Imus departure leaves void in literary PR

With Imus off the air, publicists are left to find a similar forum to reach book-buying audiences

With Imus off the air, publicists are left to find a similar forum to reach book-buying audiences

When CBS Radio and MSNBC pulled Imus in the Morning, it was a move met with more than group celebrations from critics. The show's ouster also left a 20-gallon-hat-sized hole in the book promotion schedule - a gap that some literary publicists predict will be difficult to fill.

Though often the broadcast adaptation of an East Coast college frat house, Don Imus' program was "one of the few places in radio that you could go on and make a best-seller," says Rick Frishman, president of book publicity firm Planned TV Arts, a division of Ruder Finn. "When he talked about a book and endorsed it, it could literally get on the best-seller list within a week."

Imus in the Morning - which catered to a mostly male, affluent, and educated audience of more than 2.5 million a week - flaunted the "créme de la créme" of the political, business, and media worlds, Frishman says. Imus attracted mainstream authors, including Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Hendra, and DC insiders, such as James Carville and Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ). They served as regular guests, subjecting themselves to Imus' at times coarse humor in exchange for his always passionate support.

Sure, authors would "have to watch out and be trained a little bit," Frishman notes. "But if you came prepared, [Imus] would respect you."

"I think that it is a tremendous loss," says Sandi Mendelson, CEO of literary PR firm Hilsinger-Mendelson East.

What was so important about Imus in terms of book promotion, she explains, was not only that books featured on his program would see an immediate reaction in sales, but also that "he was such a book endorser, such an advocate for reading and for authors... we need more of that."

"I can't think of another media venue that can fill Don Imus' shoes," says Mary Reed, principal at Mary Reed Public Relations. "He'd read the books, provide authors with 10 minutes to talk about the book - and the books he liked, he would promote over and over and over again for weeks."

Reed adds, hopefully, "Maybe some media outlet will recognize there's a void."

Imus' edgy, but thought-provoking style offered a national forum for discussion accessible to a wide variety of audiences, Reed says, one "you're not going to get on Sunday morning public affairs shows."

It was that "equal smattering of high- and low-brow," and its "intellectual thread" that made Imus in the Morning stand apart, says Anthony Pomes, director of marketing and publicity at independent Square One Publishers. "I do think there will be a hole there."

While Imus' influence was large, PR pros acknowledge that there are other opportunities to promote a book.

Pomes is one of many who suggest Jon Stewart has joined Imus as providing a place where authors can talk at length while reaching a successful, educated, and book-buying audience. But Stewart's The Daily Show appears only on cable, accessible to a much smaller audience than Imus in the Morning.

In addition to Stewart, book promotion stalwarts, including Charlie Rose, Larry King, and national TV morning shows, are poised to fill the Imus chasm, especially if a book's subject aligns with a hot topic in the news.

S.J. Miller Communications' principal Stacey Miller says that NPR is always cited as tops on its media "wish list." Admittedly, she adds, it doesn't serve the same segment as Imus in the Morning.

"It takes a lot of different media outlets to reach different audiences," Miller adds.  "That's why we don't do three radio shows and call it done."

Whoever next dons Imus' book-hawking hat, it will not happen quickly, notes Michael Levine, founder of Levine Communications Office.

"The key to book sales on certain shows is that relationships are embedded," he says. "Imus sells books because of his long history [and] his relationship with his audience. That doesn't happen overnight."

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