CLIMBING TELEPHONE POLES

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The radio waves and wires of AT&T span my life like uncut umbilical cords.

I feel like Ma Bell raised me.

To this day I’m still grateful and steadfastly obedient to my Ma, loyally subscribing to her unseen land lines and ubiquitous cell phones.  Bless her heart, she was my first client in New York after I climbed down from my perilous perch at 30 Rock to start my own PR firm, Transmedia Group, in New York City.

The valuable lesson I learned from MA is always do favors for people because they’ll pay you back in spades.  And whatever poles you have to climb in life, climb hard as you can to the top.

While I was still in my perilous perch as a Vice President of NBC, one busy day a frustrated AT&T executive called me and said he was getting an exhausting run around and needed to speak to the right person about our phones.  I looked up our top exec in charge of telecommunications and gave him the name and his new extension.  He reacted as if he were lost in a desert and I had just given him compass and a canteen of fresh water.

A couple of years later I had just put my shingle up and I was looking desperately for my first client.  Then I remembered the AT&T guy and called him as the company was in turmoil after having to divest its operating companies in settlement of a landmark anti-trust lawsuit.

I told him that as a crisis management expert with lots of fresh contacts at NBC and ABC, I could help AT&T through the firestorm.

Thanks to that AT&T exec I had helped, it wasn’t too long before I was invited to lunch near AT&T’s spectacular, sprawling headquarters in Bedminster, NJ, the city where even back then robots delivered the mail and where today President Trump’s palatial golf club has become a hub of presidential activity.

On that mild spring day, it became the mother of all lunches.  I was lunching with the then Director of PR at AT&T and his boss, a senior VP of Advertising.  They had heard about me from the guy I had done the favor for.  They also had read my swan song article in TV GUIDE, which mentioned I had started my own PR firm.

Beautiful Bedminster was the home of the mighty AT&T Long Distance network, the telecommunications nerve center of the world.  They asked me a lot of questions about the inner workings of TV networks where I had been a top executive and particularly about my ex-boss, NBC’s then CEO, Fred Silverman, whose right hand man I was for several tumultuous years before deciding I’d live a lot longer being my own boss.

There I was at that momentous lunch having just climbed down from that precipice at 30 Rock.  I had no office yet, no assistants, no clients.  I had surrendered my most treasured asset, my NBC credit card that I used to charge flights from Paris on the Concorde, and to my children’s greatest dismay, I had turned in my supply of VIP passes to Saturday Night Life.  Now having reached the most humiliating stage of my professional career, waiting for my first unemployment check to tide me over until I landed my first client, I was asked how much I wanted to represent . . . the mother of all clients.

I took a long sip of my dry Martini and blurted out six figures.

 

Okay, the top guy said, but could I start right away booking then AT&T chairman Charley Brown on network TV.  That’s right, Charley Brown was the name of the top guy who literally started as a pole climber who climbed right up to the telecom summit.

Sure, I said managing somehow not to stammer.

Good, then we’ll send you over a contract on Monday. 

That night I told Angela and the kids we were going to sell our Long Island home, move into the city and open an office.  We had landed the mother of all clients–a full-year contract with AT&T, which it would renew four wonderful times.

And while I got Charley Brown on The Today Show, CBS Morning and lots of other network shows, we added a slew of new clients to our expanding roster, including the City of New York.

I continued to get Charley Brown all the media bookings he wanted.  And then some.

So thanks Ma!  And thanks to that AT&T exec who was lost and wandering the media desert . . . until I did him a favor!

                                                                                                                                                TM


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