A PR Pro Reinvents the Business--And Himself

College didn't train Peter Shankman for what his clients demand, but this public relations specialist has found the key to succeeding as a publicist, press agent, promoter, or whatever else he must be to make things work.

Where to begin... I don't even know. OK. Let me start off by saying that, Glory be, I'm actually NOT writing this from a plane!! Can you believe it? OF course, I AM writing this from a hotel, so my dork-o-meter is still running at least a five. But, a really nice mitigating factor in my favor is that I AM writing this poolside from the Loew's Hotel, South Beach, Miami, where it's about 85 degrees and unbelievably sunny. This while, according to my dad, it's about 45 degrees, windy, and raining, in New York City. As far as I know, I've been excommunicated from Passover Seder this year.

Anyhow... Why am I down here... Well, it's the annual Winter Music Conference here, which, loosely translated, means get tan all day, and go to various clubs at night and listen to the most amazing spin DJ's on the planet. One of my clients threw a party last night at Opium Gardens, the hottest club in SoBe, and I spent the evening listening to Junior Vasquez, Remy, and a host of other DJ's spin the most amazing music I've heard since I was in college and got talked into going to a Gay club for the night. Truly spectacular.

Of course, it's not all fun and games, as my client did have a major presence at the event, and I had a huge hand in making sure everything went off without a hitch. Which, for the most part, it did. The client seemed happy, the talent for the event arrived, got in, and performed without a problem, and everyone in general, seemed to have a really good time. I got back to the hotel at around 4:30am, and after a quick dip in the Jacuzzi to wash off six layers of "club," I was asleep by 5am. It's now 10:30am Sunday morning, and I'm at the pool, ever the Geek, typing away on my Vaio.

So what WAS last night? Well, for starters, I had to be the "publicist," as opposed to the "media relations specialist," or the "press agent." Like all of us who handle clients, we have no idea who we're going to have to be or what we're going to have to do until we're there, at the press conference, or at the door of the nightclub explaining to "Sven" that our guest list IS confirmed, or in the meeting with the client and the reporter, or behind the producer's chair watching our client get grilled by Alan Keyes. We arrive, either at our office, or at the meeting, or at the event or conference, as an amoeba, ready to morph into whatever organism our client, but more importantly, the situation demands.

Remember college? Everyone had a "major," and it was your defining academic/professional characteristic. "I'm a management major." "I'm a History major." We were segmented into our nice, neat categories, and that's how, at least academically, you were defined. So be it. That was college.

Now... Fast forward a few years. (OK, for me, eight. Yes, I'm going to be thirty in five and a half months. "Bitter? Party of one? Your table is ready..." But I digress.)

So I'm out of school...working in a real job. For the majority of people with whom I went to school at Boston University, that means one of three things... "Trader, Broker, or Investment Banker." Then there's us... The different breed.

(FYI, this is where my ramble fine-tunes into an actual POINT.)

"So you're a promoter," these four in-since-the-pool-party-last-August-at-Jennifer's-dad's-house-in-Wildwood women at the pool ask me. "No, not really," I answer. "For the next five minutes, I might be, though."

Look, none of us want to, or deserve to be "Cory-ized," (named for Cory Haim/Feldman, who got typecast and could only get teen-based roles and eventually fell off the planet and wound up on a "Where are they now" special on E!) and get branded as "this," or "that." Because in the end, we, this collective of non-bankers, non-traders, and non military, medical, or government employees that we all are (and yes, I'm probably leaving out a sector or two) are above being branded to a specific "type" of PR. Even if we're a specialist, and only work on, say, healthcare, or tech, we're still not simply a healthcare or tech PR specialist, because not ONE DAY GOES BY where we're not called on to do so much more!

Come on - how often has your client asked you to do something so out of the ordinary, something that you were NOT trained for in school, something that you simply had to learn on the fly? And you DID! And chances are you did it DAMN WELL, too! Why? Because unlike virtually every other industry in the world, Public Relations professionals have to make their number one ability NOT the ability to do our job, but rather, the ability to ADAPT. We adapt, or we die. In the end, we have to be more flexible than our clients, we have to know more, be able to do more, and we have to be able to land the 747 Heavy, fully loaded, on 5th Avenue in the middle of rush hour, without letting the client know that there was even so much as a bump on the runway. Our classes might have taught us the best way to write a press release, and our mentors might have imparted the wisdom of which reporters like what story, but in the end, our world is so much more. In the end, we do whatever it takes to make the situation work, and each day, that "whatever it takes" will be something completely different. We know that, and for the most part, we embrace and THRIVE on that!

I'd even go so far as to say that we're the Navy freakin' SEALS of the business world. The Rescue 1 unit of the business economy. The only easy day was yesterday, baby.

So, we, this band of promoters, publicists, event planners, public relations specialists... Rise up, I say. Rise up and claim your new title. The title of "Uber-Adaptor-Extraordinaire." Because in the very end, at the end of the night, as the client is falling into a drunken sleep, and the talent is off to dreamland where the contracts are fair, we retreat to our 4:30am Jacuzzi, secure in the knowledge that what we did tonight was probably not what we were classically trained for, not what we were taught in any class, and most certainly not what anyone in any position of power ever warned us about. What we did tonight, like every other night, was adapt. We digested the client's orders, which were, of course, completely different from the orders we got the day before at the final, "this is it, nothing will change from this" planning meeting, and we adapted. We reached down inside of us, and pulled out that promoter, that publicist, that Samantha Jones attitude, that Lance Armstrong determination, that Boutros-Boutros Ghali diplomacy, that one of thousands upon thousands of personas that we keep locked away, ready at a moment's notice for when we need them, we rose to the occasion, and we performed. And dammit, we performed WELL.

"So you're in South Beach for work? What do you do for a living?"

"I adapt."

Peter Shankman is a freelance publicist, handling everything from entertainment, to consumer, to tech. Peter is still CEO of The Geek Factory, an agency he started a few years ago, and sold in June of 2001. Peter spends a good majority of his time on planes, and is a big believer in both the trusted traveller card, and the INS PortPass. When not working or travelling, Peter can be found running the loop of Central Park, or marathons worldwide. Peter lives in midtown Manhattan with his two psychotic cats, Karma and NASA.

This article originally appeared in Geekspeak, Peter's occasional newsletter. To subscribe, geekspeak-subscribe@topica.com


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