At some point in late 2015, I got lazy.
Granted, at the time I was finally getting into my business full time, while still playing basketball and working out daily. I had a lot on my plate. It was a reasonable idea to find some help with all stuff I was involved in.
The mistakes in the end:
- I chose the wrong stuff to offload on the “help.”
- Offloading help in one’s business isn’t a “set it and forget it” thing. You have to watch over anyone working on behalf of your brand.
Still in my I’m-A-Business-Expert-Not-An-Athlete phase, I wanted to get my name out there more, and I wanted it to happen faster than it had been happening. And, though I had built my brand and made my name known through relentless self-marketing over the previous ten years, I decided that I didn’t want to do all the marketing legwork anymore.
So I hired a Public Relations agency.
What exactly does a public relations agency do? Well, if you were to ask ten people what PR can or should do for you, you’d get ten different answers. I wanted a PR firm to land me more media appearances and speaking engagements, where I could display my expertise to larger audiences.
And, as PR agencies are in fact selling their services to people like me, they make themselves very easy to find.
I spoke to some Manhattan-based PR people and didn’t trust a word any of them said. Too many fast talkers who offered nothing solid in exchange for my money. I decided that I wanted an agency that was local to South Florida, an agency whose offices I could walk into and/or whose staff I could meet and talk with in person.
I don’t remember where I found this one particular company, but they were local, based in Fort Lauderdale. I knew I was going to hire them before we even met. We arranged a face-to-face on a Friday evening in the Starbucks at Federal Highway and Broward Boulevard.
I’d connected with the agency via Twitter with a young recruiter whose name I don’t remember; he arranged a meeting between me, himself and his boss, the owner of the agency.
The owner was named Steven, an old White guy in khakis who’d formerly been an actor, doing small roles in shows like Friends back in the day. Steven had a solid, semi-convincing pitch — you need this, I know these people, we have these relationships — that would mean nothing to me today, but was enough for me to make logical justification for the emotional decision I’d already made.
What did PR do for me?
The agency’s first moves were landing me appearances on radio shows, which even in 2015 seemed an outdated approach. When’s the last time you turned on the radio?
But, I thought to myself, all press is good press. An interview on a show with even a small following was something. You never know who might be listening.
The first interview was with a radio show whose female host who was 83 years old.
We conducted the interview by phone; when she learned that I’d been living in Miami while maintaining my Philadelphia-area-code mobile number, the woman suggested that I get my number changed to the local area code; women I met would see the Philly number and think I’m not here to stay, and thus wouldn’t take me seriously when it came to relationships, she insisted.
I later did interviews on more radio shows with people who neither I nor you have ever heard of. The hosts were all in their fifties or older.
This went on for two months.
I represented myself well on each appearance, but I wasn’t feeling the fact that I was paying a PR agency to do what I had already been doing for myself, better than them in fact, before meeting them. None of these radio interviews had me feeling that I was getting any closer to where I wanted to be.
So I called Steven one afternoon and fired his agency.
“I’m discontinuing my work with [agency], effective immediately.”
He seemed taken aback by the news.
I didn’t believe his act.
Regardless, I told him what I just told you: his agency wasn’t doing anything for me that I hadn’t already done for myself; therefore they weren’t worth the money. I didn’t have time or money to invest in them building anything up.
Steven took the brief conversation in stride and wished me luck. He owned the company and had other clients; I never felt like my presence or absence would make much of a difference to him. We haven’t communicated since.
A few days later, I received an email from Danielle, the Media Director at the PR agency.
Apparently, Danielle was the person handling my account; she was the one booking me for these geriatric radio shows. Apparently, she…. well, read the email, pasted below verbatim.
(My comments are in parentheses like this.)
—— [Begin Salty email]
Good evening Mr. Baldwin,
I was advised tonight you are leaving [PR Firm] as a client as you feel you are not receiving the best quality for media interviews (Danielle and I never met nor had a conversation prior to this; this is her secondhand interpretation— which I assume she got from her boss. Not that she was inaccurate, but would’ve been better to ask me rather than to assume. From this opening sentence I could tell Danielle was design defensive). As I am the Director for this division (this is why she wrote this email— she took this firing as a personal rejection of her work), I wanted to say how you will be missed (really?), but also wanted to clear a few things up to you that may help in the future.
First, PR is an “Investment”, not a cost (again, Danielle and I never spoke— where is she getting this language?). I have been doing media bookings for both BMG and TTC since 1997. I am a professional media personality that has worked with WABC, CBS, FOX and GMA (previous two sentences: listing out your supposedly-impressive past work to defend your not-good present work. A classic tactic used by people whose present work isn’t good enough to stand on its own). Each national interview COST (I thought PR was an “investment”?) and is not free (I have never paid to be interviewed by anyone. I view a PR agency as having relationships that they can call on for people like me — if you have to pay for them, what’s your purpose?) As you are still not in the top tier of your profession (innocent little ego-jab there— nicely done), PR soars you to the top. I will say, [Steven] did a huge favor in believing in you to reduce costs.
When you engage a PR Firm, you are paying them for “Experience, Contacts, Time, and Media/Print Interviews (I told you what these got me from this firm— and, I guess, Danielle herself. They’re not “contacts” if you have to pay them to engage with your client)” It is wonderful you are able to network and get on other business shows as you did from Miami, however we have the national contacts and just recently I have been speaking with Les Brown to have you appear (of course— just after I fired you, you had something of substance lined up). All of the interviews you have been placed on were contacts of ours and in many cases costed our firm talent fees or pr service trade. You were on all national or syndicated shows and all were with media relationships with BMG/TTC.
I am sorry you are disappointed with my efforts (<<—- the REAL reason for this email. “My” efforts. Not “the company’s.” She took the firing personally), but I know we did the best of the time and funds you allowed. Mr. O’Connor had an investor pumping in additional for you to have you marketed in NYC Times Square Marquee, however all national interviews and the aforementioned will be cancelled (another classic we-were-about-to-do-THIS-but-you-blew-it!! Comment to save face. Haha). Any interviews that are scheduled for this month will remain. In addition, the holiday parties that our firm was placing you in will be removed (judging from the people they’d had me interviewing with, I’m alright with missing the parties. Everyone would have been asleep by 10PM).
It was a pleasure working in your behalf and wish you much success (think she really means that?).
—— [/ Salty email]
Now, maybe hiring PR was a good idea that was poorly executed by a weak PR firm, or a good idea ruined by a poor choice of agency on my part. Maybe we’ll find out, if I ever hire PR again.
One thing I know for sure is that you know my name and my work, and it ain’t because of Steven or Danielle.
Just as in basketball, where I became and acted as my most reliable agent, I do the same with making my name known in the thought leadership space.
None of this is to say that sports agents or PR people are useless (though many of them are).
What I am saying: The most reliable seller of You will always be you.
I should send Danielle a copy of my new book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life before it comes out on February 20. I’m not sure she’d read it, though.
What do you think?