The Mormon Backstabber

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I have to admit Liam Call was one of the most talented interns to work for me during my career.

As I had mentioned previously, Liam was a strong writer and showed a great deal of promise in media relations. In fact, he was a better writer than most of the more experienced executives at our agency. I appreciated his help a great deal at our agency’s L.A. office.

Liam also showed enthusiasm to learn more about PR. Yet, as with all of our interns, his enthusiasm eventually waned, as he discovered the full nightmarish nature of Lulu and her pathetic agency.

On the surface, Liam seemed the perfect intern, as he never complained and even worked late. I had no qualms about going to bat for Liam to urge Lulu and Miriam to hire him as I detailed in the previous chapter.

Sadly, even Liam proved ultimately a disappointment, and my private nickname for him was the Mormon Backstabber.

Liam’s clean-cut appearance belied a darker, disloyal side.

He was a tall, a little over six foot, skinny and gawky 24-year-old from Salt Lake City.

Liam actually reminded me of a skinnier version of the TV character of Kenneth, the NBC page, on the sitcom, 30 Rock.

Liam really laid on his sincere Mormon bullshit thick with a fake smile and sincerity.

Let me get this straight — I had nothing against his religious beliefs. I just feel that like politics, there is no place for religion in the workplace. It is potentially divisive.

A couple of times, Liam tried to push some Mormon propaganda films on me and even suggested a historical book about the Mormon Church, but after I told him I wasn’t interested, Liam kept his religious beliefs to himself.

Liam seemed to have a good sense of humor and was smart, but honestly, we had little or nothing in common. I also knew when I occasionally used profanity in response to Lulu’s craziness, it bothered him and he secretly hated it.

My main criticism of Liam’s work was that sometimes he would not listen to my instructions on an assignment and do his own thing, pissing off Lulu or our client. I yelled at him a couple of times as a result and later regretted it. I always hated it when my bosses yelled at me, and now, I did the same to Liam.

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Liam admitted to me late in his time at our agency that he had panic attacks. One morning he came in late and revealed to me that he had a panic attack and couldn’t get out of bed.

I told him that all the stress and responsibility was on me at the L.A. office and that he had nothing to worry about. I now realize that was the wrong approach as panic attacks go way beyond work stress. It could be a deeper psychological condition stemming from his family situation or home life.

I believe now that Liam resented the stress he was under at work and felt I was abusing him because of my profanity and occasional outbursts. Liam mentioned several times that I reminded him of a boss he had when he worked on a presidential campaign that used to curse him out and then I felt even worse.

Still, I never suspected for a long time that Liam was bad mouthing me behind my back, but I eventually realized, there was no denying it.

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My first sign that something was up involved a young blonde woman in her mid-twenties, who worked at a law firm that we shared our offices with. She was friendly initially toward me, but after I saw Liam speaking with her a couple of times, her attitude completely changed. She used to greet me with a hello and smile, and now she ignored me and even gave me a dirty look.

I got the same reaction from an African woman, who worked a couple of offices down from ours. She was also friendly toward me until I saw her speaking with Liam.

Soon after, the African woman started giving me hostile looks and would avoid me like I had the plague when she walked past me in the hall. One time, I held the elevator door open for her, and she walked past without even acknowledging me.

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I have to also mention that Liam was in the middle of a divorce, and must have imagined himself as a ladies’ man as he was talking to most of the women in our office. So, you can imagine how I was hated by almost every woman on our office floor because of Liam’s backstabbing and they didn’t even know me.

Liam’s garrulous nature truly hid an ugly, backstabbing soul.

I am not sure if Liam tried his backstabbing bullshit with my co-workers at our agency, as he knew they already hated him from his review. I initially thought my colleagues despised him to get back at me, but I think it went further than that.

Liam’s backstabbing ways showed up again during one of the final work events he helped me with. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, Liam and I had to support an early morning satellite TV tour for our housewares client. Everything went well initially until I noticed Liam speaking privately to several of the support staff at the satellite studio. As the tour went on, these employees became standoffish and unfriendly toward me. It started to impact my ability to do my job. They had suddenly lost respect for me, which made the event more difficult to manage.

Then near the end of the satellite tour, Liam tried to take over managerial aspects of the shoot and began advising our client’s spokesperson on how to talk about our client’s products. Lulu and Agnes had stressed that they only wanted me to work with our client’s spokesperson and managing the event. I finally had to pull Liam aside during a break in the tour, and tell him to back off and let me handle any consultation with our client’s spokesperson as that is how Agnes and Lulu wanted it and he wasn’t qualified to do so.

Liam was apologetic, but for the first time, I didn’t think he sounded sincere. I knew I couldn’t trust him anymore.

Also, when we left, the studio employees were friendly toward Liam and cold toward me. I had only just met them and gave them no reason to despise me. It was crazy. The backstabber had struck again.

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Liam left our agency a couple of weeks later and said he wanted to return to school to get his MBA. I couldn’t blame him as working with Lulu could scare off even the most enthusiastic PR executive.

When I look back, I realize I had also engaged in backstabbing my bosses through the years. Now that it had happened to me, it made me realize just how unprofessional, insincere, and counter-productive backstabbing your boss or employer really was.

Backstabbing poisons work environments.

So, even though I admired his talent and work ethic, I was not sorry to see Liam go.

 

 

Lazy Millennial Whiners – “The Team Is Frustrated,” and A Regretful Outburst

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I have sadly worked with my share of lazy, arrogant and whiny millennials in recent years, but the young team at the Yilmaz Agency was truly in a class by themselves. They turned whining into a sad, pathetic sort of art form.

My younger colleagues, who were mostly based in our agency’s Chicago office, complained about the usual things such as working late, and on weekends, but they even bemoaned being tasked and challenged to do their jobs, including writing press releases, pitches, media relations, putting together media lists, competitive analysis, etc.

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Andrew’s constant refrain to me was the “team is frustrated.”

The young team that I managed for our sports app was headed up by Andrew and Agnes, the king and queen of millennial whiners at our agency who poisoned all the other young people on the team, including Marissa Aslan, the young Turkish woman who was Dane’s favorite, which I mentioned in an earlier blog. Marissa quickly became disillusioned as with the rest of the young team, and yet these entitled fools. were only starting their public relations careers. They hadn’t earned their hatred of the PR business as I had through years of disappointment, bad work environments, ugly clients, and terrible colleagues and bosses.

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So, naturally, this young group was difficult to manage and motivate, but Lulu didn’t help things with her scare tactics and heavy-handed management style. Actually, it was tough for us seasoned public relations veterans to take Lulu’s brutal honesty at times, but the young people at our firm freaked out over Lulu’s constant barrage of criticism.

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Even though they irritated me with their whining, the young people at my agency did have my sympathy as it related to Lulu. She was crazy and there was no easy way to deal with a boss like her except to eventually leave which many of our young interns and account executives did in droves.

Making the sports app account even worse to manage was an arrogant Indian woman named Payal Shiladitya, who ran the New York office before she quit and was replaced by Molly Paulson.

Payal was a shallow former entertainment publicist but came across as slick and articulate with an attractive British accent to hide her incompetence and how clueless she truly was. She couldn’t write worth a shit and her media pitches and press releases were also lame. It was soon apparent to me that Payal was also lacking in media relations skills. I had also heard from Lulu that Payal loathed working with tech and healthcare clients and it showed after a while in her writing and attitude.

The funny thing was when I first arrived at the agency Miriam thought Payal would eat me alive because she had a much stronger phone presence that I did in conference calls. Not surprising, as Miriam was a former local TV producer who championed slick performance over substance. Lulu and Miriam did praise Payal’s client relations skills in dealing with our crazy Turkish airline client, which was why I think they kept her around even though she came up woefully short in every other area of public relations.

However, it was how Payal tried to challenge my skills and experience and then dump work on me and the younger team with no consideration that began to piss me off.

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Payal also had no concept of teamwork as she was always trying to compete with me. The only problem was that she delivered no media coverage for our sports app client and tried to blame it on her lack of tech and sports experience and her heavy workload with our airline and housewares clients. We were all busting our asses so I told Lulu Payal’s complaints were lame.

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On a Friday, of all days, she dumped another last-minute pitch letter assignment on the team in Chicago. Andrew and several new interns called me to complain.

At the same time, Lulu was putting a lot of pressure on me to produce results for the sports app client and to manage the younger team’s dissension.

The following week during a team meeting on the sports app account I snapped and unfortunately berated Payal in front of everyone.

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“What do you think you are doing dumping last-minute assignments on the team?!” I asked angrily. “I know you’re swamped, but you don’t seem to have any consideration for our team’s workload. You keep passing off your work and saying you’re too busy to help. The team is frustrated with your attitude. Please don’t do it again without checking with me. OK?”

There was dead silence on the conference call line. You could have heard a pin drop.

“OK?” I asked again.

“I heard you,” Payal said coldly.

That was all she said before I quickly ended the meeting.

“OK.  Well, thanks for listening,” I said.

“Jake, Payal already left the call,” Andrew said. “Good job. Thanks for calling her out on her behavior. I hope she’ll change her ways.”

“We’ll see,” I said.

A couple of other team members also praised my outburst, but I was embarrassed by my unprofessional behavior. I should have told Payal privately about my dissatisfaction with her job performance.

When Lulu heard what I had done, she didn’t scold me, but in fact, laughed about it and said, “Jake, I didn’t know you had it in you.”

It was a page out of Lulu’s twisted management style, but my outburst I felt damaged my credibility with our young team, and they didn’t trust me after the call except for Andrew, who actually respected me more.

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I finally met Payal in person during my first visit to the Yilmaz Agency Chicago office about a week or so after the heated phone call. She had long black hair and was in her early thirties. Payal wore casual designer clothes as if she was trying not to overdress and be cool. When I first met her, Payal was talking Daniel Rizzo, a former TV producer and reporter that the agency hired for media relations, about the New York fashion world. I will write more about Daniel’s arrogant flakiness in a later blog.

It was hardly surprising that Payal was standoffish and borderline hostile toward me.

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I began our meeting that Miriam had set up trying to diffuse a potentially hostile and ugly situation by apologizing to speaking to her so bluntly in front of the rest of the team.

“It’s OK,” she said. “But why did you yell at me in front of the whole team? Why didn’t you just call me to talk about it? You made me look bad in front of our colleague…”

“I know and I regret doing that,” I said. “It wasn’t something I planned. My frustration got the best of me. I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Just call me next time,” Payal said.

Then Andrew weighed in.

“Payal, Jake was just expressing the entire team’s frustration. We feel you have checked out on the account and are passing on all your work to the junior people on the team without consideration of their workload.”

“I am surprised you guys feel that way, but I’ll be more careful about that in the future,” she said.

We concluded the meeting agreeing that we would communicate more openly with each other going forward. However, afterward, things only got worse as Payal withdrew even more from working on the account to focus on our larger clients.

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Not long after, Payal left our agency to return to entertainment PR. It was just as well as it was obvious to everyone at our agency that her heart was not into working on tech and consumer clients.

The whole sorry episode also showed me I was turning into the worst version of myself because of management pressure from Lulu.

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After that, I worked harder to avoid taking out my frustrations with the job on my colleagues. Although I must admit it was tempting at times, I didn’t berate anymore of my colleagues during meetings. I was already hated by many of my colleagues at the agency anyway, Why make it worse?

It wasn’t worth it in the end.

 

 “I’m Full Greek”

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Of all of the smug and arrogant Millennials I had the misfortunate to work with at the Yilmaz Agency, Agnes Lekkas was in a class by herself.

Agnes, who was in her early twenties barely a year out of college, looked like a plainer, heavier version of the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” actress Nia Vardalos. Unfortunately, as far I can tell, Agnes didn’t have much of a sense of humor. What wasn’t funny was just how arrogant, condescending and difficult to work with Agnes turned out to be.

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I got my initial sad insight into this pretentious freak’s character during my first visit to the Yilmaz Agency’s Chicago office shortly after joining the agency. I had noticed Agnes had connected with me on LinkedIn and she said she was looking forward to meeting me during my visit. Agnes seemed nice at first. What a fucking joke.

After a horrible first day of my visit to the Yilmaz Agency Chicago office, where I had to experience in person the fools I was talking to daily on the phone with the sinking realization I had made a serious career mistake, I went with the team to a nearby bar. Strangely, most of the young staff, who had finally met me in person, remained standoffish and unfriendly toward me. Actually, they were borderline hostile even though they barely knew me. It felt like they had already judged me as another idiot. I was nice to them and gave them no reason to hate me, but I think they were angry at Lulu and taking it out on me. In fact, all of them, except for Lulu and Miriam, were young and barely out of school. It was like being at a bar with a Millennial clique but this was far worse. I had to work with these arrogant creeps.

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At some point, as I drank a beer (I didn’t order wine as I figured they might think it was a snobby, California thing to do) and wondered what I had got myself into, Agnes struck up a conversation with me. She wondered about my background as I look Greek, but I don’t have a Greek last name. I told her I was half Greek as my father was English and my mother came from Greece.

“I am full Greek,” Agnes remarked smugly.

I smiled at her, but I didn’t know what to exactly say to her strange comment. Congratulations, you arrogant fuck? Agnes’ response actually felt like a putdown, and yet it gave me a keen, early insight into her creepy, condescending nature.

I mean I was only “half Greek?” Was it a euphemism for her thinking I was only “half a person?” or “half a PR executive?” I don’t know. I never asked her, but let’s just say we didn’t have much to talk about after that. Even when she left and said she was looking forward to working with me I knew that was just a lie.

The “working part” with Agnes was even worse than I could have possibly imagined. Naturally, one of her close friends at the agency was the queen of the paper pushers, Molly Paulson. They were as thick as thieves in their mutual incompetence.

Agnes thought she knew a lot about public relations like Molly did but Agnes was mostly clueless when she started working on my team for our sports app client.

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Like many of her colleagues, Agnes was a mediocre writer, who drafted pedestrian press releases and lame, uncreative pitches.

Yet if you challenged her and tried to help, she would get defensive. I edited and marked up a couple of her lame press releases initially and she got offended. Unfortunately, Agnes didn’t listen as she continued to make the same writing mistakes despite my suggestions. So I just began to rewrite all of her writing and she eventually complained to Andrew, who was also on our team and told me she was frustrated with my rewrites, and even to Lulu. However, much to her disappointment, Lulu sided with me and told Agnes to improve her writing and to listen to me. That didn’t go over too well with Agnes, and it was the start of the rift that developed between us. There were other frustrating incidents where she would actually try to lecture me about media relations when I wondered why she wasn’t delivering results and doing basic follow up with the media. I mean I had been securing top media placements for decades. What was this idiot going to tell me about media relations?

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Maybe it was because it was me, and she regarded me with little or no respect, but Agnes always seemed to be talking down to everyone, even Lulu, during meetings and conference calls. Agnes was so fucking full of herself, it was almost laughable.

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Actually, after her dumb remark at the bar, I knew she was another fool that was going to make my job more difficult, but I had held out hope that my first impression could be wrong. It sadly wasn’t.

I began to dread working with her. Fortunately, after we lost the sports app client a few months later, I didn’t have to work directly with her on many clients at the agency.  However, every once in a while, Miriam and Lulu would bring us together on a project and I would be reminded of why I hated working with her.

After another horrible and draining 12-hour day, I finally arrived home to an email request from Miriam. She wanted me to help Agnes with a pitch for the Yilmaz Agency’s upcoming 10th Anniversary Party. I was exhausted, but I reluctantly agreed to help even though I knew it would probably be a nightmare if Agnes was involved. I soon discovered much to my dismay I was right as Agnes basically assigned the pitch to me with little or no supporting information. I had no press release or background to work from to develop the pitch as Agnes said it wasn’t ready yet to share. I asked her for more information, but apparently, she had checked out for the night as it was getting late in Chicago. So I had to cobble together a lame media pitch out of some information on our agency website and Lulu’s bio after midnight when I was too tired to even see straight. Agnes was of no help at all just essentially dumping the pitch assignment on me and bailing. Something she did other times as well. The phrase lazy Millennial came to mind as I furiously worked on the pitch. Even to this day, I would never dump an assignment on a colleague or an intern that worked for me without background information, a bio, and at least details about the event.

After I finished the pitch, I sent a brutal email to Miriam about how Agnes simply dumped the pitch on me with little or no supporting materials and it wasn’t the first time she had done this bullshit. Miriam asked if I had emailed Agnes about my concerns and I told her I asked for more information and received no response. I was not Agnes’ fucking manager. It was up to Miriam to confront her about her lazy behavior. I also knew Agnes would only get more pissed off if it came from me.

The following day Agnes sent an email thanking me for the pitch, but said she had to make a lot of edits. I told that’s OK as I didn’t have a lot of information to go on. I am not sure if Miriam ever brought up my concerns. I kind of doubt it.

A couple of years later, Lulu requested me to take Agnes’ place in managing an early morning satellite media tour for our housewares client. It ended up being a crazy all-nighter for me. I  had to leave work at 7 p.m. and try to get sleep for a few hours before getting up around midnight to head to a studio in downtown L.A. to work until 8 a.m. the following morning.  The day before I had to endure pompous phone conferences about the products with Agnes. In stark contrast with the 10th Anniversary pitch, she bombarded me with too much information. So fucking typical. I could never predict in what way Agnes was going to annoy me. So I had to essentially spend all night babysitting a difficult prima donna celebrity chef that was the company spokesperson on a satellite tour. Now mind you while I doing this, my own clients were being neglected and were complaining. Agnes was hardly appreciative or supportive of this fact, which didn’t surprise me.

The low point of the night came after the celebrity chef had messed up some of the product messaging for the company’s blender product in the first couple of TV segments and our client complained and called Agnes. She called me on my mobile phone and asked me rudely what was going on. I told her I had reviewed the messaging with the celebrity chef and she told she was OK with it.

“Jake, you got to get tough with her,” Agnes said sharply.

“I will. No worries,” I assured her.

“You better,” she said rudely. “The client is not happy. I am depending on you.”

Then she rudely hung up.

WTF?! I am doing Agnes a fucking favor taking time away from my sleep not to mention my clients and she is getting rude with me?! Unfortunately, the chef still didn’t care and stubbornly wouldn’t listen to me. Yet I must have got through to her somehow as the chef performed well to the client’s satisfaction for the rest of the tour.

After the satellite tour was over and everything went well, Agnes called to thank me for handling everything, but she never apologized for her ugly outburst. I was done with this freak after that.

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Sadly, Agnes continued working at our agency and I couldn’t avoid her entirely.

My last idiotic working encounter with Agnes came late in my stint working with Lulu after her agency had been purchased by a Chicago agency.  Agnes was managing a difficult weight loss client – having Agnes manage anything was already a nightmare proposition – and Lulu added me to the team as a media relations expert. I had experience working with weight loss clinics in the past so that was why Lulu tapped me for this. However, I knew something would inevitably go wrong and I would butt heads with the fool, Agnes.

After our team struggled for weeks to secure a story about our client opening weight loss clinics in San Francisco area grocery stores, I landed a huge story in one of the top newspapers in the area. The story actually ran on the front page of the business section of several the publication’s newspapers. I thought it was a major placement for our client, but Agnes was not happy with it, particularly as there was a factual error, but also our client criticized the “sarcastic tone” of the article. Our client asked us to contact the reporter about fixing the error, but they also wanted us to confront the reporter about changing her sarcastic tone and reposting a new, more positive article.

I refused and told Agnes I will ask the reporter nicely to fix the error in the online editions, but I will not ask her to change her story’s sarcastic slant. We are not in the censorship business?!!

“I know,” Agnes said. “You don’t have to do that, but we won’t tell the client that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her. “We’re just going to lie to our client?”

“It’s not lying. We’ll just tell her we followed up and the reporter refused,” she said.

“OK. I don’t agree with that as we should always be transparent with our clients,” I said.

“I know, but they won’t know anyway,” she said. “Just try to get the factual error fixed.”

I got the error fixed in the online version of the article, the reporter had no problem with that, but I never mentioned to the writer our client’s dismay about her edgy writing style.

I was not going to completely abandon what little PR principles I had left for Lulu and Agnes. That, fortunately, was my last encounter working with Agnes.

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In the end, Agnes was “Full Greek” as she so proudly declared, but to me, she was actually “Full Idiot.”

The Paper Pushers

It's a big misconception. Everyone thinks hell is all fire. Actually, it's all paperwork.'

I call them the “Paper Pushers.”

It is my private name for my colleagues in the public relations industry through years who are great at performing administrative tasks, coordinating accounts, and editing, but they can’t write worth a shit and overall lack creativity.

They are great at “pushing the paper” and making sure they stay on top of tasks, crossing every t and dotting every i, but they are pretty much useless when it comes to thinking out of the box and coming up with creative angles for PR campaigns, media pitches and press releases.

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Actually, they are mostly glorified administrative managers, but of course, they would never admit this.

They typically stay quiet during brainstorming sessions, offer little or nothing, but the paper pushers are quick to attack others’ ideas, though.

meetings-idiotHonestly, they wouldn’t last long in my previous profession of journalism where bad writing is generally not tolerated and will hold you back in your career.

It is hardly surprising the paper pushers have done well in the public relations industry, which is a sad commentary on what the business cherishes – slick, management over creativity.

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So, naturally, I have butted heads with my share of paper pushers during the years. They have rejected my creative ideas, gutted my pitches and press releases, and removed anything creative or interesting and replaced it with slick corporate writing. The kind of boring writing that ends up in the media’s spam and trash folders.

Admittedly, I prefer the creative side of public relations, finding interesting angles to intrigue the media through my writing and securing media coverage over the boring administrative task and client relations side of public relations. That doesn’t mean I am not capable of handling those tasks as well, but I just enjoy being creative and pitching the media more than pushing the paper.

I have worked with many paper pushers during my long career, but two past colleagues come to mind to illustrate my frustration working with these uncreative types.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, Molly Paulson was an uptight, paper pusher who ran the New York office for Lulu at the Yilmaz Agency. She also managed two of the largest clients at agency, an airline and housewares company.

Molly, who was in her early thirties, had an odd looking face and huge green eyes. She also had this bizarre wide-eyed expression on her face most of the time as if she was constantly surprised by everything that occurred. Now I realize it was probably a way for her disguise her contempt for me and many of my colleagues.

Molly wasn’t a dumb Millennial as with many of my colleagues at the Yilmaz Agency and had worked a number of years handling mostly music public relations. However, sometimes I had to wonder when she would suggest a strategy that made no sense, particularly when it involved writing or media relations.

Molly would constantly try to pick apart anything I would say.  It was subtle, though, as she pretended to be so nice when she first joined the firm, but I learned it was only an act to get something she wanted such as help on a project. She was no fucking ally. I believe she undermined and backstabbed me during my years at the agency. Unfortunately, it was hard for me to know for sure as I worked alone in the L.A. office during most of my time at the Yilmaz Agency.  Her contempt for me still came through in emails and our phone call and phone conferences. I dreaded working on accounts with her and was happy when I could avoid it.

Molly constantly questioned my writing — although she couldn’t write worth a shit – and my management skills. Molly was always looking for things I missed or a strategic decision I made she didn’t agree with. She actually told Lulu that she didn’t respect me and didn’t feel I brought a steady, experienced management approach to the job even though I had a lot more experience than she did in every area of public relations.

“Molly doesn’t feel you bring a strong enough management presence to the job,” Lulu told me.

I naturally was pissed off as I thought Molly was an uncreative public relations hack who did nothing more than provide empty, slick management skills to her position. She lacked real vision and creativity and hid this is busy work.

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Molly would also get frustrated when she thought I wasn’t handling an account as she would. She put me in charge of the U.S. media relations for our airline client and then questioned my every move. We butted heads eventually as she was clueless to effective media relations strategy on the account. At one point, we set up a schedule to reach out to the media with a different pitch almost every week. The problem is that we were pitching the same media over and over and they were getting sick of getting bombarded from our pitches and client news. A number of our media contacts began complaining to me about sending too many pitches in a short time. I told Molly this and she ignored me. It was when I realized Molly knew nothing about media relations strategy. She approached media pitching as she did every other part of her public relations job — she pushed the paper. The only problem is that you must avoid pissing off the media at all costs and sending them constant client news with no sense of timing is a sure fast way to get ignored. This is death to a publicist.

Yet it was Molly’s lack of creativity that stuck with me. I would work to come up with creative angles for our airline clients pitch letters and press releases and she would pick them apart and rewrite them into boring, cliched angles that had little or no chance of being picked up.

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I was relieved when we lost the airline client as I wouldn’t have to work with her micromanaging ass anymore. As you could imagine, both Lulu and Miriam loved that Molly had an obsessive attention to detail, but I thought Molly (as with Lulu and Miriam) always missed the bigger picture – the importance of securing media results for our clients and building their brand presence.

Unfortunately, before Miriam left, she put Molly on the team of a Canadian audio manufacturing client I was managing. Although she was only on the team to reach out to the so-called music media she had contacts with, Molly quickly questioned everything I did on the account. She wanted us to send out more pitches on the account even if we didn’t have any news to share. It was our airline client all over again. I was frustrated but this time I ignored her suggestions as she had mine. I was running the account after all.

Yet it soon became obvious Molly was also truly miserable at media relations. I knew this from working with her on the airlines and housewares clients, but in those cases, she could hide behind her administrative duties and spending a lot of time running these accounts as a reason for not delivering results herself.

After several months, Molly couldn’t secure a single placement for our audio client even though she boasted about having great contacts in the music business and that’s why she wanted to be on the account. By contrast, I had no trouble obtaining numerous high-profile stories for our audio client and I knew this really pissed Molly off. She eventually used the excuse of her heavy workload to stopping working on the account. I knew she really was embarrassed that she couldn’t deliver media relations results on an account in an industry she was supposed to be a past expert on. I had to wonder after that if anything she said was true and that her past experience was a complete lie.

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Molly also wasn’t as bright as she acted. Heavy technology accounts put her off. When Molly was put in charge of running a Turkish tech client – after a dumb Millennial that managed the account left for another firm – she was in a panic. She was having trouble understanding the client’s technology which was essentially business to business payment software for companies.

Suddenly, after years of being snotty toward me and stabbing me behind my back, Molly was very nice to me again. This time, though, I knew it was because she needed my help to help manage the Turkish tech client even though she would never admit this. Although that didn’t stop Molly from trying to micromanage me and rewrite all the pitches and press releases I had written for this client. She did this even though she knew nothing about the technology. Despite her paper pushing efforts, though, we eventually lost of the account anyway.

Sal Ramirez was another paper pusher that had the misfortunate to work with at my first PR agency early in my career. He was one of the worst writers that I have ever worked with, that is until recently when I started working with Millennials. He was even worse a writer than Molly. In fact, Sal had trouble with basics of press release writing, but he was not someone who just come out of school and had been working for an agency for years before joining our firm. I remember a friend of mine at a local newspaper lamenting how he received a press release from Sal that had none of the essential information you would expect from a press release – the where, what, why and how. It was such an embarrassment for our agency, but unfortunately our boss Jimmy Mears didn’t care. He liked Sal’s administrative skills and would tap me for the creative, brainstorming tasks.

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Sal would also ask me for help in rewriting his press release and pitches and adding a more creative flair. I, of course, I helped him as I am a team player, but Sal never seemed all that appreciative. Worst of all, he never seemed to improve and was still a crappy writer when I left the agency a few years later.

Clients liked Sal as he was solid in handling accounts, however, he was constantly coming up short with media relations efforts and I would have to be brought in to try to obtain coverage and save the account. It was ridiculous after a while as his accounts were always in “media relations trouble.”

Sal, like Molly, was also terrible in brainstorming sessions, providing little or nothing useful. Many of his ideas were clichés or borrowed too heavily from Hollywood movies. Yet he never hesitated to criticize other’s ideas, particularly mine.

I didn’t mock him or criticize his lame ideas, though, but no one ever used his suggestions and he knew down deep they were terrible.

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They say there is no such thing as a bad idea in brainstorming, but I believe Sal was an exception to the rule.

When I left the agency, Sal was determined to show me up. He and an obnoxious jock intern named Lance teamed up to come up with ideas for an upcoming obesity clinic’s event in San Diego where people would turn in their previous large pants to show off their weight loss. They came up with all of these odd and crazy ideas and taglines. Some were good, but mostly it was overkill. I even bet Lance came up with most of the ideas, Sal was so proud of what they came up with. Even though he didn’t say it – Sal was implying they didn’t need me for creativity anymore. He did this once in all of my years at the agency.  By contrast, I tried to bring a strong level of creativity to every account and do the same today, not just once in a blue moon like Sal.

Paper pushers or uncreative gutless wonders like Molly and Sal – that I have found at every agency or company I have worked at — are just more a reminder that I am in the wrong business that rewards slick, management skills over creative vision.

Team Juicing?

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Lydia was at again this week with her lame definition of teamwork.

First, there was her lame “Team Lunches.”

Now it is…Team Juicing?

One recent morning — around the time I wanted to head over to Starbucks for a late morning coffee — that freak Lydia invited MBA Boy and other team members — all millennials except for Code Boy  — to walk over to some local fucking juice place — right in front of me.

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It was no surprise as Lydia has no sense of manners and is completely clueless about building real team camaraderie and teamwork.

No doubt it was MBA Boy’s time to bash me, which is also hilarious as he has little more PR knowledge than Code Boy and Lydia to say anything.

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I constantly have to clean up his mistake-ridden press releases and pitch letters and deal with his lack of any strategic sense.

They also invited this strange freak called Nanci — another unfriendly Millennial intern poisoned by Lydia. All I know is that she fucked up a serious research project for a client — right before their campaign launch.

It was for a lame sports app bracket client. They claimed to be the only one to do what they do — but that was not true.

Nanci missed this in her competitive analysis research. After that critical fuck up, which I barely caught and shared with the client in time, I wanted nothing more to do with her.

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So “Team Juice” runs or “Team Lunches” or whatever you want to call it is pretty typical of this place and the diseased lack of social support I receive.

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I guess it is just me but I believe if you invite your colleagues to lunch or coffee, etc. you either invite everyone in the office or you don’t do it. Such clueless behavior is bad for workplace morale.

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Our agency has sadly become a Millennial bozo party of people who have no clue what business is, how to run it, and how to create a real team.

I fear for the future. I really do.

 

Media Relations Beatdowns

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Media relations is without a doubt the toughest and most frustrating part of working in public relations.

Many in the business I’ve known through the years secretly despise, dread and fear media relations as a necessary evil of PR. We know no matter what we do, our efforts will always be judged on our latest media campaign or placement. Even after more than 20 years in the business with an impressive track record of securing media coverage for all kinds of clients, I am still doubted daily by skeptical, clueless clients and even my colleagues and bosses. And if had a dollar for every time I heard an ignorant, clueless statement about media relations from clients and colleagues through the years I would be a wealthy man and would no longer need to work in public relations.

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Now there’s no denying the value of a strategic media relations program truly can’t be underestimated in helping build and shape a company’s brand or image.

Everyone in business knows they need media coverage, but very few understand how this is actually done. Too many think they have a great story or innovative product, but prove delusional in the end.

How to achieve impactful media coverage is still up to debate as media relations is hardly an exact science, especially in this ever-changing digital age and media landscape.  Everyone in business and the PR industry it seems has their own opinions, strategies, approaches, and ideas of how to secure lasting and meaningful media coverage for clients and I have found most of them are wrong.

You can’t finesse the media relations process, and you can’t guarantee media coverage no matter how slick your public relations plan, size of your team or how creative your pitch is.  The media has its own agenda and will choose or not to choose to cover your company or product on its own time table.

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Successful media relations is frankly about timing, just as much as it is about creativity and having a great story.

My former boss Lulu apparently never got the memo on media relations.

Lulu used to try an inspire our teams at the Yilmaz Agency to obtain media coverage for our clients through fear or what I dubbed “media relations beatdowns.”

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Lulu would attack at our teams in horrible conference calls for not achieving media relations results for our clients. Sure, it would scare our team into pitching the media even harder, and sometimes it worked, but it didn’t inspire us at all. It only built up resentment in our teams, especially with the younger staff members, and drove people to leave our agency in droves.

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Even worse, Lulu would try to emotionally manipulate us and make us feel guilty if we didn’t meet her crazy standards and tell us we were keeping her up at night by not securing media relations for her clients. It was like a personal affront to her if we didn’t make her clients happy, even though many of her clients were unreasonable assholes who took advantage of their close relationship with Lulu.

Now before joining Lulu’s agency, I was used to dealing with unreasonable pressure from clients and employers to secure top media relations. It came with the territory.

Lulu’s crazy media relations expectations were on a whole different level of dysfunction and made me eventually question whether I should be working in public relations at all.

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When I first joined her agency, I was quickly disheartened and became disillusioned with her weekly, almost daily mental beatdowns about a tech client with a sports fitness coaching application product that we had launched a PR campaign for. Like most clients, they thought their sports tech coaching app was unique and deserved major media coverage. Our team did secure impressive coverage from top media outlets such as Mashable, the Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping and L.A. Times to name a few, but it took time as the media wanted to try out their sports coaching app. However, Lulu, even more than our client had no patience and blamed our team for the slow response to the client’s new product. To be fair, this was a small startup company without major national brand presence launching a new product that boasted to provide top fitness coaching in a convenient app. So naturally, the media that had been bombarded by numerous sports fitness apps from much larger companies, were skeptical and wanted to find out first to see if the product really delivered on what they claimed.

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I remember our team being excited, after many frustrating weeks of struggling to secure coverage for our fitness tech client, sharing a positive review and story from Mashable. Our client’s director of marketing, a clueless fool named Manda, was hardly impressed and sent us an email showing that the story led to no new sales over the weekend. That’s when I knew our client was a complete idiot. The main role of public relations to indirectly build a company’s reputation and brand exposure so when someone is ready to buy their product or service, they can make an informed purchase decision.

Public relations does NOT lead to direct sales and investment. 

 I can’t recall how many times I have had to tell clients of this unavoidable reality and still do even today.

Of course, Lulu didn’t defend us to our client and when I mentioned that PR doesn’t impact sales directly Lulu went ballistic and forbade me from educating our client of this uncomfortable truth about media coverage.

“You’ll come across as defensive,” she said.

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I disagreed as I told Lulu it was our role to be informed consultants for our client, not cowed, scared sycophants.

Lulu, who hated when anyone disagreed with her, told me I was wrong in front of the whole team – further damaging my credibility — and asked me not to bring it up again.

Let’s just say no matter our team’s efforts, and after many media relations beatdowns, we couldn’t make our fitness client, not to mention Lulu, happy.

When our client finally fired us several months later, I was more than relieved. Lulu was furious, resentful, and took it personally like a broken-hearted lover. She told us she had been up all night after she heard the news, and was so upset, she couldn’t sleep. It was crazy and embarrassing to pull this craven and insane guilt trip on us over a fucking lame PR client. It was hardly a surprise Lulu blamed us for losing the client because we couldn’t break through to the media. She said this even though we had secured more than 100 stories for this client, including many top placements, over the past year.

Honestly, not having much control over who or how many media covered our clients made these beatdown sessions all the more ridiculous and demoralizing.

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The post mortems we used to have at Lulu’s agency after we lost a client were by far the worst, I have ever experienced in my PR career. She never took any blame for her horrible management style or clueless strategic decisions. It was always our fucking fault even if the client we were dealing with and pitching were lame and had no business launching a product at all.

The fitness app client was in denial in a fiercely competitive industry. They, like Lulu, refused to realize that their company succeeding was always going to be a tough uphill struggle.

Unfortunately, this sorry episode of Lulu accusing her employees of letting her and clients down was repeated many times in the years I worked at the agency. It became a sad inside joke among us at the agency.

Far too many times, Lulu was strategically clueless.

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Everyone in PR knows that Fridays are the worst day to pitch the media and typically is when companies and politicians dump bad news. That didn’t stop Lulu, though. She refused to listen when we told her that pitching a business story (that wasn’t top breaking news) late in the afternoon Pacific time on a Friday during August?!! (or any time) would receive little or no traction among most of the business media located back east that had already started on their weekends.

Lulu forced us numerous times to create a pitch in a panic because some fucking client attacked us, and pitch it out late Friday even though we told her it would best to wait until Monday morning. As expected, when we got no results, she would blame us anyway.

“You guys didn’t pitch hard enough,” Lulu would say. “You can’t tell me no one responded at all. What I am supposed to tell the client.”

Well, you could tell the client that pitching on Friday when the media is gone is not advisable, is a waste of time and money, and will reap no results…

Lulu didn’t do that, of course. She just berated and pushed us to pitch harder even the team members that worked in Chicago and New York that were ready to call it a week and enjoy the weekend.

Unfortunately, there were no weekends when you worked for a workaholic freak like Lulu.

The worst and most ridiculous media relations beatdowns were over her long-time housewares client.

For many months, our team drafted numerous pitches about our client’s business story, but we struggled to get coverage.

Lulu went apoplectic about our difficulty breaking through. She pulled a lot of us from other work and clients to try and get this lame client business coverage as she was worried that they would hire another firm to take over their company’s business pitching.

During our horrible meetings about this client, Lulu would boast that she used to get coverage for this client just by “picking up the phone” not realizing that the industry had changed. Good luck trying to get a media person to pick up their phone as they all want to be pitched through email now.

In fact, I began to doubt the story of her media relations prowess when I secured the company’s first national business story – with a small business magazine – and got them included in a Wall Street Journal roundup story, which was another first.

As I described in an earlier blog, the low point in the pitching for our housewares client came when I secured a Forbes cover article for them, which they shockingly turned down.

Although Lulu kept pushing us to pitch our client’s business story after the Forbes debacle, I never took it seriously after that and just went through motions in my pitching efforts. I wasn’t giving Lulu or those fools any more of my talent or hard work on that account.

When the inevitable happened and our client hired another competing agency behind our backs to handle their business media pitching, Lulu flipped out and blamed our lack of media relations for losing the business.

Yet when I reminded her that this foolish client has turned down a Forbes opportunity, she just ignored me and said that wasn’t relevant and went on ranting about our so-called media relations failings for this lame account.

Lulu should have blamed herself for weak leadership and not realizing our client didn’t care all that much if we secured business stories for them. They had already hired a local agency behind our backs for business media outreach and they wanted to retain us only for product public relations.

I mean WTF?!! Knowing what your client wants is Public Relations 101!

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Yet the thing about Lulu she only listened to clients and other people selectively. She only heard what she wanted to hear and many times this meant she would be lost in her delusional notions and standards of what she felt was needed on an account. Sadly, those of us who had the misfortune of working for her were caught in the middle of this nightmare dysfunction.

When it came to working for Lulu it felt like having to deal with two unreasonable clients – an internal and external one.

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It was extremely demoralizing, to say the least, because no matter what we did for Lulu to secure top media coverage it was never enough and didn’t built any kind of trust with her.

You were always the idiot in her eyes even though I believe she truly knew nothing about media relations. She was a lying fake who had no clue how to motivate people except through fear.

Going through her media relations beatdowns did one good thing for me, though. It forced me to rethink the whole tenuous nature of media relations and how I would never pressure or attack people that worked for me over something as difficult and valuable to obtain as media coverage.

As I have learned, a little finesse, strategic and common sense, and a keen ability to recognize a great story can go a long way toward achieving media relations success.

No need to resort to ugly scare tactics.

 

 

 

 

VP of Panic – Saturday Night Panic Texts From Hell

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I’ve had my share of bad bosses, but the combination of Lulu Yilmaz and her vice president Miriam Letti at the Yilmaz Agency were by far the worst.

They questioned and micromanaged my every move to death. It was a suffocating and unfulfilling experience, to say the least.

Looking back on the crazy debacle years later I am still not sure how I got through the experience without losing my mind.

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Lulu and Miriam used to play a twisted good cop and bad cop routine with our agency staff.

Miriam, who I dubbed the VP of Panic for her panicking about every stressful situation Lulu (not to mention our clients) caused, was an obnoxious dark-haired Jewish woman in her late thirties, would come off as the reasonable and nice one, but it was all a lie.

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In fact, I suspected something was off during our first job interview via Skype that took months to set up. Miriam came across as over-enthusiastic and shallow, but even worse she lied to me about the company’s horrible, unsupportive culture, and her and Lulu’s extensive micromanaging of employees.

I basically found out later that Miriam was a shallow former TV producer, which explained a lot. She knew more about media relations than Lulu did, which wasn’t much, but her writing and PR expertise overall were suspect. Her writing was weak and not a strong as she thought it was.

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Actually, my first day at the agency I knew I was probably in trouble when Miriam criticized me for not having a strong demeanor or speaking voice during initial agency and client conference calls. To be fair, I was still learning about the agency and I was somewhat hesitant to inflict my experience and knowledge on people I just met.

Also, I am somewhat reserved anyway and not some slick TV performer, which is maybe what she was used to or expecting.

Despite her act of pretending to be so kind and understanding, Miriam’s mask would fall and she would panic and attack us when Lulu criticized the staff for not living up to her crazy standards. She never defended us to Lulu or had our backs. She was basically scared to stand up to Lulu and so she took it out on the staff.

No surprise that Miriam and Lulu were as thick as thieves as micromanagement queens.

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So, as you can imagine, weekends were a refuge for me where I tried to get away from Lulu’s and Miriam’s craziness. I was rarely successful as these freaks sadly never stopped working.

Miriam proved twisted in her own timid way as she would text me on Saturday nights and weekends with ridiculous demands that I knew from were coming from Lulu.

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One Saturday night early on in my time at the agency showed me what hell I had blundered into.

It was following a brutal and stressful week when two whiny Millennials, Carol and Andrew, left our firm during the same time and I had to take over their clients. So now I had to do a crash course on four new clients in addition to my own five clients. During one of the conference calls, our client, a phone case manufacturer, was very reticent and was bothered Carol had left. I had to navigate my way through this client landmine the best I could as I still learning about the client’s business. I thought it had gone OK, but Miriam had thought otherwise.

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As I tried to enjoy dinner at my favorite New York pizza place located in Long Beach, this freak Miriam began sending me panicked texts worried about my phone demeanor during the recent client calls. She was concerned if I could handle the extra work and that our client would lose faith in our ability to perform because of my reticent communication skills. I was beyond furious. I was talking with PR clients when this idiot was still a TV producer. I wasn’t some inexperienced fool that just came out of college or something.

Even worse was that fool Miriam ruined my Saturday night, not to mention weekend, right before heading on vacation to Cabo San Lucas for a week. Have a nice trip, fool, I bitterly thought as I texted her back that everything would work out and I would take of it. So while Miriam was enjoying the beautiful beaches of Cabo, I was left to deal with the ugliness of Lulu, who only seemed to get worse when Miriam was gone.

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Miriam not only wrecked my dinner and weekend but made me question whether I should even be working for her and Lulu.

That Saturday night I did my first pros and cons exercise on whether I should stay with the Yilmaz Agency and the cons filled almost two pages. It was obvious I had made a huge mistake joining the Yilmaz Agency only several months into the job.

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Another low point occurred when during my first CES with them a month later, Lulu and Miriam arrived in Las Vegas and began attacking me about my work for our e-commerce company client that I brought to the agency (and used to work for).

Several lazy millennials complained I was doing all the work on the account. Actually, I had to do most of the work as they were pathetic and I couldn’t let down my former employer with mediocre work. I had worked to bring them into the agency and assured them they would get the same great work I had delivered when I worked for their company.

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“Don’t you want to work as a team?” Lulu said. “Don’t you want help? I don’t want you doing all the work yourself. We need you on other clients.”

“Why don’t you trust your team?” Miriam chimed in. “They feel left out and that you don’t trust them.”

Honestly, I didn’t trust this so-called team of lazy Millennials to take our e-commerce client as seriously as I did.

I remember being so livid in the back of the taxi as they berated me and wanting to quit right there and leave, but I couldn’t do that to our clients not to mention my reputation as a PR executive. So, I told them reluctantly I would trust the team more and assign them more work. But I was beyond furious. I was still kicking ass for our e-commerce client while doing the same for the other three agency clients at CES, and I did this despite the lame help I got from my so-called teammates.

My days and nights were long and nightmarish at the Yilmaz Agency. Because of the West Coast time difference between Chicago and New York, my work day would start at 6 a.m. when I got up out of bed and tried to answer all of the phone calls and emails that were waiting for me. I had to do this still try to get to the L.A. office in a timely manner. It felt like I had already gone to work even before I did. Many days I dreaded getting out of bed and seeing the onslaught of phone, text, and emails on my phone.

My days were only made longer and more stressful because of Miriam and her constant micromanagement of my work. She would finish up at the Chicago office, and after eating dinner at home and putting her kids to bed, would send me a series of panicky reminder emails about client work.  After finishing my work and wanting to go home around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. PST, I would have to field all of these constant reminders and criticisms from Miriam which would keep me at the office even later.

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I also even remember once Miriam giving me shit about asking for the day after Christmas off?!! It is a dead media/public relations day with nothing going on and I hardly ever took days off anyway. She finally relented, but she made me feel like I was being an asshole about it.

A couple of months after I joined the agency, Lulu’s former husband Hasan Yilmaz did a consulting project to try and stop the ongoing and excessive employee turnover at the agency and interviewed all of the agency’s employees. The results were very critical of Lulu’s and Miriam’s heavy-handed management style.

According to Palmer, one of the few cool Millennials that worked in the Chicago office, Miriam started crying when the report was shown to her. Very unprofessional and so typical of her lame management style. She also didn’t change like Lulu following this damning report. They both blamed the employees for being ingrates and unappreciative.

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A year or so later, following a scare with a cancer diagnosis, Miriam decided she needed a less stressful position and took a job with one of our Chicago area competitors. She did this right after going to CES with Lulu and myself and pretended she was a team player and would stick around for the long haul. Unfortunately, I had to go on new business meetings with someone that was already preparing to leave. Not exactly professional, but hardly uncharacteristic of her phony ways.

However, I don’t fault Miriam for leaving as working for Lulu was not exactly good for someone’s health.

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Lulu went ballistic upon hearing the news, and after Miriam left, she began tearing her down even though she always praised her.

It was her typical line of attack. “I heard from clients that they were not happy with Miriam and her management…she had let a lot of things go lately.”

It was classic Lulu. Once you left her, you let her down. It was never her fucking fault for being such a horrible manager and scaring people away.

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I was glad Miriam was gone, but unfortunately, the person who replaced her months later, Dane Flynn, proved even worse as you already know from my previous blog.

Of course, I didn’t miss Miriam’s late-night panic texts and emails which was something Dane thankfully did not do.

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Panic just like fear is a horrible place to manage from and it always drives people away.

 

The CEO That Turned Down a Forbes Cover Story

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

The Business Magazine Cover Photoshoot Meltdown

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I will call this the business magazine cover photoshoot meltdown.

I had worked more than six months to arrange for a business cover story for Azra Yalman, one of the general managers based out of the Los Angeles office of our airline client.

Now, this was a big fucking deal for our agency as I soon discovered as Azra also happened to be close friends with my boss, Lulu Yilmaz.

Azra, who was a Turkish woman in her early forties with black hair and brown eyes, would put on this timid act and pretend that she was so nice. She always acted so apologetic when reaching out to us with some crazy and unreasonable demand. Actually, it was a façade to hide that Azra was a horrible prima donna and narcissist just like Lulu.

When I joined the agency, there was a lot of pressure on me to find a business story for Azra focusing on her impressive rise through the airlines’ executive ranks. For a while, I received no interest until one of my business contacts was intrigued with her story and we set up an interview and photoshoot.

Interesting background on this as well. When I developed the pitch, I had several Millennials, who thankfully left the agency soon after, and Lulu, attack my pitch I had developed about Azra. They thought it was too personal and would never work. They changed it into some boring bullshit, but I sent my original version to the business editor anyway.  Apparently, I wasn’t such a fucking idiot after all.

So much for having supportive and knowledgeable colleagues. What a joke.

Yet an early incident should have shown me what I was in for with Azra.

During my first couple of months at Lulu’s agency, I had to attend a travel trade show in San Diego to support Azra and our airline client.

I had set up several interviews at our client’s booth and Azra seemed pleased overall with my work.

However, during one of the interviews on the second day of the show, I accidentally introduced Azra to a travel writer as “Azra Asaroglu,” which was her married name and was listed on all of her emails. She got divorced apparently and Yalman was her maiden name. In my defense, I was not told that she hated her married name or even that she was divorced (or even married for that matter).

Azra became livid although she didn’t say anything at the time. She just gave me the cold shoulder and acted strangely and standoffish for the rest of the show. I knew something was wrong but I wasn’t sure.

When I got back to the office, Lulu told me that Azra was offended that I had used her married name when introducing her and wondered if she could work with me again.

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I was disgusted and shocked and it was a rude awakening to the kind of nightmare I was in for with Azra and our airline client in general.

However, in the ensuing months, Azra warmed up to me again as I continued to secure media for her and had set up the business interview and photoshoot.

Azra also had a freaky public relations manager named Pam McKibbon, who was a haggard Caucasian woman in her early fifties that appeared a lot older. She was always hostile toward Lulu and our agency and acted as if we were trying to steal her job or something. It was a classic case of the PR person who worked inside the company being threatened by a PR agency. It is something I have experienced more times than I can recount during my long PR career. So, naturally, Pam was also unfriendly to me and was little or no help during the photoshoot disaster. In a later chapter, I will discover just how much of act Pam was putting on while working at the airline, but there was no sign at this time that she was cool or interesting in any way.

The business magazine sent a photographer I had worked with in the past while at another agency named Sherry Jenkins. She was a talented and experienced photographer in her early forties, who had also shot my own headshot. I was relieved to see her when I arrived at the airline’s L.A. office where we had arranged the shoot to take place as I knew she would make things go smoothly and she delivered professional work. Little did she or I realize the nightmare we had in store for us.

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The first sign of trouble is when Azra showed up for the shoot three hours late. This more than concerned Sherry who worried if Azra had forgotten all about it. I assured her that was not the case, but I checked with Pam anyway, however; she wasn’t much help.

“I don’t know where she is,” Pam said.

When Azra finally arrived almost four hours late for her own photoshoot, she acted strange and reluctant to participate. Then she kept calling someone on her phone and speaking Turkish. Later I found out she was calling my boss Lulu to complain about the shoot she was three and almost now four hours late for. This was so fucking rude and embarrassing that I had to apologize to Sherry several times, who was becoming frantic and frustrated.

Finally, after more cajoling from Sherry and myself, Azra began to pose for photos. Unfortunately, she kept resisting Sherry’s suggestions and kept holding up the shoot. After Sherry finally got some shots done, Azra retreated to her office to call Lulu again and to even check her emails.

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Sherry was beside herself.

“What are we going to do, Jake?” Sherry said. “I’ve been here more than five hours and only have a few shots done.”

Then I got a call from Lulu.

“Jake…what’s going on over there?” Lulu said harshly. “I keep getting calls from Azra that she is unhappy with the shoot and photographer.”

Unfortunately, Sherry overheard Lulu’s comment (another embarrassment), so I quickly walked outside the office and assured Lulu everything was all right.

“I hope so, Jake. I am counting on you to manage the shoot. We could lose the client if this continues.”

“No worries, Lulu,” I said. “I am taking of it.”

We could lose the client?!

It was bad enough I had to deal with our prima donna, crazy client, but Lulu’s scare tactics only made things worse.

It took a lot more coaxing from me to get Azra to resume the shoot, but unfortunately, she continued to resist the photographer’s direction.

Then the whole photoshoot went south in a horrible way that still haunts me when I think about it.

Sherry tried to get some lifestyle shots of Azra interacting with her fellow employees. She suggested that Azra pose for a photo with one of her younger employees, a dark-haired man in his early twenties, and Azra went ballistic.

“No!… I will not take a picture with him! I hate him!,” Azra shouted and then she stormed back into her office and called Lulu again.

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Then of course came the inevitable call from Lulu who berated me again and repeated her warning that “we were going to lose the client!”

Pam came up to me and told me that Azra had canceled the photoshoot, but after I apologized to Azra profusely she reluctantly decided to finish it.

But she repeated several times that “I won’t take a picture with him! I hate him!”

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The even more shocking thing was Azra was general manager of the office and west coast region for the airline and she still melted down this way in front a member of the media. Even more baffling is I thought Azra was the boss and the person she hated worked for her! Yet she came across as a powerless, petulant, and immature child.

Sherry naturally was mortified and kept asking me if Azra was OK.

How were either of us to know that we would offend Azra simply by asking her to pose with one of her employees?

Finally, after Sherry did some quick and simple set up shots with Azra posing with airline props and standing in front of the airlines’ logo, the nightmare photoshoot was over 10 hours after it was supposed to start.

Azra apologized to Sherry profusely and thanked her. Sherry said it was no problem but she still appeared shook up as she quickly packed up her photography equipment and made a quick exit.

I was beyond embarrassed and didn’t know what to say except to thank Sherry for her patience.

Azra thanked me too, but she didn’t apologize. She then went back to her office and called Lulu again, but this time apparently everything was OK.

Lulu called me as I was leaving and thanked me for managing the photoshoot and she shared that Azra was happy that I was there and excited to see how photos came out.

WTF?!! Azra basically loses her shit and puts me and the photographer through hell and she can’t wait to see the photos!??

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As drove down the 405 Freeway toward our office after my call with Lulu, I seriously pondered quitting. It was beyond a demoralizing experience and made me question what I was doing with my career but also my life.

After the business cover finally came out four months later, Azra was ecstatic and praised Sherry for her photos and was very pleased with me for setting it up.

Yet when Azra tried to book Sherry for another photoshoot, she refused.

Sherry told me later that she was disturbed by Azra’s unprofessional behavior.

“She really seemed angry and disturbed during the photoshoot. I am uncomfortable going through something like that again,” Sherry said. “I have done thousands of photoshoots with top CEOs and business executives and I have never experienced a meltdown like that.”

Azra tried to smooth over things with me by sending me flowers and chocolates at our office, which I threw out in a dumpster after I left work.

There was no way I was going to be bought off like that.

A few months later, Azra even sent me a roundtrip airline ticket to Turkey, which I didn’t use to my regret — I was too busy, overworked and broke to actually take a vacation — but in retrospect maybe it was for the best.

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No amount of gifts could take away the ugliness of the way she treated me during her meltdown.  Nothing could make up for me having to deal with her crazy ass.

My job was hard enough, but this was a craziness I could do without.

I had heard of horror stories from celebrity PR people having to deal with meltdowns like this on a daily basis, (another reason I avoid entertainment PR), but until you actually go through it, you have no idea how horrible such a client tantrum can be.