What Does B.L. Stand For?
David Erickson: This week, I am going to interview my co-host, B.L. Ochman. My first question that all of America wants to know, is what does B.L. stand for?
B.L. Ochman: It stands for a nickname that I have had since I was a baby. And unless you are going to send me a very large check. I'm not going to tell you what it stands for.
David Erickson: Let's pursue this. This line of inquiry. So it does stand for it's an acronym for something correct.
B.L. Ochman: Initials.
David Erickson: Initials? Yes, yes. Okay. Um, what is your name, then?
B.L. Ochman: No matter how many ways you ask me, I'm still not telling you. I file taxes as B.L. Ochman, that's all you need to know.
David Erickson: That's it. That's it is I--
B.L. Ochman: --taxes as B.L. Ochman. Okay, that's, that's all you need to know.
David Erickson: Interesting. OK, so that will remain a mystery.
B.L. Ochman: I love the nickname. What I don't like is what it stands for.
Why Did You Decide To Study Journalism?
David Erickson: You got a degree in journalism. Is that correct? why did you decide to major in journalism?
B.L. Ochman: Well, ever since I was a little girl, when Nancy Drew was my hero, I wanted to be able to find the answers to mysteries. And I always wanted to write. Lois Lane was my other childhood. heroine and and I just knew that when I grew up, I was going to be just like Lois Lane. I was the editor of the newspaper in high school, I was the editor of the paper in college as well. And journalism seemed like the right fit for me. And it was a wonderful program that I was in.
What Was Your First Job In Journalism?
David Erickson: Very cool. So what do you after you graduated from college? You had a degree a BA in journalism, would you? Where'd you go from there?
B.L. Ochman: Well, my first journalism job was at the Fairfield Citizen, where my job was to report on things like kitchen fires, and bowling leagues and things like that. And so that was kind of boring. And I tried and tried and tried to get jobs in journalism. But it was a different time. And I will never forget the editor of the New Haven Register, who said to me, honey, how could I send you out at night into a bad neighborhood to cover a story and be able to sleep when you're wearing that little skirt? And I said, Well, isn't that my problem? And he said, No, it would be mine. So that was that was sort of the culmination of multiple interviews at that point in time.
What Was Your First Public Relations Job?
B.L. Ochman: And so I took another turn. And I worked for a PR firm in Westport, where I became the harmonica fairy because we had Hohner Harmonicas as one of our accounts. It was the best job in the world for kid who just got out of college - to go to concerts and talk to people like Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan and Paul Butterfield and hang out backstage with them and give them harmonicas and ask them to be in our advertising. So I did that for a while. That was fun.
David Erickson: So that was your first PR job out of out of college.
B.L. Ochman: And our other client or other client was Stew Leonard who had just opened his first store.
David Erickson: We have to stop for a second: What is Stew Leonard?
B.L. Ochman: Stew Leonard is the eponymous grocery store owner, Stew Leonard's now has nine stores and some liquor stores. He had just opened his first store, he had been my boss's milkman. A highway ran through his dairy. So he decided to open a store that sold all the same things he had on his milk truck. And then people would say, why don't you get this? And why don't you get that. And so he would listen to his customers.
My job was to go there on Saturday morning, no matter what shape I was in, and sometimes it was intense the night before. I'd go around with a photographer and ask people, "why are you here?" They would tell us, I came for the bread. I came for this. I came for that. We found out what people liked. We took a picture, those ran as ads in the Westport News. And I did that for a long time.
David Erickson: So it's a consumer generated content play.
B.L. Ochman: Yeah.
David Erickson: That's, that's awesome. So tell me more about the Hohner work. So you literally went to concerts? And how did get yourself in front of the musicians?
B.L. Ochman: Well, for the most part, many of them came to us because we would fix their harmonica. What you need to know about harmonicas is that perfect pitch is something that is inherited. And so the people who were the harmonica tuners in the Trossingen Germany forest town, that Hohnerwas originated in, they could fix the harmonica because they go out of tune after a while, so musicians would come out to us and I just always managed to do it.
I was on stage with John Mayall one time with this giant harmonica. I held a harmonica festival, the first annual harmonica brouhaha at South Street Seaport. We had like a harmonica band with 46 players. They have these kind of harmonicas, that are like have four harmonicas on a stick in different keys. It was amazing what they played. And we had Blackie Schackner, who played classical music. I mean, it was amazing.
David Erickson: Wow, that's an awesome gig coming out of coming at your first gig coming out of college
B.L. Ochman: It was fun. I did it for a long time. And then I decided I had to go to New York and, you know, look at bigger vistas.
David Erickson: So where was this then?
B.L. Ochman: Well, initially, I was in Westport. And then Leo Miller, who I worked for died. And Hohner said, come work with us. So I went out to Long Island where they were and, and lived there for six miserable months until I realized I could not possibly stay there. I moved to the city. And I kept working for them. But then I went to work for Ruder and Finn.
David Erickson: So you actually got hired by the company?
B.L. Ochman: Yeah. And I also didn't just go to concerts, Dave, I went to festivals. And when everybody was like, camping in the mud, I was in hotel rooms with my husband or sometimes with a friend. We had so much fun.
Ruder And Finn
David Erickson: That's awesome. So you went to Hohner and then you went to another PR shop? Is that correct?
B.L. Ochman: I went to Ruder and Finn and worked for their design person, Neil Fujita, a very famous designer. He designed the logo for NBC, the peacock, and things you see every day And basically, I wrote proposals there.
David Erickson: So proposals for what?
B.L. Ochman: Well for the Ruder and Finn people because at that time, the PR people didn't really write. So I was a writer there were two full time writers, me and one other person.We wrote the press releases, we wrote the proposals, we wrote the programs and so we worked with the account people.
B.L. Ochman: By proposals, are you...like pitches to prospective clients, like in response to RFPs?
David Erickson: But you got fairly early experience with new business development. Was there anything from that early experience: you know, a truism, or a lesson that has carried on to this day in terms of new business?
B.L. Ochman: Good question. That you can't just recycle your old ideas, which is what happens in big agencies. And you can't just take a group of people who know nothing about something and have them brainstorm, about whatever and then recycle what they did the last time. So I never do that.
David Erickson: So, all right. So then, where'd you go from there?
B.L. Ochman: From there, I went to a small agency that did publicity for PBS programming. And I got to do the PR for the Carl Sagan shows and for the Metropolitan Museum shows and I also got to do one that to this day, I'm so grateful I got to do, which was working with Daniel Barenboim, Pincus Zuckerman and Jacqueline DuPre. And this was after she was no longer able to play the cello. And I said "How is it for you not being able to play the cello?" And she said, "I play in my head."
David Erickson: Oh, wow. So there's an entertainment theme developing here. So you did. You did publicity for Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" TV shows? So what did that involve? That's fascinating.
B.L. Ochman: There used to be TV columns. In every paper, we were letting the TV reviewers see the videos beforehand, and setting up the interviews, writing the press kits, all of that. And I did Tutankhamun at the Metropolitan Museum, which at that time was the biggest ever exhibit where people had to buy a ticket and wait in line it will. We had clients like Atlantic Richfield, that underwrote the PBS programming.
David Erickson: That's fascinating. I remember the Tutankhamun exhibit was a big deal. And I was completely fascinated by it and, and then it did a tour, didn't it?
B.L. Ochman: Yeah, it did, all over the country. And, and I left there and started my own firm.
B.L. Starts Her Own Public Relations Firm
David Erickson: How old were you when you started your your firm?
B.L. Ochman: Probably 35.
David Erickson: And why did you decide to start your firm?
B.L. Ochman: Well, I kind of looked at my boss and I thought he could do it. I could do it.
David Erickson: Did you bring clients with you? Or did you start from scratch?
B.L. Ochman: No, I did not. I started from scratch. And my first client was a psychiatrist from Toronto, and he had an exhibit that we called See and Tell at the Nikon Gallery in Rockefeller Center. He had been doing these abstract photographs and then hanging them up in his office. And he found that people started to talk about things that they wouldn't normally talk about in response to the photos.
So in this Nikon gallery exhibit, we had two boxes one said "take it" and the other said "leave it" and in the "take it" box it said "please give us your thoughts and feelings about this image and then Dr. Joe will analyze the responses from New York City. And so 1000s of people came and did that and we had so much press coverage. We got Popular Photography, we got the NY Times, we got TV, because it was such a fun thing. And it traveled around The country. And he even did it with even did it with blind people. And I mean, he did some really fascinating things. He gave cameras to autistic people. And now these images are called The Walker Images and they are used in psychiatry in place of the traditional ones.
David Erickson: Fascinating. How did you obtain that business? That's an incredible story.
B.L. Ochman: A friend sent him to me, a guy I had worked with previously said she's perfect for you. And then lo and behold, Stew, Leonard calls me up and he says, "Are you ready to help me?" And I said, "You bet I am!" And I began to do his publicity. And the first article I got for him was the New York Times. In it, the place was called the Disneyland of Dairy Stores. And that kind of set off a tsunami of press. People from all over the world coming to see the place. Tom Peters wrote about it in his book, and Stew Leonard said about me, "you better watch what you ask for with B.L. because you will, she will do it."
David Erickson: That's incredible. I mean, that's kind of overdelivering.
B.L. Ochman: Totally.
David Erickson: How do you set expectations after that?
B.L. Ochman: It just kept growing. I mean, we were just such a great team. And, you know, then his son, who runs the business now came into it. And, you know, we just kept doing bigger and better things. He's such a natural. Both of them are such naturals as communicators. And, you know, they every interview they did, the reporters loved.
B.L. Ochman: Around that same time I started this started as a joke. Like, I used to write complaint letters for my friends - I started in college. One time we were studying for finals, we bought this big box of Tootsie Roll pops, and didn't have any tootsies in the middle. And so I wrote a letter and said, how are we supposed to study for our exams, if we don't have Tootsies in our pops? And lo and behold, come these cartons of Tootsie Roll pops. Mm hmm. This is interesting. So I did this for hairspray, cigarettes, all kinds of things.
And then I was having lunch with a friend one day and she said, this is a business. I said, What am I going to call it Rent-a-Kvetch? For those who don't know, kvetch is a Yiddish word for a complainer. She said "Don't forget that." So for a joke, I sent out a press release to two reporters who were friends. And on a Sunday morning, an article appeared, much to my surprise in the New York Times and in the San Francisco Chronicle. And then my bell started ringing and my phone started ringing. I remember I called my dad and I said, "What should I do? The reporters here I have nothing to say." He said, just fake it. I like to talk and i did more than 300 interviews I was on Oprah, Today, Good Morning America. I was flown around I was doing interviews in Australia in the middle of the night. Never made any money but I had so much fun! It was pre internet. Had that been internet you'd be sitting here talking to me in my millions of dollars.
David Erickson: That's funny. I once registered the domain AnnoyedCustomer.com after getting really pissed off at Blockbuster. Good riddance, Blockbuster.
B.L. Ochman: We had a funny logo like a cartoon of me being angry with steam coming out my head. And and they wouldn't know what to make of it. "Unfortunately, I'm writing to you on behalf of you know, David Erickson who got a video that didn't work at blockbuster. And most unfortunately, if you don't do something about this in 10 days, I am going to take this to the next level." And I'd write to the president because that's who has nothing to do anyway. And you know we got answers. We got lots of answers I charged $50 a letter. Wow. I'd have to do all this research. They weren't form letters.
What Makes A Client A Good Communicator?
David Erickson: I'm getting back to your Stew Leonard that you were saying he is a natural communicator. Did you do any media training with them, or was he just like, good out of the box?
B.L. Ochman: Seriously, he was good out of the box. But there was some times when I would say, you know, don't talk about this. Don't talk about that. But he was just perfect.
David Erickson: You've clearly certainly had experiences with people who are the opposite of that - not good communicators, that you have to coach and do media training and everything. What are the hallmarks of what makes a client, a good client in that respect?
B.L. Ochman: It's really important to be a good listener. And it's really important to be able to answer concisely, which I don't think I have done so far in this interview. It's really important to be upbeat, I think, and, you know, to smile, and just to not look like you're scared, to just just feel like when you do the interview that it's going to be a good thing. I did have to tell people, and I'm sure you have too, how to answer questions like "did you stop beating your wife?" But many of the people that I've worked with have been really clever and good at media stuff.
Growing The PR Firm
David Erickson: So what else? Where are we at in time?
B.L. Ochman: Well, from there, I at that point, I was working alone. And then I had enough clients where I needed to have an office and start to hire other people. And I grew the PR firm into a six person firm, we had Miracle Gro, Stew Leonard, a large Japanese compan. We had with some really major clients, American dairy Association. Things went great. And our clients stayed with us for years and years.
The Dawn Of Digital Marketing
B.L. Ochman: And then in 1995, I started looking at the Internet, and I started wanting to be there. And at that time, you could call up anybody and you could say, "Can I come learn from you? Can I come see what you're doing? You know, will you teach me?" And and they would. And you know, so you could talk to anyone and and I just started to do that. And then I started to write about what I thought the internet was going to mean for marketing. And at that time, there were publications like Internet day and so on, and they were paying you $1.50 a word. You could do quite well just writing
David Erickson: That's for damn sure.
B.L. Ochman: Yeah, well, now if you get 10 cents a word, you're lucky. All of those publications ultimately went out of business in the first crash
David Erickson: Probably for paying their their writers but $1.50 a word!
B.L. Ochman: Yeah, that was like the burn rate. But but then IBM called me and Ford called me and and you know, big company started calling saying, What is this internet thing? And I'd come and talk to them about what I thought and you know, in 2000, I started blogging.
David Erickson: So before, before we get into it further down the line. What sparked the interest in the internet?
B.L. Ochman: Because I could see what a large audience you would be able to reach, essentially, on your own terms, that you would be able - for the first time ever - to say anything you wanted people to know about your company, and give them access to who you were and what you did, then also give them access to you. It was a way to humanize the companies. And at the beginning, it was basically a way to have fun. I mean, the first website I did, was for Just for Men hair color, and it was when Bill Clinton was running for president. Who did he run against Dave?
David Erickson: Well, he ran against Ross Perot? Robert Dole.
B.L. Ochman: The guy who did the erection ad. Yeah, he was running against Dole We had these guys who created a poll, "what color hair Do you like on the candidates?" It was online and we got 1000s of people responding. They liked Dole with brown hair and they liked Clinton with gray hair. Which I thought was the way he looked the best anyway. We got picked up by the Wall Street Journal. I mean, this was something new. Nobody was doing stuff like this. And you know, it turned me on so much that this kind of thing was possible. It was so crude at that point. I mean, yeah,
David Erickson: That was back when AOL was still fairly dominant. Yeah, Netscape had just come out with their with their browser. And Yahoo was the search engine. And not everybody had email.
B.L. Ochman: And then, you know, blogs came along. And I had published a print newsletter before I began to blog, and it was called, What's Next? And I had sold that for $350 a year subscriptions. The internet made that impossible, although I think some people are back to trying to do that. I just was like, oh, wow, a bigger audience! I kept on publishing it. I did it for quite a long time.
David Erickson: You still have that site. The What's Next Blog.
B.L. Ochman: But I don't I don't keep up the newsletter as much. I used to do it, you know, really seriously.
B.L., The Columnist
David Erickson: And you write for Ad Age?
B.L. Ochman: I did write for Ad Age Well, it wasn't for pay. It was for glory. And they had some wonderful editors there, who are at the New York Times now, and other wonderful places. And, you know, you could just pitch stories to them. And then once they liked what you were doing, they asked you to do it on a regular basis. I wrote for Business Week, a couple of times, you know, there were a lot of writing opportunities for people who were prominent bloggers.
David Erickson: Yeah. And it was really easy to get earned media based on some angle for the internet. Because nobody knew anything about it. So if you knew a little bit about it.
B.L. Ochman: Exactly. And everybody knew each other, like all of us who are blogging, you know, I was posting 10 times a day at the beginning. But all of us who knew each other who were doing the same thing, We started to meet each other, you know, for get together for dinners and things like that- those of us in New York, and sometimes people would even fly in and you know, there got to be conventions for stuff like that. But at the beginning, it was very open. Now, it's almost impossible for a lone blogger to make a name for themselves, because there are blogs with huge staffs that post 100 times a day.
David Erickson: Well blogging has kind of changed. I mean, you know, it's podcasting now, or it's video.
B.L. Ochman: I believe that video today is what a website was in 2000. I believe that companies really need to have a video presence. And I want to be helping them to do that.
How Has Marketing Changed From Traditional To Digital?
David Erickson: So you and I both kind of span the pre-internet and then the internet era. When I graduated from college, nobody I knew had my email address. So what's your take on how things have changed, or evolved?
B.L. Ochman: Well, it's become very crowded, and very loud. And it is much more difficult for small companies to build their presence. There are literally millions of people who call themselves digital marketers. I don't want to say too much about them. But there are so many better tools now to do the stuff that we do. There are so many better ways to present companies and to to help them and I think that those changes are very positive.
One of the things that is not as positive is what's been happening to social media. When we both started it was pre social media. And, as you said, when when I interviewed you, at the beginning it was really upbeat, and hopeful and people had fun on it. And now it's turned into something where you can plot the overthrow of the government in plain sight and it's scary.
David Erickson: I'm switching gears a little bit. You're a dancer. So what does dancing have to do with communications? How does dancing form communications? Is there a tie?
B.L. Ochman: Oh, you bet there is. I'm a swing dancer. And there's different kinds of swing dance.The one I do is called east coast swing. It's the Lindy Hop. When you dance with someone, it's a communication, You're communicating through touch through your hand, you know, you can use one finger to do it with a good dancer. But it's just such a happy, open kind of communication. And I, I hope for that, in my work, hard to find, I gotta say. The reason I dance is because it's a way to let off steam. And the thing I miss the most in the pandemic is that I can't go dancing two or three nights a week.
David Erickson: Did you do that before--the two or three nights a week?
B.L. Ochman: Yes, like for 15 or 20 years. In New York, you can dance to live music a few nights a week. And if you dance, and you're serious about it, you kind of know everybody in the dance community. So you can go out and just always know you're gonna have people to dance with who you know to dance with.
Advice For Young Communications Professionals
David Erickson: What advice would you give to somebody a young person entering coming out of college or thinking maybe about doing a career in communications, marketing, PR, advertising, digital, whatever? What would be your biggest piece of advice for them?
B.L. Ochman: I still think journalism is the degree to have, because it teaches you how to how to communicate effectively. And, I think that it teaches you about research. I mean, I've hired people with master's degrees who didn't know how to do research. If you're a journalist, you'll know how to do research. And I think that, you know, you should have a side ofdigital, radio and TV or something like that, you know, but I still think journalism is the path.
Services B.L. Offers
David Erickson: Obviously a lot of wide experience a lot of a lot of different clients. What types of services are you offering now? Or is it the whole panoply of all the stuff that you've done in your past?
B.L. Ochman: Yes, it is. Largely what I do now is content and strategy. And I am really interested in helping people to expand their video presence and to become visible on YouTube. I just really feel like that's the new frontier. So that's what I would like to be doing more of I produce podcasts. I but I mean, largely, what I do is create the content that helps people achieve the visibility that they need to have. And now I hire PR people.
David Erickson: Full circle! Do you collect anything?
B.L. Ochman: Oh, you bet I do. I collect cows. Cow things.
David Erickson: Having a place in New York is small for collecting animals like cows
B.L. Ochman: I have a three foot tall cow in the kitchen actually have cows all over the place? I actually had to put a lot of my cow collection in storage when I moved back to the city, because there was no room for it. But yeah, you name it. I got a cow in the shape of it.
David Erickson: What's the fascination with cows?
B.L. Ochman: Gentle, beautiful, peaceful creatures. And that's why I don't eat them.
David Erickson: I was just gonna say: They're also they're also delicious.
B.L. Ochman: No, I do not eat animals I've met. There's something just so meditative about hanging out with cows.
David Erickson: The question then is, have you hung out with cows?
B.L. Ochman: I used to, I have actually spent time photographing cows. And I had the good fortune when I was at the Maine Photoigraphic Workshop, to see two cows who are standing in such a way that it looked like it was one two headed cow. And I have done several prints of those and given them to people That was not done in Photoshop. It's done in the camera. And it's just a lucky shot. It was just after I said "I'm not sure Gonna be able to find anything to photograph today." And there it was.
David Erickson: I have a friend who paints cows. She has a zillion paintings that she's done of cows that are beautiful.
B.L. Ochman: I'd love to see them.
David Erickson: I will send them along your way. Is there something with close this out? Is there a question that I should have asked that I haven't asked? Or a question that you want me to ask? Or an answer that you want to give?
B.L. Ochman: Good question. Okay. Well, I guess that what I would like people to know is that I have this side project that's called Funwalkers that are funny license plates for mobility devices. And I am in the process of pivoting that to institutional sales, because I believe they can be really good promotional devices for, you know, rehab places for senior communities for all sorts of places. And so I'm hoping that that is my next stage of business is to be able to develop that into something big.
David Erickson: Oh, cool. So how how do people get hold of you B.L.?
B.L. Ochman: The best way is BL@whatsnextonline.com
David Erickson: Easy peasy. Thank you for taking the time to interview. And next week, we'll get back to our regular regularly scheduled program. Thanks, B.L.
B.L. Ochman: Thank you, Dave. That was fun.