Selling The Brooklyn Bridge
They jammed the streets, 2.1 million of them, New Yorkers and tourists alike, crowded into windows and crammed onto fire escapes on a sunny spring day to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor Ed Koch, in a cap of Dodger blue, led the eight-block-long parade of marching bands and floats, vintage carriages and costumed school-children across the East River.
With the Brooklyn Bridge birthday party last May 24, the New York firm of Dudley-Anderson-Yutzy Public Relations Inc. (D-A-Y) pulled off the public relations triumph of 1983. Some 1,200 journalists brought the story coast to coast. All three network morning shows covered it live. There were TV crews from Brazil, Japan, and five European countries, along with a documentary film crew sent by the makers of Brooklyn Bridge, Italy's best-selling chewing gum.
But 41-year-old Lenore Cooney, D-A-Y's account supervisor in charge of the celebration, ignored the hoopla. She had had enough of the press. After 18 months of researching their stories, finding their angles, doing their legwork, providing their photographs, and filling their airtime, she was sick of servicing the media monster. Rather than watch the parade, she sat quietly inside Brooklyn Borough Hall, chain-smoking Vantages and chatting with policemen who dropped in for the free coffee provided.
For today, her work was done. She had been given the green light to develop the program as she pleased. Now it would take an agencywide effort to make it succeed. Jean Way Schoonover, 61-year-old D-A-Y president, chief executive officer, and co-owner, was delegated to get Mayor Koch to the platform on time. Her sister, 55-year-old Barbara Hunter, D-A-Y executive vice-president and co-owner, brought Manhattan Borough president Andrew Stein. It took another 26 carefully drilled members of D-A-Y's professional staff of 48 to shepherd the members of the press and see to their passes, parking stickers, and shuttle-bus schedules.
"What can you say about a 100-year-old bridge in need of refurbishment?" Cooney had asked herself when she first got the account. Plenty, as it turned out. One reporter called the centennial "this year's version of the royal wedding." Total U.S. television time reached 18 hours; articles appeared in every magazine from Life to Popular Mechanics; the stack of newspaper clippings climbed to six feet.
There were, inevitably, the minor glitches. An overexuberant burst of water from the mayor's fireboat doused some of the fireworks. And a group of runners flown in from the West Coast to run the bridge were sent, by accident, over the wrong roadway. With no finish line or winner's tape to stop them they disappeared into the maze of lower Manhattan. But the client, The 1983 Brooklyn Bridge Centennial Commission Inc. felt the results were worth the $2.5 million spent. "Extraordinarily well managed," said Nanette Rainone, director of communications for the office of the Brooklyn Borough president. Commission chairman Richard Perry agreed. "D-A-Y did a super job" he said. "Their enthusiasm made the difference."
The press, usually jaundiced, was laudatory as well. CBS Radio even sent a thank-you note. "I usually have nothing but bad things to say about p.r. agencies. But D-A-Y was absolutely wonderful," New York Times reporter Deirdre Carmody marveled.
Selling the Brooklyn Bridge would seem, on the face of it, a singular marketing challenge. "But public relations is public relations," Cooney insists. Profit or nonprofit, product or event, the process stays the same, concept to story to media sale. The press wants news. The client wants a bottom-line payoff -- in sales for a corporation, in fundraising support for a nonprofit client. It takes ideas and execution: Find a theme, develop the news angles, "then follow up, follow up."
You might not know D-A-Y, America's oldest public relations agency, but you probably know its clients' products, from Armagnac and New Zealand lamb to Eagle and Atari computers, Watney's beer and Panadol pain reliever. For 74 years, the agency has been turning commodities into products with a distinctive market position by getting them editorial space and airtime. D-A-Y made orange juice the vitamin C drink in the 1930s for the Florida Department of Citrus. Hired by an industry promotional program known as The Banana Bunch, D-A-Y helped hike the average American's annual consumption of bananas from 17.4 pounds to more than 22 pounds in 10 years by changing the image of the fattening banana -- as in banana split -- into that of a potassium rich, health-food snack. D-A-Y cast disk manufacturer Verbatim Corp. as the model of high-tech humanity with such innovative programs as "Tone Up at the Terminals," a Jane-Fonda-goes-Silicon-Valley exercise book for the floppy-disk user.
It is easy to dismiss public relations; the image of the touped flack cranking out overwrought hype on the mimeograph machine dies hard. Unlike advertising, public relations seems hard to judge -- product and payoff alike -- dollars thrown with blind hope into the marketing mix.
But Neil Nix, of Glenbrook Laboratories Division of Sterling Drug Inc., who watched the development of the agency's plan for Panadol acetaminophen, knows better. Consumers can -- and do -- dismiss advertising. But they don't dismiss news. An article in a newspaper or magazine, an interview or a report on the nightly news, gains credibility because the reporter provides a third-party endorsement, whether it is for the story of the Brooklyn Bridge or the low-fat truth about bananas. Advertising can stress a single point; public relations can tell a story in depth, correct myths, position the product, stress a corporate history and personality. "If you generate interesting material, get it out to the papers and on to the talk shows, it brings the message to the consumer in a more believable way than advertising," Nix insists.
"Advertising generates sales," Schoonover says. "We don't. But we create the motivation and background to let advertising succeed. Our job is to help our clients see the public interest in what they are doing. Then we tell the world about it."
"I want to start with a game of word association," D-A-Y vice-president Deke August says to the eight colleagues sitting around the leather-covered conference-room table. "Write down this word -- cigar -- and whatever it brings to mind."
The room is quiet as pens scratch paper.
"Last call, please pass your papers in." August reaches to the center of the table, slowly pulls a Macanudo cigar out of its metal case, and lights it with a flourish.
'We're here to talk about cigars," says August. "We'll be meeting with the cigar association in a couple of weeks, and I wanted to start getting ready."
The public relations process begins here, at what D-A-Y calls a "brainstorm." August had assembled his group almost at random, looking for a mix of age and sex, smokers and nonsmokers, corralling anyone from CEO Schoonover to a novice copywriter, whoever has the time to sit down. When they present their proposal, August will be the executive in charge.
"Cigars," he reads from the papers, "success, men only, older, baby, broker, cab driver, banker, locker room." He puffs languorously, a cloud of smoke floating above his flushed face. "If you aren't like Archie Bunker or Paul Volcker, cigars aren't for you."
For the next hour, they circle the product together, exploring potential customers, looking for what makes a cigar unique, and how to turn that into a story the media will want to report. "How about a nostalgia campaign . . . A photo contest: guess the cigar-smoking big-shots from the past . . . Add a trade program, with promotion and giveaways at restaurants like Lutece . . . We could always try to elect a cigar-smoking president."
There is only one rule at the meeting: No criticism of the ideas is allowed. "Move Up to Cigars" is their slogan at the end of the hour. Before they pitch the cigar association, they will develop a list of 101 times and places to move up -- 101 potential story angles.
Ideas are all that D-A-Y has to sell; structure and style inside their Manhattan offices are calculated to nurture creativity. But when Jean Schoonover and Barbara Hunter, sisters who had started as D-A-Y account executives in the mid-1950s, bought controlling interest in 1970, structure and style were not the issues. The issue was survival.
By 1970, America's oldest public relations company was feeling its age. Of the three original partners, Pendleton Dudley, George Anderson, and Thomas D. Yutzy, two had died; such long-time billings as AT&T had fallen off the client list. Since the partners had left no succession plan, decline turned to chaos.
"Clients were dropping like flies," recalls Gene Poll, senior vice-president and one of the two agency executives who remain from the era of the original partners. "All that was left of D-A-Y was two ladies with the guts to hold it together."
Schoonover and Hunter started with a lean staff; they erased the 30% salary differential between men and women, and several of the account executives quit rather than work for women. "Virtually everyone expected D-A-Y to go under," Hunter says. "The story was that we were going to become a 'ladies' agency' -- or that we wouldn't be able to make it at all. So we practiced our own business on ourselves. We used the talk of a ladies' agency to promote ourselves -- we know women because we are women."
"Those two gals were hard-nosed," says senior vice-president Hal Kierce, the other survivor. "They didn't sit back and play executive; they put in their time in the trenches." Hard-nosed -- and successful. Starting with a core of food accounts, committed to moving into other consumer and industrial fields, they pushed billings from $1 million in 1970 to $6 million in fiscal 1983. The sisters concentrate on finding new business; senior staff members, vice-presidents like Cooney or August, supervise the accounts, with the freedom to develop the program in their own style. But the entire staff of 80 -- now at a ratio of five women to two men -- shares responsibility for maintaining the D-A-Y legacy.
The organization stresses team challenge. Under the founding partners D-A-Y hired specialists such as a tuna expert and the vitamin C chief, with work apportioned in a ratio of one account executive to one client. The sisters hire generalists, and a client gets the benefit of three or four points of view working together. The partners hired men and women in their forties, seasoned professionals; the sisters hire people at a junior level in their mid-twenties, and apprentice them to a round-robin of accounts, tasks, and supervisors. Depending on their experience, members of the professional staff bill at $30 to $100 an hour, with each expected to bill at least two-thirds of his or her time. Promotion is usually from within; all of the agency's nine vice-presidents have come up through the ranks.
D-A-Y is managed by an executive committee of the officers, who meet each Friday -- "with decisions reached in a consensus, or at least participatory, style," Schoonover says, smiling. The only other regularly scheduled meeting is a luncheon of the "Under Fives," D-A-Y professional staff members with less than five years tenure who share projects, plans; and problems over sandwiches in the boardroom. But the informal meetings go on constantly. There are no closed doors at D-A-Y.
Public relations, however, has changed dramatically since Pendleton Dudley could write a news release and travel around New York handing it to newspapers and the wire services. The media have mushroomed, and so have the p.r. opportunities. News releases are no longer enough. Increasingly, D-A-Y relies on market visits, sending a company spokesperson to personally tell the story to editors, on radio call-in shows, and, most important, on TV. Few company executives are naturally comfortable in front of a camera, so D-A-Y offers a two-day training program to teach them how to handle the media beast, what to wear, what to say, and how to say it. The agency will make the bookings and go on the road as well, keeping the spokesperson on schedule and in high spirits. At the same time, it will flood the designated market with story ideas, finished articles, press-ready mats, and prerecorded "news stories," always with the client's name mentioned prominently.
Most stories need to be shaped before they are salable. For instance, in introducing Panadol, an aspirin-free analgesic, Deke August knew "right away that the problem was that the product wasn't a new and improved anything." So D-A-Y organized the "Panadol Perspectives on Pain," a series of panel discussions between lay people and the company spokesperson, a trained clinical pharmacologist. Six market visits were then set up, creating a media natural: new talk about the causes and cures of common pain. Talk about pain leads to talk about relief -- Panadol. In a single, half-hour TV show, the company spokesperson managed to mention the brand name 27 times.
With Sugar-Free Kool-Aid, the problem was timing. Although the drink, flavored with aspartame, was new, D-A-Y expected a wide variety of similar products to appear in the marketplace at the same time as its product launch. But only the first aspartame appearance on supermarket shelves would be news. So D-A-Y trained six spokespersons rather than just one, and ran them through 43 market visits in four weeks, bringing the Kool-Aid name to 17 million newspaper readers, 52 million television viewers, and 192 million radio listeners.
"There is tremendous competition for everyone's attention," Hunter says, "so making news is the best thing we can do for a client. But along the way, we've had to educate many managers to think beyond pure advertising, to think about creating excitement for a product in the market."
Every pitch for new business D-A-Y makes is a risk, an investment of time to write a program that may run to 60 pages, only to be written off as development costs if D-A-Y doesn't get the account. But for Donovan Neale-May, a31-year-old former South African and now a D-A-Y vice-president, the July 1982, chance to pitch Verbatim, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based floppy-disk maker, seemed like a golden opportunity. In the three months since opening D-A-Y's West Coast office in Los Altos, he had brought only one client into the fold -- a poultry producer -- and he was eager to try his hand at high technology.
"Look," he told the three-person Verbatim search team. "You guys are looking to a much bigger market now. You need an agency with a track record for consumer products."
Neale-May had done his homework: research and conversations with retailers, distributors, competitors, and one former Verbatim employee. Verbatim epitomized the companies in the Silicon Valley, he told the search team. The company was making the transition from a vertically integrated market into the mass market, so it needed an agency with a marketing focus to get its name known outside of the trade. Some 60% of Verbatim's sales were with original equipment manufacturers under a private label. But the future is in branded sales, Neale-May stressed.
What makes Verbatim unique? Neale-May asked. There is not much difference, even to the sophisticated user, among floppy disks. Verbatim is the world's largest manufacturer of floppy disks, but nobody knew that. Competitors like Memorex had been in the consumer end of the business for years; they had built strong recognition. If Verbatim wanted to compete in the mass market it would have to develop a presence in the marketplace as well.
That presence, D-A-Y proposed, would be as a technology company that cares about quality and about the final consumer. "Create top-of-mind awareness," Neale-May preached, "so that when you think of floppy disks you think Verbatim."
Six out of 10 times that D-A-Y makes a pitch, it fails to get the account. But it won Verbatim. Over the next year, Neale-May would be in touch with company executives daily as he built a program step by step, refining and repackaging their ideas, aiming to make Verbatim the industry leader and winning, in the process, the Northern California Chapter, Public Relations Society of America award for the best overall public relations program of 1982.
"Our old p.r. was centered on trade; we weren't getting anything consumerish," explains then -- marketing director Rod Crisp. "D-A-Y was really refreshing. They got us out of our old stodgy-way of doing things, way beyond just sending out news releases. We wanted to become good citizens. D-A-Y took that philosophy and figured out how to tell the world."
"Most public relations firms act like a mirror," says Earl Liebich, then Verbatim's advertising and marketing manager. "You tell them what you want, and then they tell you they'll do it. But D-A-Y came up with the ideas and then told us what we should do."
Although D-A-Y had been hired on a project-by-project basis only, Neale-May dug into the company as if he had a multiyear contract. For two days he prowled the halls buttonholing executives, interviewing managers, trying to understand key targets strategic plans, and industry patterns. "I work like a management consultant," he says. "I want to know about the policies, the people, the politics -- everything. To be effective, I had to know as much as possible."
His first project was a leftover. D-A-Y's predecessor had polled 1,263 office workers on their attitudes toward the automated office, "and Verbatim took this big pile of data, some 120 pages of survey results, dropped it on my desk, and said do something with this."
Neale-May pored over the figures, looking for news value, a story he could sell. He found three. Sixty-eight percent of the office workers polled felt that working with word processors could cause health problems, eye and back strain, and general fatigue -- story number 1, for general interest and health-related magazines. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents thought that the new office technologies would reduce sex stereotypes by attracting men and women alike into word processing -- story number 2, for women's magazines and the living pages of newspapers. The majority polled felt management didn't consult them enough on the purchase or use of equipment -- story number 3, for management magazines and the business pages.
Then he put together a package. To ensure that any story would include a product mention, the data was officially titled "The Verbatim Survey." A 12-page booklet highlighted results, with a message from the company president at the beginning and a list of worldwide regional sales offices at the end. Then, 2,000 media packs went out, each containing the booklet, targeted story drafted for the appropriate editorial format, background information about Verbatim, and a personalized letter. Overall, 20,000 booklets were distributed, and Verbatim garnered more than 75 million exposures in print and electronic media.
"Art in the Automated Office," Neale-May's refinement of a Verbatim in-house poster program, was the first survey spinoff. "The survey showed that people are a little overwhelmed by all the new technology," Neale-May recalls. "So we decided to bring a little color and charm into their work space." Original art would be bought to hang in The Verbatim Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; as each piece was purchased, it would be reproduced and distributed in poster form. Again, a personalized letter went out to the media, this time with a Verbatim Collection poster.
"Things had really started to roll," says Neale-May. "They were getting a lot of media mileage; they'd never expected to see a floppy disk on The Merv Griffin Show.' So they said, 'Let's do something else.' I was driving home from the office one night, thinking about the survey again, when the phrase 'Tone Up at the Terminals' popped into my head. I've always been big on alliteration."
"Tone Up at the Terminals" started as a small project, budgeted at $14,500. An exercise physiologist designed 20 exercises to fill a 16-page pamphlet, each illustrated at a model workstation, with a Verbatim Collection poster on the wall and two floppy disks on the desk. Third-party endorsement came from the California Governor's Council on Wellness and Physical Fitness. "The idea was to give users hints to offset the strain, to produce something that they would keep in their top desk drawers and that would make them conscious of Verbatim," says Neale-May. "We knew, too, that if we offered it as a freebie it would generate sales leads; whoever ordered it would be a prospective customer."
"I was getting huge mailbags with requests for 'Tone Up' every day " recalls Linda Mancini then Verbatim's manager of corporate communications. "The success exceeded everyone's expectations." More than 150,000 copies were distributed in the first six months of the program; another 50,000 are being printed, and the booklet has been translated into French and German and is being translated into Japanese. Again, Verbatim magnetized the media.
To promote itself among educators, its second target audience, Verbatim wanted to give away 100,000 floppy disks in classrooms. Neale-May disagreed.
The easiest thing in the world is to give away product -- look at Apple," he argued. "But what are you going to get out of it? Let's do something that will have a bottom-line return to the company.
Within six weeks, D-A-Y created The First International Computer EdGame Challenge, a contest to develop nonviolent computer games for use in teaching 20 academic subjects. Two leading nonprofit computer education groups agreed to act as judges. There were fliers and direct mail, a toll-free number, and two IBM Personal Computers and 23 gift certificates for $500 as prizes -- and a torrent of entries. Verbatim was no longer giving away just plain product; now it was offering to duplicate the winning entries and make them available to educators at cost.
Another public relations chestnut -- offering plant tours to build local awareness -- got similar embellishment. Invitations, along with free disks, were given to educators at an annual convention of California's Computer Using Educators in San Jose. The 1,200 students who showed up were given their tour by "Viktor Verbatim," a robot D-A-Y brought in from Los Angeles. For the kids, as one reporter noted, "it was love at first byte." For Viktor, it was stardom; after appearing on network and local TV and radio, he became the official company spokesman, guiding a 14-minute videotape tour to be sent to schools across the country.
"By the third quarter of fiscal 1983, we cut back our advertising significantly because we were having such tremendous success with our p.r. campaign," Verbatim's Crisp reports. "D-A-Y didn't challenge our sense of where Verbatim should be in the market; they virtually formed it," Liebich adds. " D-A-Y showed us that if we took a chance and were a little creative, we could take a leadership position that would carry through to the whole company image," agrees Mancini.
It was a triumph for D-A-Y as well. Beginning with a limited budget and a single project, Neale-May built a yearlong campaign that cost Verbatim $200,000 by year's end. In August, D-A-Y presented its proposal for the next 12 months -- 11 different programs, including another Computer EdGame Challenge and more Viktor Verbatirn tours. "If I get 8 of them, I'll be happy," Neale-May says. "The p.r. function has been dramatically elevated at Verbatim; they are spending a lot of money for a company their size. It's just a question of their future spending levels."
"Spending on p.r. is sure to go up next year," Crisp predicts. "Last year we spent several hundred thousand dollars, and it was the first time in 14 years in marketing that I felt I got my money's worth."
For most of June 8, 1983, the day Eagle Computrer Inc. went public, fortune was smiling on the Los Gatos, Calif., desktop microcomputer manufacturer. The company executives overseeing its initial offering in New York were ebullient: 2,750,000 shares put up over the counter had brought them $37 million, opening at $13 and closing at $15.50; money the company needed desperately to pay off bank notes and finance further expansion.
Then, tragedy. Less than a mile from his office, 40-year-old Eagle CEO Dennis R. Barnhart -- the man credited with Eagle's meteoric 100%-a-quarter growth rate, that day a new millionaire nine times over with his own Eagle stock -- plowed his bright red Ferrari, license plate EAGLE B, through 20 feet of steel guardrail and over an embankment. He died from multiple injuries. Layna Fischer, the D-A-Y/Eagle account manager, heard the news late that afternoon, when a San Jose reporter called her office for background on Barnhart. Eagle and Barnhart had been synonymous. What, the reporter asked her, would happen to the stock offering? And what would become of Eagle?
Along with Neale-May and the Eagle executives still in New York, Fischer worked out a containment strategy over long-distance telephone."I'd like to say that our strategy was formally arrived at," admits Ron Mickwee, Barnhart's successor as CEO. "But it wasn't. In trying to respond to the press at the time, the first thing that came to mind was to tell the truth to talk about the company and the future in the way we had already talked with D-A-Y in preparing our promotion."
Fischer handled the press, fielding calls late into the night. The stock offering, she said, would likely be rescinded. New management would be in place at once. The death was a significant loss, but Eagle's depth of management expertise and the strength of the company's new products would ensure further growth.
Over the next seven days, besides helping to develop and refine strategy, D-A-Y staffers called 55 print and 23 television reporters to clarify, update, and explain the story. When new management was in place, they called again. And again, when Eagle announced it would reissue its stock. At first, Fischer herself acted as spokesperson; when a corporate spokesman was designated, Fischer ran him through abbreviated training and arranged a series of five television interviews.
On June 15, one week after the death, Eagle stock was reissued. The initial ask was lowered to $12. Eagle closed that day at 17 1/2, $2 higher than the first day close of the initial issue. The next day, the stock closed at 22.
"We weren't prepared," Mickwee says, "but D-A-Y picked up the ball and handled it beautifully. The value of a D-A-Y is that they operate well in the absence of a strategy. They were, and are, interwoven with our company. They knew what we were about and they knew all the players."
D-A-Y succeeded with Eagle for the same reason that it succeeded with Verbatim and the Brooklyn Bridge. Over its 74-year history, it has developed a reputation for trust between agency and client and between agency and media. Over time, a successful public relations pro will become a colleague to client and journalist alike. Talk to existing and former clients before choosing an agency, Schoonover suggests, and talk to the media as well. "Figure out what you want an agency for. A smaller agency may be able to give you closer personal attention, while a bigger agency may have more resources."
D-A-Y has, without fanfare, opted for bigness. In late July, two months after the centennial party for the Brooklyn Bridge, Schoonover and Hunter agreed to an exchange of D-A-Y stock with Ogilvy & Mather lnternational Inc. (OMI), the $2.2-billion (in billings) advertising giant, joining an industry trend to multiservice agency linkages.
"Some of us remember the day when the partners died and had made no plans for succession," Schoonover says. "We determined that we would never let D-A-Y be vulnerable to that."
Five advertising agencies had courted the sisters over the past four years, but, until OMI, "nothing worked out, because we wanted to keep our independence." OMI promised Schoonover and Hunter that D-A-Y could stay the same, operating independently with its own name, office, management, structure, style, and staff. "D-A-Y will be a freestanding unit," states Yustin Wallrapp, president of OMI's public relations division. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Schoonover herself handled the D-A-Y end of the p.r. on the stock transfer, insisting to journalists that the D-A-Y story -- and its market position -- would stay much the same. D-A-Y would get increased research facilities, computer services, access to international offices, and a significant capital pool to help fund future growth. Nothing, she insists, should change the D-A-Y tradition: ideas and execution, find a story and tell the world.