Update about the launch of Life in Public Relations Hell novel in 2022

I wanted to kick off a new year with an update about my upcoming novel exploring my life in public relations hell.

This year, I made great progress and I am working on finishing the 13th draft of my novel.  After I complete two more drafts, I will publish the first volume of my novel series later this year as a digital and paperback book. I also plan to look into Amazon’s new hardback book service with this book.

I love how my novel is coming out. I started this blog in early 2019 to cope with my growing dissatisfaction with my long-time public relations career. It has been a lifeline for me, helping me deal with my ongoing job frustration.

Finally sharing my frank views on the dark side of the public relations industry and just how nightmarish and heartbreaking it can be to work as a publicist or public relations executive has proved a liberating experience for me.

I was hoping to have my book out sooner but a combination of financial difficulties and the impact of the covid pandemic delayed my novel’s launch.

However, with recent developments and trends in the job market including the Great Resignation, this year is the perfect time to share my novel.

Once I publish my first PR hell novel next year, I will begin working on the second volume of my series for launch in 2023 or 2024.

Stay tuned for upcoming book cover reveals and other book launch details later this year.

Happy New Year!!

GP

Update on Life in Public Relations Hell Book

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I wanted to give a quick update on the status of my Life in Public Relations Hell book based on this blog. I am thrilled to share that this weekend I completed the first draft of my upcoming book.

I love how it is coming together. It is turning out to be an epic novel — 55 chapters and more than 600 pages — detailing the funny, crazy, strange, heartbreaking tales from my long-time public relations career.  As you can already tell from my blog, I hold nothing back in the frank and honest way I describe the up and downs of working in public relations.  Not all of the chapters in my book will end up on my blog as I will save some exclusively for my novel.

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I plan to take a short break before starting on the second draft of my novel.  I am planning that this novel will need about 9-10 drafts before it will be ready to share. So, that should take me about a year or two before my novel is ready to publish on Amazon, etc. 

So far, it has been an incredible journey exploring my angst, heartbreak, frustration and honest feelings about my PR career and the public relations industry overall through my novel and this blog. I can’t wait to share as this will be only the first volume of many planned novels depicting my public relations experiences.

In the meantime, please return to my blog periodically as I will be sharing a new post of a chapter from my upcoming novel each month or two as I work toward completing a final published book.

JW

 

 

PowerPoint Sucks

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I hate PowerPoint.

I despise everything about it.

I believe PowerPoint is difficult to use, and it is especially a nightmare for some like me who is not graphically inclined and lives for writing and creating words. My favorite business software application is Microsoft Word. So you get the picture, so to speak. I am a wordsmith who is beyond frustrated when I am forced to use this lame business software — PowerPoint — that wasn’t made for someone like me.

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Actually, when I joined the public relations industry in the mid-1990s, PowerPoint was the domain of salespeople and sales managers. No one used PowerPoint at the downtown L.A. public relations firms I worked for and we thought it was appropriately difficult to use and inefficient for our needs. We used Word for our proposals as it is so much easier to use and manipulating text and images is no problem at all. The only time I remember seeing PowerPoint back then is when some salesperson would visit our office pushing some office software, etc. and they would set up a slide presentation. Also, I do remember some hospital administrators using PowerPoint in presentations. But in the numerous proposals, I was involved with at the PR firm I worked at, we stuck with Word, which worked much better for us and we were spared PowerPoint design hell.

In fact, I don’t recall using PowerPoint at any of the PR agencies I worked at during

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the next decade. I do remember a freelance client in the late 2000s changing my Word proposals into PowerPoint slides, but it wasn’t a task I actually had to perform so I remained clueless in knowing how to use PowerPoint. I was more concerned with the writing content of the proposals, not the slick presentation. I also never used PowerPoint in any of the freelance proposals I sent to clients and no one ever said anything about it. When I joined another PR firm in the late 2000s, they also didn’t use PowerPoint for new business proposals.

Unbeknownst to me, somewhere along the line PowerPoint’s stature had changed drastically in the public relations and business worlds. PowerPoint became the defacto software program used in public relations proposals. Now, this wouldn’t normally be a problem, but it was in my case, as I had never used the program and was completely ignorant about even its most basic uses. Honestly, there were people out of college who could blow me away with their PowerPoint skills and they weren’t even graphic artists.

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Why is any of this important? Why I am writing about my disgust with a business software program?

Well, PowerPoint or my lack of ability to use this lame program, got me in trouble with my recent PR bosses and nearly cost one of my jobs. I am a fucking public relations person hired I thought to secure top media placements and run PR campaigns not some graphic artist whiz.

Crazy.

My first PowerPoint hiccup came when I joined a horrible e-commerce company in San Bernardino County as a PR manager.

Duke Brantley, the company’s marketing director, (who always hated me and wasn’t thrilled I was hired in the first place),wanted me to put together PowerPoint slides for a deck (corporate speak for presentation) we were going to present to our CEO to show the quarterly progress of our marketing programs. I was embarrassed that I had to confess to Duke that I had never used the program and he was both surprised and angry.

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“Jake, you need it for your job,” Duke snapped. “Take a look at some online tutorial for guidance or ask one of your colleagues to help.”

Duke made me feel dumb for not knowing how to use PowerPoint. Damn. It wasn’t anything I had ever needed until now as my previous employers were more interested in my writing, media relations and PR skills for securing placements for their clients than me using some fucking graphics software.

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Duke, who was an asshole I will write about more in a later blog, was adamant that I had to learn how to use PowerPoint. Through using an online tutorial, I was able to learn rudimentary skills to develop slides for our marketing decks. It was pretty basic slides I created, but even Duke was OK with it.

When I left the e-commerce months later to take a job with the Yilmaz Agency, I thought I was through with using PowerPoint. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Lulu, who I had mentioned in a previous blog, fancied herself an artist, and as a result, was even more critical than Duke about my lack of PowerPoint skills. It nearly cost me my job. This was being lost in PowerPoint hell to the extreme. Lulu was very critical of the presentations of our PR team’s PowerPoint proposals and lamented them as not being visually interesting.  These were huge 50-60 page proposals that would take days, sometimes weeks to prepare, which was agonizing for me, someone who had little or no skills in creating visually appealing PowerPoint slides.

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Even Molly Paulson, who managed our agency’s NY office, agreed with me how crazy it was for Lulu to expect us to be PowerPoint graphics pros. She said at her past agencies they would hire a graphic artist to work on the visual aspects of their PowerPoint presentations while the PR team honed the actual content. That made sense to me, but remember Lulu was crazy after all.

After Lulu mentally beat up me and the entire team over the look of our proposals for a Brooklyn e-commerce company and a healthcare client, things came to a head. Lulu confronted me in a heated private meeting and asked me how I could approve of such shoddy visual work on our proposal decks.

“Your head is not in the job, Jake,” she said. “How could you let such work go? Are you looking for another job?”

Honestly, I was looking for another job, but that was not the reason I was struggling with her high PowerPoint and proposal standards.

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“Lulu,” I told her. “I am not a graphic artist. I am a PR expert. I am not trained in using PowerPoint and other graphics tools or identifying areas where the visuals can be improved. That is not my skill. Is that why you hired me? To put together PowerPoint decks? That is not what I bring to your agency.  I mean look at all of the media placements and successful PR campaigns I have run since I got here. I didn’t know I was supposed to be a graphics pro, too.”

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Lulu finally admitted that she was wrong to expect me to be some PowerPoint expert and she backed off.  Going forward, she would actually run the deck past a graphics artist before sending it to the client and she stressed that she wanted me and the rest of the team to focus more on the content of the proposals.

However, that didn’t stop Lulu from occasionally dumping a 50 or 60-page PowerPoint proposal on me and rest of the team to work on during the weekend. But at least, I wasn’t responsible for the “look” of the deck.

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One good thing Dane did when he joined our agency was to convince Lulu to get rid of these huge, cumbersome PowerPoint decks and actually create our proposals in Word. I know Lulu didn’t like it as it didn’t appeal to her artistic side, but even she admitted that Word was a hell of a lot more efficient and easier to work with than PowerPoint when creating proposals.

Thankfully, I don’t have to use PowerPoint at my current agency as we use Word for our proposal documents. I don’t miss it at all.

Unfortunately, I still have nightmares about having to create huge PowerPoint decks again if I decide to work at another agency. I guess have PowerPoint phobia. Strange I know, but if I see a job listing where it states that I have to use PowerPoint I will just skip over the job opportunity.

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I want to spend time at work strategizing how to secure top media coverage and not putting together some fancy PowerPoint presentation to impress current and potential clients. This shouldn’t be that hard to understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

Big Agency Fools

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Bigger is not always better.

And get your mind out of the gutter…as I am not talking about sex.

As a strategy to bring more professional respectability to her fledgling small PR agency, my boss Lulu would hire managers and executives from big public relations agencies through the years.

It really didn’t work as most of them proved sadly to be what I called “Big Agency Fools.”

They weren’t a good fit for the fast-paced, bootstrapping nature of small PR agency life where we had to do everything from putting together media lists, writing releases, pitching the media, putting together proposals, and handling client relations.

These big agency fools were used to having 20-30 person teams to throw at a PR campaign. We had small teams of 4-8 people at the most.

So, these fools right away would show deficiencies in their writing, creativity and media relations skills.

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Two “Big Agency Fools” come to mind to illustrate this.

Jason Spinelli joined our firm to run the Chicago office from a large global agency. He was fine with managing projects and could push the paper — my phrase for handling administrative, non-creative tasks. Not surprising he quickly became close friends with Molly Paulson, the queen of our agency’s paper pushers that ran our New York office.

But when it came to providing creativity or knowing anything about media relations, Jason was clueless.

I saw this when he tried to write a lame pitch for our airline client. His press releases were also slick, empty and uncreative, but that was already the norm at our agency.

Jason was also decades younger than me which proved embarrassing when he tried to advise me about public relations, but most specifically, media relations.

I was securing huge media placements in the New York Times, CNN and other top publications when he was in grade school.

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Jason soon after realized he made a mistake and couldn’t handle the small agency workload and stressful life, not to mention Lulu’s craziness. Jason left our firm and made an odd career pivot into advertising and moved out west to intern?!! for an advertising agency. He hardly showed any sign of being creative while at our agency so I wonder how that worked out.

Jason was basically a nice guy in over his head, but Dane Flynn, who replaced our VP of Panic, Miriam Letti, was the worst of the big agency fools to join Lulu’s company while I was there.

From the start, I despised this arrogant faker who hid his skills deficiency in bluster and rudeness. Dane was a rude motherfucker from our first encounter.

He attacked me in a meeting in his first week at our agency about being too truthful with a client about our media relations efforts.

Our lame client was an online video sharing company that was trying to rival YouTube. Good luck with that. There’s a business graveyard of small companies that have tried to do the same thing through the years.

On behalf of our lame client, I contacted a top writer at one of the entertainment trades about doing a story about their launch and plans for the future. The writer said it was too early for the company to receive a profile and that she wanted to wait a couple of years to see how they developed in the highly-competitive online video industry.

Seemed like a reasonable response to me, and our client was OK with it as they were happy for the frank feedback.

However, this creep Dane was pissed off that I told our client what the writer had said in a previous meeting. This happened in a client meeting before the fool actually joined our agency.

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“If I was your client, and you told me that, I would have been offended,” Dane sneered. “I would wonder if I wanted to work with you anymore. I wouldn’t trust you to share my story.”

Unlike this fool Dane, I believe in transparency in client relations.

“I am not going to lie to our clients,” I told him. “I believe in providing them with honest media feedback.”

Dane did not agree and he forbade me to talk to our client honestly again about our media relations efforts as he took over lame leadership of the account. Lulu, of course, stayed silent and didn’t object to this fool’s ignorance.

At that moment, I knew Dane was a fraud that knew nothing about media relations, let alone client relations.

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He wanted to me to deceive our clients. I knew then things had taken another dark turn at our agency. It was no surprise when we lost our dumb video client a couple of months later. They actually said they were frustrated because we weren’t being open and transparent!! with them regarding our media outreach.

Soon after, Dane tried to bring client hour restrictions and big agency budget controls to our small firm. Essentially, he implemented big agency budget hell at our firm. Now we had to account for every fucking hour we spent trying to make our clients happy.

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Due to his big agency background, Dane was completely clueless that our clients hired a small boutique agency to receive more service, not less.

Even worse, this big agency fool would force us to go to our clients and say we would cut them off once we reached our hours limit unless they paid more.

We also had to send Dane weekly hours reports and then have horrible, time-consuming meetings about it.

In another one of Dane’s cost-cutting measures, the idiot convinced Lulu to close down our agency’s L.A. office.

I loved working in our office that was located in a high rise in the L.A. area. It felt cool being part of the bustling business community located near our office. We had a great view of the ocean as well.

So, I had to return working remotely from my home, which is I wanted to avoid when joining Lulu’s firm. Trying to do conference calls from my home across many offices was just one of the many challenges I faced working from home for our lame agency.

Another low point involving Dane was during my last CES visit with Lulu’s agency.

I met Dane for the first time in person and found him even more of an arrogant creep in real life.

I hate CES anyway, but having to be there with this idiot only made it worse.

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He walked into the CES suite of our consumer electronics audio client from Canada and was very standoffish and rude.

“Are you happy?” he said bluntly to our client, a nice Asian woman named Clarice, who was one of my favorite clients. “Are you getting what you want?”

She said yes and praised our work, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. She paid us $4K a month and Dane considered her small client not worth his time and he treated as such.

I felt so embarrassed as we left after five minutes of visiting with her as I had promised we would stay for 30 minutes and talk about how the show was going and her company’s upcoming meetings with the media.

Dane said to me as we left that our client was “kind of a cold bitch.”

I didn’t know what to say as she was quiet but a very nice lady. Not a bitch at all.

But what do you expect as Dane was an asshole after all.

Later we had drinks and he confessed to me that he didn’t have much respect for Lulu and Lorne (we were in agreement there) and that his favorite employee at the Chicago office was a whiny Millennial named Marissa Aslan, a Turkish woman that started working at our firm as an intern and later was hired as an account executive. Marissa was annoying paper pusher who couldn’t write worth a shit. Her pitches and press releases were barely passable, but apparently, she knew how to kiss Dane’s ass. They did share negative attitudes, though, so I was not surprised they got along. Marissa later cost us a client with a stupid email blunder, but I’ll get into that more in a later blog.

Later during our CES trip things went from bad to worse. We had booked our difficult tech client from France, who was exhibiting a smart shoe, for an opportunity on the Today Show. The client was hard to work with and wouldn’t send the shoe, which was still in prototype form, to the show via mail. They insisted on taking the shoe to New York themselves so Today could include it in a tech roundup show. Naturally, it was a logistical nightmare, but I had it under control. At least, I thought so, but Dane began sending me worried emails about my handling of the Today show opportunity.

I emailed him back “No worries” and that everything was being handled appropriately.

He shot back a rude email writing: “I know that ‘no worries’ is just a phrase everyone uses, but frankly, I am worried. I am very concerned with how you are managing this big opportunity.”

I was beyond pissed off. I used “no worries” to tell him not to be concerned that I was doing my fucking job and he used it against me. Another new low.

By the way, our client’s smart shoe was eventually featured on the Today Show and they were thrilled. Dane looked like the asshole in the end, even though he probably privately took credit for it and said it was his ugly management style that forced me to do my job. Nothing could be further from the truth as I have booked numerous huge TV placements even before that idiot Dane was in the PR business.

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Another troubling development took place at the show when I was not invited to a CES dinner with Dane, Lulu, and Lorne. Lulu had always invited me to dinner while at CES to talk about the future, but now I realized I probably didn’t have one on her agency.

When I got back home from another successful CES where I had secured a lot of media for our smart shoe and audio clients, Dane called me. I thought I was going to be fired. In fact, I actually wished for it. Instead, Dane called to inform me that he was cutting my pay 50 percent so now I was making my lowest salary since the late 1990s. I was disgusted and shocked and determined to leave Lulu’s firm more than ever.

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I know it is not professional, but the pay cut was my breaking point. I didn’t quit but also didn’t give a fuck anymore. During the next six months, I started getting up late, missing meetings and worked my own hours. I no longer gave a fuck what Dane or Lulu thought. I dared them to fire me and put me out of my misery.

The way I looked at it if they were going to pay me a lot less, they were going to get a lot less of my work and dedication.

Yet I still took care of my client’s media relations needs and secured top media placements, but really that was for me as I launched an aggressive job search and wanted new media coverage for my updated portfolio. Unfortunately, I struggled to find a new job and was stuck at Lulu’s as they wouldn’t fire me. Essentially, I had become cost-effective and Lulu and Dane wanted my media expertise on staff in case we got new clients that needed top media coverage.

Early the following summer, Dane went on a long vacation. I was relieved as any day not dealing with his arrogant, stupid ass was a blessing. Apparently, the day he returned from his trip Dane got into an argument with Lulu and abruptly left our agency. The fucker didn’t even leave a two-week notice. Hardly professional considering all the fake professional BS he tried to shove down our throats during his time at our small agency. (I will have more on Dane’s ugly departure in a later blog).

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Although Dane was an unprofessional, insufferable asshole, he at least did one good thing. His quitting finally dissuaded Lulu to abandon her practice of hiring big agency fools and soon after she sold her company.

However, in a sad commentary about the PR business and business in general, after inflicting stress and damage at our agency, Dane landed on his feet and not long after was hired by a big agency again. So, the big agency fool had returned home.

Crazy. I can only imagine the ugly administrative fakery he is foisting on his new agency and colleagues.

 

 

 

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!??

losing my shit

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.

 

Not A Turkish Delight

turkey crazy

Working for a perfectionist is a special kind of hell.

I have worked for my share of micromanaging perfectionists in my long public relations career, but someone I worked for a while ago, Lulu Yilmaz, was by far the worst.

Lulu was a short blonde Turkish woman in her late thirties who ran her own firm, the Yilmaz Agency, with offices in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

She was headstrong, pushy, very opinionated, and hated when anyone on her staff challenged her.

Lulu also fancied herself an artist and had her lame artworks featured on the walls through her offices. It was truly pedestrian impressionist art to me and I don’t know shit about art. This artistic side of her proved a pain in the ass later when she would be very critical of our PowerPoint proposals as not being beautiful enough. I hate PowerPoint, but more on that later.

Lulu had experience in public relations, more than 15 years, but she knew next to nothing about media relations and couldn’t write worth a shit.

Even worse, nothing we did was ever good enough for her.

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You could have one of the agency’s clients on the Today Show or in the Wall Street Journal and it would never matter. You could never build up trust with her.

It felt like have a bank account flush with money one day, and empty the next.

Or it was like trying to build a house on a foundation of quicksand.

Lulu was also extremely blunt in her criticism, and many times, it felt as if you could do nothing right when working for her.

“Now, Jake,” she would say in a condescending tone of disapproval and disdain. “Our client is not happy.” Then she would follow with a litany of criticisms that many times were unfounded or unfair.

However, since she expected perfection, you could never hope to match the delusions in her crazy mind. It was demoralizing, to say the least.

Lulu used berate our teams in horrible conference calls that I called “media relations beatdowns.”

horrible boss

Lulu would try to shame us and tell us we were keeping her up at night by not delivering results for her clients. Sometimes she would do this on Friday, and then demand we pitch the media, even though everyone knows in PR that this is the worst day to pitch and is usually when companies dump bad news.  Far too many times, Lulu was strategically clueless.

As I have also discovered unfortunately in this business at other agencies, our clients were always right in Lulu’s eyes (because they paid us) even when they were so obviously wrong. She was tough on her employees, but rarely, if ever, stood up to clients and defended our work. It was always our fault. However, this ignored our role as PR consultants, which is to educate clients about the PR process and advise them the best strategy to benefit their business.  Clients don’t hire us to be a “yes-man” or “yes-woman” agreeing with everything they propose. They hire us for our expertise, which is something Lulu would conveniently forget whenever we were criticized by clients.

Lulu had two coveted clients, an airline and a housewares brand (her first client), that she built her firm around. These clients abused us in so many ways but Lulu never took our side.

Also, we were always expected to drop everything to make sure these two clients were happy. It was beyond a nightmare.

At the end of my first year, Lulu declared that this is “the best team we’ve ever had at the Yilmaz Agency…”

I took pride in that initially until over the next year I sadly watched nearly everyone one of our staff leave our agency because of Lulu’s ongoing craziness and unreasonable demands. I then realized that this statement by Lulu was a lie and part of her con to try and keep us there.

crazy to work here

Even worse, she said the same thing at the end of my second and third year as well, but by then I had already seen through her manipulative bullshit.

Not surprisingly, the turnaround at the Yilmaz Agency was atrocious. When I joined the firm, there were around 35 employees spread out over the three offices.

In the following three years I worked for Lulu, more than 55 employees, (honestly, I lost count after a while), left the agency.

After someone left her agency, they were always in the wrong in Lulu’s eyes. “I heard bad things about them from clients…” was Lulu’s usual refrain.

As you could imagine, Millennials didn’t last long working for Lulu, and the ones that did became bitter and angry and difficult to work with.

God knows how tough I am on Millennials and their horrible work habits and attitudes, but they had a point with Lulu.

Lulu would work our younger staff late into the night on time-consuming proposals and projects, and on weekends and holidays, too.

crazy pr

She once dumped a 57-page PowerPoint proposal project on me and the Chicago office on a Friday afternoon. We spent all weekend on the proposal, and we later got the client, but they fired us after a month because of a fuck up from one of the junior staff that worked in the Chicago office (that unbelievably went on to work for one of the largest PR firms in the world). More on that incident later.

When I joined the firm, the young staff was already in rebellion and complained bitterly about her horrible and unappreciative management style. I had many times wondered what I had got into as I had left of the worst PR jobs as I ever had as a PR specialist at an e-commerce company. Working at Lulu’s agency proved worse. I felt embarrassed that I had described Lulu’s agency as a dream job when I left my previous position at the e-commerce company on good terms. I had no idea how much of a haunting joke that would be.

Lulu used to play of sort of bad cop, good cop routine with her vice president Miriam Letti, who I later called the VP of Panic. Miriam, who 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. She was hardly nice as Miriam would panic when Lulu attacked the staff for not living up to her crazy standards. However, 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. I also remember once Miriam giving me shit about asking for the day after Christmas off?!!

Miriam was also a horrible micromanager who would finish her work 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.  This is where the time difference really proved a nightmare. 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. I will write more about her dumb ass in a future blog.

micromanager

Lulu’s husband Lorne was also a piece of work. I secretly called him Cage Boy as he used to be a UFC fighter years before. It was also a reference to his in-your-face management style as well, even though he knew nothing about public relations. Fortunately, he didn’t work with the firm in my first couple of years there, as he started a TV UFC company/league. Through years of public relations help and advice from Lulu, before I joined the firm, (not to mention free PR help from the agency staff), his company was bought by a large corporation for hundreds of millions of dollars. So now Cage Boy was rich, and he bought a huge home for him and Lulu in a gated community.  No doubt the money made him even a bigger asshole. Not surprisingly, he was forced out shortly after the corporation bought his company. Then he started hanging out around our agency, pretending to be a cool entrepreneur. But I’ll return to Lorne’s story in a later blog.

Honestly, I couldn’t stand working for Lulu’s crazy ass. I am still not sure how I lasted more than three years working for this demented freak.

quitting

The one time that I finally stood up to her and basically told her what I thought of her lousy firm, crazy management style, and cheap ways and quit, Lulu wouldn’t accept my resignation.  It was a strange reaction as she admitted to me that no one who worked for had ever spoken as bluntly to her as I had. So Lulu gave me a raise to try and appease me and everything was OK for a short while but then things went to back to the normal craziness a few months later.

Sometimes I think I was a masochist for having stayed as long I did working for Lulu.

It nearly ruined my career.