NEW YORK: Ten minutes before the lights went out, Joe Carella was savoring a priceless publicity moment with no less a figure than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Accompanied by at least a dozen cameramen on a tour of a Brooklyn neighborhood, Bloomberg went to restaurant Gage & Tollner, a client of Carella's, to sample the famous crab cakes.
Not long after he left, New York - along with other parts of the Northeast, Midwest, and Canada - was plunged into darkness. And Carella's moment was lost as the media switched into overdrive in its coverage of the biggest blackout in US history. "It was a golden opportunity for my client, and it went down the drain," said Carella, president of Joseph J. Carella Associates.
When the lights went back on and PR people took a look around, many found themselves in the same position. Countless long-planned media events or high-profile placements were lost, either a direct victim of the power failure or of the media's tunnel-vision focus on it.
Alice Leeds, director of media relations for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said her organization was featured in two AP stories on all-gay schools that were held because of the blackout.
But other PR people, some hampered by the loss of electricity, were able to turn the blackout into a boon for clients - especially those with energy stories. PR firm Sawchuk, Brown Associates, though knocked out of operation for a while, was able to recover and pitch its client Plug Power, a developer of fuel cells for buildings.
"We were scurrying about on Friday to show a bright spot related to the future of energy," said CEO David Brown.
Joseph Anthony, an account executive at Ardmore, PA-based agency Gregory FCA Communications, saw the blackout as a way to get a leg up on New York agencies that were powerless. In pitching a client - a Washington, DC-based money manager - as an expert on how the blackout would affect energy stocks, persistence and patience were key.
"Phones were down and e-mails weren't getting through," Anthony said. "The flip side was we knew the first e-mail in the [journalists'] inbox was mine."
Eventually, the media interest came. "She's not even a $200 million money manager, and here she is being interviewed as an expert on CNBC and by the New York Daily News," he said. "I don't know if she was expecting that when she hired us."