R. Couri Hay: “Always be on time or early”

I go out five to six nights a week, and sometimes to three or more parties in a single night. If you have just one meaningful conversation with someone you know or someone you’ve just met, it’s a successful night. Air kissing and saying hello and posing for Instagram pictures doesn’t count; however, spending ten […]

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I go out five to six nights a week, and sometimes to three or more parties in a single night. If you have just one meaningful conversation with someone you know or someone you’ve just met, it’s a successful night. Air kissing and saying hello and posing for Instagram pictures doesn’t count; however, spending ten minutes to connect with someone can be rewarding in many ways. Networking is important for reinforcing existing friendships, making new friends, and hopefully opening doors to new business. When you combine at least two of these things you’ve scored a home run.

R. Couri Hay specializes in media relations and company development. He is a creative strategist, image counselor, and campaign and crisis manager. Known as a social commentator with a focus on philanthropy, art, culture, high-society, and Hollywood.

For the past 30 years, Couri has been deeply involved in the New York City public-relations sphere with a specific focus on the philanthropic world and has an innate understanding of the market and its requirements.

Couri started his career as one of the original contributing editors of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and went on to write for Town & Country and People. He is currently a contributing editor to Hamptons, BEACH, Travel Squire, Downtown, Resident, and The Mann Report.

He has been featured as a cultural expert on PBS, The Today Show, CBS Early Show, Extra, VH1, Fox News, CNBC, CNN, ET and ABC World News Now.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

For my first job, Andy Warhol hired me as a Contributing Editor for his magazine, Interview, where he taught me the importance of promotion aka Public Relations. I’ll never forget when he asked, “What if no one reads your story about Marlene Dietrich because they don’t know where to look for it?” He told me to call the gossip columnists at the New York Post and the LA Times and give them juicy tidbits from my celebrity interviews. This led to coverage for the star, Andy, and his magazine. This tactic worked and I gave the columnist’s quotes from interviews I did with Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Lena Horne, Warren Beatty, Mae West and scores of others. It wasn’t long before I was giving items to all the columnists about parties I went to, including the Oscars and the Golden Globes. These stories eventually included people who wanted attention and were willing to pay for it. Warhol printed my first column, Invasion of Privacy, and, voila, both a columnist and publicist was born — I’ve mixed the two professions together ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

There is a book full but you will have to wait for it! That said, I once had a cable television show on Public Access with my friend, photographer Anton Perich. We filmed Salvador Dali painting a mother and her two young children silver in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC. The mother and child were naked; it wasn’t long before the cable company received irate phone calls from viewers, which caused them to yank our weekly show off the air. This was in the 70s, long before full frontal nudity was the rigueur on HBO. I told the story to my pal John Lennon, who was a big fan of our show and he called the cable company and helped get us back on the air. This was the first time I encountered censorship, and it took a Beatle to beat it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Cornelia Guest and I hosted a birthday party for Boy George at the absolute height of his fame, which was a big deal for him, as he told me he never had a proper birthday party before. The night started with a dinner for 150 at my townhouse on the West Side, before moving to the nightclub of the movement, the Palladium, helmed by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who started Studio 54. What I didn’t tell Steve was I also planned a flashy After Party at Eric Goode’s club Area. I dubbed the party “Breakfast in Bed with Boy George. “It started at 2 AM, with the dress code “Naked or Black.” Steve flipped out when he found out I had “double-dipped,” and it caused a huge public fight which I thought was hilarious, as I knew my “mistake” would attract more people and publicity then if I’d followed the rules. The party was the talk of the town and I knew they wouldn’t cancel it as they were going to make a fortune from the 3,000 paying people that were attending. Sadly, I didn’t demand a cut as a promoter or a publicist which was a big mistake, and I made sure it was the last time that happened! In the end, I secured a full-page story in The NY Post called The Club Wars, and Vanity Fair named my fete one of the Top 10 Parties of the Year. My competitors said I crossed a line, and of course, I did! The lessons I gained from this experience was that in promotion and PR, rules are made to be broken and the publicist must be paid!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m helping Audrey Gruss, the founder of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, launch two new Hope Fragrances for Valentine’s Day. Audrey and the actress Ashley Judge will unveil Hope Sport and Hope Night with a Tea at Bergdorf Goodman. I hope everyone will buy the new perfumes, not only because they are divine fragrances, but because 100% of the profits go back into research for new to combat depression. I’ve represented this organization for nearly ten years and its one of the projects I’m most proud of. My company’s mission is to combine luxury with philanthropy, and so most of my projects and clients give back to the community in one way or another.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. My company’s name is R. Couri Hay Creative Public Relations because I aspire to do everything with accelerated creativity. The company initials are CPR which also stands for Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, which is a sly reference to the fact that I can bring a company or product back from the brink of death. I once represented a nightclub that hadn’t caught on with the denizens of the night. It was located in an old clothing store with four enormous floor-to-ceiling glass windows facing the street, but with space now a club, no one knew what to do with them. I filled them with dancers from an avant-garde SoHo dance troupe, re-enacting decadent scenes from the dance floor to the bedroom. This simple idea, partnered created so much excitement and energy that the club became a huge hit, even providing entertainment for the people waiting in line. On another occasion, I hired Kim Kardashian for 5K to make an appearance, before Kim was really Kim. I knew she’d garner attention in the media, so I tipped off the paparazzi and the gossip columnists. When Kim pulled up to the club, I went out to get her, but she wouldn’t get out of the car until she was paid. I scrambled to get the owners to open the safe and put the money in a paper bag. After counting the money, Kim emerged, nearly nude, to flashing cameras — I also got her to dance for 15 minutes on banquettes. The next day, she and the club were splashed all over the papers. The Daily Mail picked up the story because of the sexy photos, and the club instantly became a major player all because of this idea.

2. In my dictionary PR also stands for Problem Resolution. I was throwing a party for the Cunard flagship, The Queen Mary 2, and there was going to be a gala black-tie dinner in the Queens Grill. I invited the Who’s Who of NYC, from Martha Stewart to Anne Hearst. The day the ship was set to dock, I got word that the Queen Mary 2 was delayed by a storm at sea and wouldn’t be in NYC in time for the party. I immediately made plans to solve the problem and capitalize on the delay. First, I moved the party to the next night and invited everyone who came to stay overnight in First Class. Then I called The New York Times and got my story idea, “What happens when your ship doesn’t come in?” green lit. I solved the problem and made the next night even more glamorous when people stayed overnight in their gowns and jewels and I practically got a full-page story in the New York Times. The client was thrilled, and the guests were happy; Problem resolution.

3. Always get a signed contract for a minimum of three months — preferably a year — and get paid at the beginning of each month. Without a contract, a client can stop on a whim on the last day of the month, and leave you stuck doing all the follow up work on the stories you originated for free. I once had a client that stalled resigning at the end of the third month just as I was able to get them on The Today Show. As a professional, I had no choice but to follow through with the show that took another four weeks to finalize, and the client never paid for the extra time. Sometimes, clients don’t understand the difference between earned media placements and advertising, and that publicists are on the media’s timetable, not the clients.

4. Always be on time or early. Punctuality is not only the hallmark of royalty, it’s good for business. I think I’ve lost opportunities by being late, and I’ve got jobs by simply being on time, demonstrating discipline to the client. Once on my birthday, I was going to the hit Broadway show, The Will Rogers Follies at the Palace Theater, directedby my friend 10-time Tony winner Tommy Tune. Tommy arranged to have a bevy of chorus girls bring a cake to my seat before the curtain went up. Regrettably, I was ten minutes late and missed a memorable moment. I also never got to represent Tommy and it might have been because I was late for his show.

5. Do your homework. Always research a potential client before a meeting to make sure your pitch is a fit. I once had a meeting with a “designer”, which I assumed was a clothing designer. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation that showcased my work for Prada, Escada, Lorna Piana, Brioni, and Bergdorf Goodman. It turned out he was an interior designer! I hadn’t done a good background check and I was unprepared; but luckily, after my initial embarrassment, I was able to riff on my work for interior designers Tony Ingrao, Charlotte Moss, Jamie Drake, and Richard Mishaan which landed me the job.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

I go out five to six nights a week, and sometimes to three or more parties in a single night. If you have just one meaningful conversation with someone you know or someone you’ve just met, it’s a successful night. Air kissing and saying hello and posing for Instagram pictures doesn’t count; however, spending ten minutes to connect with someone can be rewarding in many ways. Networking is important for reinforcing existing friendships, making new friends, and hopefully opening doors to new business. When you combine at least two of these things you’ve scored a home run.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

1. Word of mouth is the best form of referral, so do a good job with every client.

2. Protect and nurture your reputation, both personally, professionally, and online.

3. Good draws attention to your best work, which is essential in the digital age.

4. Being recognized by Best PR lists and winning awards for specific campaigns is helpful in generating leads. I’m proud to have been onExpertise’s list of Top 20 PR Firms in New Yorkfor the last three years.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge taught me there is more to life than parties. Everyone, not just publicists, needs to read this masterpiece. That said, in PR, it is important to remember what I call “The Power of the Party”. When you treat someone to a great experience, they will always remember it.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think we are all people of great influence and everyone should identify one cause they care about, and regularly do something to move those goals forward. I hope that my work with the Hope for Depression Research Foundation will not only result in more funding for scientists and researchers to develop new to treat this debilitating disease but will also raise awareness of how many people are affected by it and how serious it is. It’s not a question of “bucking up” or having a “stiff upper lip”. Depression not only needs new to combat its effects, but we all need to support the elimination of the negative stigma in society surrounding mental health and be compassionate and supportive of people who are suffering from depression.

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