What Do you Want?, What Do You Need? ….and Other Lessons

Many years ago, I ran the PR division at McConnells, then the pre-eminent communications business of its time. I headed the Kellogg’s account which was a mix of Corporate and Consumer work.

One of the key pieces of annual activity was a radio campaign titled “Breakfast in ……….”. The location had to be international and that year it was Los Angeles. I would fly to LA with Ian Dempsey, Mario Rosenstock and their team for five days of live radio broadcasts. Naturally, we wanted to fill the show with soundscapes from the city and meet and interview some interesting local characters. Whether through naivety or bravado, the idea of NOT having major celebrities on the show never even occurred to me.  I also wanted to see if the much praised but very direct and straightforward way that Americans approach business was true or not.

So, I drew up a very random list of “Bold faced Names” and tracked down their agents and managers. Calls were placed and emails were sent introducing this breakfast radio show from Ireland and placing our interview request with their client. Virtually all the people we spoke to displayed very elegant manners by pretending to consider our request (even though I could tell by reading between the lines that it was never a runner).

However, simply by asking, I secured interviews with some interesting local personalities. The one I remember most was Johnny Grant, honorary Mayor of Hollywood and the evergreen host of the Walk of Fame ceremonies with movie stars. And because, as he said: “We love the Irish”, he got us access to the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel where the first ever Academy Awards took place in 1929.  He regaled Ian with great tales (some taller than others!), but what a character.

We travelled through the city by day recording content for a live broadcast in the evening from the Beverly Hills Hotel where we were staying.

“What do you want, what do you need?”

On our Day One arrival at the hotel I met its Director of Public Relations the very glamorous and business-like Wendy Schnee with whom I had been liaising prior to departure to LA. She greeted me with “Hello David, Welcome. What do you want, what do you need?” The directness was refreshing – my requests were all possible and when they were not, that was flagged immediately – no messing around.    

At hotel reception I overheard two guests saying that they spotted Ann Robinson, host of “The Weakest Link” staying at the hotel in her preferred Bungalow 1a on the grounds (and where Marilyn Monroe regularly stayed in the 1950’s). I emailed her office, explained who we were and because we too were staying at the hotel would it be convenient to have an interview?

A day later I got a call in my room. The voice said, “Is this David O’Brien and can you take a call from Anne Robinson?”, I thought that it was someone playing a prank until her unmistakable voice came on the line with the unforgettable words: “My mother told me to never say no to an Irishman”, and with that the interview was secured. She was utterly charming and very generous with her time chatting to Ian. Turns out, she had lots of family in Liverpool and very strong Irish connections.

Then, as a bonus, talk show host Jay Leno agreed to be interviewed. We were invited to meet him after a recording of his show at the Burbank Studios. He told me that I landed the interview because he admired me having , quote: “the cojones to make the request” but also because his wife Mavis had family in Limerick and told Jay he had to do the interview.

So, what’s the point of this shameless name-dropping story?

It’s simple really – as the economy re-opens and business revs up, we are all going to be faced with assorted professional and commercial challenges in the coming months and beyond.

For what it’s worth, my advice is this.

Believe in yourself, your talent (in whatever form or guise that takes) and your expertise, product or service. And never, ever, allow anyone to “dim your shine” – if you have an ambition, go for it. The worst that can happen is that you get No for an answer.

After all, it’s an approach that worked for Graham and Nathan from Spin FM’s “Fully Charged” ….and look how brilliantly that turned out for them.