WNBA Detroit Shock Sign 7’6″ Center From Iceland — Rifla Oslapgotac
Or so the headline read. :)
I’ll never forget this day as long as I live.
I’ll never again get April Fools’d the way that it happened to me, clear as day, in 2004.
I was the newly minted Director of Public Relations for the 2003 WNBA Champion Detroit Shock. Just 22 years old.
Working my ass off for the Detroit Pistons PR Department in the WNBA off-season, I was on media row working score crew on 3/31 during a 108–99 win against the LA Clippers when Kristin Bernert, then VP of Operations for the WNBA Detroit Shock, approached me during a time out and told me she really needed me to come into the office super early the next morning — like 5 a.m., to get a press release out to the media — a big announcement.
Even though I knew I’d get home from the arena around 12:30 a.m., and have to be back just a hours later, I was actually kind of excited. Big news in the offseason, huh?
It was kind of weird because the WNBA Draft wasn’t for another few weeks, and that’s when all the newsworthy stuff started, leading up to the season opener in May.
Okay, I thought. No problem. I can come in early, crank out a press release, and get it out to the media.
So then, Director of Corporate PR, Dave Wieme approached and told me about is as well.
Okay, I thought. Got it. All good, guys.
Only this time, he was with Bill Laimbeer (head coach of the Shock at the time), who told me he was ready to do follow-up radio interviews after I sent out the press release. “Just call me and let me know who I’m talking to and when, Hickey,” Laimbeer said.
DANG. This NEVER happened. Bill actually WANTS to do interviews? This must be big. Okay.
So the next day came, and I did my job, perfectly. “WNBA Detroit Shock Sign 7’6″ Center From Iceland — Rifla Oslapgotac” — the headline read. At about 5:36 a.m. I clicked SEND.
I was actually pretty pumped.
I had radio interviews lined up for Laimbeer on morning shows all around Detroit. All the top radio stations had been wanting to talk to him all year after the Shock won the 2003 WNBA Championship following up a last place season in 2002.
So I kept working, and slowly but surely people started replying to my email. Some media members were saying things like…
“This is awesome, Hickey!”
“Nice one Hickey!”
Hmmm. I thought.
Then I got an email from John Kapral, a Pistons employee who had seen the announcement on my bcc to employees.
Kap said “very funny, Hickey. April Fool’s, Gotcha!”
SHIT! I thought. I knew something was off with Wieme being involved and Bill being so excited about doing the interviews. DAMN IT!
If I believed this shit, the media surely would. That’s why they needed me.
The next few hours were a bit of a nightmare. I listened to Bill Laimbeer tell about 10 radio stations that we had signed this player from Iceland. I watched the Associated Press pick up the story and run with it EVERYWHERE.
Now I was really confused.
Clearly this was REAL. Clearly, there was no way Laimbeer, Wieme and Bernert would PRANK ME into sending out an April Fool’s Day Announcement to the media. But they had.
I felt my credibility drip to the floor.
So I went up to Wieme’s office and basically said three letters. W….T…… but before I could get the third one out he started cracking up.
Yep — we pranked the media to get media coverage.
Well, Bill, Kristin and Dave PRANKED ME into making the media believe a press release on April Fool’s Day.
Krista Jahnke of the Detroit Free Press was the only one to write an article about how we pranked the media, citing all of the stories and radio interviews that ran about the fake signing.
On Friday, April 2, after I had more than 24 hours to clean up the proverbial shit running down my leg, the Pistons played the Miami Heat at home. Pregame dinner in the press room and President/CEO Tom Wilson approaches me and says “you’re welcome Hickey.”
Apparently, it was his idea, and he executed it all the way through Bernert, Wieme and Laimbeer down to me. Wow.
Now Tom, Bill, Kristin and Dave didn’t have to deal with media members cussing them out, like 22 year old me did for the next few days, but 14 years later I’m thankful for the experience, for sure.
So you can see why I’ll always remember April Fool’s Day, and I’ll always have gratitude and respect for the four professionals who pulled one over on me to make it happen.
Thanks for reading and have a great day! (don’t get pranked)
Paul Hickey, Founder / CEO / Lead Strategist at Data Driven Design, LLC has created and grown businesses via digital strategy and internet marketing for more than 10 years. His sweet spot is using analytics to design and build websites and grow the audience and revenue of businesses via SEO/Blogging, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, Social Media Content Marketing and Email Marketing. The part that he’s most passionate about is quantifying next marketing actions based on real data.