Friday 12 March 2010

Free Fridays In The Big Smoke - From Flaming War Planes to Sex in the White House Basement



A news bulletin from Media Bistro arrived this morning on my Mac - you know one of those daily mailings pointing out articles you may wish to read (but you don't because who has any free time these days to read?). Just when I finally got up the energy to actually cancel the complimentary service I was sent something that I wanted to read. This morning their mailing was all about the business of free, very apropos, because for me, at least today, it was a free Friday.
From Swag to receiving Critical Information, free is a big part of what makes both PR and Journalism work. Free is not something that is sought out or requested, it is just there, all the time, all over the city. I was interested to see what a US based media news advisory service had to say about it -- this was in part what Media Bistro said about free stuff ... before trying to sell me on a non-free seminar about free.
"Across all segments of the media landscape, entrepreneurs and executives are pioneering online business models that combine a free (... with a paid offering)Free sells" they wrote. In other words? Look for an incoming wall of Free.
In my day-to-day work free is a big part of what I do. Free passes for the media, free books for reviewers, free lunches for contacts and so it goes. Even though there is no cost, somehow my wallet opens up as soon as I leave the house and comes back empty when I return home 12-hours later. No wonder Revenue Canada has me in their radar -- they want their money before I go broke paying for all that free.
Sometimes the tables are reversed and that free is bestowed on me, usually for a reason. Take this morning.
It started at 6.30 am. I headed out to the subway. A man standing outside the entrance opened the door for me for free (with his hand-out). After passing through the turnstile (that wasn't free) I picked up complimentary copies of the Sun, Metro News and 24hours. By 7.30 I had arrived -- well read -- at the Toronto Board of Trade conference room in First Canadian Place. I had a free breakfast - bagels and juice, followed by cup after cup of free tea.

The Breakfast is hosted by the CNW Group - the nation's number one resource for time-critical news and information. The news agency stages breakfast meetings for its clients - PR people for industry, government and institutions - people who use CNW Group to issue their financial news, press releases and media alerts.
This is a popular programme, CNW often gets 400 people in attendance while hundreds of others watch the event from their computers in other Canadian cities.
I find the meetings informative, I network like crazy and hey, it is free.
Today the speakers are Stu McNish and John Stufflebeem. McNish is a former British Columbia TV journalist and Stufflebeem is a former Vice Admiral of the 6th fleet and was President Bush's military voice during the War in Afghanistan.
McNish has gone to the dark side -- he now has a PR company that provides among other things, corporate videos and media training. Stufflebeem left the Pentagon as the result of a sex-scandal and now gives inspirational talks to industry, the military and rooms full of PR types wearing power breakfast suits and noshing on no-cost high cal bagels.
CNW Group bills the pair as experts who "will share the secrets of managing your reputation by engaging the media. Learn how to determine the right message to deliver; how to develop messaging you can own; how to practice; and most importantly, how to negotiate and control the terms of engagement."
Biggest free secret of the morning came from McNish. "If if it doesn't come out of your mouth it won't get in the media". It is a truism I preach, but, I have never said it so well. I plan to borrow that Bon Mot ... often.
As for Stufflebeem, he was able to "negotiate and control the terms of engagement (with his morning auidence)" by talking about his successes in the Bosnian War, in the Pentagon and as aide to the president during the crises in Panama, Iraq, the invasion of Kuwait and the war in Afganistan. He didn't mention what made him so infamous later in his career.
When you are giving free advice, it is your right to keep some information back. While he did talk about piloting a flaming Tom Cat US Navy jet to a safe landing after being hit by enemy fire, he didn't mention how he was drummed out of the service after an anonymous letter detailed an affair he had 18 years ago while in the White House.
According to Navy Times journalist Chris Amos, the letter accused Stufflebeem of carrying on an eight-month affair with a female State Department staffer while the two were assigned to the White House in 1990.
"Stufflebeem, then a 37-year-old commander, pretended to be a widower, telling the woman that his wife had died of breast cancer and that he was raising his two children on his own ... In fact, Stufflebeem was still living with his wife at the time."
"The report says Stufflebeem had sex with the State Department staffer in sleeping quarters in the White House basement and when the two traveled abroad with the White House travel team. The two engaged in “passionate kissing” in a car parked near the White House grounds, and he even sexually propositioned the woman’s close friend on a trip to London," the reporter wrote.

Too bad Vice Admiral Stufflebeem didn't know then the media rules he now imparts routinely as he barnstorms PR meetings across the continent.
The morning session begins at 7.30 and ends shortly after 9am. The clock separates the self-employed from the staffers. Most of the room empties at 9 ... the desk jobs call ... the rest linger to hear the end of the talk.
On my way back to my office I find myself walking up Yonge St. Ahead I see two men dressed as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. I ask them if I can take a picture. They agree but on condition that I answer one question correctly.
"Who stars in the new movie Alice in Wonderland?" Tweedle Dee asks?
"Johnny Depp," I answer.
"Take your picture kind sir," Tweedle Dum says in a loud theatre voice. "And, for being so smart, here is a free deck of Alice in Wonderland playing cards."
I took the tin of cards, which it turns out promote the opening of the Alice in Wonderland 3D movie. The two costumed actors posed for the picture and turned to walk away.
Looking over his shoulder at me, Tweedle Dee said "Here is a free spot of Alice advice you can pass along (to Vice Admiral Stufflebeem I wonder?), she says 'I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it'."

Top - Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
Middle - The Vice Admiral
Bottom - My "free" deck of cards