When is PR not really PR?

My friend Dennis Erokan and his wife Lori have been reading these posts, and I really appreciate his comments.  Dennis published BAM, the music magazine of Northern California (and eventually Southern California) when we really were the music scene and very ambitiously held the Bammies every year which was a really entertaining version of the Grammies, and many great performers showed up.  At the last one I saw even Tim Russert was there.

So Dennis has his blog and website (placemakinggroup.com), and I suggest you check it out if you really want to learn to do this thing properly.  I never did and I think it is too late to start now.

I learned early with Roller Derby that you had to reach a target audience for whatever it is that you are doing.  And what you are sending out had better be of interest to that audience.  We found out early on that it was a waste to send information to the sports editors (on the whole) as they had a holier-than-thou reaction to anything to do with Roller Derby (with the exception of the Twiggy stunt I referred to in the earlier blog).  So we would try and get features on our skaters, especially when going into a city for the first time.   And sometimes we even fudged a bit:  a jammer would find out that he or she was born near Topeka, Kansas, when in reality he came from Saskatchewan (they talk the same)

In the Bay Area, we actually were quite friendly with the sports editors of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune, and they would list our schedules and game results.  In fact, the Oakland Tribune suggested to Frank Deford when he came to Oakland to do a story for Sports Illustrated on the teams of Oakland that he see us, and he did and wrote a long and wonderful piece on Roller Derby for Sports Illustrated (15 pages!) which became the basis of his book, “Five Strides on the Banked Track”.  And later on he suggested to Wayne Valley, the then majority owner of the Oakland Raiders, that they have me head the group of American Football League owners who wanted to by the Oakland Seals National Hockey League team (NHL turned us down, gave it to Charlie Finley, it folded within two years).

We would continually contact the media, offer them tickets for our games even though we knew the staffers or pressmen would come and never ask them for anything.  Each year when we had our Championship Playoffs and sold out the Oakland Coliseum Arena and the Cow Palace (almost 30.000 in total), we would have dinner in each facility and send gold tickets to the media.  They were impressed, and even if they did not give us press then, we know we could get something later.

Press releases were often written in the Herb Michelson style, which I described earlier, so we knew that they had a better chance of getting read.  Sometimes we would put strange headlines on them so they wouldn’t get thrown away. One thing I insisted on; in all press releases would have complete game information, including ticket sale locations, phone numbers, etc.  I had one woman who had handled press for Macy’s who argued with me that ticket information shouldn’t be in a release as they would just delete it.  I told her that was the decision of the publication and not hers, and more often than not when we would get copies of the articles from the bureau we hired (no computers, no google). All the information would be in because the editors were to lazy to take it out and maybe they had more space to fill that day.  (Seltzer principle:  put everything in, let others decide what not to use)

Mere mentions on media are not sufficient PR, although often the PR agencies would try to convince their clients that they are.  I always insisted with Roller Derby or the Ticket Companies, that if we were providing people for interviews or tickets for giveaway, all the information for the game, etc be given on the air.  And it is so necessary to prepare the people who you are sending on the interviews.  They are often so anxious to answer the questions and talk about themselves that they forget why they are there.  I would write down what they must say and they shouldn’t bother to come back if they didn’t.  Ann Calvello and Joan Weston were the worst initially because they were so interesting to the interviewer and they were able to talk about everything (except the game!);  eventually both could do these things in their sleep and really promote.  And we always volunteered skaters for PBS auctions, for daytime shows on local TV, etc.  I never cared what question I was asked, I would say “Yes, Jim and don’t forget our big game this Saturday”……..

When we were in the ticket business (BASS, Ticketmaster) we actually had even more leverage.  We had information we could pass on to the media;  for the more influential ones we would get tickets for them even after the promoters or teams had given them their limit (we paid for them of course).  We never asked them to help us all the time, but when we really needed a favor, we would go to the media and most times they would cooperate.  Of course if they didn’t, extra tickets were harder to come by.  We never abused the relationships as they can get upset with you if you are constantly pestering them and asking for coverage.

What Dennis can really help anyone who wants to learn effective PR is what to send out and to whom.  Often PR people try to flatter executives  in companies who have hired them by writing profiles on them and sending them out.  Frankly who cares?  If it doesn’t sell widgets or doesn’t create goodwill or be interesting enough to be utilized, they are having smoke blown up etc.

I used guerilla marketing before I even knew what it was.  When we would send our advance man out ahead of our tour to try to stir up media coverage (remember, 95% of our ticket sales came as a result of our television program), I would give him a hundred dollars, authorize him for ticket giveaways, interviews, personal appearances, etc, but told him if he spent the hundred dollars at the radio station, he would be fired (well, not literally…..sometimes we could get amazing packages that not only involved interviews, but match races between the disc jockeys which they would promote endlessly).  And we expected our local TV outlet who had our show on to support us.   Often times, we would offer them 10% of our gate if they turned the station over to us and ran an agreed upon amount of television spots; believe me, it worked.  We tried never to turn anything down that would help.

We never spent any money on a radio station anywhere unless they agreed to give us a number of free promotional spots and me.  We were rarely disappointed.

To summarize, write well (and funny when you can), keep media happy,  push them as hard as you can (you can always back off) and the more you are involved and know your business, even if you hire an agency, you determine what goes out and to whom and what you want and don’t blame someone else for lack of results.

I think I have told you almost all my secrets, except the really important ones.

4 comments on “When is PR not really PR?

  1. Thanks for taking the time to share these memories with us, Jerry. I am really enjoying your blog entries very much.

    Obviously, no one can tell us what your experiences were like from your perspective better than you yourself can.

    Please keep sharing~it’s better than an ebook!

    Rose Colombo

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