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What is PR?

Carol Orsborn with her husband Dan

When I moved back to the U.S. from Amsterdam, I stopped for a few months in first New York and then Las Vegas before eventually washing up in San Francisco. An old Sufi friend from Amsterdam’s meditation center where we both worked introduced me to a friend of hers who co-owned a public relations firm.

I had only a vague idea what a public relations firm did, having gone straight from school to, Morocco, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, etc and then went to live in Holland. But they hired me. My memories of those days are hazy but it was a downtown job and I think there were just 3 of us— the partners and me. They made me the general manager. And Carol Osborn taught me how to do p.r.

One thing I caught onto real fast was that she was the face of the company. She pitched the clients and razzle-dazzled them. But after they signed on the dotted line, she was off pitching someone else and, basically, I did all the publicity work. I kind of enjoyed it, at least for a while. I learned quickly it was all about two things that I was pretty good at:

  • developing and maintaining good relationships with the media people

  • delivering nearly complete narratives for them so that they only had the most minimal amount of work to do

We were a small independent agency and we have some really diverse clients, from the Oakland Ballet, former Monkee Michael Nesmith and Weight Watchers to local restaurants, a store that sold cacti and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, for whom we did an opening night party which called for a nude bartender that I had to find and hire. This is the only photo I took of the guy who I chose that had any clothes on.

At a certain point, the work became too boring and repetitive. I had made friends with enough media people that I could make a modest living as a free-lance photographer and journalist so I eased out of the job. But I learned a lot there that served me well in subsequent endeavors, the most important being that most of the media people were inherently lazy and the more work you could do for them— from pitching ideas to handing them finished stories, the better were the chances of getting your goals accomplished.

It’s how the world goes round and round— not just in the entertainment industry but even in the political industry. Most of what gets written about by reporters in the political trade press— and then gets covered in the local and national media— isn’t originated by reporters or assignment editors but by comms directors and p.r. firms. It’s how a worm like Mayo Pete has gotten so far. Even when he was just a mediocre mayor in a small town he had the best p.r. agent in politics, Lis Smith, and she invented his image and was able to take a nothing like him and make him into a somewhat viable presidential contender (certainly in the media; increasingly in the real world).

Of course, it works the other way too— an exceptional publicist working for a good candidate, gets a great deal done. Friday was the launch of Lucas Kunce’s campaign. His comms guy, Connor Lounsbury may be as good as Lis Smith— there’s no way to know because Lounsbury is working with a great “product” and Smith had to turn a pile of shit into something. All that amazing press— including a prime time slot of MSNBC— didn’t just happen by magic. Even on a day when everyone is obsessing over the speaker election, all the local media outlets in Missouri covered the announcement as did Politico, the New Republic, People, NBC, The Advocate, The Guardian, HuffPo… to to mention a flood of announcements all over social media. Lounsbury worked in the entertainment business; he knows how to get it done. And the campaign released this spectacular video to kick off announcement day:

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