LOS ANGELES: When R&B singer Luther Vandross won four Grammys last week, it marked a high point in an ongoing PR campaign to promote his latest album. The effort comes after the famed singer suffered a debilitating stroke last April.
Dan Klores Communications is Vandross' long-time public relations agency, with EVP Lois Najarian handling the account. When Vandross fell ill last year before the release of his new album, Dance With My Father, she and the singer's management team were faced with the task of promoting the album without appearing to capitalize on his condition.
"How do we honor Luther without exploiting the situation?" said Najarian of her dilemma. "I wasn't naive to the fact that his condition built media interest. But it was very challenging to give the media what they needed without upsetting the family and seeming like we were capitalizing on this."
When the album received positive reviews and won two American Music Awards, the team refocused on its potential as a Grammy winner and began lobbying that program's organizers to host a special tribute to Vandross, who remains in a rehab facility.
"We had to fight real hard to get it expanded," said Najarian of Vandross' Grammy coverage. "It's a competitive show, with only so many minutes."
Part of that campaign included a brief televised appearance by the singer in December from the hospital, a difficult task because he still has memory and speech difficulties.
"We did want to keep the album very visible during the voting process," explained Najarian.
And as the star continues to recover, "we're entertaining so many offers for the first (TV) interview," said Najarian, adding that shows from Dateline NBC to 20/20 have been lobbying for the coup. But, she said, "We're fairly certain that when that time comes, we would go to Oprah because he and she are so close."
One bit of information that Najarian has closely guarded from the press is Vandross' exact whereabouts. Fearing flocks of paparazzi, the location of the rehabilitation facility has been closely guarded, but even Najarian is surprised that media hasn't searched it out.
"It's amazing that nobody has leaked anything," she said. Now that Vandross has the Grammys under his belt, publicity plans for the singer include an educational campaign with PSA's about the risks of diabetes, which lead to his stroke. They feature Vandross' 80-year-old mother, who has been acting as a spokeswoman on junkets and interviews.