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Publicity is stillname of PR game

Sep 30, 2003 8:01 AM

On Page 2 of this issue, we have an interesting story of how the relationship between publicity people and news people has somehow lapsed into a kind of battle of the flacks and hacks.

While I’ve always advocated the division of church and state in a newspaper, I still recognize the value of press agents and their efforts. After all, the sizzle still sells the steak, right?

Maybe. Unfortunately, publicity stunts ”” believe it or not ”” are somewhat taboo in the new corporate world.

I spent nearly 20 years beating the drums for gambling emporiums. In those days, gambling mainly existed at the racetracks, and we did everything in our PR power to promote them.

For instance, we married a jockey at Finger Lakes in Western New York. And, guess who gave the bride away? Are you listening, Bill Thayer? He slid into a tuxedo for the occasion. A large party tent was pitched in the parking lot and a good time was had by one and all. And, the turnstyles clicked in record fashion. Who didn’t want to see a couple married in the paddock? The bride and groom met at the track where he rode and she sold hotdogs.

The story generated a lot of attention. So much so that a dentist regular wanted the bride to look her best. He made her a small bridge so she could smile pretty.

Those were the days.

The outfit I worked for was cheaper than a free buffet. Everything had to be hustled. The late Chris Fio Rito put together a six-piece band. Towards the end of the day the announcers told visitors that the party would continue after the races and anyone interested in avoiding traffic could stop by, have a drink and dance with the bride. We had over 1,000 people staying on!

The story captured the interest of national press. Wire services, radio, television and big time newspapers all came calling.

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.

They did!

Many of today’s PR clones simply fax or email press releases. In my opinion they are poor substitutes for a personal endorsement of the person or event.

I can remember once carting about three pounds of pasta in a big bowl. It made a good photo prop for a Tampa cab driver, Mike Aprille, who bragged he could eat five pounds of spaghetti. He was the star entrant in the spaghetti-eating contest held at Pocono Downs racetrack near Scranton, Pa. Rows of tables were set up in front of the grandstand. There were more than a dozen contestants, but Mike was the last one eating and he won all the marbles. He had eaten nearly seven pounds of pasta. I don’t remember who was second, but a jockey came in third by packing away just over six pounds.

When you were trying to get ink at Pocono Downs, you needed all the help you could get. The pasta did it.

At GamingToday we receive plenty of press releases each week. Most aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Unfortunately, that’s the state of a forgotten art in the 21st century.

But, hold your hat! It wasn’t always that way. Las Vegas has had a colorful history of publicity stunts. When the army was detonating nuclear bombs 75 miles outside of town, local PR people made sure the showgirls’ swimsuits had mushroom cloud designs. The Atomic Cocktail was born in that era. Players were told they could start a lucky streak when the explosion took place. That really got patrons excited. They loved it.

Today it’s a different story. Too many PR people seem to have forgotten how to get a headline.

GamingToday has sought stories that would be of interest to readers and, at the same time, generate ink for local casinos.

The first story was interviewing a ticket seller in a racebook about their experiences with a wide range of customers. The sports director at the major Strip resort liked the idea, but the corporate suits squelched it. When a casino was found that would let us talk to their staff, we were admonished not to take photos or print anything that might be critical of the casino.

We also thought a story about a hotel’s lost and found department would make interesting reading. The publicity director said, "I don’t have the time to work on it." The only time we required was a phone call to set up an interview.

Not having the time is not a good excuse. Time should be found. It doesn’t matter if it’s the world’s largest newspaper or the smallest. Ink is ink.

Oh well, times change.