Newsweek chairman Richard Smith doesn’t quite know what to make of book publicist Lynn Goldberg: ’I am not sure whether Lynn takes on controversial books or they become controversial because of her.’
Newsweek chairman Richard Smith doesn’t quite know what to make of
book publicist Lynn Goldberg: ’I am not sure whether Lynn takes on
controversial books or they become controversial because of her.’
The news magazine recently put Susan Faludi, one of Goldberg’s clients,
on the front cover as part of a deal to gain first-run rights to the new
book by the feminist author. The topical book on masculinity, entitled
Stiffed, prompted a flurry of letters in subsequent issues.
’Controversial clients? They come to me,’ says Goldberg. ’With Faludi,
the publisher (William Morrow) wanted me because it had some idea the
book would be controversial.’
The New York Observer recently described Goldberg as the ’Brigadier
General of big-book publicity,’ and the esteemed rank is valid. Goldberg
has been attached to all manner of sizzling subject matter, with Faludi
being only the latest.
Established in 1981, Goldberg’s agency has worked on: Kitty Kelley’s
killer expose of Buckingham Palace, The Royals; Christopher Andersen’s
Bill & Hillary: The Marriage; and Andrew Morton’s number-one bestseller,
Monica’s Story. Goldberg spins an intriguing yarn about her first
connection to the Monica Lewinsky saga. A year before she even met the
infamous intern, Goldberg was under siege by the media.
’I was on holiday,’ she recalls. ’Back in New York, frantic messages
were stacking up at my office and at home. ABC and CBS News wanted
interviews with me.’ Goldberg, gripped by the presidential scandal
herself, had no clue why she was being inundated by inquiries. ’When The
New York Times called, the mystery was solved. It was Lucianne Goldberg
they wanted - the literary agent who set the scandal in motion.’ Little
did Goldberg imagine that 12 months later she would be orchestrating a
PR campaign to increase sales of Lewinsky’s book.
To boost sales, publisher St. Martin’s Press hired Goldberg to help
advise Lewinsky on her image. Goldberg found it a challenging task given
the sheer number of people advising Lewinsky. Complicating matters was
the lack of time to plan a campaign because the release date was tied to
the broadcast of the Barbara Walters interview for 20/20.
Goldberg dubbed the publicity strategy ’Distance and Dignity,’ and when
she voiced concerns about appearances on shows such as Saturday Night
Live, crisis PR expert John Scanlon backed her up. But that strategy was
jeopardized by the two-hour ABC interview. Goldberg concedes that
despite all the efforts to media-train Lewinsky, the interview did not
go according to plan.
’Monica ended up sounding giggly and foolish. She had a hard time
conveying remorse for her role in the political crisis.’
With the book still under embargo, Goldberg unexpectedly became central
to reporters filing stories about the selling of Monica. She appeared on
NBC Nightly News and The Today Show and gave numerous press
’I had my 15 minutes of fame,’ she says. The PR strategy was lauded and
the book became a best seller, despite Lewinsky’s poor performance in
front of the ABC cameras.
And the exposure certainly helped Goldberg, who says gross revenues are
up 40% this year. The chief executive of Goldberg McDuffie
Communications declines to talk numbers, but revenues are believed to be
upwards of dollars 1 million.
Things weren’t always so rosy for the daughter of a Brooklyn
door-to-door salesman, however. Goldberg, a glamorous 55 year-old, pads
around her office barefoot recalling her days as a humble social studies
Although she is a media high flier, she has lost none of her roots.
Even in the staid New York City school system, Goldberg was able to
shake things up. In the 1960s, she started one of the nation’s first
Afro-American Studies programs, because ’there were no blacks in the
textbooks.’ Her next job gave her a taste of the media, as she took a
pay cut to work in television, writing questions on a game show called
Dream Team. When the show folded, Goldberg was left without a job, but
eventually found work as an assistant in the literary house Farrar
Straus & Giroux.
After a short period, she became publicity director and learned
everything she could from founder Robert Giroux, who was fond of having
street-smart people around him. ’I used everything from my knowledge of
black history to Yiddish,’ says Goldberg. ’I found my world.’
It is still a world she clearly loves. For some, the opportunity to
become an editor at her next employer Random House might seem like a
dream come true, but Goldberg found she wasn’t suited to the solitary
reflective life. She preferred the busy life of the publicist. A typical
media junkie, she starts her day at 6:45am, reading The New York Times,
listening to NPR and keeping her eye on NBC’s Today - while
simultaneously working the treadmill. She reaches the office around 10am
and does all her ’brainwork’ in the mornings.
And she doesn’t stop there. Goldberg may get home around 10pm but she is
up until 1:30 reading books. The office, where the walls are strewn with
pictures of authors from James Joyce to PJ O’Rourke, is a library of the
latest literary talent. ’She understands books, has a literary sense and
is not just flogging them,’ says Publisher’s Weekly editor Judy
Goldberg works closely with Camille McDuffie, who joined the agency in
1987 and became president in 1994. She describes McDuffie as the ’Fred
Astaire’ of the agency and insisted in 1997 that her name be put on the
door next to her own.
Goldberg is always looking to reinvent the business of book publicity,
and is hoping to make the Internet a bigger part of her arsenal. The
plan is to do for books what The Blair Witch Project did for movie
The agency is also branching out to rep business books and religious
subject matter. For example, Goldberg launched She Said Yes: The
Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall, which was written by a mother of
one of the Columbine victims.
And slated for a media blitz next year is The Danish Girl, which has
already attracted a fair degree of interest from the press. The book is
based on the life story of a painter who underwent one of the first-ever
sex changes with the help of his girlfriend. Sounds like Goldberg will
be at the center of controversy well into the new century.
CEO, Goldberg McDuffie Communications
1965: High school teacher in NYC
1969: Question writer on TV quiz show
1970: Joins Farrar, Straus & Giroux
1976: Random House - publicity director
1981: Founds Lynn Goldberg Communications
1997: Business renamed Goldberg McDuffie Communications.