Interview with an ex Manhattan PR concierge

Digital Mic Drop is all about marketing inspiration and that, of course, includes inspiring marketing people. We got a chance to catch up with Amy Johansson who used to work as a PR concierge in the fast-paced, cutthroat, take-no-prisoners Manhattan PR world.

For 12 years Amy was a gatekeeper, a tastemaker and often – as Amy puts it herself – “that bitch with the guest list” in the upper echelons of New York City media. Now she is a mother of three, a teacher and an occasional columnist on the sleepy coastal countryside of southern Sweden. Amy says that “Her soul is mostly intact.”

Hi, Amy!

We are intrigued with your background from the take-no-prisoners world of Manhattan PR. Can you give us a peek behind the curtain?

“Hi, Digital Mic Drop! I sure can! I worked in public relations in Manhattan and in London and represented Hollywood film studios, celebrity chefs, cultural institutions, restaurant groups and Wall Street bigwigs. Within these industries, the far most interesting assignment I’ve had was providing personal concierge PR to CEOs and celebrities. This is a cushy job, probably the only one in public relations that I actually still miss. I have been retired from the PR branch since 2008 and would consider reprising.”

For those of you who are not familiar with the job title - A personal PR concierge is a CEO or celebrity’s press squire. They are often the ‘anonymous source’ referred to in tabloids or on gossip websites.

“Leaks, spinning and storytelling and personal chemistry are skills that determine success.”

“We provide leaks, direct from the person in question. Spinning, storytelling and correct personal chemistry are the skills that determine one’s success in this role. These jobs are almost never advertised and are often won by personal vetting and referral. We work closely with the celebrity’s ‘team’- their agent, manager, legal counsel, personal and executive assistants.”

“Confidentiality clauses carry stiff penalties and non-disclosure agreements are binding.”

“We also work with their spouses and families. In this job, one sees and hears A LOT of behind-the-scenes matters happen. One sees documents and information that are not for public consumption. Confidentiality clauses carry stiff penalties and non-disclosure agreements are binding. It is an intense job, but also an intensely rewarding job.”

“The man in question was allegedly an inspiration for the iconic Gordon Gekko.”

“It was the first time I was ever chosen for such a job, and the learning curve was steep, to say the least. Many nights I came home with my head buzzing, feeling overwhelmed yet inspired. The Wall Street icon will remain anonymous, as he casts long legal shadows that I suspect extend over the Atlantic and over the decade. The man in question was allegedly an inspiration for the iconic Gordon Gekko. There are a few, so don’t go googling, as I will not confirm nor deny any guesses.”

A day in the life of a Manhattan PR concierge

To give readers a more concrete picture of the job Amy shares a diary entry, which is colorful, to say the least. The diary entry was originally written in 2003 when she was hired to do a 3-month maternity cover for a Wall Street icon’s personal PR concierge.

“One day, after an extremely intense first week, I wrote this entry in my diary, pretending to be a fly on the wall at my office. I needed some perspective and distance. 13 years, 1 ocean away, and one new life/career later, it still holds up. Think of it as a literary blind item:”

The fly goes to the 60th floor of a high-rise art-deco building just north and east enough of midtown to be chic and exclusive rather than functional for location. The city unwinds calmly beneath floor to ceiling windows. It’s high enough for New York to look like a postcard, yet not high enough to inspire fears of King Kong and 9/11.

“My boss, a unibrowed man with a flat smile at the peak of his corporate raiding exploits.”

The office itself reflects its own elevated status in the city. It’s hard to picture it being downtown with its wood paneling, crystal, antiques and original fixtures over high-thread-count wallpaper. Covering the wallpaper are oil paintings of horses and of turn-of-the-20th-century automobiles and flight contraptions. Woven between these nostalgic flights of fancy are framed cartoons and press clippings of Mister X, my boss, a unibrowed man with a flat smile at the peak of his corporate raiding exploits. (exact detail retracted). The dark-suited administrative staff, all female, seamlessly blend into the muted opulence and perfumed stagnant air.

“Don’t fuck with me, son! I wanna be a fucking billionaire!”

There is no signage over heavy oaken doors leading to reception or restrooms. Rather, a labyrinth of mysterious doors leading to unknown areas confronts visitors. From behind these doors, one can hear a raspy voice shouting down the end of a phone line. He has pressed his mouth straight up to the receiver. “Don’t fuck with me, son! I wanna be a fucking billionaire!””

The phone slams and Mister X walks out. He lights a cigarette and takes a drag, pounding on his heart. Cigarette in mouth, he takes a seat at my desk:

“Jen, Jessica, Jane, whatever your name is, get me [name of a financial reporter at a major newspaper] on the phone now. You better have the same Rolodex as [the woman I am maternity-covering for].”

Fortunately, I did. But you don’t tell people like this what you know, you show them ‘you’re connected’. I say, with my voice deadpan and my gaze unblinking:

“Hey [name] you fuckwad, wait a minute!”

He then clamps his hand over the phone and glances at me, surprised by my stone cold delivery:

“Kid this isn’t a fucking funeral home.”

“Mister X is known for his 5 boroughs gangster delivery.”

I nod and I notice that half a dozen dark suits raise their heads and then flutter back to their keyboards. Mister X coughs and continues his phone conversation:

“So you think you’re the wise guy, writing a profile like that eh? Well buddy let me tell you that I will personally see to it that you are fucked so hard your nose bleeds. Oh no that’s not a threat, that’s a promise!”

I know the threatened reporter is loving this, as Mister X is known for his 5 boroughs gangster delivery. After their conversation is over, Mister X calls me via telephone into his office (his office is less than a meter away from my desk). “OK, let’s give the exclusive to [rival paper]. Fuck that little shit. Spin it sideways. Now get on it.” I nod and get back to my desk. Well, at least it’s not a live media conference. Mister X is terrible at those.

“At the end of the 3-month cover, I was offered a full-time job with Mister X for a salary that still makes me gasp. I turned it down. I had another project lined up. One that took me to Sweden. The rest is history. As you guys would say: Mic drop!”

For more, connect with Amy through her Facebook page.


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