Joann Killeen faced a most unlikely challenge for a public relations professional: The “Octomom” publicist wanted to escape the media blitz engulfing her client.
Killeen, a PR specialist from Los Angeles, spent two weeks in the midst of an international feeding frenzy over “Octomom” Nadya Suleman last year.
“Eighteen months ago, I met a woman (who was) an unemployed part-time grad student who would change the world, my life … and the way we think,” she said.
The publicist was in Las Vegas on Friday to promote her upcoming book on crisis management techniques, which will include her Octomom experiences and to urge her local counterparts to be prepared for the unexpected.
“That experience gave me a platform to talk about crisis management,” she told the nearly 60 publicists in attendance.
Killeen, a former president of the Public Relations Society of America, spoke at a luncheon for the society’s local members.
Killeen was already a successful public relations professional by January 2009, when then-33-year-old Suleman gave birth to what would become the longest-surviving set of octuplets.
But instead of the story becoming a positive one about a medical miracle, it became one of public scorn. An Associated Press report came out revealing that Suleman had received a disability settlement from the state of California. Allegations were made that she had used state money for her in vitro fertilization treatments.
Killeen, as the public relations agent, unexpectedly became part of the story.
“I had paparazzi jump out of the bushes and snap pictures of me,” she recalled.
That was just the beginning. Death threats against her and her clients forced Killeen to flee her home and go into seclusion with Suleman.
“She was my new roommate … the Octomom,” Killeen told an amused crowd. “I never thought I would move in with a client. … I wouldn’t recommend it.”
As the Octomom’s public face and voice, Killeen was hounded by the media. The public directed its rage at the unemployed mother of 14 children at her publicist.
“I had somebody say they wanted to rip out my uterus,” she said. “Someone said they wanted my partner to die of AIDS.”
Killeen’s appearance, grammar and motives all came under fire from not only the media and public, but also from her peers. She resigned after two weeks after completing her obligations to her client. She set the mother up with a photo agency and guided her through an interview with “Dateline NBC” that attracted 14 million viewers.
Killeen’s ordeal didn’t end with her resignation.
“I thought my life would go back to normal, but it didn’t,” she said. “I refer to her as the client that keeps on giving. The Octomom has become part of popular culture.”
Contact reporter Valerie Miller at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5286