Dezenhall, Eric 1962-
Dezenhall, Eric 1962-
Born September 9, 1962, in Camden, NJ; married; children: two. Education: Dartmouth College, graduated, 1984.
Office—Dezenhall Resources, 1130 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 600, Washington, DC 20036. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, commentator, public speaker, and investigator. Nichols-Dezenhall Communications Management Group, Washington, DC, cofounder and former president, beginning 1987; Dezenhall Resources, Washington, DC, president and chief executive officer. Worked at a public relations agency and a political consulting firm. Guest on television and radio programs, including The O'Reilly Factor, Dennis Miller, and numerous others. Served in White House communications and personnel offices, 1980s. Member of board of directors, National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
Nail 'Em! Confronting High-profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 1999.
(With John Weber) Damage Control: Why Everything You Know about Crisis Management Is Wrong, Penguin Portfolio (New York, NY), 2007.
"DAMAGE CONTROL" SERIES; NOVELS
Money Wanders, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Jackie Disaster, St. Martin's Press/Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
Shakedown Beach, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Turnpike Flameout, St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Spinning Dixie, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times.
Eric Dezenhall is a crisis management expert who advises others on media attacks on businesses and public figures and on Internet attacks ("flaming"). He devoted a book to the subject with Nail 'Em! Confronting High-profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses. Derek B. Knights wrote in Security Manage-ment that Dezenhall "learned a few things about crisis management during his years in media relations. After all, he cut his teeth with the Reagan administration, on both small and large scandals, and he currently manages crises for businesses."
Dezenhall uses real and fictional examples of attacks and discusses the public's fascination with them and the ways in which they can be managed and fought with lawyers, investigators, and pollsters. Some of the examples he gives include Kathie Lee Gifford, ValueJet, and Pepsi. One of the most infamous revolves around a Dateline report that the gas tanks of General Motors trucks had a tendency to explode. General Motors hunted down the trucks used in the video footage and proved that the vehicles had been rigged with incendiary devices.
Richard H. Truitt wrote in Public Relations Quarterly that the real value of this book is that Dezenhall shows that attacks "are deeper than communications problems; they are conflicts that stop only when the aggressors themselves are put at risk…. There's loads of good stuff including fascinating analyses of the personalities of typical attackers and typical targets. The dozens of real cases, however, make this a must-read for crisis counselors."
A Kirkus Reviews writer said of Dezenhall's first novel, Money Wanders, that "money may wander but attention never strays in this comic debut." The book is about the art of media manipulation; in this case, it is carried out by Jonah Eastman, a Washington spin doctor who is called to the bedside of his dying grandfather, Mickey Price, a former old-style Jewish capo for Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Mario Vanni. Mickey asks Jonah to help Mario, who has been labeled as undesirable, and to change his image so that he can get a casino license in Atlantic City. Jonah discovers through focus groups that the community's biggest fear is crime, so he sets up a Web site for the phony Delaware Valley Anticrime Coalition, where he promotes Mario as a family man who is fighting drug dealers that threaten children. Jonah invents drug lords and fakes a fight with a drug dealer, using actors, and puts it on the site. Mario becomes a hero and gets his license. He also gets to testify before a congressional committee on crime.
"All this mayhem allows Dezenhall to make some acidic social observations on race, ethnicity, and the general irresponsibility of the media," wrote Rob Stout in the Knoxville, Tennessee, News-Sentinel, "as well as have some sport at the expense of his own profession." Booklist critic David Pitt described Money Wanders as having "sharply drawn characters, delightful dialogue, and a plot that not only delivers the goods but does so with piles of panache. Even the premise is a knockout." A Publishers Weekly contributor asserted that the debut mixes comedy "with a nostalgic look at the Jersey shore and the days when the mishpocha and paisani were kinsmen, if uneasy ones … and shows that with the right press, even savages can be saints."
Continuing with his novels featuring crisis-management experts, Dezenhall next published Jackie Disaster. The title character, whose real name is Jackie De Sesto, is a former boxer turned crisis management firm owner. His clients include Angela Vanni, who appeared in the previous novel, and Sally Naturale; the latter of the two is being sued for supposedly producing a soy milk brand that caused a woman to have a miscarriage. Jackie sets out to trash the reputation of Sally's accusers, but the situation becomes complicated when Sally disappears. While a Publishers Weekly writer felt that the more earnest parts of the book involving Jackie's family relationships "don't quite click," the reviewer was amused by scenes involving Jackie and his team—known as the Imps—which were called "great entertainment." Pitt, writing again for Booklist, complained of the "cartoonish" secondary characters but averred that this novel "shows the author growing as a storyteller."
Jonah Eastman returns in Shakedown Beach and Turnpike Flameout. The former concerns Jonah's work for a governor running for reelection. Although Governor Rothman has a solid lead in the polls, he is gravely worried about a thirty-year-old secret being revealed that could ruin his career. Critics especially appreciated Dezenhall's humor in the novel, with Pitt declaring that "over-the-top absurdity here that will appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen." A Kirkus Reviews critic similarly enjoyed the author's "mordantly funny" writing and his "ear for the zinger, a lie detector that makes mincemeat of politicians and spinmeisters."
Some reviewers were somewhat less enthusiastic about Turnpike Flameout, in which Jonah tries to help former child actor and rock star Bobby Chin, who has been accused of killing a sculptor whose work he himself had commissioned. Chin is also trying to revive his career, and many in the media suspect that rumors of his dying in a plane crash were orchestrated as a publicity stunt.
A Publishers Weekly writer called the novel only "mildly diverting," with characters who might have been "rejects from one of Elmore Leonard's lesser novels." On the other hand, a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while considering some of the plot devices "suspect," added that the "jabs are first rate." Pitt argued in Booklist that "fans of this series won't find anything to quibble with here."
Spinning Dixie, the next book in the "Jonah Eastman" series, finds Jonah reeling after ill-advised comments on terrorism by President James Lee Truitt result in him losing his job as Truitt's press secretary. As if his life wasn't already completely rattled, an unexpected message throws him into a more severe spin when he receives a letter from Claudine Polk, a woman with whom he spent an idyllic summer of love some twenty-five years ago. Back then, Claudine decided that her future would be more secure with J.T., the son of a stable Tennessee family. Now, however, she and J.T. are getting a divorce, and her odious ex-to-be has a strong claim to an important piece of property that Claudine doesn't want to lose: Rattle & Snap, a large plantation that has been in her family for generations. Claudine needs help fast, and she doesn't care if Jonah uses his legitimate connections or his lawless ones to provide it. Putting his media-spin prowess to work, Jonah steadily weakens J.T.'s claim to the property by fronting the idea that a cache of Confederate gold might be hidden there, sparking nationwide media interest in the plantation and its owners. For Jonah, the situation appears to provide him one last chance to best a longtime rival—and maybe to win back the love he lost years ago. "Jonah's absurd campaign will keep readers piqued," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. In an assessment of the "Jonah Eastman" series in general, Booklist reviewer David Pitt remarked that the series "continues to combine a superb premise" along with a "nice comic touch" and "fine sense of the absurd."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2002, David Pitt, review of Money Wanders, p. 921; May 1, 2003, David Pitt, review of Jackie Disaster, p. 1542; May 15, 2004, David Pitt, review of Shakedown Beach, p. 1600; November 1, 2005, David Pitt, review of Turnpike Flameout, p. 27; November 15, 2006, David Pitt, review of Spinning Dixie, p. 33.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Money Wanders, p. 1702; April 1, 2003, review of Jackie Disaster, p. 507; May 15, 2004, review of Shakedown Beach, p. 473; November 1, 2005, review of Turnpike Flameout, p. 1163; November 15, 2006, review of Spinning Dixie, p. 1154.
Marketing News, December 4, 2000, Michael Krauss, "Marketers Should Never Forget the Internet's Dark Ugly Downside," p. 16, and "Dezenhall on Cyberattacks," p. 17.
News-Sentinel (Knoxville, TN), April 7, 2002, Rob Stout, review of Money Wanders.
Public Relations Quarterly, fall, 1999, Richard H. Truitt, review of Nail 'Em! Confronting High-profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, January 28, 2002, review of Money Wanders, p. 272; April 21, 2003, review of Jackie Disaster, p. 40; June 21, 2004, review of Shakedown Beach, p. 46; October 31, 2005, review of Turnpike Flameout, p. 35; October 23, 2006, review of Spinning Dixie, p. 33.
Security Management, August, 2000, Derek B. Knights, review of Nail 'Em!, p. 118.
Washington Post, October 25, 1999, Dwight Thompson, "Taking on Modern-day Slingshots; Eric Dezenhall's PR Firm Makes Its Money by Proving the Little Guy Isn't Always Right," p. F18.
Dezenhall Resources Web site,http://www.dezenhall.com (July 12, 2007), biography of Eric Dezenhall.
Eric Dezenhall Home Page,http://www.dezbooks.net (August 30, 2006).
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (July 12, 2007), interview with Eric Dezenhall.
Washingtonian.com,http://www.washingtonian.com/ (February 16, 2007), McLean Robbins, review of Spinning Dixie.