Alan Samuel Cohen’s $25 billion leadership strategy | One New Person podcast | Highlight

Alan Samuel Cohen’s $25 billion leadership strategy | One New Person podcast | Highlight


Do you want to give us give us the
background here? Sure, sure. So 20 years ago I was a 36 year old public relations
director for a media, children’s media company in Manhattan, and and as part of
my job I was responsible for promoting anywhere from 500 to 600 children’s
books: pop-up books, coloring books, novels all for kids. And but I was given a
book that was a very, very big success in the UK, and was told in no uncertain
terms by my publisher that my small, ragtag little publicity team was
responsible for turning it into a multi-million dollar brand. And that book
was Harry Potter. So I was the very first person in North America to actually,
really touch the books from a publicity perspective. So I actually remember being
handed the manuscript because it had to be Americanized. That it was only,
it only been in the UK. It was still the Philosopher’s Stone. It was still the
Philosopher’s Stone. So it was rewritten as the Sorcerer’s Stone. They took out
all of the English kinds of language, the British, the British isms. And I remember
just staying up all night reading the book and saying, “This is the things can
be freaking huge.” So where I was kind of skeptical when I was told that what I
was gonna have to do- What was it about it that that got you so excited? Just,
yeah- So you know it’s pretty funny, as the publicity director at a children’s
book company, like, I never read any of the books, like except for the, you know,
the picture books because those were easy to get through. But occasionally one would stand out. So I read the book because I was told that I
had to, and because I was gonna, it was gonna have to be huge. But what
stood out to me is that it just, it really brought me back to a lot of those
books that I love so much as a kid, as a young boy:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Phantom Tollbooth. So it really connected
me to the magic of possibility. And I will also say on a more personal level,
and I think it’s why the books resonate so well with with so many
audiences, you know, I was, I could relate to the character of Harry Potter
as feeling like an outsider. And even though I was not abused by by my parents
and stepparents, I don’t have step parents. I wasn’t abused by my parents, I
didn’t live under the stairs, I knew that I could associate with that feeling
of being different, as a gay kid, as a, you know, just always knowing that
there was something different about me. And I, and so, I really related
to Harry Potter. And the books are just amazing. I mean what JK Rowling did
to create this world is just, is just beyond anyone’s imagination. And I know
you got a lot more to this story, but I think gotta jump in because, I mean,
obviously this the reason, you know, I wanted to have this conversation. I mean
we have so much in common with everything else, but, you know, I was
the Harry Potter generation. So the book was designed when it, the first one,
was for ten year olds. Right. I was 10 when the first book came out. I literally
grew up with the characters. I was that, you know, that famous group that came up
with them. And so like, you know, in a really big way, like, the work that you
did and the fact that we’re connected all these years later, the totally random
circumstance, is such a crazy thing. It was like such a huge part of my- You’re my
cousin. So my cousin who’s maybe listening, Benny Goodman, named after the
musician, was your age, and I took him to meet JK Rowling at one of those
book signings because he was 9 and Harry Potter was 9 and like, I’ve done many
wonderful things in my life, but that is the one thing that my young Benny
Goodman cousin remembers. Like that just, that was like a huge life-altering
moment for him. Incredible. Yeah. Really, really cool. So
what was the actual, what was going through your head, what was the campaign,
like, how did you figure out, how do we take, you know, like you said it was a
ragtag team. It was just you and a couple of people? Yeah it was I think the
publicity department was only five people or six people. We weren’t all, and
that wasn’t the only thing that we were working on. But, but I, if you
want me to segue into the story about the one person, because- Please do.
So years ago, probably 25 years ago, maybe, I was working at a PR
agency and my boss brought this young woman in. Her name is Kris. And I was
told to interview her for an assistant position. And Kris, nice, you know,
Connecticut, preppy young lady, with no publicity experience whatsoever. And I
I knew that I had to hire her because my boss pretty much had already made up her
mind. And I hired her, and Kris turned out to be one of the
hardest-working, most loyal, wonderful people that I’ve ever had in my employ.
And fast forward years later I was at scholastic and I was told that
I needed to hire an assistant director. And so I I called my old employer,
and place of employ, and I hired Kris away, and I brought her over. And
Kris, you know, people will often give me credit for the work that the
publicity department did on the Harry Potter books, but Kris Moran is the
reason why so many millions of people all learned about Harry Potter. Her
amazing love of the books, her commitment to it, her passion for it, her
relationship with JK Rowling was, I mean, was far beyond anything that I had or
could have imagined. Today Kris actually runs the publicity for JK Rowling’s
foundation in the US, and she says that that experience changed her life. So,
and what I would also say is that, you know, how you have to
like, as leaders you really need to see see the magic that people have within
them. She lacked confidence, but what she had was passion and commitment.
And if I had just only seen the lack of confidence I wouldn’t have given her all
of that exposure. Because even my bosses at Scholastic were like, Well you’re
Director of Publicity. You need to be like the star of the show. You need to be
in front of it all. And I was like, Well maybe, right? But you’ve got, I’ve got
somebody on my team who is so connected to these books in a way that I will
never be, why would we not want to give her the runway? And she did. And she did
an amazing job. So that like, that chance meeting, that like, that interview where I
was sort of like, “Yeah, she’s all right, let’s hire her,” so crazy how things that
you could never imagine the ripple- You know, you can only connect the dots
looking backwards, right? That’s my favorite expression. Right? That’s my
favorite expression.

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