Roto-Rooter Swept Up in 'Joe the Plumber' Craze

Sponsorship Deal on Hold, but Chain Still Flooded With Media Inquiries

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NEW YORK ( -- "Joe the Plumber" was this close to a deal with Roto-Rooter. But alas, it looks like his chance is circling the drain.
Joe the Plumber
Joe the Plumber Credit: AP

When John McCain rattled off the name "Joe the Plumber" some 20 times during his final debate with Barack Obama earlier this week, he set off more than a media frenzy. Marketing types, too, started pondering the possibilities of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who as it turns out isn't actually a certified plumber.

Smelling an opportunity
Nick Ragone, who runs Ketchum's Disruptive Media Team -- which was responsible for the Dr Pepper/Axl Rose challenge back in March -- said that after the fifth time Mr. McCain mentioned Joe the Plumber, his team began instant-messaging and e-mailing one another trying to figure out a way to "do something creative and disruptive around it in a way to benefit one of our clients."

The idea they settled on and eventually took to client Roto-Rooter was to have the company issue a release saying it would pay for whatever schooling/testing Joe needed to become a certified plumber.

"Once it came out that he wasn't a licensed plumber, we figured let's take this to Roto-Rooter and give them a chance to attach themselves to it while it's still hot," said Fernando Rizzo, interactive strategist on the Disruptive Media Team. "It's a feel-good kind of thing, and no matter where you stand politically it's a nice gesture and it gets a brand attached to the story."

Overnight celebrity
But Roto, as of this afternoon, decided against initiating the program only for the fact that it was already piling up the media impressions without even trying. Paul Abrams, PR manager for Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Drain Cleaning Service, said he would consider the Ketchum program if the story still had legs come next week but told the agency he was currently swimming in media requests and coverage.

"As soon as that thing hit, we got media requests from around the country to see if there was a Joe the Plumber in their town," he said. "I got media requests from New York, Seattle, Denver and Hawaii. I told [Ketchum] it's already happening, but if this [coverage] peters out or we need to take it a step farther, we can do it.

"But if this were a Tuesday and it just happened last night, I think I would say let's do it," he continued. "I'm afraid it might have peaked."

Roto-Rooter has 113 company-owned locations and over 500 independent franchises and over 4,500 plumbers throughout the country. Media outlets have been calling to see if the company has plumbers named Joe in their region in hopes of localizing the story. Mr. Abrams said the company has gotten several million media impressions to this point including mentions, interviews with employees or footage of employees in outlets like CNN, Headline News, The Denver Post and Fox affiliates in Nashville and Seattle.

As for the program Ketchum came up with, Mr. Abrams said he would revisit it on Monday.
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