Samantha Hess has taken some ribbing, including in the news media, for her new career as professional cuddler. It all seems to be working out for her.
Normally, PR wizards advise against bad publicity. For example, who would advise Donald Trump to keep that horrific comb-over hairdo that makes him the butt of parodies? Yet, the Trumpster's popularity continues to grow.
But in Hess' case, the snickering publicity about cuddling has given her and her startup business a giant boost. Her coverage ranges from a tabloid that shouted a headline, "Who'll Give Me Cash for Cuddles?" to a button-down news business review in the Portland Business Review. There also have been pieces on CNN, Yahoo, NBC News, CBS Sunday Morning and the London Daily Mail.
Media about her has touched 14 million viewers and counting, without spending a dime on advertising. More attention will come as her book, Touch, the Power of Human Connection, hits bookshelves and her business opens its doors in Portland, billed as the first retail cuddling center in North America.
Hess, 29, told PBJ Editor Rob Smith she got the idea for Cuddle Up To Me when she saw a man on the street with a sign that offered to give a hug for $2. The dollar sign was less of an inspiration than the notion that many people have a deep desire to be held and made to feel secure. Comforting people seemed more rewarding than her previous office job.
She has been cuddling clients since last summer and says her typical client is someone who feels lonely, such as a widow, divorced woman or single dad. "Most people just relax and get to feel okay for a while," Hess told Smith.
Skeptics have raised eyebrows about professional cuddling, contributing to the string of negative or at least bemused publicity. Hess says that's because cuddling is usually associated with romance, not reassurance. Her book includes an entire chapter on the science and psychology of touch, starting with that first slap on the behind when we are born. She promises to train cuddlers to practice with the highest ethical standards.
Not everybody is convinced. One person posted on Facebook, "I agree that hugs are wonderful, but paying a stranger for a hug is just plain weird." Another said, “I would rather spend on the money on a massage." And a massage therapist added, "I'm a nurturer, a hugger, a toucher and a touchee," but found the idea of professional cuddling to be "creepy."
The idea is apparently not creepy to a lot of people. Hess says her email inbox is stuffed with inquiries, enough to conjure thoughts of a second Portland location and then branching out nationally.
"I want to model it after ZoomCare: quick, convenient, private, safe and comfortable," Hess told PBJ. "It will be a cuddle studio, with themed rooms, a cloud room, beach room, movie theater room, whatever environment works best for the client."
That's the kind of vision almost anybody could cuddle up to.