The following is an excerpt from “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations,” the new book from Ronn Torossian, CEO and founder of 5WPR.
I was up early, as usual. The night before, I’d put the finishing touches on a client’s New York announcement of a foreign Initial Public Offering (IPO). It had been a monumental affair. The weeks leading up to this day were packed with creating the right messages, drafting and redrafting marketing materials, media training, synthesizing financials into plain English, writing press releases, and scheduling press interviews. For the past two nights, the CEO and I had worked well past midnight, and now everything was in place for the IPO announcement. We were confident it was going to be a great day.
My BlackBerry started buzzing just past 6 a.m. This isn’t unusual; early morning (or late night) calls from staff or clients are par for the course. PR doesn’t end at 5 p.m. and begin at 9 a.m. the next day. This anxious call was no different than dozens of others I’d received over the years.
“Ronn, did you read the paper yet?”
“Well, read it now and call me back. Now. Now.”
There it was, in bold print, a major story about a labor-related lawsuit filed against another client, one that had clearly been planted by someone with an agenda against his company. No wonder he was calling at dawn. If it wasn’t handled properly, the lawsuit and accompanying media would have a very negative effect on his business. Okay. I had three hours until my 9 a.m. appointment at a top-tier newspaper’s office with the IPO client for a Q&A followed by daylong, back-to-back national and international media interviews. He was ready—we had worked through the many potential questions, and his answers were as close to flawless as they were going to get.
After a quick conference call with the crisis client’s corporate attorneys, I began drafting a press release for him on the way to the IPO Q&A trading edits and comments with the client and his attorneys on my BlackBerry. When I picked up my IPO client at his hotel, he was in a cheery mood because the overseas markets had opened with a healthy uptick. Good. I felt comfortable telling him that I had a crisis brewing without revealing any details. Still in the car, I continued the back-and-forth with the crisis client’s attorney while my IPO client looked over his notes. Finally, the attorney signed off on the statement with a few final edits, and my client let me fly with what I had. I hit the “send” button on my BlackBerry, and our position on the matter was out the door and on its way to reporters.
Waiting for the first interview of the day for the IPO client, I took a call from a senior staff member who had tried to reach me three times in 15 minutes. That must be some sort of record, so I knew it had to be important. I couldn’t ignore the call anymore.
“Ronn, do you want to spend time today with Muhammad Ali? He’s in town.”
At the time we were representing Ali’s daughter Rasheda. She was in New York to promote her children’s book on Parkinson’s disease. Rasheda wanted to surprise her dad with something different—no easy task for a man who’s done it all, but we pulled it off. One of my employees at the time was friendly with the cast of The Sopranos. Ali was a fan of the show, so we arranged for him to visit the set while they were shooting an episode—but with a twist. At a point when Michael Imperioli, who played Tony Soprano’s nephew, Christopher, was supposed to walk on for a dramatic scene to meet the Mafia Boss, Tony Soprano, Ali walked on instead. With cameras rolling, actor James Gandolfini erupted in laughter and awe. He was surprised, to say the least. The entire cast gave Ali two standing ovations.
And me? I made it just in time to see the reaction to Ali’s walk-on, after completing the daylong IPO media tour and inviting the exhausted CEO to join me on the set (he declined). A framed picture of Muhammad Ali and me still frantically working my Blackberry in a Lincoln Town Car sits in my office as a reminder of the day. As for my other client’s crisis? No longer negative by day’s end; it was not going to be a major story in the next day’s media. With our press release and a few strategically placed blog items stating our position, we were able to spin the story to our advantage. After seeing our statements, the other side’s lawyers decided mediation was necessary. They wouldn’t debate the issue further in the media. The IPO media tour? The interviews went amazingly well, without any hitches, the IPO CEO remains a friend. It’s a running joke between us that he turned down the offer to spend the afternoon on the set of The Sopranos with Muhammad Ali to take a few investor calls.
Another day in the life of running a PR agency.
From the book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” by Ronn Torossian. Copyright © 2011 Ronn Torossian.
Click here to buy the book.