Who wants to be healthier, wealthier and sexier? Millions and millions of people, of course, and to reach that potential market—and maybe make a few million in the process—is the driving ambition behind many dreamers and schemers who say they have the answer.
Success is elusive for even the best idea, considering that failure is the norm and that hard work alone is seldom enough, so that’s why twice a year 100 people gather in New York City for a three-day event called the National Publicity Summit, where authors, experts, entrepreneurs, consultants, and other professionals have the chance to pitch their projects, proposals and ideas to an array of representatives from media outlets that range from the top network morning shows to small radio stations, mass-market magazines and idiosyncratic bloggers with a dedicated following.
For more than 13 years, Steve Harrison, a very clean-cut, even-tempered public relations professional, has been organizing and hosting the summit, which is sponsored by Bradley Communications, a company based in a suburb of Philadelphia. Before the participants get the privilege to “personally meet over 100 top journalists and producers” in the media capital of the world, Harrison reportedly screens them first because the cost is steep and the reward is not immediate. As one entrepreneur told me after he’d completed the fall session that I attended: “Is it worth 10 grand to my bottom line? Not yet!”
My participation as one of the journalists did help mine: I got a stipend to be on the receiving end of all those pitches.
The “pitchers” had come from around the country to the Hotel Pennsylvania, across the street from Madison Square Garden, to meet media mavens and minions—I was certainly the latter. Since the public mostly holds the media in 50 shades of contempt, it was unnerving, and I admit, surprisingly gratifying, to enter the ballroom upstairs just as Harrison was proclaiming to the ensemble, “And now, let’s give a great big hand for our media representatives!” The audience burst into resounding applause before we’d even taken our places on the podium.
After that introductory session, I was assigned to booth 6 for one-on-one encounters. I think 30 people pitched me their presentations during my morning session. It was kind of a blur, but their earnestness was certainly real—and that, along with their promotional material, has stayed with me months later. Whether their claims could live up to the scrutiny of professional skeptics was beyond my ken. But I wanted everything to live up to their expectations—if for no other reason than to keep hope alive.
I figured they believed in themselves or they wouldn’t be there, so the least I could do was listen. I learned long ago, from a veteran newspaper man, that there are two kinds of editors in this world: those who say no, and those who say yes. I’m clearly in the affirmative category, but the industry I’m in, with fewer and fewer people paid to keep up with the information explosion, makes journalism today a frantic, frustrating task of triage. Being a “gatekeeper” for the Fourth Estate is no piece of cake.
During my morning session, I was peppered with intriguing inquiries and challenging conundrums in the story ideas these participants presented. Take this one: “Can trusting your gut help you make millions?” That question came from May McCarthy, a self-proclaimed “successful entrepreneur, investor, speaker and author who has grown six profitable companies to as large as 250 employees and over $100 million in annual revenues.” All my stomach tells me is that I’m constantly hungry, which is not the answer Ms. McCarthy is providing in her book, The Path to Wealth: Seven Spiritual Steps for Financial Abundance. According to her flyer, following her steps “in just 30 minutes a day” can lead to financial freedom, something I would love to achieve if only I could spare the time.
I definitely resonated with Michigan’s money master, John Jamieson, an admitted “high school failure and college dropout”-turned-successful businessman and author, whose book has the appealing title, The Perpetual Wealth System: Your Path to Systematic and Guaranteed Riches. I have no idea if his path is any better than any other but I enjoyed reading his flyer, which said the following: “Millions of Americans are being robbed by banks, Wall Street and Uncle Sam and don’t even know it! What if the financial system was set up to make you struggle your whole life?” Who can’t relate to that?
Jorge Newbery, who calls himself a real estate entrepreneur, author, anti-debt slavery crusader and ultra-marathoner, has a more radical solution for those stuck in a deep hole. He says he was once $26 million in debts that he “could not pay.” What did he do? “I simply stopped paying. Then, I sifted through all the loan documents and legal pleadings in search for deficiencies to exploit. This created leverage to settle the debts for pennies on the dollar.” And that’s the inspiration for his book: Debt Cleanse: How to Settle Your Unaffordable Debts for Pennies on the Dollar (And Not Pay Some At All). He was certainly an engaging, fit and trim man who looked like he could do a marathon in well under seven minutes a mile, I’ll credit him that.
In her flyer, Dr. Valerie Martin-Stewart, a former professional athlete now turned keynote speaker and Christian minister, posed this query: “Is fear holding you hostage?” Probably so, in my case, and she had the answer: “So you’re afraid, do it anyway!” She certainly looked confident enough to inspire almost anyone.
Dr. Judy Cook, a psychiatrist for 35 years who calls herself the “Give A Damn Doc,” asked these questions for further consideration: “Are medical commercials making people sick?” and “What lessons about life can people learn from orchids?” She’d come up from Sherman, Texas, to promote her first book, To Die or Not to Die, Ten Tricks to Getting Better Medical Care.
Another dynamic Texan woman whom I met was Wanda J. Cooper, a former cancer survivor with a background in finance, who’s written her first book, Broken Vessel Restored: How to Overcome Depression, Illness, Infertility, and Hormonal Imbalance and Reclaim Your Connection to God. She claims that she can help “empower women to not only heal physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.” I wish her well; she certainly has an inspiring story to tell.
One earnest middle-aged man who stood in line to see me was Timothy Frantz, M.D., an ear, nose and throat physician from northern California who calls himself “The Hear Doc, America’s Ear Doctor.” He was at the summit to promote his book, Hearing Loss: Facts and Fiction, now in its second edition, which promised to provide “7 secrets to better hearing.” He’s right about the extent of this malady, which he calls “an epidemic.” From teenagers who’ve blasted their ear drums with unbearably loud ear buds to nonagenarians who can never get their hearing aids adjusted to their satisfaction, I’ve dealt with this problem firsthand. I was impressed by Dr. Frantz’s genuine concern. I’ve only glanced through his book, but it seemed helpful enough. If I had a TV or radio show, I’d have him on as a guest. The more we can do to lower the volume of our discourse and turn up our mutual understanding, the better.
I was a little taken aback when Dr. Donald Liebell handed me his promotional flyer and I immediately saw this question: “Could you catch arthritis, chronic fatigue or depression from your backyard?” It turns out that this Virginia specialist in acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathic techniques has been treating people with Lyme disease who were reportedly misdiagnosed. As he put it, “Lyme is the most misunderstood and medically mismanaged epidemic of our time.”
Now practicing at his clinic in Virginia Beach, Liebel is from Little Neck, N.Y., and told me that he knows “my home town, Long Island, is a ‘hot bed’” for infected deer ticks. In his book, Biting Back: The Chronic Lyme Disease Disclosure, which comes out in February, he promises the details on how his treatment succeeds “with absolutely no antibiotics, no side effects, no controversy, and no politics!” Given my lack of expertise, I’ll leave it to others to hold his claims to the proper scrutiny, but I will say that he makes a good case and the patients’ testimonials on his website certainly show they have suffered enough.
Two self-described coaches met with me individually: “Coach Julie” (Julianne Soviero) and “Coach Chris” (Christopher Klesh). The former is an intense, very athletic-looking Long Island woman who says she was “part of the coaching staff that took LIU Post to the College World Series in 2011” and has studied “nutrition, kinematics, performance, recovery and hypnosis to help athletes of all levels and in all sports perform to the best of their abilities.” She was on hand to promote her book, Unleash Your True Athletic Potential. That’s about all I had time to learn, but I liked the list of story ideas she handed me: “Hamburger Hangovers: 5 foods you should never pack or order for lunch” and “Run From Zombies to Improve Your Fitness” were two of my favorites.
“Coach Chris” Klesh is a dynamic older guy, with Farmingdale and Massapequa roots, who’s been promoting what he calls “Lifetime Leisure Experiences: Travel in luxury for 10 cents on the dollar.” He actually did show up at the summit wearing a whistle around his neck to reinforce the idea that “he coaches the deals.” And his deals sound like steals: “play golf for free,” “dine in gourmet style for very little money,” “stay in luxury suites for little more than what you would pay at a Motel 6” and “insider secrets to flying for free.”
On his publicity flyer, Coach Chris is seen posing with a pair of skis—his major passion, he says—with Lake Tahoe in the background, his home when he’s not gallivanting around the world. Not bad for a kid who once caddied at Bethpage State Park. He told me he got the travel bug when he was 13 and spent six weeks on vacation in Europe. I do like his philosophy: “The best things in life aren’t things…They’re your health, family, friends, memories and experiences.”
Most of the pitches were for books and programs but Greg Durocher, a firefighter and paramedic from Arizona, and his wife Aimee were on hand to promote a roughly three-pound “car seat” for toddlers, the RideSafer® Travel Vest, which this “child passenger safety technician and instructor” claimed could be folded up and stuffed in a day bag or a carry-on luggage. It wasn’t too heavy for me, certainly more manageable than a cumbersome car seat, but I wondered how I’d feel if I were lugging it around all day through the American Museum of Natural History. For pregnant women, he and his wife Aimee were promoting a product called the Tummy Shield, which is designed to redirect seat belts so they don’t impinge on a protruding belly and connect instead across the thighs. It sounds more complicated than it looks, but it’s certainly worth exploring for those interested.
One of the more striking people I met at the summit was Pamela Donnelly, a former model and soap opera star (One Life to Live and All My Children), now a mother of three based in Los Angeles, who was there promoting her second book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success: Unlocking the Right College for Your Teen.
As Donnelly tells it, she’d grown disenchanted with performing and “decoded the process necessary to gain admittance to Columbia University,” where she says she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in literature/writing and secondary education. Her first book came out last year, and I especially like the title, having just gone through the experience with our two sons: SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College. If you can believe Larry King—yes, that “media legend”—then you’ll appreciate his blurb about Donnelly’s latest: “This book needs to be on the shelves of every library and high school in America.” Whether that means King actually read it is another story, but her book does seem packed with good, common sense advice and some hard-hitting observations, like: “What every parent needs to know about standardized testing’s death grip on college admissions, and what they can do to help their teens succeed,” and “Who actually ‘gains’ in our current secondary school system? Not students. How the federal government is pimping out education so corporations profit and teenagers lose.”
More power to her, I’d say.
Politics seemed to be far from the mind of the engaging Janine Regan-Sinclair, a “consciousness pioneer” from England who’s also “an intuitive channel, hypnotherapist, international transformational speaker, producer and internet radio/TV show host” of a program called Cosmic Truth. I got a big kick out of interacting with her, perhaps because the top of her promo flyer made this proclamation: “Expert reveals why some of your favorite celebrities are possessed!” And that was just the teaser. She added: “Did you know that you can become possessed by getting drunk, sleeping with the wrong person, or even just shopping in the mall?” I have to admit I did not know that, but it would explain a lot.
North Carolina registered nurse and sex educator, Valda Ford, took the bull by the horns, so to speak, with her seminar topic that pulled no punches: “Sex Is Not for Sissies: Where Great Sex & Safe Sex Come Together.” A lively woman of substance with a diverse background, Ford embarked on what she calls her present mission after listening to a friend complain about getting back into the dating scene and “doing a lot of whining about the realities.” So she developed a seminar series that conveys clinical information with a style of humor and charisma to make the nation “smarter about sex.” Certainly a worthy goal, and, dare I say it, patriotic as well!
The first words I heard out of psychiatrist Susan Edelman’s mouth must have thrown me for a loop because I know it was about sex and it surely sounded provocative, but I’ll be damned if I can recall what she said verbatim. Dr. Edelman, who has a private practice in Palo Alto, California, where she is also an adjunct clinical associate professor at Stanford University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, was standing before me to promote her upcoming book, Be Your Own Brand of Sexy: A New Sexual Revolution for Women, which she began writing a decade ago. It’s timed to come out on Valentine’s Day, coinciding with the premiere of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. She claims women today are suffering from “fifty shades of confusion” in their sexual relations and “it’s time to change the game.”
She told me that a film like Fifty Shades of Grey encourages women to “lead with sex even though the emotional relationship is the prize. Putting sex first often makes women feel attached before they know what their partner’s issues are and that frequently leads to a lot of pain. It’s not wise to normalize jumping into a sexual relationship. Although it seemingly worked out for Anastasia and Christian, that was a fairytale. The more we perpetuate the fairytale, the more we think protecting your heart is unnecessary.”
She started thinking about this book when the daughter of a close friend of hers entered college and asked her to explain what guys meant when they asked her “to come over and hang out.” It meant no-strings-attached sexual intimacy, Dr. Edelman explained. But the young woman was “careful about sex and held out for a guy to treat her with respect,” and as a result, she “missed out on a lot of the fun of dating. She also didn’t get the chance to learn about relationships.
“I loved college dating, so this broke my heart,” Edelman told me, so she began to wonder about what had happened to courtship and romance. “This was not what we had in mind with the women’s movement and the sexual revolution. We dreamed that women would be treated better when we were seen as equals, not that many men would simply take casual sex for granted.
“I was sad for my young friend,” she said, “and I knew from my work as a psychiatrist that it wasn’t just teenagers who were struggling. I was determined to figure out how we got here and what we could do about it.”
So, to paraphrase Freud’s quintessential question, I asked this female psychiatrist: What do women want? And Dr. Edelman replied, “It’s no wonder we’re a mystery to men, because it’s often confusing to us as well, and we want conflicting qualities. We want men who are strong and virile, but also sensitive and loving. We want to be respected, desired, and loved. Getting that balance is complicated!”
And getting to share that observation is just one of the reasons I’m glad I took up space at the National Publicity Summit. Whether my being there will do her or anybody else I met that day any good is a question someone else will have to answer.