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The Great Internet Publicist Experiment: Part Two

In the never-ending saga of using internet publicists, you can always count on two opinions: those who think publicists suck and, well, the publicists. After my column outlining my disastrous experience with one publicist, a number of her comrades rushed to their keyboards and zapped me all kinds of explanations, rationales and counterpoints.

One said I got unlucky and had picked a loser. Another claimed that I got what I paid for, being the cheapskate that I am. Still another took me to task for disparaging an entire industry.

In other words, they took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

Sure, I probably deserved what I got, but my publicist was every bit a pro. It's just that nobody bats a thousand in this league and she fanned the ball every time at bat. But let's face it: who really has the big bucks to pay huge firm? You? Me? Tell you what, we could get the chairman of General Motors to write about his experiences, but frankly, he's too busy having his boots licked by some corporate lackey.

So here's the deal: I'm a decent man. A fair human being. Which is why this week, I want to tell you about my OTHER experience with a publicist. The really positive one.

This one started in 1993, when a couple of guys came to me with -- I kid you not -- two disks and a dream. It's too boring to get specific as to what those disks contained, but the gist of it is that it was a marketing mightmare: a new software product. Not only new, but written for a category that didn't even exist. And to top it off, these guys had no money.

We raised a little money. But it was clear that it would take millions to get this puppy of the ground. And that was just to capitalize the company. To advertise the product would have taken millions, which weren't even on the radar screen. So the strategy very quickly became one of out-thinking the competition. We had just enough money for one marketing resource: a really great publicity campaign.

And the first result of that brainstorm was Judy.

The first time I met Judy was over a couple of bottles of sake at a Japanese restaurant, somewhere in Northern California, to interview her for the job of publicist. It took about a minute to see that even twenty bottles of sake wouldn't have slowed this woman down. All during dinner I had to check to see if she was plugged into the wall. The meal lasted for a couple of hours, with Judy rattling off one incredible idea after another, and me slumping in my chair, eyeballs glazed and slowly rolling into the back of my head.

The dinner ended at midnight. At one-thirty in the morning, the hotel notified me that a fax was waiting for me in the lobby: it was Judy's notes on the dinner meeting.

Jeez-Louise, I hadn't even digested my sushi yet.

Of course, Judy had far more than just energy going for her. She was bright, funny and strategically gifted. She had a golden Rolodex containing the names of all the star-makers of the PC industry, and burned through speed-dialers at the rate of one a week. She knew how to manage e-mail, fax, snail mail and phone. She knew which stories to pitch and to whom.

She knew exactly which egos to stroke, right on down to their preferred direction of stroking.

Judy was tireless. Knowledgeable in her field. Incredibly responsible with follow-through. The kind of person you'd want as your business partner, but smart enough to have refused every offer ever made. And the weirdest par was that she was really, really nice. Lots of laughs AND professional.

THIS, I thought, is what you look for in a publicist.

All of these traits were very attractive, but hey -- who DOESN'T look good when they're courting the client? The rubber meets the road when plans turn into action. So we hired Judy and went to work.

The first goal was to make the company look big. Okay, not big. How about "legitimate." The fact is that we would have settled for anything over and above "pathetic". If you included Judy, our total head count was seven. Frankel & Anderson supplied the marketing and press materials, which I must admit, were very impressive. Judy wrote the press releases and managed the press. We did shows and interviews and demos, and every one of them was to someone really influential. Not all were home runs, but her hit rate was so high that by the end of the campaign, we were able to claim the following results:

  • Seven (I think) of the PC industry's leading magazines gave the product a prominent editorial position with rave reviews.
  • The company displaced Wordperfect (this was 1994, by now) as the darling of one of the industry's most influential shows, and left everyone wondering "how we were able to keep such a huge company so secret."
  • A very influential PC editor proclaimed the product to be "the best revenue producer of the year."

Did I mention that not long after that, we were able to get the company funded for $3.5 million -- for only 36% of the company -- from one of the Bay Area's most influential venture firms?

NOW you know just how good a publicist can be. Even when they're working out of their virtual closets, as Judy was at the time.The point is that when it comes to publicists -- internet or otherwise -- there are good apples and rotten ones.

You just gotta know how to pick 'em.

© 1998, Rob Frankel

In addition to co-hosting the nationally-syndicated radio show LOG ON USA, Rob Frankel is a regular contributor to Ziff Davis' Internet Business, a speaker, consultant and president of Frankel & Anderson, America's first award-winning, 100% digital advertising and marketing agency, providing Advertising, Marketing & Killer Creative to clients throughout the world. You can reach Rob directly at or toll-free (throughout North America) at 1-888-ROBFRANKEL, and see/hear samples of Killer Creative at

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