A Forbes Magazine cover story is one of the most coveted media placements in public relations.
Most PR practitioners go their entire careers without landing one.
I still haven’t. However, there is the one that got away…
One time in my career…I actually had a client turn down a Forbes print cover article.
Yes, you read that correctly.
He had no good reason.
He wasn’t going to be indicted for a crime or hiding any financial impropriety. At least, I don’t think so.
He was just being another idiot although I must admit this idiocy reached a new low in my career. I am used to having my ass busted for not securing media opportunities like this.
Naturally, he was my boss Lulu’s favorite client, an emerging company in the housewares market. She built her firm on his company’s unlikely success story.
Yet our client was still overshadowed by older and more well-established brands in the housewares space. Frankly, our client needed this kind of national media.
However, a few months before, this same CEO, who I will call Rob Walker, was interviewed for an industry Wall Street Journal article and wasn’t all that impressed.
That should have been a sign of trouble ahead.
What’s worse is that I worked on landing this Forbes cover story for six months.
I reached out to business writer Rex Terrell with a pitch that Lulu actually rejected. Also, the pitch wasn’t favored by the uptight, paper pusher named Molly Paulson that managed the account for our agency. I will write more about Molly in a future blog.
They again didn’t like me focusing on how the company’s CEO built the company into a billion-dollar company through infomercials and hocking his homemade housewares products at trade shows.
As usual, Lulu and my colleagues were clueless.
It took repeated follow up and staying in touch with Rex for months to make this story opportunity happen.
When Rex finally gave the word that he was planning a cover profile I was so elated. Lulu, Molly, and our team were excited as well. At least, they seemed to be.
Now, this media breakthrough came after months of Lulu verbally attacking our team in “media relations beatdowns” over this account. We drafted many different pitches about our client’s business story, but no one on the team could land any top tier interest except myself.
However, our client was strangely indifferent to the Forbes cover opportunity.
Nicole Williams, one of our client’s communications directors, sounded pleased, but she also seemed disappointed as well. This as we later found out was because she was trying to get the CEO to fire us and hire her friend that had a competing firm. We actually discovered that Nicole (and the CEO) had already secretly hired our competitors, but they couldn’t land anything like Forbes.
So naturally, Nicole also proved no help when the opportunity went south.
Also, Nicole told us that the CEO seemed nervous that the profile could expose a troubled family past at the root of his company. Actually, he had broken away from his family’s business to start his own. His business had become more successful than his family’s business causing a rift between him and his relatives. He was estranged from them and didn’t want them included in the article.
I explained this to the writer Rex and he seemed OK with this.
However, Rex wanted to fly out to the company’s Chicago area headquarters and spend a day at the company, which would include lengthy interviews with the CEO, company VP, and other top directors. He essentially wanted to develop a day in the life profile of our client’s company.
Nicole said the CEO and everyone else was OK with it and were excited to spend time with Rex telling the company story.
I must confess I had visions of a Forbes cover story eventually being featured on my Linked IN profile and as part of my portfolio (and to eventually help me escape Lulu’s hell).
So, imagine my frustration and anguish went all of my hard work went to waste.
I had to inform him on the day of the interview that the CEO was having second thoughts and was seriously considering canceling the interview.
Unfortunately, Rex had already taken a flight from New York and arrived in Chicago the day before the scheduled interview.
Nicole told our team that the CEO couldn’t spend the whole day with Rex and he was nervous about him talking to the rest of his team.
She said he could only spend 90 minutes with Rex.
“Our CEO never spends that much time with anyone let alone a Forbes writer,” Nicole said. “He is also worried about him asking too many questions about his family and his past.”
I assured her that wouldn’t be the case, but the CEO wouldn’t change his mind and spend the day with Rex.
What the fuck is a day to put your brand on the map with a cover story on the most respected financial publication in the world?
Ahh…then I realized once again I was working in bush leagues with fake, scared business people that had no bold vision. Not the first and nor the last time I am afraid.
I was mortified when I had to tell Rex that he could only interview the company’s CEO for 90 minutes and he couldn’t spend the day at the company’s headquarters and speak with the rest of the team.
Rex was furious.
“Ninety minutes? I need more time than that with the CEO and his team,” he said. “This is a cover story and I want to get a feel for how the company operates during a day. I need more time. Can’t you ask him to reconsider? This is a Forbes cover story. I flew all the way out here from New York to see him.”
I told him I would try again, but Nicole told us the CEO wouldn’t change this mind and spend more time with Rex.
I don’t think Nicole cared either way and she didn’t push the CEO to do the story because she wanted her friend’s firm to take over our client’s business pitching exclusively.
Lulu and Molly also proved little or no help either in saving the story. Lulu, who had a long relationship with the CEO, could have picked up the phone and tried to convince him but was afraid to go over Nicole’s head and maybe lose the entire PR account business as we also did product PR outreach for the company.
This opportunity hardly mattered to Nicole who was already trying to sabotage the story and our firm’s standing with the company.
I was beyond embarrassed and pissed when I had to go back to Rex and let him know the CEO wouldn’t give him more time.
I apologized profusely, but he was not happy. How you could blame him?
We acted like fucking amateurs and wasted his time.
Rex angrily went back to New York and had to inform his editors who canceled the story.
After all that work, we were left with nothing.
In the ensuing months, Lulu got annoyed if I even mentioned this Forbes debacle.
In fact, if I had been really bold and had balls, I would quit in protest over this latest sorry episode at our agency, but unfortunately, I still needed the paycheck. In retrospect, truly no paycheck or amount of money is worth this kind of hell.
Sadly, Lulu continued to push our team to secure business stories and I would tell her and team that we had a Forbes cover and they turned it down.
We were not going to get a business story opportunity better than that.
Lulu and the rest of the team knew this, but they wouldn’t admit it.
Still, Lulu pushed the team to send out more business pitches on behalf of the client, but we were never able to match the opportunity I secured.
Also, after that, I only went through the motions and pretended to care about getting any more business opportunities for this loser CEO.
In an ironic twist, we were fired from the account’s business media outreach shortly after.
In the end, the damage had been done with the writer.
Rex never trusted me after that and ignored my future pitches even when he left Forbes for another business publication.
Do you blame him?