01. ILLUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
I’ve been called an overly creative person all my life, which to me just means thinking beyond the the obvious. When people ask me what I do for a living, I often tell them “I create illusions of grandeur” (which I produce through advertising art direction, web development and business structuring). People come to me when they are ready to take something to its next level, whether its product or business branding, reputation enhancement, pitching something or just building an awareness campaign. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and sometimes have simply been able spot a good opportunity when it reared its head.
I’ve been lucky enough that many of my campaigns captured number one market positions. And, while I’ve been involved in a wide variety of advertising roles and positions, I am most sought for my work as an Art Director and Web Developer. After 40 years of advertising deadlines (20 of those in web development), I have a amassed a very interesting portfolio of projects from a uniquely recognizable client list, but only after a long, exhausting journey of deadline-driven projects and a constant, never-ending education about what makes things tick.
02. GETTING MY FEET WET
For the most part, I grew up in Long Beach, CA. I was always pretty good at art and was actively involved in high school art related things such as Governor of Fine Art, Advertising Club President and various Student Body Committees (where I was often called upon to design flyers and the school newspaper). I think everbody knew I would eventually make a living with art in one form or another, but I really secretly wanted to be a rock star.
After high school, I traveled to Salt Lake City Utah to live with one of my half brothers, where I did make the attempt to fulfill my dream as the lead singer of a local band named “Crevice”. Oddly, all the members of the band worked for different local steel factories. We were all in great shape, but only mildly popular in the area.
Like any young man, I wanted to explore the world (or at least California because I love the ocean) so I moved around a lot. I landed in Ventura, where I worked for a small singing telegram business called Pacific Music Notes and worked on various low-paying endeavors including a costumed role as local radio station KGAB’s mascot “Wacko the Wonder Duck”, a foul-mouthed event-disrupter who’s job it was to be obnoxious at promotional parties. Fun, but the gig didn’t require much talent other than trying to stay sober under that heavy suit. People were constantly buying Wacko cocktails and I was constantly drinking them.
03. LEARNING FROM THE BEST
I had been a cartoonist since I was a kid, but oddly found myself working at KGAB radio in Ventura doing radio station promos and sometimes as the mascot “Wacko the Wonder Duck” when they couldn’t find someone brave enough to get into the suit. I had become good friends with the staff, but the work environment was changing.
Our lead disc-jockey, Bob Gowa, was offered a job at KMEL radio in San Francisco and events director, Bruce Roberts was moving up the coast to Carmel-By-The-Sea to manage KRML (the same station used for Clint Eastwood’s movie “Play Misty For Me”). While I was visiting Bob, he suggested we drive south to see his friend Starr, in Monterey, who was promoting Tom Petty’s first major album.
I fell in love with Monterey and in particular Pacific Grove and stayed. I found a job the next day at Ron’s Liquors and on the side, I drew caricatures of tourists on the Monterey Wharf and on Cannery Row, under the guise of “Godfather Cartoon”. I literally would dress up in a pin stripe suit, don a fedora and carry my art supplies in a violin case. It sparred a big annual birthday party for me called the Godfather Celebration, that later became too big to manage (after 750-1000 people per event).
My caricatures were more realistic than funny, exaggerated features so it didn’t always come out the way most people might have envisioned. Once, I was drawing a caricature of a rather plain looking young lady and upon finishing, her boyfriend took a peek. He said, “That’s the ugliest drawing I’ve ever seen.” Being young and stupid I replied, “I draw ’em as I see ’em”. He decked me and I decided caricatures were not worth physical pain and it certainly didn’t pay enough to take care of any medical bills.
When I wasn’t wearing the fedora, I could been seen around the row with a railroad engineer’s cap. Why? I have no idea. I eventually became a known cartoonist/graphic artist and had a studio on Cannery Row above BullWackers (where the infamous brothel Flora’s used to be during the cannery days) I knew the owners of the Monterey nightclub “The Club”, Ray Doty and Brooke Lewis. Brooke’s company office was right next to my studio and Ray decided to open the restaurant underneath. Since I was known for designing logos, menus and nightlife promo posters for many bars and restaurants around town, I also designed the logo for Bullwackers, created the story about a confused sailor who was in search of the lost sardines and created cartoons on the walls of the restaurant. Cary Crockett, another cartoonist (better than me) painted the logo on the front of the building that is still there today. As a matter of fact, I signed the beam above the bar (twice) when I originally was there and then about 20 years later while visiting.
The biggest problem having a studio on Cannery Row were all the bars within walking distance of each other. The Boiler Room, 1st National Fog Bank Saloon, Captain’s Galley and Sly McFly’s were all hot places to hang out and you could find me drawing at the bar for free drinks (or food) on a regular basis. It all seemed like a bit of a blur considering the amount of bars I hung out in where I created hundreds of cocktail napkin cartoon art (while drunk) which ended up in the hands of a revolving door of tourists. (Years later people would send me scans of the art they held on to and shared with me on Facebook). It blows my mind, every time someone finds one.
I was always broke. But, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I ended up sleeping off drunken evenings at my studio and not having a clue as to the name of the companions I woke up with. I do remember one woman that was a visiting Mayor from a town in Oregon.
The Row had a way of inspiring creativity and I designed many things for the developers on the McFly’s restaurant chain (also with offices on the Row), including stain glass windows, caricatures based of famous historical figures and about 100 t-shirt designs sold everywhere. I often collaborated with other Monterey artists, Bob Wecker, Jerry Takigawa, Bill Cooke, photographer Don Gruber and became a regular pest to Playboy cartoonist, Eldon DeDini in Carmel. These were my initial mentors in commercial art and whom I aspired to be. They were the crème de la crème creatives of the Monterey Peninsula.
It was DeDini who introduced me to the Northern California Cartoon and Humor association (members included DeDini, Gus Arriola (“Gordo”), Charles Schutz (“Peanuts”), Tom Armstrong (“Marvin”), Cathy Guisewite (“Cathy”) and many others. I became a room-mate of Don Gruber’s in Pacific Grove and shared offices with Bob Wecker in Monterey for a short time. Hanging out with these guys helped my cartooning style become more defined and my graphics work become sophisticated enough to win a bunch of printing design awards.
My buddy Bruce Roberts became a Monterey Sheriff and later was asked to join the Clint Eastwood for Mayor campaign in Carmel (instead of running against him). My last designs were for that campaign before moving to Los Angeles. But, not until I had one last party called “Ciccarelli Goes To Hollywood” so I could say goodbye to everyone. I was supposed to leave the next morning, but had spent all my money on drugs, drinks, a limo and the popular Chris Cain band.
I ended up sleeping in my studio for a week, while working low-key for Cannery Row clients to earn money enough to leave. I’ll never forget all the wonderment and craziness the Row offered during my years there.
04. RUNNING OUT OF LOCAL PROSPECTS
For a while, I worked as an on-staff graphic designer and special projects director for a corporation called The Cambridge Diet Plan (owed by local millionaires Eileen Feather and son Vaughn Feather). At the time, the company was bringing in a million dollars a day. Working at Cambridge taught me the structure and inner workings of fast paced corporate environments, how they think and advertise, but also how careful one must be about pissing people off above you. (I was fired twice there for being an opinionated Italian). One of my main jobs was to keep the staff morale in high spirits while they worked exhaustively 7 days a week. I had unlimited budgets, so I designed things like a big 50s dance, a 5,000 person picnic at Laguna Seca Raceway and private concerts with Gallagher and Pablo Cruise and tons of other fun things. Unfortunately, the company would become known as the “killer diet” because people were using the product and dying, (oh yeah…plus that being fired thing), so I moved back into the freelance world again.
I became one of many main artists for the McFly’s Bar and Restaurant franchise (considered a distinct honor at the time) and designed many promotional items (posters, flyers, menus) for other restaurants, bars and nightclubs in the area and also one in Southern California. I illustrated an entire wall of famous detectives throughout history for P.I. McFlys at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. I also created a cartoon strip called “Police Blotter” for the local Pacific Grove newspaper and also held several fine art shows at The Pacific Grove Art Center. But, it all seemed like a bit of a blur considering the amount of bars I hung out in where I created hundreds of cocktail napkin cartoon art (while drunk) which ended up in the hands of a revolving door of tourists. (Years later people would send me scans of the art they held on to and shared with me on Facebook). It blows my mind, every time someone finds one.
My last project in Monterey was for the Clint Eastwood for Mayor (of Carmel) campaign, whom my buddy Bruce Roberts had begun working on. By this time Bruce had become a police officer in the Monterey County Sheriff’s office and was running for Mayor as well, but when Clint entered the picture, his celebrity status was really larger than life and Bruce was asked to help Clint’s campaign. Bruce hired me to design memorabilia booklets and t-shirt designs with a cartoony flair.
After 8 years I had pretty much exhausted my potential new client options in Monterey and decided that a larger market (Southern California) to open up opportunities for myself. Monterey Art Director John Bruno had moved south to work for a company called Boss Films and on a little movie called “Ghost Busters”. He introduced me to other artists at Disney (who wasn’t biting) and my first client in Los Angeles, Peterson Publishing. I designed snippets of illustrations for Motor Trend and did all the cover lettering for Car-Toons magazine. Personal computers had not really entered the picture yet so I did this all by hand. I also had the honor of working on promotional art for Landmark Entertainment Group who designed some of the most incredible tourist attractions around the world, including Universal theme parks.
Over a period of time I opened a studio near LAX which moved to Marina del Rey and became Ciccarelli & Gray with my friend and artist Tom Gray. One of our apparel clients became involved with the historic Voyager Aircraft. The Rutan Model 76 Voyager was the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. It was piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The flight took off from Edwards Air Force Base’s 15,000 foot (4,600 m) runway in the Mojave Desert on December 14, 1986, and ended 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds later on December 23, setting a flight endurance record. My job was to design a logo and other promotional items. Just before the flight, we realized that the crew had no official gear to wear on the flight with their name on it. I stayed up all night long to hand airbrush the logo on sweatshirts. Photos on the front page of the L.A. Times showed the airbrushed logo emblazoned on Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager shirts with their outstretched arms. Later the shirts made it to the Smithsonian Institute and are now displayed with the plane.
I managed to squeeze in a marriage to my high school sweetheart amidst all my work (but unfortunately it only lasted a few months). At the airport studio I was introduced to a writer named Cynthia Lewis. She was in need of graphic help for her clients and I needed a really good copywriter for mine. I didn’t know it at the time, but her father, Chuck Lewis, was the Copywriter and Creative Director of a well known B2B ad agency in Hollywood, Reeds, Farris & Lewis. He would later become my advertising mentor and change my career forever.
05. GRADUATING TO ART DIRECTOR STATUS
Cynthia Lewis must have seen something in me or my work because she somehow convinced her father to meet and hire me as an art director. I had worked as a freelance artist for ad agencies upon occasion, but never on staff and it scared the shit out of me. Ad agencies are an extremely competitive world and you are responsible for very large ad budgets. You have to be exceptionally creative. I had tried for several years to get Chiat Day to notice me, including taking out a billboard across the street from them in Venice Beach (with a picture of me holding a Teddy Bear with a plastic gun to his head, along with the headline, “Hire Chick or the bear gets it”). I got an interview, but not a job.
Chuck Lewis took me to new heights. His writing and photography skills were so dead on with whatever client he was promoting it was frightening. He came from that Ogilvy Mather, old-school level of ad creation that I had admired for years. Chuck was a hard act to follow with visuals. He taught me that there is a big difference between designing as a graphic artist and designing as an art director. Graphic designers create for the look, but art directors create with a strategy in mind — to get someone to the call to action trigger. I was lucky enough to work on accounts such as WorldPort LA (the Port of Los Angeles logo, World Cruise Center), MGM Grand Air, Custom Building Products and others, many of which I won design awards for. The World Cruise Center became the largest passenger facility on the West Coast and the fourth busiest in the nation. We captured a number one national market position for Custom Building Products and a number one International market position for WorldPortLA.
06. THE FILM BUSINESS
Oddly enough, I found myself taking a break from advertising, and returned to my music roots to write a musical called “Secret Identity” (about a nerdy kid in love with a rocker chick). While doing so, and quite by accident, I co-founded Theafilm Distribution Network, which offered a new way of film distribution for independent producers.
I was living in the penthouse of the Hollywood Tower and film producer living in the same building approached me about trying to raise money for his film. He asked me to take a look at a way to pitch theatre owners, something’s that’s really not done unless you are doing a thing called “4-walling” which is more about paying to exhibit a film when you have already paid and produced it, but can’t land a distributor. You usually don’t ask theatre owners to fund a film’s production. After a couple of weeks, I ended up creating the highly publicized ‘flat-lease’ motion picture distribution process. Peter Bart at Variety ran several feature articles about the process and we were the talk of the town for several years. We reviewed over 200 films from HBO, Showtime, Dino Delaurentis and other well-known film producers and production companies.
The group eventually fell apart because of a difference in management styles, but before I abandoned the concept completely, and to prove that the distribution process worked, I created a temporary company called System X and implemented the national theatrical trailer exhibition of “Wing Commander-IV” on 570 General Cinema screens, a first for the electronic gaming industry and hailed as victory for indie film producers.
09. MEDIABUYS/NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans Sponsorships for mardi Gras after Katrina. In an effort to help bolster economic development in New Orleans after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, city officials have authorized the nation’s leading media buying club, MediaBuys, LLC to seek out corporate involvement for Mardi Gras in February of 2006.
5 days left.
It’s 6:30am on a Saturday morning, February 11th, I’m in the office. The 2006 Mardi Gras Sponsorships for the City of New Orleans are weighing heavy on my mind. With the event starting on February 18th, the limited number of committed sponsors to date is making it hard for me to sleep or function in a normal capacity.
A City Council meeting a week ago was not kind to our efforts, but luckily they delayed signing an ordinance to transfer the $2.7 million to pay for Mardi Gras’ cost of emergency services, police and fire–which is supposed to be covered by the sponsors we are signing. For us, February 16th will be a hard day to face if we are not successful.
Maybe we missed something. Maybe there’s some simple explanation for why companies have not committed other than traditional corporate excuses. After all, we’ve talked with no less than 75 corporate heads and to only have one brave company actually sign at a six-figure level, just doesn’t seem logical. I’ve been involved with many promotional successes in my 30-year career, but this one has me baffled.
While the hours we’ve spent on this project have taken its toll on us physically and mentally, it has not stopped us from trying to be creative. So, once again I at am my desk trying to pull a rabbit out of my hat.
We still have a few more days and refuse to give up. This event is not only important for the people of New Orleans, but for my company’s reputation as well. Not to mention, a need to cover the over $100,000 we’ve spent trying to get sponsors on board. And while we are a fairly small organization, this was a risk we felt we had to take. This event is so important to the rebuilding of the City’s economy.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the contract sitting next to me that was finally signed and returned to us by the City, just yesterday. It reminds me of how much time it takes to get things done and how little time we have left.
After all we’ve been through over the past month, I still feel the need to keep searching for new ideas that may make corporations want to participate– knowing fully that anything I think of will be well beyond normal corporate policies and probably a stretch for the way corporate executives think. But, that’s kind of how we’ve had to approach this project from the beginning.
We actually began talking with Ernest Collins, Arts and Entertainment Director for the City of New Orleans in late November 2005 when someone suggested to us that New Orleans might be looking for what they termed a “Title Sponsor” of Mardi Gras. It would be the first time they allowed such a sponsorship in its 150th year history. We asked the same question everyone was asking at that time, “Are they still having Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina?”
We looked at the limited list of items the City was willing to offer a possible sponsor in exchange for $2 million and immediately could see that there was very little ROI – some street lamp and barricade signage, a first right of refusal for additional years, broadcast rights and so on. We knew that corporations were not going to hand over a check without wanting something in return.
My first thought was that no one would invest in a sponsorship this if there wasn’t anyone at Mardi Gras, so perhaps the City might want to consider an ad campaign to drive tourism to the event. Plus, it would add value to the package. However, ad campaigns have costs associated with them and that would need to come out of the sponsorship budget.
The only way to make it plausible to raise the money the City needed and build in value for the advertiser was to split the “Title” sponsorship into several sponsorships and add in an advertising program. We called them “Presenting” sponsorships because there was so much sensitivity from the “krewes” and other locals about not having corporate signage in the parades. They would have balked at a “Budweiser Mardi Gras 2006” and perhaps not at a “Mardi Gras 2006 presented by Budweiser.” This would also allow us to place branding around the parade route, but not “in” the parade. To make the Presenting Sponsorship deals more appetizing, we told companies that we would custom build whatever plan they wanted (within expenditure reason).
To allow even more companies to come on at lower amounts of money, we built an “Ad Support” program where companies could by ad packages at levels from $5,000 to $250,000. 25% of the money would go to the City to help offset costs and the rest would be used to pay for ad space and ad production costs. And, since we are a media-buying club, we of course could manage significant discounts to either stretch the media placement or deliver minimal packages to supporters and give more back to the City. However, not knowing our final campaign budget, we had to be conservative as to how many insertions we could promise in each package.
We gave the plan to the City and discussed its possibilities, but did not hear back from them until suddenly we saw much of our plan show up in a Wall Street Journal article on December 7th. It was then that we learned we would need to submit an RFP (Request For Proposal) response to win the account for the plan we designed. We submitted our proposal and had an RFP interview with many City officials about a week later. When asked what we thought our biggest challenge was, we simply stated, “Time.”
On December 21st, we finally received a letter stating that we had won the account. Of course, this is not like winning an account with a budget attached, as we would not receive a dime unless we performed. We waived our normal administrative retainer and creative fees. Our compensation would be a straight media buying industry standard commission of 15%. We knew the City was out of money, so there was no reason to be monetarily aggressive.
And it begins.
The first hurdle we would need to overcome would be the holidays. Most corporate executives and decision makers were gearing up for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. So, it was a fruitless area of time for negotiations, but a perfect time to get prepared. To make good use of our time, my VP of Business Development, Ken Rose remained in the office and my originally planned ten-day vacation became a quick three-day trip up the coast. I can remember how amazed my wife was that I was taking conference calls from the Mayor’s office while being on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.
We reprogrammed our website to automate the process of potential sponsors coming in, started designing direct mail pieces and emails, and reached out to all our suppliers (Program Partners) to gain either discounts or freebies on things like the production and editing of our spots, distribution of media, mailing lists and so on.
We began negotiating media buys with networks early on, so that we could have them in on the project quickly as we signed sponsors. For accountability sake, we set up a separate Escrow bank account and purchased a separate online bookkeeping system, so that our bookkeeper, the designated CPA and the City could all access money progress reports.
We even reached out to legendary media-man, Dennis Holt from the former Western International Media fame, to see if we could enlist him as our spokesperson for corporate involvement. Unfortunately he could not fit the program into his schedule.
On December 24th, we were told that the City wanted us to work with two other agencies, Bright Moments in New Orleans and Sharpe Alliance in Los Angeles. Bright Moments was to handle any local Sponsorship fulfillment and help gain leads and the other agency was to provide leads only. We were to share our commission with each at different levels based on how far along a lead had been qualified.
On December 27th, a reporter from the Times Picayune found out that we had won the contract and wanted to run a story about it. We tried to get them to hold off, but they insisted on running it, wanting to be the first out. This is where we learned how competitive the press can be. We wanted the campaign to be a concentrated effort and not to break until after we began our sales period. We knew that having the right press at the right time would help us reach out to corporate executives. The article broke on December 31st much to our dismay. We couldn’t start the sales period until executives returned from the holidays on January 3rd. We immediately hired a large public relations firm, PMK/HBH, to handle our press issues from that day on.
Since we were involved with selling ad space for entertainment related programs, we thought it might be a good idea to reach out to gain celebrity involvement. Ken has worked closely with the Grammy Awards, Latin Grammy Awards, Sundance and Critics Choice Awards over the last 10 years. We decided that it would make for a good ad campaign to have celebrity endorsements to drive tourism to Mari Gras. Joey Berlin from the Critics Choice Awards allowed us to host the pre-show cocktail party at a rate of $25,000 which would give us the best shot of assembling a lot of stars in a short time frame. So, we set this element in motion as well.
January 3rd – Sales period starts.
My first letter out was to companies whom we had done business with in the past, primarily in the electronics field. We also reached out to our media buying membership database of 900+ advertisers with an email campaign and then tapped into our more private lists calling everyone we could think of. Many of our contacts are ad agencies that we’ve worked with in the past and all seemed moderately interested in helping out.
We also received many calls from compassionate people just wanting to help in some way. One New Orleans native, Chantal Lundberg, a former private secretary to Michael Ovitz, came on board to help even though she was 8 months pregnant. It was pretty amazing just how many individuals contacted us with an interest in what we were doing.
We have the ability to see the IP addresses of people visiting our website, so we monitored this very closely. About 50% of the time we can tell the name of the company visiting and the city they are accessing from. If they searched for us first, we could see the keywords they were using, and we knew if it related to the program or not. All this helped us a great deal in being able to get information out quickly to people that may have had an interest in becoming involved, but not necessarily anxious to call us. Once we knew who was visiting us, our staff could quickly send our email packages to public relations or marketing personnel in the related office.
A big hurdle was moving through the corporate ladders to get to decision-makers. Our staff had to weed through many layers of corporate offices to get to the right person. Often, the same pitch to an individual company may have been made 4 or 5 times until finally getting through. And, sometimes our journey ended with an abrupt “no”. We have a saying in our office and that is that “we always start at “no” and move up from there. And when we had slower days, we would go back to people who previously said “no” and try again.
We approached major soft drink companies, fast food chains, credit card companies and clothing outlets. Some were just not interested and most told us there just wasn’t enough time to do it right.
Another 2 days had passed and we received a call from the Associated Press. At the time we thought this was great. We were already well in discussions with many companies and this could help get the word out at the right time.
What we told the Associated Press was that we were in discussions with over 20 companies at various levels. What unfortunately came out in their headline was “Dozens of Companies Interested in $2 Million Mardi Gras Sponsorship.” Suddenly over 400 articles throughout the Internet were touting a victory and we immediately got calls from some City officials sarcastically wanting to know how quickly we could finish the deals and send them money. Certainly not the kind of press we were hoping for. We feared that corporations would think that there wasn’t room for them to get involved anymore.
Despite the press, we were getting very good response from some of the biggest online travel discount companies. One company in particular, we will call “Travel X” had every one of their departments and consultants looking into every aspect of ROI at the Presenting Sponsorship level. This company was looking very good.
We were also in discussions with a rather large building supply company (“Building X”) that showed strong possibilities initially at a Presenting Sponsorship level.
Bright Moments was working on the local companies, including those with City contracts and bringing in pretty good leads, but we found it hard to find the other agency that we were supposed to be working with. We began realizing that this company was probably not going to be much help to us.
January 6th – Greedy people emerge.
Sometimes people see an opportunity and just can’t get beyond their own world. We had a meeting with the designated CPA, who decided that he wanted a piece of the action for signing the City’s contract with us. He was demanding 50% of our take on every deal or a starting flat rate of $35,000 with no ceiling. We fired him off the project immediately, and had to go back to the City Attorney to redraft our contract. Within 24 hours we found a new CPA who was more amenable to the task at hand.
This was not the only group with their hand out. We ran into several vendors not willing to recognize the humanitarian magnitude of the matter at hand, some even coming from local businessmen in New Orleans and some coming from our own clients wanting to exploit the situation for their own agendas.
We understood corporations needing to achieve an ROI, but people trying to take advantage of the program just simply turned our stomachs.
January 8th – First meeting with the Mayor.
We helped make arrangements for Mayor C. Ray Nagin to attend the Critics’ Choice Awards, since he already wanted to be in Los Angeles to ask filmmakers to return to New Orleans on behalf of the New Orleans Film Commission. We thought his presence would also help gain celebrity endorsement of the program.
The Sunday prior to the event, we met with Mayor Nagin and his staff. We reported to the Mayor that we had good responses for corporate sponsorship involvement but that many of the companies were requesting far too much for the amount of money they were willing to pay and some that were scared off thinking the only level of participation was at $2 million based on initial City announcements, prior to us coming on board.
We told the Mayor that the most challenging aspects of signing sponsorship had been the lack of time in companies being able to properly prepare for promotional needs or their not having ample budget properly set aside for such a quick turnaround. But we also stated we were optimistic about our chances, because we were still in discussions and trying to accommodate each company’s needs.
We found the Mayor to be very bright and genuinely interested in what we were trying to accomplish. His wife was absolutely charming as well.
Ironically, we were discussing the misleading headlines from the Associated Press and we were trying to defend our position by stating that we should be careful about what we say so as not to be misquoted by anyone. I’ll now never forget the words out of the Mayor’s mouth when he said, “Why are you guys so afraid of the press?” He of course would learn first hand what we were talking about only a couple of weeks later during his Martin Luther King Day speech.
January 9th – Critics’ Choice Awards.
We had a limited staff and budget so we had to do the best we could to decorate the lobby of the Santa Monica Convention Center to look as “New Orleans” as possible so that people would get the idea. Luckily, Universal Studios came to our rescue by giving us an open door to their prop department free of charge. We rented a piano, hired a jazz pianist, hired a photographer and brought on a camera crew to shoot the cameos. We designed step and repeat backgrounds with the City’s logo interlaced with Critics’ Choice Awards logo and large bold banners stating, “The show must go on. The first step to recovery is to rebuild the economy.”
No less than 18 well-known celebrities posed with Mayor Nagin to be video-taped asking people to attend Mardi Gras including Angela Basset, Brandon Fraser, Cedric The Entertainer, David Strathairn, John Leguizamo, Virginia Madsen and others. As an added gesture toward the City, celebrities including George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Matt Dillon signed a special Velux motor-scooter that was to be auctioned off online, with the proceeds to be donated to the City.
We began the 30-second spot editing the next day. We launched a direct mail piece to 15,000 advertisers nationwide from a list supplied to us Lexis-Nexis’ Redbooks. We initiated another email campaign, this time to over 50,000 advertisers.
Travel X was still looking very good, but Building X had slipped from a Presenting level to a $400,000 level. We had to be careful with each phone call, because often, the executive we were negotiating with would need to go back to their bosses for approvals along the way. It was frustrating, because we were never sure of their true intentions. Sometimes you would get the feeling that they were just trying to negotiate a good deal rather than paying attention to the program needs.
January 11th – Attacking The Obvious.
The City fed us leads from possible sponsors in addition to the calls coming into our offices and we were making a ton of calls ourselves. Our main concentration was on companies most likely to benefit from Mardi Gras. Travel companies, hotels, casinos, transportation, restaurants, contractors, building suppliers…etc. But almost all of the companies with a New Orleans location were not able to help because of their losses from Katrina. So, with these companies we had to move discussions up to a higher level of the corporations not headquartered locally.
We did however begin to talk with companies interested in offering in-kind gestures such as clean-up. We thought one of these companies might come in at a $375,000 in-kind level only to find out later that there was a mis-calculation as to how much they actually were paid the year prior. They ended up still offering an in-kind gesture but far off the original mark. And they did not want any publicity in fear that other contracts they had with other cities would end up in more in-kind requests.
We also reached out to companies with philanthropic foundations and checked the stock market websites to see who was having a good month. We emailed really large Internet and software companies and got nowhere.
We were asked by the City to stay away from companies that would not necessarily have a positive impact on the Mardi Gras family image. And while we had initial response from liquor companies, we had to put them on the backburner until we could see where we stood with other possibilities.
January 12th – Recovery Room.
We received a call from one of the bigger mortgage lenders in the country who wanted to know if they could get involved at a lower level participation but have a local presence. It seems that mortgage companies have had a great deal of negative press for not allowing more time to hurricane victims to get back on their feet. While we were not able to get the company closed on a deal, it did spawn a new idea for additional corporate sponsorship.
On our way to meet the Mayor, we came up with the name “Recovery Room.” This program would allow corporate participants to help residents and businesses that have been affected by the hurricane with various aspects of their individual recovery. We talked with the City about getting the Morial Convention Center New Orleans (MCCNO) near the parade route as a location. The benefit of holding it there would be that the City could set up a trade-show style environment, making it easier for corporate branding.
Since there was still a lot of controversy in the press for having Mari Gras in the wake of so many homeless, so the Recovery Room was a way to show that Mardi Gras was not all about partying. Mainly, corporations could get involved at a local level to help out at a $30,000 level. Since the State controlled the Convention Center and was willing to allow its usage, the City would recognize an additional way to offset the Mardi Gras costs.
Corporate negotiations at the $2 million level was minimal, so we turned our sales team’s efforts to mortgage, banking, insurance, building, identity recovery, education, clean-up, elderly care, jobs, relocation and other industries for the Recovery Room. We began discussions with many companies that might be a good fit for the room.
What we began noticing, was that the PR divisions understood the potential more than the ad agencies or marketing departments. Glad’s PR department was a group that was moving in a very positive direction. We were also in discussions with several of their parent company’s competitors.
We had a major bite from a local food company. They had shown an interest from the very beginning, but we had difficulty in connecting with them until now. Our week-long discussions ended with them asking, “How will this program help me sell rice?” Ken and I looked at each other blankly. We were kinda stunned. We didn’t have an immediate answer.
Later, we thought we should have said, “Gee, maybe you might be giving something back to the community that helped you build your business and they might continue to stay loyal to your brand?”
At this point, we were in discussions with at least 40 companies at various levels of participation. However, many fell off quickly once they took it back to the executives above them.
January 13th – Broadcast.
The City had been offering broadcast rights in its initial package and a business associate introduced us to television producer, Mark Sennet, of Sennet/Sheftell Entertainment (well known for many productions including the HBO series, “K Street” and “Dr. Vegas”). He also had shot one of the last films in New Orleans just prior to Katrina.
Sennet was on a mountain in Canada filming “Touch the Top of the World” (a film about a blind mountain climber whom had climbed Mount Everest) when he got our call. Sennet flew into Los Angeles to meet with us a few days later to discuss the possibilities of airing Mardi Gras live.
Sennet/Sheftell’s idea was to produce a multi-faceted broadcast component of the 2006 Mardi Gras. The program would be comprised of taped broadcast elements of various parades with a focus on the Orpheus Krewe parade (co-founded in 1994 by musician Harry Connick, Jr.) intertwined with human-interest stories about ordinary residents of New Orleans doing extraordinary things during Hurricane Katrina. In addition, taped music from various jazz clubs around the City where celebrities might perform with local musicians would be included, with a grand finale concert at the Orpheus Ball in the Morial Convention Center.
We felt this would help bring more money into the City in various ways. The exclusive licensing rights would be paid to the City and allow Sennet/Sheftell to negotiate television and ancillary distribution. They would gain the most prominent camera angles including airspace and access to all Mardi Gras event activities–not just one parade. The company would also provide the City the ability to sell controlled footage feeds to news organizations, filmmakers and television crews for a fee, further offsetting costs the City has traditionally covered pre-Katrina. A DVD version of the programming and other ancillary products were to be created to sell after the event dates (with shares of the sales to be directed to the City).
January 14th – Webcast.
The next day we received a call from and took a meeting with a company called Evil Genius who was also looking for webcasting rights. Evil Genius, we learned was one of the companies that lost out to us on the City RFP process. Their thought was to launch a concert and webcast it via a major Internet company (Internet X).
Through Evil Genius, we met with the marketing staff at Internet X about the webcasting rights. A remarkable awakening followed. They were not interested in paying for the rights, because they thought they could do it without paying the City anything. Additionally, we were told that they had already raised $83 million for the City and saw no need to extend themselves further. It was one of the quickest meetings we had throughout the entire sponsorship process.
Because Evil Genius had auto advertising backgrounds from various agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, we enlisted their services to go after Toyota and other car companies. They also helped us with major contacts at one of the world’s largest advertisers.
We could feel that Travel X was getting very close, because they were having many of their outside agencies contact us to discuss each aspect of their participation.
January 16th Martin Luther King Day
We were not prepared for the Mayor giving a local speech to become nationally televised. I happened to have had my television on CNN and saw the mayor delivering his message about a “Chocolate City” and God’s wrath. I really didn’t think much about it, because it just sounded like he was trying to make an effort to reach out to the black community.
We make it a practice not to get involved politically with our clients. Our mission was to help a City in offsetting costs of an event that would help restart their economy. Plain and simple. When I was asked by the locals what we thought of the speech, I just replied, “Sounds like he’s starting his Mayoral campaign.” And, I left it at that. One thing we do know, no matter the statements he made, he was certainly not the racist the press was making him out to be.
The next day the phones were kinda quiet, but not completely dead. Travel X informed us that they would not be participating. We cannot say for certain if the Mayor’s speech had anything to do with the withdrawal, but it probably didn’t help.
Building X dropped to $100,000 level and told us that the mayor made them nervous about getting involved.
We began cutting new, generic cable spots in case a sponsor did not want to use the celebrity spots with the Mayor and we contacted several major chocolate companies. The press would have been enormous had one come on board as a sponsor.
January 18th – Television project heats up.
Sennet/Sheftell extended invitations to several celebrities including Ellen Degeneres to become the host of the program. Through their political contacts, they invited exPresident Bill Clinton as the possible “Ambassador of Recovery” and extended invitations to an additional list of motion picture, television and music industry celebrities including Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix to be included in the event.
January 23rd – Fly in to Las Vegas
We knew the Mayor was going to be giving a speech at the
January 25th – xxxxxxxxxx
Sennet had meetings with ABC, A&E and HBO concerning the live airing of the program. But most networks were not been able to accommodate the time frame for a live venue. All networks have shown interest in a non-live airing.
Sennet/Sheftel has also extended an invitation to Yahoo concerning webcasting rights to be negotiated through MediaBuys. Our next meeting is later today.
January 15th Evil Genius
also into the client lists of many, many other ad agencies, pr firms and individuals. We recruited the 2nd RFP provider; Evil Genius and local New Orleans firm Bright Moments as sub contractors to help in the effort. We also had the cooperation of giant agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Foot, Cone & Belding, Grey Advertising, Ketchum Advertising, PMK, Manning Selvage & Lee Public Relations, Mediacom, IGT, Active International, Weber Shandwick and many more.
• 2nd Email Campaign Launch: January 17th, 2006
• 3rd Email Campaign Launch: January 24th, 2006
• Sale Period Ends: January 27th, 2006
• Finalize Editing: January 27th, 2006
• Spot Duplication: January 30th, 2006
• Finalize Media Plans: January 30th, 2006
• Ad Campaign Trafficking: January 31th, 2006
• Coordinate Proof of Placement Affidavits: February 1st, 2006
• Ad Campaign: February 1st through February 17th, 2006
Our search for sponsors since January 3rd, 2006 has been not only a daily roller-coaster ride of negotiations, but also an inspiring of camaraderie amongst those who truly understand the needs of a great City.
1). General Outreach
We reached out to our own database of 900+ advertisers and also into the client lists of many, many other ad agencies, pr firms and individuals. We recruited the 2nd RFP provider; Evil Genius and local New Orleans firm Bright Moments as sub contractors to help in the effort. We also had the cooperation of giant agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Foot, Cone & Belding, Grey Advertising, Ketchum Advertising, PMK, Manning Selvage & Lee Public Relations, Mediacom, IGT, Active International, Weber Shandwick and many more.
3). Broadcast Components
We also enlisted the services of a well-known television producer Mark Sennet of Sennet/Sheftel Entertainment in an effort to help gain broadcast licensing fees for the City. Sennet/Sheftel Entertainment is to produce a multi-faceted broadcast component of the 2006 Mardi Gras. The 1.5 to 2 hour program, to be aired on a major television/cable network, is to be comprised of live broadcast elements of the Orpheus Krewe parade intertwined with human-interest stories about ordinary residents of New Orleans doing extraordinary things during Hurricane Katrina. In addition, taped music from various jazz clubs around the City where celebrities will perform with local musicians is to be included, with a grand finale concert at the Orpheus Ball in the Morial Convention Center.
The Orpheus Krewe has been very accommodating to our requests. In return, we were able to help line up entertainment for their ball with local Baton Rouge band The Terms and Jackson Browne.
Sennet/Sheftel Entertainment extended invitations to several celebrities including Ellen Degeneres to become the hosts of the program, invited exPresident Bill Clinton as the possible “Ambassador of Recovery” and have extended invitations to an additional list of motion picture, television and music industry celebrities including Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix to be included in the event.
A DVD version of the programming and other ancillary products are to be created to sell after the event dates (with shares of the sales to be directed to the City).
Broadcast licensing fees ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 to allow Sennet/Sheftel all access to various key filming points in the City are to be paid to the City to help offset event expenses depending on the level of network involvement.
Sennet/Sheftel had meetings with ABC, NBC, CBS and HBO concerning the live airing of the program. Most networks have not been able to accommodate the time frame for a live venue, but a final meeting with A&E is taking place in New York on Friday and looks promising. All networks have shown interest in a non-live airing.
Sennet/Sheftel has also extended an invitation to Yahoo concerning webcasting rights to be negotiated through MediaBuys. Our next meeting is later today.
5). Promotional Campaign to Enlist Sponsors
In addition to our website promotions, we designed, printed and mailed out 15,000 direct mail pieces to advertisers nationally and implemented 7 email campaigns throughout the month totaling over 100,000 emails from lists provided by Redbooks (Lexis-Nexis).
6). Press Attention
We hired PMK/HBH to help traffic press related activity to allow us to concentrate on sponsor negotiations.
The press actually became involved before MediaBuys was on officially on board (Wall Street Journal Article http://www.mediabuys.com/news/press-article-wallstreet.html) and has been constantly asking about the Sponsorship programs ever since. No less than 600 articles have been written about our program to date.
The program has garnered ad trade publication attention and was the number 3 story on adage.com for two days running.
International news crews (including TV Tokyo and NHK Japan) are calling us for updates.
The Associated Press, whom has called almost daily, unfortunately ran the largest article to date with an incorrect headline stating that we had already secured 20 sponsors at a $2 million level, which is not what we stated. What we said is that we had over 20 companies contact us regarding various levels of participation and that nothing had been confirmed.
The Times Picayune has been the best ally of the program and reported the most accurate information.
7). Corporate Responses
With most of the over 75 companies we talked to we’ve found that the most challenging aspects of sponsorship has been the lack of time in being able to properly prepare for their individual promotional needs or their not having ample budget properly set aside for such a quick turnaround.
There of course was the controversy as whether the City should be holding the event when there are so many homeless. And perhaps one of the biggest blows to our operation came by way of very nervous companies not wanting to be affiliated with the City after the Mayor’s Martin Luther King speech was exploited nationally. Our phone lines went dead for a day and a half after the speech.
Some companies went as far as having every promotionally affiliated division analyzing their return on investment, only to fall short of their needs. And some simply wanted to know, “How does being a sponsor of Mardi Gras help me sell rice?”
While almost all had initial good intentions through a philanthropic sense and felt strongly about the press attention they would receive, it has mostly come down to issues relating to return on investment and/or lack of time.
Our most vigorous negotiations have been with 84 Lumber, Orbitz.com. Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Zatarain’s, Shell Oil and Harrah’s in addition to other companies.
Bruce Jenner National Dog Agility Show
Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame
Songwriters Hall of Fame
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