Downtown, The Big Show

April 16, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

In a trick worthy of a magician -- or at least Hillary Rodham Clinton -- the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore has turned $400,000 into a $1.5 million advertising campaign to convince local residents how wonderful downtown is.

Its next trick will be getting people to believe it.

With a great deal of fanfare, the Downtown Partnership last week launched its "Downtown Baltimore Show" campaign to try to lure suburbanites downtown.

To pay for its campaign, the partnership, the quasi-public agency that acts as a promoter and booster for downtown Baltimore, collected more than $400,000, according to Laurie Schwartz, president of Downtown Partnership.

About half of the money came from the city, state and the Partnership itself, with the rest coming from about a dozen businesses, ranging from First National Bank to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

But with free services donated by media-related companies, the partnership is able to mount an advertising blitz worth close to $1.5 million.

One of the biggest supporters has been W. B. Doner & Co., the city's largest advertising agency, which has offices on Pratt Street overlooking the Inner Harbor. Company officials estimate that they have donated between $250,000 and $300,000 worth of services in the campaign.

"For us it was a labor of love, as much as it was anything else, because we are part of the city," said Nancy Hill, an account director for Doner. "It's important to us."

The company also recruited a music production firm, Clean Cuts Music, and a video and film company, Big Shot Productions, to also donate hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of free help. Both companies have long-standing relations with Doner.

"The pitch was that this was close to, if not completely, public service," said David C. Robinson, the Doner senior vice president and media director who lined up the extra help. "Everybody benefits from downtown Baltimore being vital and active."

"We really didn't run into a lot of resistance," Mr. Robinson said. "Basically, they said 'What can we do? How can we help?' All of them feel that the stronger Baltimore is, the stronger the market is."

The scope of the campaign was further expanded by a 2-for-1 deal worked out with newspapers, radio and television stations. With this arrangement, for every advertisement bought, an equal amount of space or time was donated.

About 25 companies are participating, including the city's five television broadcasting stations and The Sun, Mr. Robinson said.

At the center of the campaign are 30- and 60-second television commercials featuring a fictional talk show, called the Downtown Show, with host Mark Sarian, a 26-year-old resident of Baltimore's Canton waterfront area.

In the commercials, Mr. Sarian extols the virtues of various downtown attractions like the Washington Monument, Little Italy and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

These commercials -- which also have radio versions -- are supplemented by print advertisements that will list events to attract people.

John Parlato, senior vice president and creative director of Doner, said the idea behind the promotion is that downtown is one big show, waiting for people to come.

"Lets face facts, the city is a lively place," Mr. Parlato said.

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