Billionaire Client Work
It’s been my honor to provide PR services for very senior leaders, including in Canada for Bill Gates and Donald Trump and in Korea for George Soros. Over the years, I’ve been asked many times by fellow PR practitioners what it is like to work with such influential people.
I’ve consistently answered that the most important thing to remember is that even though they are world famous, these folks are human beings just like the rest of us and they seem to enjoy working with PR professionals who realize that as well. There’s nothing billionaires seem to dislike more than nervous handlers who act in awe of their celebrity. They want to proceed from one planned scenario to the next with ease and confidence. They want to follow a PR leader, not feel as if they themselves need to guide a follower (especially in unfamiliar territory surrounded by media frenzy, which most places are for such people).
Here’s some b-roll footage of me (age 29) arriving at an event with Bill Gates. I was feeling pretty pumped-up trying hard not to show it, but we somehow got the job done.
There are a lot of clients out there – especially middle-management – who ‘Lord it over’ the PR people and seem to think that they know everything. Some might assume that billionaires might act that way, writ large. But the reverse is true. You learn very quickly that such people probably became so successful in the first place because they maintained open minds. They also ‘get’ the fact that they wouldn’t be shelling out oodles of money for professional services unless they felt that some value is being added.
For much of their careers, PR professionals work hard to earn engagement with stakeholders such as media in order to generate positive media coverage. Pitching and placing coverage is often an uphill struggle, with calls to journalists that often go unreturned and rejection a constant fact of life. Just getting the coverage – any coverage – is often the objective, with concern for the content a secondary priority amid the general relief that the story appeared somewhere.
All of this changes when the PR pro becomes the designated media contact for a famous person. Then the underlying fear isn’t that coverage won’t appear, it’s that the wrong kind will. With saturation media play already a given, then then strategy and messaging become key. For example, when Bill Gates was in Toronto during 1993, Canada was just coming out of a tough recession and with the advent of new PC technologies, people started to worry that technology would put them out of a job. Thus was born the slogan “Putting technology to work for Canadians,” to communicate Microsoft’s vision that new new technology would enable, not unemploy.
There are more media requests than there is billionaire time in town to accommodate them, and so it is the media who then need to deal with rejection as outlets and opportunities are carefully selected. On one level, it felt strangely exhilarating to decide who would get to interview Donald Trump in Toronto or George Soros in Seoul, but rather than mete out to others the rudeness I had endured from a small minority of journos in past, I took great pains when I was in such a position of unexpected authority to return all calls and express sincere appreciation for the media interest.
This video shows the publicity results of the Trump experience:
I once heard that any good PR person should always keep out of the picture, but with so many media around, and being the handler, that is basically impossible.