Being gay used to be the story. Nowadays, we see LGBT influences in PR telling the media what the story ought to be. I interviewed two outstanding publicists who are making Mad Men era’s “straight employees only” whispered policy obsolete.
#1: Steve Deitsch
REVERBERATE! Marketing Communications
An MBA is incredible and provides a vast learning experience for the business world in terms of book knowledge, but it doesn’t teach you about life experiences or how to interact with people. When you were learning how the PR world, what did you have to do?
Getting an MBA was a great learning experience, and for me one of the best parts was being around such smart, motivated and talented people. That in itself was inspiring. Much of what we learned at business school is geared for people who want to go into banking, finance or consulting. I chose a different path, and it seems there are very few MBAs in public relations and communications. Much of what I’ve learned in my career I’ve learned on the job, such as dealing with difficult situations, negotiating a contract, or creating something out of nothing. But every day, I use marketing strategy that I learned in business school and apply it to my clients’ projects.
For someone searching for a publicist, what should he or she do? How can someone tell if someone is right for themselves or their company?
My recommendation would be to get referrals from others, including from media outlets you care about. Also, it’s important to have chemistry with your account team , so meet them and make sure you like them. Also, make sure you will be working with a senior-level person on a day-to-day basis – not a junior person who is learning on the job. Make sure you give the potential firms information on your business situation, your brand, your objectives and your marketing budget – it will help them hone in and give you better programs. Also, check references and look at the results they provided for other clients.
Your brand info states you care a lot about loyalty. This is really hard to do when you just meet someone for the first time, but as they say, the first impression can sometimes be someone’s only impression of you. How do you show someone who could be a client that you will indeed be very local and a commodity to them in business?
A lot of PR/marketing people are “talkers” – they will sell you the moon, and then not deliver. My philosophy is not to BS people – I always tell it like it is. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver. If that begins to earn a client’s respect and loyalty, we will make a good team!
And this goes for people outside PR: what is your advice for people in any industry when it comes to showing themselves in their best light?
Be direct and honest. Speak from the heart and be yourself. Give away enough information so that they want more, but not so much that they might try to steal your ideas.
For a product launch, you don’t want to come off like you’re selling snake oil, but you need to push clients and their great work. How do you work with clients so they don’t come off seedy and people can say, “Hey, maybe someone like Estée Lauder has a great new cream?” In terms of both the media covering the event and the actual consumers?
The media and consumers are pretty savvy, generally. They can smell when something is hokey or fishy. But most of all, they can tell right away whether a product or campaign speaks to them in a relevant and engaging way (or not). I would say, most of all, know your target audience. For example, if your target consumer is educated and sophisticated, then an over-the-top or pushy campaign might backfire.
Especially with working for Pfizer and Botox – people can be pretty skeptical when covering pharmaceutical companies or corporations related to cosmetic fillers and uses – how did you successfully lead campaigns through a friendly approach?
Most people think of Botox as a cosmetic “wrinkle relaxer” – but it actually is a treatment for many serious health issues, such as migraine headaches, chronic pain, juvenile cerebral palsy, etc. Botox has more recently gotten approval from the FDA for treating these problems, which helps its image as cosmetic and “fluffy.” Also, the maker of Botox Cosmetic, Allergan, highly discourages things like Botox parties that reduce the seriousness of the treatment. I was involved with everything from media relations on new studies and new treatment options for Botox, to issues management when there was misuse of the product that led to a negative result.
Your PR site mentions you additionally specialize in LGBT PR. What issues arise with LGBT clients that you don’t normally have to deal with otherwise?
The LGBT audience is so important – they spend upwards of $800 Billion in the US alone every year, and are huge influencers of fashion, travel, fitness, entertainment and technology. But reaching this audience is not as easy as it might seem. As I mentioned earlier, knowing your target audience and learning how to speak to them in a relevant, engaging way is so important to marketing a product to that audience. Knowing the right words and images to use with an LGBT audience is crucial, because this audience is particularly sensitive. There are words that you never want to use with this audience, for example, “lifestyle,” “homosexual” or “preference.” The LGBT audience is incredibly brand loyal, though, and once they are a fan of your brand, they will often become passionate advocates of your brand for long periods of time.
How has being gay yourself led you to being a stronger person in your personal life and professionally? I hate to say it like this…but pretending I were a prospective client, in full honesty, I would think dealing with inner conflict and the usual range of emotions one goes through, as well as fitting in with society, would make you a very tough cookie and someone worthy of my time. In comparison to someone who has never had anything happen to them and sort of just landed a PR job because they felt like it in the morning over a bowl of Lucky Charms, you know?
As a minority, being LGBT is different from being African-American or female or Hispanic, for example. Gays can usually assimilate and hide the fact that they are gay – something most other minorities can’t. And many of us as children did not realize we were LGBT. So we were once “on the inside” and later pushed to “the outside.” This has enabled me (and many of my LGBT compatriots) to deal with people who are different from us with empathy instead of hatred and anger. And although it is changing rapidly, LGBTs, it seems, are the last minority that it’s “OK to hate.” For example, LGBT’s can legally be fired in 29 states, just for being gay, even in 2013! So we still have a lot of discrimination and difficulties to deal with. This has made all of us stronger people.
Please tell everyone about what you are doing this week and in the near future with your PR company and brands you are working with!
We work with a wide variety of clients, from New York Life to the American Cancer Society, from a top 40 Billboard recording artist, to the only LGBT Art Museum in the world. We are also working on a public education campaign to end discrimination at work for LGBTs and are working on a project for a major airline.
Paper Rox Scissors
Why did you call your company Paper Rox Scissors? Is it because PR is like a game of chance?
I chose Paper Rox Scissors because it’s a play on my name, Mikey Rox. But Mikey Rox isn’t my real name. It’s a pseudonym I came up with many years ago as an entertainment journalist that has sort of taken on a life of its own. I thought Paper Rox Scissors was clever. It’s really sort of an exercise in branding at this point.
Being new to PR isn’t really a bad thing. If anything, it makes you less “been there, done that.” You think freshly. What are some examples of how you are a great fit for the new decade in PR?
I had an opportunity to add PR to my suite of creative services about two years ago. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know much about the pitching side of PR because, as a writer, I was the one that was being pitched. Nonetheless, I decided to make a go of it, but instead of going the traditional route of charging my clients a monthly retainer, I decided to establish a pay-per-placement model. I thought it was only fair that my clients only pay for the placements I get them opposed to paying a flat monthly fee for something I cannot (and no PR person, mind you) can guarantee. I have a rate card that assigns a reasonable fee to specific types of media like digital placements, national print publications, and local or national TV. An editor at PRWeek once told me that this model is unethical, which made me scratch my head. What’s unethical about laying all the cards out on the table, being transparent, and busting my ass to get my clients what they want in terms of positive public relations? My business model fills a void in the PR world by allowing small businesses that can’t afford a pricey agency to have someone motivated and knowledgeable handle their campaigns. While this may not be the ‘future’ of PR, it’s certainly my future – because unlike a lot of flacks I’ve encountered, I actually like to work.
So, let’s say someone has a severe PR emergency. Someone might have done something like say, “I hate kittens, Justin Bieber, support terrorism and have a new sex tape out.” (Hopefully, that hasn’t happened to any one person at once.) What do you do for damage control?
I don’t rep individuals (although I get asked to rep artists, models, actors, etc. frequently) because it’s really hard to control the message when someone else is talking. People are unpredictable, and that’s just not something I want to get into. How can I, with a good conscience, defend my client to the press and put a positive spin on something with which I don’t agree? I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. So instead of eventually having to drop that idiot on his ass for saying something stupid, I’ve chosen to stay away from the situation entirely. Sadly there’s probably a lot of money involved in that sector, but my reputation is worth more to me than whatever that person could pay me.
Do you believe all publicity is good publicity?
Clearly not all publicity is good publicity. Lance Armstrong is a prime example. I do believe, though, that if people aren’t talking about you, you don’t matter. So thanks for taking the time to talk about me. 🙂
Ages ago, being gay would have been terrible PR. Think about the 1950’s and movie studios! Now, Neil Patrick Harris is a star as a gay man and what seems to be, in his role as a super parent. If you had an LGBT client, what advice would you give them for coming out or if they were never really closeted, how to approach answering questions with the media? What about a gay CEO of a new company who is worried about his new career going down the drain with very religious consumers?
I have always been an advocate for an individual’s decision to come out. I don’t think anybody owes it to anybody besides themselves to come out of the closet. And I think it’s wholly despicable to out somebody, as a certain insecure celebrity blogger used to do. Lives and careers have been ruined by coming out, plain and simple. Consider country singer Chely Wright, as an example. After she came out, her album sales declined significantly because her audience consists primarily of conservatives. Do I wish we lived in a society where it didn’t matter? Sure I do. But it does matter, and unfortunately people can and do still lose their jobs over their sexuality. That said, I think times are changing for the better – in this regard, at least – so it’s becoming less and less cumbersome to speak out and live an honest life. Still, what happens behind closed doors is nobody’s business. If you want to keep your sexuality out of your work, you have every right to do that – and nobody should open their mouth about it unless they intend to pay your mortgage for you if you get fired.
What is your personal story of being LGBT? How did you see people react to it negatively? Before you ever did PR, how did you make people see it positively or at least, as a normal part of your being?
This isn’t something I want to dwell on anymore. I’ve told my coming-out story many times. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Amends have been made, however, and I’m now a successful businessman with a home and a husband in New York City. What I will say, though, to anybody reading this who is contemplating coming out is that everyone will react differently. Some people will embrace you with open arms; others will shut you out. But whatever happens, don’t let the douchebags bring you down. There’s nothing wrong with you. The problem is theirs. Move on and move up.
What are some exciting things you are doing for brands right now?
Currently I working on several social media campaigns, I’m blogging on lots of different topics, and I’m continuing to look for bigger and better placements for my PR clients. Right now I’m talking to editors at Better Homes and Gardens, Vogue, Cooking Light, and Fitness magazines, and I’m continuing to build relationships at TV shows like The Steve Harvey Show and Today. What’s great about what I do is that every day is different. There’s always something creative to tackle. It’s very fulfilling. I’m quite lucky to have this opportunity and I intend to make the most of it. Hopefully you’ll hear more about me and Paper Rox Scissors in the future.