 9:15: I ended the call after successfully convincing the editor that I am, in fact, me. (We also quickly discussed about another project. Editors are the kings and queens of multitasking.)
  • 9:20: I received an email from a different email account, instructing me to send a text with a different code word to a different phone.
  • 9:30: I received a call from a gentleman who wanted to know what I planned to ask when I talked to the fighter. I had already provided a written overview, but hey, no problem. He seemed satisfied with my answer, assuming pregnant pauses and lots of thoughtful sounding "hmm"s indicate satisfaction.
  • 9:40: I identified a massive breakdown in security protocol: No one called to verify it was me who sent the second text to the second phone!
  • 9:45: "Mr. Hmmm" called back to ask if I would ghostwrite a book for him.
  • 9:46: I decided "Mr. Hmm" was probably not a trained, experienced, highly competent security professional.
  • 9:50: I received a call from the fighter's manager. He gave me a number to call at 10:03, no earlier, no later. He also asked that we synchronize watches, albeit symbolically since I don't own a watch. (But it was still fun.)
  • 10:03: I made the call. No answer, no voice mail. At 10:04 I called again. (Maybe the fighter's watch wasn't synchronized with ours?) Nothing. Tried a few more times. Ring city.
  • 10:30: I called the manager back. "How did you get this number?" he yelled.
  • 10:30:05: I replied, "Umm... you called me from it."
  • 10:30:10: He said he would try to hook me up with his fighter at another time. Then he asked what incentives I could provide to make sure that would happen. I indicated the office dog makes a great if sometimes insistent companion.
  • 10:32: We talked for twenty minutes about the possibility of a book project for one of his other fighters.
Despite more effort on the publisher's part, we never did connect. Eventually I came up with a different idea for the introduction and as it turned out I think the book is the better for it. But we'll never know. And we'll never know what exposure to a different audience would have done for him, especially since capitalizing on every opportunity is incredibly important in an industry where the average career lasts a handful of years.

If you want publicity, work at it like it's your job. Treat the other party involved the same way you treat your customers. Be prompt. Be courteous. Follow through. Make the process as easy as possible.

Even if you agree to participate as a favor, you always receive something in return.

Photo courtesy flickr user pinopic, CC 2.0

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