Client: Crucible Security Specialists (Falmouth, VA)
PR Team: SMS PR (New York)
Campaign: Raising the profile of J. Kelly McCann
Time Frame: September 11, 2001 - present
Budget: Under $25,000
The morning of September 11 altered the media landscape in America as surely as it did the New York skyline. Stories unrelated to the attacks were abandoned, and cable news' usual stable of talking heads found themselves sidelined in favor of experts on security and terrorism.
SMS PR (a New York-based PR firm specializing in sports, entertainment, travel, and security) and its founder and president Stephen Schechter had been courting a new client that would perfectly fit the new media profile - Crucible Security Specialists. Staffed largely by former soldiers, Special Forces agents, and intelligence experts, Crucible provides international security for high-risk clients such as UN officials and government personnel.
The two firms were close to a deal before the attacks, and once they hit, both realized the time was right.
A deal was inked on September 14. SMS immediately saw the potential for CEO J. Kelly McCann, a former major in both the Marines and the Special Forces, to become a nationally recognized authority on several issues now facing the country. However, he had never been on TV or radio before, and was unknown to the media.
SMS realized it was in a race against time. The networks would soon settle on what experts they could rely on, and McCann was at a disadvantage.
"He had no book to peddle, no product to hawk, recalls EVP David Singer.
"All he had was who he was and how we trained him."
The plan was to media train McCann in a hurry, and sell him to the media as someone uniquely qualified to discuss America's new challenges.
McCann was quickly debriefed so SMS could compile a bio for the networks.
"What we were pushing initially was, because we were going in with Special Forces, we were using him as an expert on those operations," says Singer.
"He trained people who'd been on the ground during the various Serbian conflicts of the '90s."
According to Singer, McCann's bio made some network execs nervous - a reaction SMS used to its advantage. "We played off that sense of unease, he recalls, "that sense of, 'Uh, do we really want to meet this guy, or maybe we should just do (the interview) on the phone. Maybe he's a little bit crazy.' There was the anticipation and the curiosity. So we were having a lot of fun with the press."
Meanwhile, McCann was undergoing media training, getting ready for his TV debut.
It took less than a week for McCann to start showing up on network news shows, and in the first three months, he logged more than 200 national broadcast and cable TV appearances, ranging from the Today show to Larry King Live to America's Most Wanted.
SMS even managed to get its new client interviewed by USA Today, Parade magazine, and Chief Executive magazine, among others. By the end of the year, McCann had signed an exclusive deal with CNN to be a permanent spokesperson for the network.
Most importantly, Crucible felt the results of its CEO's exposure. Business has since quadrupled compared with the same period from the previous year, and its website recently crashed due to the massive rise in visitors: Previously, it had received fewer than 300 a day, but once McCann started appearing on TV, that number jumped to 20,000.
Crucible remains a client of SMS, and McCann will continue his exclusive contract with CNN.