Give that Man a Cigar!

Opinions, Public Relations Posted May 8, 2014 by chenpr

When I tell people that public relations is my game (and after explaining what that means… and, no, it’s not like Mad Men, but thank you for mentioning my striking resemblance to Don Draper) I’ll often get asked how public relations works and if public relations works. And when that question comes, I relate an experience I had writing “The Well Appointed Angler” for Cigar Aficionado ten years ago.Murray

As the title suggests, my article featured descriptions of high-end fly fishing tackle and accoutrements that someone might consider if they wanted to outfit themselves in style. Because I was pitching the idea as a freelance writer and not as a PR rep working for a particular brand—and because the market for articles in the hook-and-bullet books is notoriously cutthroat and miserly—I matched my passion for fly fishing with the stereotypical image of a wealthy sport and angled my idea as a lifestyle story. The editor bit and I set out interviewing the craftsmen who, in many cases, hand-made the gear I profiled.

One of the pieces of gear I included as part of a sidebar to the main feature was a fly-tying vise manufactured by HMH Vises and highly regarded by those who tie the flies they throw at fish. I happened to know an employee at the company and when I told him of my project he enthusiastically cooperated with information and an interview.

That was the spring of 2004. And every month thereafter my friend Dana called to ask me if I knew when the article would appear. I told him I didn’t know, and I didn’t. I filed my story, proofed the galleys and when the check arrived in the mail I wasn’t terribly concerned about when—or even if—the story appeared. All I knew is that it was supposed to show up sometime that year (for you kids out there, traditional paper magazine publishing moves slowly).

By autumn he must’ve tired of dialing my number because I hadn’t heard from him for a couple months, but then I got a call one afternoon in early November.HMH

“Mike, it’s out.”

The voice was excited, breathless, but familiar.

“Dana? What do you mean?” I asked, a bit confused and in need of context.

“The article. It’s out. Have you seen it?”

“No. How do you know? What happened?”

Dana proceeded to tell me that he’d been on the phone with one of his company’s dealer representatives who was on-site taking an order at a tackle shop in Oregon when a woman walked through the door with a copy of Cigar Aficionado in her hand. It was opened to my article as she strode up to the owner and slapped it on the counter.

“Do you carry this vise?” she said, stabbing her finger at the sidebar.

To the editor’s credit, he recognized that the story I’d pitched and written would be a perfect fit for the November/December issue, which also included a Lavish Holiday Gift Guide. This woman’s husband was a subscriber to the magazine and she’d intercepted it when it arrived in the mail in hopes of finding Christmas present inspiration inside.

As it turns out, he was a fly fisherman who dabbled in tying. She read my story and determined to give him the vise I’d said was of matchless quality and performance. And she wasn’t the only one.Dana told me later that HMH set sales records during November and December that year.

Does public relations work? With the right story, the right placement, and the right audience I’m convinced nothing works better to influence opinion and motivate decisions.