We’re serving up a low-cal version of “Lunch” today because the catastrophic events in Harlem kept us from doing our scheduled interview at the appointed hour. Despite the transportation disruptions in and around the city, it was business as usual for the mavens, moguls and strivers who turned up at Michael’s for their weekly Wednesday confab. Keep calm and carry on indeed.
Posts Tagged ‘Scott Singer’
Although the ghastly heat of last week that made Manhattan feel more like Calcutta is finally just a memory, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the wall-to-wall coverage on ‘Baby Cambridge’ (who finally has a name — Welcome George Alexander Louis!) to come to lunch at Michael’s today. But once we made our way to 55th and Fifth, it was back to business as usual. The Wednesday lunch crowd has been firing on all cylinders all summer long, and today was no exception.
Aside from the usual suspects (Matt Blank, David Zinczenko) there was, of course, plenty of good people watching to keep us occupied, including the random celebrity sighting (a very tall Miss USA) and an A-list couple who practically glowed with happiness (Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner). Perhaps that’s because their impeccably well-mannered teenage son, Kyle Wellner, who was dining with them, rose and extended his hand with a “nice to meet you” every time a well-wisher came by. Impressive.
I was joined today by Lisa Linden, longtime public relations adviser to Eliot Spitzer, and Jimmy Siegel of Siegel Strategies. Jimmy is the creative force behind Spitzer’s campaign ads that begun popping up last week online and are now airing on cable and broadcast television in New York City. Jimmy spoke with me exclusively to give me the story behind the new campaign ads that have generated plenty of commentary by politicos everywhere. The self-described “political junkie” first met Spitzer, then running for governor, at a fundraising dinner in late 2005. “I wanted to get into politics, and I was a long time admirer of Eliot when he was the state’s attorney general. I thought he did an amazing job,” Jimmy told me. “At the end of the night, I hung around and, fortified by my third glass of Cabernet, I approached him and said, ‘I want to help get you elected.’” Spitzer gave him then-deputy campaign manager’s Miriam Hess‘ card (who, incidentally, now works with Jimmy) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jimmy spent over 20 years at BBDO, rising from junior copywriter to vice chairman where he was responsible for some of the most memorable ads ever for Visa, Pepsi and Charles Schwab, and had just formed his own company when he met Spitzer. The campaigns he later created for Spitzer’s gubernatorial run were characterized by The New York Times as “emotionally stirring” and “fresh and effective” by The New York Daily News. This time around, while the objective — getting Spitzer elected — may be the same, the game and the stakes have changed considerably. Read more
The oppressive heat couldn’t keep the faithful away from Michael’s today. I haven’t seen the place this crowded in ages as most tables were set for four (or more). In fact, the place was so jam packed that TV Guide magazine acting CEO and Wednesday regular Jack Kliger was seated in the Garden Room. Unlike a few people I could mention, Jack is far too cool to care about something as petty as seating arrangements. Just like the rest of the crowd — not.
Carole Radziwill, one of the more recent additions to the cast of The Real Housewives of New York City was first to arrive in the dining room today. The alarmingly thin socialite was sporting a curious furry accessory that was neither pet nor purse, sky-high platforms and a sweet flowered dress. Carole passed the time waiting for the rest of her party to arrive by taking pictures of the life-size sculptures of sheep that stand in the restaurant’s lounge. Alrighty then.
Speaking of Housewives, I was joined today by one of my favorite members of the franchise, LuAnn de Lesseps, who drove in from the Hamptons for our tete a tete. The statuesque former model (she’s 5’10″!) has always seemed like one of the more down to earth — and dare we say normal — Bravolebrities. She was all that and more. PR princess extraordinaire Catherine Saxton, who knows everyone who is anyone and is off to the south of France in a few days for the first of the big St. Tropez parties aboard Denise Rich‘s yacht, then go off to join Ivana Trump for her party in St. Tropez before finally landing in Monte Carlo for a whirlwind of swanky dinners (Can we carry your luggage?), arranged for today’s ladies’ lunch. Between bites of crab cakes and salmon tartare, we chatted about LuAnn’s sixth season on RHNYC, her various projects and, of course, her love life. It’s no secret that LuAnn was one of the last ladies to sign on to the new season of the show. “I waited until I was happy with their offer,” she told me, dismissing rumors that the cast was banding together for salary increases. “Things were handled individually.” While she’s too polite to talk about such gauche topics as money — she did write the manners manual Class with the Countess: How to Live With Elegance and Flair, after all! But she is upfront about her reasons for sticking with the show. “It’s a great platform.” All the better to ride the wave as long as you can, no? Mais oui! ”We didn’t expect it to last this long,” said LuAnn.
Like most of the industrious Housewives set, LuAnn has managed to turn in her 15 minutes into a fledgling empire that includes her book, the record “Money Can’t Buy You Class” and several product lines like tabletop that includes melamine dinnerware and elegant bone china which is currently being sold on QVC and Amazon.com (“Inspired by my love of entertaining and my travels”). Next up is a collection of turquoise jewelry with Gem Stone King. “I love costume jewelry!” she said as she flashed a Wilma Flinstone-inspired pearl bracelet by Twisted. Clearly, the serious bling encased in gold on her finger today was the real thing. “Yes, it’s a star sapphire. This ring was designed by the same man who has done jewelry for Queen Elizabeth.” And not, I’m guessing, available on QVC.
While it was a bit more subdued than usual at Michael’s today with some of the glitterati off to Cannes and a few others up in Greenwich watching Prince Harry play polo (our invite must have gotten lost in the mail), the usual mix of editors (Anne Fulenwider, Lucy Danziger) and media moguls (David Zinczenko) were in full power lunch mode celebrating each other’s successes and hatching their next big deals.
I was joined today by Kimberly Cherebin and Alaska Gedeon, stars of the new docu-series Newlyweds: The First Year, which premiered May 6 on Bravo. Also in attendance were the network’s PR marvels, Jennifer Geisser and Julia Nietsch, as well as the happy couple’s manager, Camille White Stern. The show is a hit, having snagged over 1 million viewers for the first episode. With Kimberly stuck in traffic en route from the studio where she was styling Justine Skye‘s new video, I got a chance to chat with Alaska first. I asked him what in the world would possess anyone to allow cameras to follow them during their entire first year of marriage. He told me he’d been absolutely opposed to doing the show at first, and Kimberly asked him “about six or seven times” before he finally agreed. Looking back on the experience (shooting wrapped earlier this year), Alaska said having the details of your daily life play out for all the world to see “forces you to raise the standard of who you are: how you treat others and especially how you treat your wife.” He then added brightly, “It’s like a mirror and like therapy.” So did he like everything he saw reflected back at him? “I just don’t think I’m that big of a jerk,” he said with a laugh. (After meeting him, I’m inclined to agree). “My sarcasm doesn’t always read well on camera.” He also told me that it wasn’t until after he viewed the scene where he and Kimberly discussed their bi-coastal marriage that he realized just how “heartbroken” Kimberly was at the prospect of their separation.
When Kimberly arrived, I asked her why she was so enthusiastic about doing the show, and she admitted that she didn’t exactly know what she was getting into. “At first, I thought it was one of those David Tutera>-type ‘planning your wedding’ shows, and I thought that would be fun, but it was nothing like that,” she explained. Once she did understand that she and Alaska would be agreeing to 10-hour shooting days over the course of year and be required to use their ‘Couples’ Cam’ on each other to capture intimate moments (not that kind, silly), she remained undaunted. “It seems like when you see marriages on TV you either see these fairy tales or something pretty terrible. We have really ‘extreme’ careers, and this was a chance to show how you balance it all.”
Where to begin? This week at 55th and Fifth, the scene in the dining room provided whiplash-inducing people watching with a tasty mix of moguls on the menu (Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Finkelstein) with a side of social swans (Sharon Bush, Patricia Kluge, Terry Allen Kramer).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wednesday at Michael’s without the random celebrity sighting. I was thrilled to hear that I would be sitting next to none other than Ali MacGraw today. The ageless actress, who catapulted into the pop culture hall of fame with her iconic performance (and preppy wardrobe) in the 1970 tearjerker Love Story, turned every head in the place when she arrived — which is quite a feat among this crowd. She was beyond gracious as diners (including yours truly) lined up for pictures. Several years ago, I worked with her on The Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars where she was honored with FGI’s entertainment award for her contributions to film and fashion. When I re-introduced myself, she immediately said, “Oh, I remember that night. It was so much fun!” and then proceeded to tell me this delicious bit of gossip from the evening: “I was standing next to Bill Blass when he saw Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones come in. And Bill turned to the person next to him and said, “Finally, some real movie stars!” She giggled, clearly delighted by the memory of the snarky diss from the designer.
Speaking of the power of celebrity, I was joined today by Charitybuzz CEO and founder Coppy Holzman who dazzled me with tales of his work with the famous and philanthropic. His company, which he founded in 2005, is currently the world’s largest online charity auction site and is the go-to partner for every famous person with a charity looking to raise serious money for their pet causes.
It all started at a backyard fundraising party for The Clinton Library in Westport, Connecticut that Coppy attended where he met President Bill Clinton and Chevy Chase. “Isn’t there a way for you to use your experience on the Internet to raise for the library?” the host of the party asked Coppy. On the spot, he came up with the idea of auctioning off a lunch with the former president. One year later, The Chevy Chase Earth Day Auction brought in $250,000 for the library, including $80,000 paid by one bidder to lunch with Clinton and Chase. Since then, Coppy has worked with Clinton on many different initiatives. “There is no bigger celebrity in the world,” he says. The top dollar paid to spend the day with Hillary’s husband: $255,000 in an auction last year.
The spring power lunch season has officially begun at Michael’s with plenty of famous faces and talking heads (Charles Grodin, Star Jones, Lawrence O’Donnell) mixed in with the usual suspects today. None other than Meg Ryan turned up with Judith Regan and slipped in practically unnoticed. Ah, but it’s my job to tell you these things.
In the ‘six degrees of separation’ world that is the dining room at 55th and Fifth, Judith and I grew up in the same hometown of Bay Shore on Long Island. Her mother was often my substitute teacher in high school, and we’ve always had interesting chats whenever our paths have crossed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the famously fiery ex-book publisher and she told me she’s adapted a new approach of “staying well below the radar” while working on her Sirius XM show. “No one even knows where I live,” she said. I knew better than to question the strategy of staying out of the limelight by sitting at Table One on a Wednesday at Michael’s, so we talked about mutual friends and exchanged pleasantries about our families. When Meg showed up, she couldn’t have been nicer as we chatted about our daughters who we adopted from China the same year, are the same age and both wear glasses. (Sorry, but it’s all OTR.) Later, on the way out, we talked a bit more and I suspected she had plenty more to say on the subject but didn’t want to get caught it the crush of folks lining up for their coats. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
I was joined today by Stu Zakim, public relations vet and “transformational executive” (How’s that for a title?) Mike Berman. Stu, a veteran marketing guru who has helped shaped the image of Showtime, Universal Pictures and Wenner Media, struck out on his own in 2010 with his own firm, Bridge Strategic Communications. His current clients include the Montclair Film Festival, now in its second year, and Mike, a turnaround specialist and business blogger who dispenses straightforward strategies on his blog, Berman Means Business. Stu has been working with Mike since last fall to extend the reach of his no-nonsense messaging espousing a holistic approach to building businesses. With recent headlines on media mash-ups and corporate meltdowns, we had plenty to talk about. Since Mike penned his first piece for CNBC’s website entitled “Five Turnaround Tips for Ron Johnson, JC Penney and Others” earlier this week, I thought a discussion about JCP’s embattled CEO was a good place to start. In a nutshell, says Mike, Johnson “was set up to fail — he can’t fix Penney’s.”
He explains, “What’s happening with Ron Johnson is a metaphor for what’s wrong with business today. You can’t hire a rock star as if he’s just come down from the mountain top with the solution to every problem. No one person is able to do what he’s saying he can do.” According to Mike, Johnson’s first mistake was expecting an already beaten down team to buy into widespread change without first stabilizing the organization and clearly articulating a long term vision for the future. Letting 10,000 people go among a shell-shocked workforce didn’t help matters, either. “In the classic turnaround, you can be a hero by coming in and reducing staff, closing under performing stores or factories for the short-term, but in the long-term that doesn’t create value and kills the economy. Executives have to ask themselves, ‘How can I make sacrifices for the benefit of the entity?” Because so many companies rely on the slash-and-burn strategy as an immediate solution to stem the bleeding of their bottom line, Mike tells me he no longer works on “classic turnarounds” because he finds them “totally souless.” Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.
The ‘Cosmo 100′ Starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Jessica Seinfeld; The Wednesday Crowd with Star Jones and Doris Kearns Goodwin
As you probably know by now, only the most extreme circumstances could keep the faithful from their usual lunch at Michael’s. Since Mother Nature proved to be too formidable a force for us on not one, but two back-to-back Wednesdays, we were only too happy to pull double duty this week.
On Monday, I attended the estrogen-fueled lunch for “The Cosmo 100,” a gals-only power lunch hosted by Joanna Coles who, having been named EIC of Cosmopolitan mere weeks ago, put together a guest list to end all guest lists for her first event. When I arrived a few minutes before noon, the paparazzi was lined up to capture the arrival of Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane von Furstenberg, Ali Wentworth, Jennifer Westfeldt and Jessica Seinfeld, who seemed to be channeling MC Hammer in some curious gold lame harem pants. Also in attendance: ABC News’ Deborah Roberts, model Carol Alt, bestselling author Jane Green and more A-list Gotham gals than I’ve seen in one place in ages. Hearst’s amazing PR team headed by Deb Shriver, Alexandra Carlin and Holly Whidden deserve some major kudos. I was seated at a fabulous table with Cathie Black, modeling icon Pat Cleveland and Barbara Taylor Bradford, who told me her 29th book will be published early next year. The mind reels.
When the A-list crowd made their way to the Garden Room, Joanna (who was rocking some gorgeous leather pants) greeted everyone with her trademark cheeky humor, telling us she’d prepared ‘binders of men’ as research for her new gig and then quoting Margaret Thatcher with the wise words, ‘Cocks crow but it’s hens that lay the eggs.’ She also advised us “never to underestimate what you can do in 10 minutes.” So true. But Joanna wanted to do more than celebrate fun, fearless females at her kick-off lunch; she surprised everyone by introducing some truly formidable women who’d broken through the glass ceiling during this election cycle. New Hampshire’s first female governor Maggie Hassan talked of having her daughter run her winning campaign, Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to congress explained how she won her race in Hawaii by proving wrong the naysayers who told her “it wasn’t her time,” and Grace Meng, the first Asian-American elected to congress from New York, spoke of the need for women to be mentors to other women. It was truly one of the most inspiring events I’ve attended in a long, long time.
Today, I was joined by another trailblazer Marcy Syms, who you must know from those commercials for the legendary off-price retailer (“An educated consumer is our best customer”). It was Marcy’s father, the late Sy Syms who founded the business in 1958 as the first national retailer to sell off-price men’s clothing. At first, it was Sy who gave voice to the slogan in 1974, but he wisely asked Marcy to take his place in 1978 thus tapping into an emerging public consciousness about working women. The rest, as they say, is history. ”I still remember wearing those bow blouses and those short haircuts!” said Marcy.
After last week’s head-spinning scene where real-life democrats took campaign advice from fictional politicians (Chris Noth, you’ve got my vote), I thought I’d pretty much covered the landscape of presidential politics among the Wednesday Michael’s crowd. Nothing doing. Before I could settle in for my lunch with PR maven Leslie Stevens and cosmetics entrepreneur Patti Pao, CNBC’s Joe Kernen called me over to meet Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who was on the air with Joe earlier today deconstructing last night’s debates (We suggest a whip and a chair for the moderator of next week’s match-up) and is scheduled to appear on Sean Hannity‘s broadcast on Fox this evening.
The guys told me they were looking for “equal time,” since last week’s column was all about the democratic point of view. I’m always happy to chat with Joe whose fabulously smart 12-year-old daughter, Blake Kernen is one of my favorite young writers. Not surprisingly, Senator Johnson told me he thought Mitt Romney won the debate hands down. “He shattered the caricature (the Obama campaign) has been pushing. It’s hard to paint that picture when (Romney) came out so strong and showed such a command of the issues. He offered the specifics that Obama did not. Last night did nothing to stop the momentum (Romney) has been gathering.” He also called out the president for being “purposely misleading” on Libya. While the senator admitted the president was “a little more energetic” he concluded, “He’s got nothing.”
Senator Johnson, who predicts it’s going to be a ”close election,” says Vice President Joe Biden‘s “rude” performance during his debate with Representative Paul Ryan had a lingering negative effect on the president’s favorable ratings and pointed to CNN’s recent poll which showed most viewers gave last night’s segment on the economy to Romney as an indication that the republican challenger is winning on the issue voters care most about. “In both debates, Romney showed that he can work with the other side. Americans have to ask themselves, ‘Do we want four more years of gridlock and a president who doesn’t know how to lead?”
Things lightened up considerably when I joined Leslie and Patti at our table to talk about the launch of Patti’s new skincare line Restorsea, which debuted at Bergdorf Goodman on Monday. Smart, savvy and absolutely passionate about skincare, Patti has built an impressive track record in the beauty business with stints at Avon and Elizabeth Arden. The Harvard Business School graduate introduced glycolic acid to the beauty industry and made Avon’s Anew the industry standard that is today.
She has continued to search out the latest innovations for the luxury market in her own consulting firm Pao Principle which she launched in 2005. Utilizing her deep ties to China, Patti created a survey asking 353 billionaires in the country (yes, you read that right) questions relating to handbags and fine jewelry. Doing so created a much sought after database when the survey findings made The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, Forbes and Fortune. That stroke of marketing genius branded her LVMH’s luxury expert, and she picked up three clients in Norway which turned out to be a fateful turn of events.
Where else could you possibly find friends of reality stars (Come on, you can’t expect an A-lister sighting every week) and the last vestiges of Cafe Society all in one room? If it’s Wednesday, at Michael’s, of course. I couldn’t even begin to do justice to the head-spinning scene there today, so I’ll just let the roster of what passes for celebrity sightings these days speak for itself.
I was so excited about today’s lunch, because I was meeting the woman responsible for greenlighting one of my favorite shows, Mad Men. Christina Wayne has had an amazing career – she also is responsible for getting Breaking Bad on air — and I found her story fascinating. Had it not been for Christina’s spot-on instincts, Matt Weiner‘s script, which had been floating around for eights years at that point, might not ever have seen the light of day. The former AMC senior vice-president of scripted series and mini-series is now president of Cineflix Studios and executive producer of the new BBC America series, Copper — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A born and bred New Yorker who grew up on the Upper East Side, Christina decided to move back after 12 years in Los Angeles for personal reasons in 2005 (“There was no one left to date!”) and after receiving a call from a friend asking if she’d be interested in working with AMC. Up until that point, the network was pretty much airing nothing but old movies. “I had no idea what AMC was. I thought he was talking about the movie theater chain,” said Christina. Back then, the basic cabler was looking to develop scripted content; Christina signed on as a consultant as the net’s “creative voice,” but didn’t want to tell her screenwriter friends since, at the time, working in television seemed like a step down and “an embarrassment.”
She started by calling everyone she knew in L.A. and wound up with the script for Broken Trail, a huge hit starring Robert Duvall that got the greenlight in eight days. When she read the script for Mad Men on a flight back from Los Angeles, she knew she had something special. AMC wasn’t able to get a studio to pick it up, so the pilot was self-financed for $3.3 million and the rest, as they say, is television history. Without a huge marketing budget, Christina attributes a lot of Mad Men‘s buzz to the nonstop coverage it received in The New York Times who covered the show from every angle possible. “The show was their lovechild,” she said. And still is, I’d say.
Forget about the dog days of summer. The stifling heat couldn’t keep the faithful away from Michael’s today. In fact, many of the power lunchers showed up early to escape the oppressive temps which made for a jam packed dining room. The always unflappable Loreal Sherman kept everything running smoothly as usual, finding just the right table for everyone despite the SRO crowd. At Michael’s, you are where you sit after all.
I was joined today by Scott Singer, managing director of Discover Digital Group where he helps media companies identify and build e-commerce businesses, as well as assisting them in growing their existing digital assets. When he’s not navigating his clients through the changing world of social media and mobile advertising, Scott is also a passionate author. In his first book, How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business (Portfolio, 2010), Scott took on the question on everyone’s mind at the time: how to survive and thrive after the 2008 financial meltdown and subsequent Great Recession. “I’ve spent my career advising companies (including CBS/Viacom and Disney) on how to overcome and confront change,” Scott told me. After enduring his own series of personal and professional ‘curveballs’ — his job as head of digital media and internet infrastructure at Bear Sterns was a fatality of the tech bubble, his brother was in one of the towers at the World Trade Center on 9/11 but thankfully survived and he got divorced (“My marriage ended in a death spiral,” he writes in the book), Scott told me he learned that “None of us know what the future holds but, once you’ve learned how to confront and overcome the unexpected, it will stop making you anxious. Tomorrow will no longer be something to fear and that’s a great feeling.”
Cleverly outlining his insights using baseball terminology, Scott leads the reader from ‘spring training’ all the way through ‘an extra inning’ and includes the wisdom of those who have always aimed for the fences, like CBS honcho Les Moonves, former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin and Michael J. Fox.
Scott’s best advice: Step up to the plate and accept what is, be the batter and keep your eye on the ball. A self-proclaimed enthusiast for the latest and best gadgets on the market, Scott says these rules are easily applicable in business, especially when it comes to new technology. Change is happening every minute and the only way to win is to embrace it and be an early adapter. Just look at our kids.
“Every child today is born digital. It’s in their DNA, while those people that are passing away are analog. We’re digital immigrants,” he says. “My 14 year-old son is my IT support. It’s amazing to think of all the innovations the digital generation is going to create.”
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