THE PUBLICIST: Pilfered penguins prove that crime can pay for PR people

I did a fair amount of traveling over the holidays, visiting friends and relatives in the great Midwest. I also sought snow, and was willing to travel great distances to find it. And find it I did, in a land mass lying somewhere between Texas and North Dakota. And in this charming heartland locale I learned a valuable lesson about publicity and crime: when it comes to the former, the latter sometimes pays. And having a penguin helps.

I did a fair amount of traveling over the holidays, visiting friends and relatives in the great Midwest. I also sought snow, and was willing to travel great distances to find it. And find it I did, in a land mass lying somewhere between Texas and North Dakota. And in this charming heartland locale I learned a valuable lesson about publicity and crime: when it comes to the former, the latter sometimes pays. And having a penguin helps.

Penguins, you see, were the centerpiece of this particular city's PR campaign to increase zoo attendance. A host of the tuxedoed totterers are in temporary residence there, and, apparently, desire attention. To this effect, a dozen or so penguin statues were stationed around town in highly visible locales. Naturally, as this was the holiday season, a time for giving and receiving, the porcelain penguins were an attractive target for thieves. After all, who wouldn't be touched to receive a six-foot representation of that beloved, short-legged, flightless seabird of the southern hemisphere? Two visiting Californians agreed, and made off with one of the statues three days before Christmas, proudly presenting it to a girl they hoped to impress. She wasn't. (Partial to seals, apparently.) Cops were called, arrests were made, and the whole sordid spectacle played out on TV. The newsman tagged the story with, "The statues are part of a campaign to raise awareness of the zoo's penguin exhibit." It was, reportedly, the third such heist since the Spheniscus Demersus (go ahead, look it up) arrived. Are you kidding me? So who's the genius behind this scheme? I couldn't reach the zoo's PR director (he was probably lurking in an alley, whispering, "Pssst...stuck for a gift idea?"), but I left a pointed query: "I know this sounds like a loaded question, but when you came up with the idea for the penguin statues, did you hope that some might be stolen, thus generating media coverage? I mean, that rocks. That's being a publicist!" Next I contacted the police. "Hey, how much do those things weigh anyhow? And shouldn't there be ropes or chains securing them? Aren't they inviting theft? Do you suspect someone wants them to be stolen, you know, to garner publicity?" I was told to "ask the two fellows in jail if they thought it was funny" and to "find something else to think about." Ha! Maybe I will. I flew out here, but I'm thinking of renting a car for the return. I'm going to need a big trunk.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer.

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