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

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
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