Back when ‘Hitmakers’ was a thing, I wrote a weekly column for the popular trade magazine. And then it went out of business so I wrote a column for another popular trade ‘Gavin’, before it too closed up and locked their doors. Seeing a trend?
For the Halloween issue of ‘Hitmakers’ I did a piece on scary promotions or promotions that turned bad. I reached out to a dozen Radio people and got their stories for the piece and included a half dozen disasters that I had been associated with. I gotta say, it was pretty funny.
My personal favorite was the station on Long Island that had filled a car with hundreds of miniature pumpkins: guess how many pumpkins were in it and win the car. Now, we all know from experience that our Halloween creations can get soft pretty fast. Imagine them in a car, with closed windows, often in the sun…yeah. They ended up having to rip out and replace the interior.
Kevin Carter with ‘Hitmakers’ forwarded me an anonymous fax that the publication had received from a reader. And said reader was mocking with extreme disdain, the article: “I’ve been doing Promotions for 20 years and have never had one of these so-called disasters!”
The next week I started my column with a message to the faxer: Perhaps you’re not trying hard enough.
Because if you go up there and swing, it’s inevitable that you’re going to occasionally strike out. That’s fine, and when you DO connect, it will be a homerun.
In 1988 I was working at Emmis’ late, great CHR WLOL-FM in the Twin Cities. The previous winter we’d done a school spirit contest with Limited Warranty, a local boy band that had won on “Star Search” and were Minnesota’s version of Duran Duran.
They were big.
The school that sent in the most post cards that declared their love for the band, the station and Pepsi, would win a concert. I believe we got 199,000 cards. It was nuts.
There 132 schools in the surveyed area that were eligible to win the show so I had the PD pick out the 50 that were most critical and I made sure that I contacted the Activities Directors, Principals and head cheerleaders at each school. Why cheerleaders? In high school they’re P1’s. They’re the actives who can get shit done. Posters were sent, students were aired and personalized recorded morning announcements from our night guy were sent to them all. It was moderately huge.
Five months later Trident gum come to the table via an agency with Expose for a school concert. If we could get 200,000 for Limited Warranty, we’d be able to get half a million for this artist. No question. Easy peasy.
I started to reach out to all of the schools with my master list and was told “No, they have a PR firm that will do all the heavy lifting.” I offered my lists. “No, they’re fine.” Okay. So we started running promos, talking about it on the night show and a week before the contest was to end, we hadn’t received any gum wrappers, which was the method of entry.
I reached out to a couple of schools and asked if this PR firm, Campus Dimensions, had ever contacted them. Nope. This was the first they’d heard about it (which kind of reflects on how effective contest imaging can sometimes be)
Hopkins High School was the last school that I checked with and while I had them on the phone, and realizing that we were about to have a promotion with no entries, I strongly recommended to the student that they go to the Super America gas station up the street, buy a pack of Trident and quickly mail the wrappers to WLOL.
Thus, Hopkins won a concert with one of the biggest artists in the format.
But it’s not over. The agency called and told us the day that the band would be in town for the show which was in ten days. I called Hopkins. And no, that wasn’t going to work. Their baseball team was going to be in the State Tourney and every student and parent would be there. Any other day that week but that one. “PLEASE…!”, they begged me.
I called Campus Dimensions. Nope. That was the day.
A night after playing to 1200 students on a lower-rated station in Seattle, Expose played to 11 students in a highschool gym. For context I told my daughter that it would be like having Cardi B play in our living room.
When it was over, the DJ who was there to emcee asked “So, we have the van right? Can you quickly bring me back to St. Paul and help me move a table to my brother’s house?” without telling me that actually, he was being evicted, this was his last night in the apartment and he had to move everything including about 2000 vinyl records or have them seized by the police at dawn. I slunk into the station at 7 am.
Jon, the Production Director found me drinking coffee in the breakroom and said, “I hear we had a Mary Richards Party last night.”
“Mary Richards. On ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’. Whenever she had a party, it was a disaster. No one would come or there was a blizzard or something bad happened.”
And that was the day I learned the meaning of hosting a Mary Richards Party. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes it’s the fault of another party. And sometimes it’s an alignment of the planets. What else could explain the #1 station in Charlotte with the #1 Night Talent in the southeast Jo Jo Wright, throwing an outdoor show with 8 fairly decent artists on a beautiful day, with cheap tickets, a car show and other activities, and I think 40 people showed up.
It was brutal at the time but I remember telling Jo Jo and the Sales Manager, “Someday, not now, not next week but some day, we’ll be able to laugh about this.”
Possibly underage Promo Ninja Ellen Longmire pounding one after the Sports Nest Sun Fest
So embrace your inner Mary, don’t be afraid to invite everyone over for Rhoda’s surprise birthday just because your Christmas party ended with a fire and the whole neighborhood having to be evacuated because of a gas leak. You can’t get a hit if you’re not up there swinging.