November 27, 2012
Good PR Gone Bad: A Cautionary Tale

Good publicity is like free advertising, although publicity isn’t really free. Most people realize you have to work for it to get it.

But there are people who don’t, and they end up sabotaging great public relations opportunities.

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

I was ghostwriting a book and my client’s publisher lined up a prominent mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter to “write” the introduction, partly for content and partly for promotional purposes. (Great name recognition equals potentially great sales.)

Since I would actually write the intro, the publisher lined up a 10 a.m. call for me to chat with the fighter. Since he’s famous – at least within the sports world – and understandably tries to keep his phone number private, following some degree of contact protocol made sense.

It turned out “some” was an understatement. Here’s how it went:

9:00 a.m.: 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 received a return text instructing me to “hang.” I spent a few five minutes considering how many other ways there are to hang. I came up with “tight” and “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 for that), 4) pet the office dog (that’s her nickname; she insists visitors pay proper homage), 5) read the instructions email, 6) find my cell phone (good luck with that too), 7) send the text, and 8) find and pass out dog treats (the office dog would insist).

9:15: I ended the call after successfully convincing the editor that I am, in fact, me. (We also briefly discussed 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. I did.

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 answers, assuming lots of pregnant pauses and thoughtful sounding “hmm”s are a reliable indication of satisfaction.

9:40: I identified a massive breakdown in security protocol: No one called to verify that it was, in fact, me who sent the second text to the second phone!

9:45: “Mr. Hmm” called back wondering if I would ghostwrite a book for him.

9:46: I decided “Mr. Hmm” was probably not a 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 to pretend.)

10:03: I made the call. No answer, no voicemail. 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 the number for this phone?” he yelled.

10:30:05: I replied, “Umm… you called me from it and I have caller ID.”

10:30:10: Silence.

10:30:20: He said he would need to get me in touch with his fighter some other 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 snack-insistent, companion.

10:32: We talked about the possibility of a book project for one of his other fighters.

Despite more effort on the publisher’s part I never did manage to connect with the fighter.  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 some exposure to a different audience might have done for the fighter:  Maybe a lot, maybe not much… but since capitalizing on every opportunity is incredibly important in an industry where the average career lasts just a handful of years, he did miss out on an opportunity.

Make sure you don’t miss out on opportunities. 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 though courtesy is its own reward, you never know what you might receive in return.