Stan Zemanek opens PR business

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Beast opens spin business

Date: December 2005

Master of the mean streak Stan Zemanek opened a new public relations firm last month. Metro Media Communications has been launched to support the late-night shock jock’s 4-year-old advertising company Metro Media Advertising.

In an interview with B&T magazine, Zemanek said his profile and industry experience would allow him to “open doors” for clients “where other people can’t get access, and that’s one of the big things with PR – you must be able to open the front door and get the message across to people in the media and [the consumer market]”. [1]

So far his clients include Beville Group, Champion Homes, ‘Dirty Dancing the Classic Story on Stage’, Harbourside Shopping Centre, Jacobsen Entertainment, Prime Time Systems, and Etheringtons Solicitors. According to the commercial disclosures on 2UE’s website, Zemanek is paying himself over $100,000 a year for his work. [2]

The man proudly described as “Australia's most complained about broadcaster” by his radio station 2UE [3] may seem a strange fit for the smooth-talking PR industry, but over his years in radio Zemanek has displayed a knack for some of PR’s classic tactics.

Tactic 1 - The fake talk-back caller

PR man Graham Cassidy was recently sprung trying this method out on 702 talkback radio. Identifying himself as “Syd”, and saying that he worked “in the trades business”, Cassidy called the station to rave about the Cross City Motorway – his firm’s client. [4]

In June this year the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that a number of Zemanek’s regular female callers were actually characters played by 2GB comedian and voiceover specialist Bryan Wiseman. Over the years Wiseman had pretended to be Barbara from Point Piper, Tanya from Sylvania Waters, and an 80 year old woman called Grace. 2GB was apparently unaware of the arrangement. [5]

Tactic 2 – blurring the line between advertising and journalism

PR is most effective when it’s invisible, and the best way to ensure this is to get a journalist to present your client’s story as news. Despite the cash for comment saga, the line between programs and advertisements on commercial radio is as fuzzy as ever.

ABC’s Media Watch [6] recorded one of Zemanek’s programs in 2000, featuring Sue, who described herself as ‘an ordinary talkback caller’:

“Stan: Sue Hetherington is on the line, hello Sue. Sue: Hi Stan, how are you? Stan: I'm very well darling! How's things? Sue: Excellent. Stan: Now a few weeks ago I spoke to Terry Loftus from Bastion Finance about property investment in Cairns. Now ah, apparently…is it true that you've been up there or something? Sue: I did, yeah, I planned a holiday, ah, just to go up there for a week, and I thought, well, while I'm up there I should look up Terry, get him to show me the properties that he's been advertising on your show. Stan: So what did you see up there? Sue: Well, it was fantastic...” (Later on in the same show) “Sue: Ah, well Terry's back in town ah, this week and I think you've got a number there Stan, all I had to do was give him a call and um, like, I can assure you that you won't be disappointed, just seeing these things they were absolutely amazing. Stan: All right the number is 1800 235 238 that's 1800 235 238 and it really is terrific...” 2GB later described the segment as a paid advertisement.

Since founding Metro Media Communications Zemanek has joined the Public Relations Institute of Australia, which binds all members to a code of ethics requiring that they “shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information”, and “shall be prepared to identify the source of funding of any public communication they initiate or for which they act as conduit”. (The code of ethics didn’t stop PRIA member Turnbull Porter Novelli from conducting a fake grass-roots campaign against a client’s rival company in 2001, but the sentiment is admirable.)

Zemanek has built a small business empire on the back of his caustic reputation – his disclosures for 2UE include over 40 deals worth $100,000 a year or more [[7]]. In addition to his PR firm and ad agency he also owns a yacht chartering company, conducts advertising seminars, and is an advertising consultant on the side. It remains to be seen if the beast’s latest business will give birth to a new breed – the honest spin doctor.

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