Thursday, April 23, 2009

My lesson from Peter Kaplan

Here's the gist - where there's smoke there's fire. Or, if a reporter is asking about something -- and it's not good news -- there's usually some truth in it.

Yesterday, Read it here,Peter Kaplan, the editor of the New York Observer for the past 15 years announced he was leaving the weekly newspaper about New York and its personalities. Clearly he had problems with the new owners. This photo tells it all (he's the one looking down).

But, he was a visionary editor. In fact, he was a reporter's editor. Because he really was a reporter at heart.

I met Peter Kaplan about 20 years ago when he was an editor at Manhattan, Inc. magazine - once a powerful business magazine that chronicled the inner workings of business in NY. I was working on the Manhattan, Inc. account while at Howard Rubenstein, trying to get PR for the magazine. Mostly I was fighting rumors about layoffs, troubles at the publication and with its owner.

As I read the story in today's NYT about Peter assembling his staff to let them know he was leaving, I was transported back in time to 20-some years ago when I witnessed another meeting that Peter was on the outside of. I was called to a meeting with the editor of Manhattan Inc. at the time, the very great Clay Felker and his staff. As we entered the offices, a staff meeting was underway. There in the middle of the entryway, the publisher of Manhattan, Inc. was announcing to his staff that he was shutting down the magazine. It was a stunning moment. We were there to talk about promoting the next issue -- but there was not to be a next issue.

Clay and Peter were shell shocked. They had no idea this was coming. And as for PR - we were sent into crisis mode.

Prior to that moment, our PR efforts had been about denying the rumors of problems at the magazine. Apparently the media covering the industry knew more about what was going on on the inside than those inside knew. Lesson learned? After many years, I've come to expect that there is always truth in those rumors. It might not be right on, but there's always a little something. If you hear it from the press, be prepared for it to happen. At least that way you can be prepared when you walk into a meeting in progress and bad news is on the agenda.

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