Lessons from the Billy Bob fiasco

April 14, 2009

Hi everyone!
It's been a few crazy weeks - adding up frequent flyer miles from one end of North America to the other. It's great to be home on the Easter long weekend, with time to catch up on this blog. Also it's also one of my favorite weekends for golf. It was Master's weekend. Alright! A little Tiger-Mick battle gave way to a three-way sudden-death play-off for the green jacket. Kenny Perry gave all the older golfer-dreamers (hello?) some hope but faded to Angel Cabrera. You gotta love it! Hey Kenny maybe next year, right?

1. Billy Bob Thornton has left the country! And not a moment too soon.....

Have you seen the Billy Bob Thornton video of his interview on Jian Ghomeshi's 'Q' show on CBC Radio? If you ever had any doubts about spoiled movie stars, then this is must viewing:

What I found most intriguing was not the puffed-up self importance of Billy Bob [you're no Tom Petty] Thornton. It was the revelation that his 'people had instructed' the CBC producer not to bring up his acting or screenwriting careers. Hhhmmmm. Right there, this was destined to be a collision course, let alone the PR disaster that it became. There are several lessons For a public relations pro (or possibly an agent) saddled with a spoiled brat as a client in situations such as this:

1. A P.R. pro knows you can't demand, but you can ask. This is not a command-and-control relationship. Billy Bob must have been laboring under the illusion that CBC is 'Entertainment Tonight' or one of the numerous showbiz programs which feed off the entertainment industry.

2. Don't make ridiculous 'demands' that make the interviewer sound like an idiot. That would be the shocker that listeners might only know him from his acting and screenwriting career, rather than music. Duh.... [If you have an 'ask' then make the request, but don't make it a demand. In the end, it has to be a win-win].

3. Your client has to be informed that the interview has a purpose, and that is to promote something of benefit to him or her. [in this case, the series of Willie Nelson concerts of which Billy Bob and the Boxmasters were one of the two opening acts! It appeared that Billy Bob thought he was doing the CBC a favor, with no benefit to him!]

4. Figure out if your client needs a short leash with the media. As with clients like Billy Bob, Madonna and Tom Cruise, they cannot just be left to their own devices, because outsize egos ultimately self-destruct.[Tom had fired his long-time publicist just around the time of his jumping up and down on Oprah's couch.It has taken about three or four years for Tom to make the long climb back. Madonna is one more Malawi adoption/get-away escapade from being the showbiz version of Octo-mom.

5. Never let your client insult the customers or the public. Billy Bob had to throw in the towel and cancel his remaining gigs in the land of mashed potatoes without gravy, due to the angry, booing crowd reaction to his prima-donna behavior. Why? He didn't learn anything about his interview performance, and instead of apologizing to the crowd at the concert for insulting Canadians. Then as if to demonstrate his arrogance, made it even worse by calling Ghomeshi an a--hole.

Oh, and Billy Bob? Don't let the exit door hit you and your 'instructions' on the way out.

2. Is it just me?
This is a question I often ask myself as I go through life. Usually it's the small things but I have noticed that people tend to recall the 'second-last' thing I say, not the last thing. My wake-up call at the Saskatoon hotel was an excellent example. At first, I asked for a 5 a.m. wake-up call, but after a brief discussion we agreed that a 4:45 time would be better. So, aware of this 'second-last' recall issue, I repeated to her the 4:45 agreed time. Well, of course the next morning, the call comes in at...5 a.m. Top it off with no hot water in the shower, and that was a signal of the kind of day I was about to have. [Incidentally, without me even asking, the front-desk manager automatically offered to take $100 off my bill. So she rescued what would have been the last time I would have stayed there. I'll be back because she got the importance of rescuing a bad situation.]

So I arrive at the airport and after struggling through the longest line-up at airport security I had ever experienced, arrived at 'Cafe to Go' and ordered a bagel and coffee. Ah...fifteen minutes of serenity to look forward to before boarding. Except....

I go over to the counter where all they have is cream. I go back and ask for some milk instead of cream. The woman points to the refrigerator behind her and says, "oh all of our milk is past the limit, so it's probably sour. So you'll have to have cream." I notice the cartons of milk being sold in front and say, "well I can't take cream; couldn't you open one of those?" She replies, "no those are for sale. You would have to buy one of those."

I'm a bit dumbfounded by this so I say, "I don't think it's fair to make your customers buy a carton of milk in order to have some in their coffee." Of course she replies with the three words I hate to hear from a 'service provider':"That's our policy."

So I put the expired milk in my coffee, and after about ten minutes, I ask her to come over to my table, and say, "do you get what this is all about?" She starts in again about the policy. I say, " no it's not about policy. It's about serving your customers. I find it hard to believe that your owner or manager would want you to charge your customers a carton of milk so they can have fresh milk in their coffee."

She says, "he would fire me if I opened that milk carton and gave it to you." When I asked for the name of her manager, she only knew that her manager is "Jim and he's not in this week." Later I find out that it's owned by Cara, as is most of the airport operations of this nature across Canada.

So Cara, if you're listening, wake up! Don't be the Billy Bob Thornton of the airport monopoly set. If real competition were ever allowed, you wouldn't threaten your employees with firing if they...... dare..... to give fresh milk in your customers' coffee!

Hope you had a great Easter!