When you’ve got something new to announce in the business world, you hold a press release event, invite all of the journalists important to your industry, and hope for front page coverage, above the fold, in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve done many of these, but it’s the memory of four such events that still rumbles around in my tequila soaked brain.
Back in the nineties, I held a press conference at the Windows on the World restaurant on the top floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. I’ve long since forgotten whatever it was I announced that day, but the images of the restaurant still haunt me. It is not the memories of the spectacular views or the enthusiastic audience or my moving speech, but it’s the images of the wait staff, the bus people, and the dishwashers and cooks that I never actually saw, that I see in my dreams. I’m destined to see the burning remains of these poor people fall from the 106th and 107th floors over and over and over.
I hosted another big press event in Manhattan at the Copacabana. I actually stood on same stage and spit into the same mike that Sammy Davis Jr, Rodney Dangerfield, Phyllis Diller, Jimmy Durante, Jackie Gleason, Buddy Hackett, Groucho Marx, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Phil Silvers, Danny Thomas, Robin Williams, and a host of others had done before me. But it’s Ray Liotta and that scene from the movie Goodfellas that still bounces from one rapidly-dieing brain cell to another. If you squint your eyes, and the light is just right, you can see the wiseguys and their molls sitting at their table right down front.
I hosted another of memorable press event, with lots of pomp and fuss, on the lawn of the California Institute of Technology to announce the installation of the world’s fastest supercomputer. The jacaranda trees were in full bloom, the weather was perfect, and the champagne was on ice. A US Congressman opened things up followed by a senior scientist from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The president of Caltech spoke as did Gordon Moore, the chairman of Intel and a Caltech grad. This press event earned us the cover of Popular Science along with a host of other coverage.
And would you believe it, I actually held a press conference at Carlton House Terrace, the home of the Royal Society in London, and in the Michael Faraday room, of all places. This learned society was founded in 1660, and functions today as the UK’s Academy of Sciences. A plaque must hang somewhere in this historic place that reads: Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage, Michael Faraday, Bob Rockwell…
A press conference almost always consists of a presentation, a handout which includes a press release, appropriate photos, and other promotion material, and a question and answer session often followed by cocktails or a reception. The idea is that you give everyone all of the information they need to write their stories, and then you give them some one-on-one time over cocktails, so they can put their own slant on things. I was always amazed at how the simple message I tried to tell could get twisted around and told in so many different ways. The Wall Street Journal would say one thing and the major dailies would say something else. The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and The Boston Globe had technology reporters that generally got things right, but I once spent an entire lunch trying to explain whatever it was I was pitching to a reporter from Women’s Wear Daily. I kept reminding myself—there is no such thing a bad publicity.