The Secret Origin of ‘The Publicist’

Steve Conroy Articles, News 1 Comment

If you ever listen to The Saturday Detention Pocast you know I am a life-long fan of all things ‘Nerd’ I was around when we only had one kind of Star Trek, I witnessed the death of my beloved Saturday Morning Cartoons, I’ve seen the rise, fall and rise of the cinematic superhero and survived the long hiatus that both Star Wars and Doctor Who handed to us. Yet I don’t suffer from the indignant rage that is often seen in forums, I have never accused George Lucas of destroying my childhood, I rarely get worked up over a preview for a movie that is 9 months away and when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker my reaction was ‘Let’s see what happens’.

I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to co-host a pop-culture podcast (The Saturday Detention Podcast) alongside a fantastic host and that gig has given me the opportunity to talk to some of my comic book and music heroes. It also gave me the chance to co-host another podcast with an equally awesome host (The Zombcast) and that bought me one step closer to my final goal.
Total Media Domination!

This year I finally reached a level where I could legitimately claim I can reach a decent enough audience to request the ‘Holy Grail’ of podcasting: a ‘Media Pass’ to a major Pop Culture event. The ‘Media Pass’ level is not an easy level to reach because there are an amazing amount of talented bloggers, You Tubers and podcasters out there debating the complexities of the subtle changes made to Superman’s new costume. Each step up this slippery cheese ball dust covered ladder is very tricky to climb but I seem to have navigated it well enough to both survive (not without a few near misses tho) and still retain my cool.

However I have never had an experience quite like the one I endured this weekend.

I was able to procure a “Media Pass” to a major Pop Culture convention by making a submission through the regular channels, doing the paperwork, filing in forms and after a few months we had heard nothing. No acceptance, no rejection… just nothing. So I took it upon myself to be pro-active and after several channels of communication failed I was finally directed to the Publicist for the event.

Now in this world a Publicist is the holder of all the keys. This is the one person that you need to go through to get to the one person you actually want to get to. On the whole these people are great to deal with, they understand they are representing popular people who someone like me will chew their own leg off in a ‘Saw’ like competition in order to get a 30 second sound clip or just one simple question. You are dealing with a person who is trying to maintain a balance between ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ and 99% of the time they are great to deal with.

However I have never had an experience quite like the one I endured this weekend.

So once I finally made contact with the right guy it became obvious fairly quickly that he had no idea who I was, where I was from, where my application was or even if I had been approved and this was to be expected, we aren’t the Daily Planet or The New York Times so I jumped through whatever hoops I needed to. I was patient and courteous as my emails went days without an answer, I was efficient in forwarding my application immediately when ‘more information’ was requested and I was thankful for his time yet still needing to seek clarification when the application was ‘denied’ yet included the basic rules to be followed during the Con. Once again I was patient as these emails went ignored and I considered that to be the end of it.

Several days later I received an email, not from the Publicist, but from the organisation that a fair bit of my content is supplied to and it was simply titled “BOOM!” This email was the exact same email I had received but the word ‘denied’ had been swapped for ‘accepted’ and with that one email I saw myself climbing yet another rung up my dusty, cheesy nerd ladder.

A number of big names were attending this Con but we were seeking the coveted ‘Media Pass’ for one specific guest group as some of the content later in the year would be specifically devoted to the show that they were the stars of. I was personally excited as this particular show is one of my all time favourites. So the planning begun….

I compiled a list of questions for EVERY guest at this Con ranging from a series of questions if time permitted or one specific question for if time was limited. I contacted the Publicist letting him know we were very grateful, and making it very clear our focus was interviews, I received a response making it very clear that I could only interview the guests by going through him.

Now this is not unusual at all, a publicist l will generally introduce you to a guest, make it known to them that you are there on a media pass and making it clear to you that you either have so much time or so many questions you can ask. It is a pretty good system as it allows the guests to move from photos to autographs to panels and so on without being randomly jumped by media stopping them from getting to pre-booked appointments ensuring that everything runs smoothly and I am very respectful of this system.

However I have never had an experience quite like the one I endured this weekend.

Arriving at the con I sent a text as instructed to let my host know that I had arrived, had picked up my media pass and was happy to meet him anywhere he wanted. So I made my way down to the main floor of the convention and started having a look around while I waited to hear back. Around 15 mins later I received a phone call letting me know he was at the desk where I had picked up my pass from and demanded to know where I was. Now given the size of this annual Pop Culture convention I understood that he would be a busy guy but the alarm bells started ringing right away.

“Where are you?” the already irritated voice asked

“I’m already down on the floor of the Con” was my reply. “I didn’t want to assume you were going to jump when I texted you so I made my way down here to just check things out”

“So you don’t want to talk to any of the guests? Because You can’t talk to them without me” I was told

I was 100% aware of this condition because we had discussed it just the day before, in fact I hadn’t even made my way to the guest area and my reply made that obvious

“I would love to talk to them, I haven’t approached anyone I was waiting to hear from you so you could get the ball rolling for me”

“So you don’t want to talk to anyone? You aren’t allowed to talk to them without me” I was told once again.

“I’m just down on the show floor checking out a TARDIS right now but I am happy to come back up right away” I told him, at this point we are one hour into a con that was going on for the next two days and he was already sounding very irritated and flustered.

We finally agree to meet up at the area where the guests were doing signings and prepared myself for a day of running back to this area at anytime to accommodate anyone of these guests at anytime. Now the guest signing area was literally no less than one minute away from the area where you receive your media pass, I immediately did a full 180 and got through the first day crowds to cross the floor in record time.

15 minutes later I send a text letting my host know I was waiting patiently near the line of the charming fellow who invented one of the most beloved time machines of all time, I hear nothing so I start to take a few photos of the convention floor and look around to see if I can find this elusive fellow, then after another ten minutes my phone finally rings.

“I can’t find you…” the voice tells me.

So I describe myself to him and while doing so I look for someone near me who is talking on his phone and I spot him.

Now keep in mind at this point I have spent the last 30 minutes looking around this fairly contained area for someone with some sort of official lanyard or name badge ID and I also made myself known to the convention staff around the area and they knew I was looking for the publicist so they were also keeping an eye out for him as well. When I finally spot him I realise he has only just arrived because if he had actually been looking for me all this time there was no way I could have missed this man. Even amongst this crowd of Marty McFly’s, Doctor Who’s, Star Trek crewmen and random Amine characters this guy would have still stood out.

The man before me was a sight to behold, and this is no word of a lie, when I first saw him I actually thought he was dressed up as some kind of villain from the 1966 Batman TV show, to be perfectly honest I am still not 100% sure that he wasn’t. Now, not everyone can pull off a lilac jacket with brown slacks and nothing I saw on this day has changed my view on that, I still hold that opinion to be true. The outfit was actually quite fitting as the gentleman before me would quickly begin morphing into my own Batman ‘66 ‘Villain Of The Week’ now known to me as ‘The Publicist’

I introduce myself very politely, shake hands and I start a little small talk “How has your morning been?” “What kind of day are you expecting?” the usual stuff and then we start to discuss the interviews. Now I would like to point out right here that it was never a secret that this was what I was here to do, I was very open about it. I was here for one purpose, interview the guest at this year’s convention. The official application has a check box that states ‘Interview Requests’, the emails between us stated this was our only reason for being there, the conversation we had just the day before made it clear this was why I was  coming and the application that I had to re-send stated ‘Interview Requests’, so imagine my surprise when ‘The Publicist’ drops the bomb:

“You won’t be able to do any interviews”

What? We had two conversations on the phone in the last 24 hrs… one of them less than an hour ago regarding the interview process. So I am now standing in the middle of a convention holding notebooks with all my questions and research, two cameras (one digital, one old school), several audio recording devices and a very nice pen. I honestly believed at this point he must have been joking and I’m just copping a bit of a hazing. As I wait for his ‘Gotcha’ moment that never arrives it starts to become very obvious very quickly that I was not on an episode of ‘Punk’d’ and Ashton Kutcher was not going to be descending from the rafters on this day.

We then travel down the line of celebrities as ‘The Publicist’ proceeds to point out each and every person individually and follows them with the word ‘No’ but he just points, he doesn’t use their names at all, he just points to each one and simply says ‘No’. Looking back now I don’t even know if he knew what their real names were.

I am not one to give up easily on something, especially when I am literally at the event with my targets almost within arms reach, I have a media pass and I have put a lot of time and energy into my questions and research.

“Who can I talk to?” I ask him “I’m here to do some interviews, you need to give me someone”

“Who do you want?” he asks, revealing just a slight chick in his pastel coloured armour.

I rattle of the names of our four major wants and each one was met with a “No”, I then rattle off the names of the next four secondary targets….. “No”. I turn back to him and let him know that I need at least one of our big four, I go for broke with the number one name on my list, I flat out tell him “I need Superman”

At this point he starts to buckle and suddenly begins to change his tune a little, he gives me a ‘Maybe’. I am legitimately trying to compromise with this guy and I feel as though I may actually be making some progress but I could never have predicted the turn this conversation would take next.

Suddenly he looks at me smiles and says ‘OH! LOOK!” I figured that my luck had changed and I had managed to charm him into sneaking me in through an open spot with one of my chosen interviews. I then realise that he is pointing, not at the guest line where my attention is solidly focused, but he is pointing up into the rafters…. Maybe I was wrong, maybe Ashton Kutcher was about to descend on a zip-line.

“Look!” he says again tapping me on the shoulder “There is a bird up there!”

Now, I have seen birds before and I am pretty sure he must have at some point too. I have even heard reports that they have made their way into buildings before this monumental event took place. I am then faced with the reality of what I am dealing with here, his boyish smile says it all. I am dealing with a grown man who has had his attention totally diverted from our conversation by a bird that is trapped in the building.

He then proceeds to continue to discuss the trapped bird with me, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t even see the bird, I still don’t know if the bird was real and I realise that I am talking to a gentleman, possibly dressed as a 1966 Batman villain, about a bird, that I can’t see, that is trapped up in the rafters and right now this is where all his attention is focused.

I bring the conversation back around to why we are actually here and I tell him “You need to give me someone, I’m here for the whole con, I don’t mind what time where it is done or how long I get. I’ll be happy with anything you can offer but I need someone that is the reason I am here”

At that point he looks back at me and nods and smiles again. We have obviously bonded over the bird, my patience and charm have finally shone through and we are going to now get down to business.

Again, I had no idea what was coming next.

“It’s going to poo on someone.” he says as he grins at me

“What?”

“The bird.” he explains as he points back up at the rafters “It’s going to poo on someone”

We are back at the bird again.

I am now becoming consciously aware of the fact that I standing here with the Publicist of a major Pop Culture convention, the man who takes care of all the publicity for this event, possibly one of the biggest in the entire country and he is gleefully explaining to me that a bird trapped above us is possibly going to poo on someone. At this point I just put my head down and start to smile. Honestly, you couldn’t make this story up.

Right now I am fully aware that unless this bird can come down from the roof and personally vouch for me I am pretty much screwed. I’m walking out of here with nothing. Weeks of emails, planning, preparation, research… all of it is about to be a colossal total waste of time unless I can think of something right now and I don’t have any idea where to find a bird costume at such short notice so I can impress this man.

I decide it’s time to show him I can be agreeable and respectful even in the face of his old school Batman villain techniques. So I look down the line for the poor soul you always see at these conventions, the guest with no line. We’ve all seen them, the guest who was a recurring character on an old show that you used to watch as a kid 30 years ago. I was aware of who this guy was and even had a few questions ready for him. So I turn around to the grown man who is still grinning about the possibility of a poo incident and point the guy out.

“What about him?” I ask, “I would be happy to start with him”
At this point ‘The Publicist’ came alive “Oh yes! You can have him!”

He had fallen into my trap! I figured that in order to keep this guest happy he would be willing to use me and we headed down to the guest with no line. Finally we were moving the bird has lost his attention for the time being and I am getting started. He even tells me that while I am here he will sort something out with the other names on my list. He makes the introductions, he makes his way over to the other guests and I sit down to what is finally the beginning of my round of interviews.

I lead in with a very simple question about how he became involved with the show he is most famous for and I am treated to a conversation that is interesting but veers wildly off topic straight away and we discuss everything except for the question I actually asked. However he is telling some great stories about London in the 60’s, old time Hollywood stars and name drops a few of my favourites and we have a great conversation, eventually he tells me a great tale about his first day on the the show, how much he respected the star and we finish up.

At this point ‘The Publicist’ returns and starts talking to a nearby staff member and he gives me a quick thumbs up. I wind up my interview, thank the actor for his time and let him know that I really enjoyed his work. The staff member gets my attention and lets me know that “‘The Publicist’ would like you to meet him at the end of the line” I thank the gentleman again for his time and his amazing story, he shakes my hand, smiles at me and I make my way to the meeting area to continue my round of interviews.

Now at this point I can’t find my esteemed host anywhere despite the fact he had asked me to meet him at this very spot. I wait for a little while and then start to take a look around the general area to see if another bird may have entered the building and distracted him. I half expected to find him up in the rafters much like The Phantom of the Opera gleefully swinging from beam to beam chasing his imaginary birds. I am mildly surprised when I don’t find him up there and start to take a look at ground level.

Just disappearing didn’t really seem like this guy’s style, I would have been less surprised if he threw down a smoke pellet and ran off into the distance yelling “You’ll never take me alive Batman!” with a small bird perched upon his shoulder. I gave him a call on his phone, no answer. I sent him a text. No response. So I continued to wait around the general area that he had asked me to meet him. More time passes so I tried to reach him again and sent him a text with the list of people I would like to interview and again letting him know I was available at any time and could be there at the drop of a hat. Nothing.

Nothing, no phone calls, no reply to messages for the entire weekend of the convention. Now surely there is no way that this guy could actually be this unprofessional as to purposely waste my entire weekend so I started to think maybe I should see if Liam Neeson is available to reprise his role in the ‘Taken’ movies as I was concerned that this man had, in fact, been taken. Trust me, that Lilac/Brown combo would have been very difficult to miss.

While waiting for some kind of response or reply I attended a few panels, checked out a few of the vintage comic stands, bought myself a very cool ‘STAR Laboratories’ coffee mug, ate some very suspect Nachos and had myself a pretty good time but I never stopped looking for that flash of lilac and brown. I never saw him again.

As I left the convention centre that weekend I was tempted to turn back to the building and in my best Adam West voice let him know “You’ll never get away with this Publicist” but as I saw a single tiny bird fly overhead I knew that he had.

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