PR pros help city shine in glow of Super Bowl

Volunteers' efforts on `great story' worth $50,000 to $75,000

January 25, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

At midday Friday, Tom Williams left his Charles Street office armed with a legal pad, a couple of publicity directories and a cell phone and headed for his new, temporary home at City Hall.

The advertising and public relations executive pulled up a chair a few feet from Rebecca Mules, the scheduler for Mayor Martin O'Malley, and started work. Williams' mission: play air traffic controller for a volunteer team of public relations professionals hastily pulled together to promote Baltimore to the national media in the shadow of Sunday's Super Bowl against the New York Giants.

Williams is one of more than a dozen employees of local public relations, public affairs and events firms who are donating their services - valued at $50,000 to $75,000 - to help Baltimore show off for the national media.

"It's a unique circumstance that requires a unique solution," said Williams, a vice president at Baltimore's Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc. "We've got a great story: the Super Bowl, a dynamic spokesman and a good message. It's a lot easier to pitch the story when you've got something the media wants to gobble up."

Williams even comes to the job with experience, having played a similar role in 1993, when he worked for Collins & Co. Public Relations in Buffalo, N.Y., when the Buffalo Bills lost to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif.

"In a way, what you've created here is a mega-agency," said Sandra S. Hillman, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of Trahan. "We are all using our resources for the benefit of one client. We want to blanket America with the idea that this comeback city is in the Super Bowl."

For Williams, the pressure and stakes are high, with sometimes mere minutes to plan.

"I have 15 minutes to get an answer to Mutual Broadcasting Network," he said. The network had offered O'Malley 5 to 10 minutes and exposure on more than 200 radio stations. But the offer came for early morning - a time O'Malley tries to guard for his family.

This time, the e-mail answer Mules got from the mayor was "no," although Williams said O'Malley has agreed to about 95 percent of the media opportunities.

A few minutes later, with the phone to her ear, Mules sounded alarmed: "He's still testifying? So he didn't make his CNN call? Oh, he did?"

There were sighs throughout the room. O'Malley had indeed hooked up with CNN radio.

O'Malley was in Annapolis yesterday testifying before the Board of Public Works in an effort to get more money for repairs and new construction for city schools, a spokesman said.

Baltimore officials recognized that the time between the Ravens' victory over the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 14 and the Super Bowl offered a narrow window of opportunity - the chance for the mayor to cheer his team, talk some trash and sneak in some good words about Baltimore.

"As soon as they won in Oakland, we realized this was a very unique opportunity. It's only going to last two weeks, and there's no way we have the resources to do it," said Stephen J. Kearney, director of research and communications for the city. "We started to brainstorm about who could possibly help us."

But there wasn't any extra money for the surprise demand for marketing.

"We were fortunate to have people willing to step in," Kearney said. "There are a lot of people with expertise in the private sector, and a lot of them want to help. It's just a matter of taking them up on their offer."

The impact of the work the group is doing could be enormous. For instance, St Louis put the value of publicity surrounding the Rams' Super Bowl appearance last year against the Tennessee Titans at $344 million, Williams said.

"We're trying to get the word out about how enthusiastic the city is," said Nancy Roberts, president of NRCS Inc., a public affairs company that has donated help to Baltimore.

Paul Wolman, president and CEO of P. W. Feats Inc., helped line up the impromptu team. His company also has served as a consultant for Baltimore businesses needing help lighting up their buildings in purple.

"This kind of event, with this kind of pizazz, shows our city in a positive light," he said. "Whatever we can do to make our city shine can only help us when we try to win a bid against a Pittsburgh or a Philadelphia."

Four people at Warschawski Public Relations have spent four days scheduling the mayor with national news media, including lining up many of the appearances for the mayor's 14-interview, whirlwind tour of New York City Tuesday.

"It's probably the shortest lead time I've ever had in my professional career for a major national media tour of this scope," said David Warschawski, the company's president. "But it was fun."

Warschawski's firm, which agreed late Thursday afternoon to take on the job pro bono, is now working on getting the mayor an interview with ESPN's "SportsCenter." And if the Ravens win, they're looking at getting O'Malley - and his band - on "The Late Show With David Letterman."

Levi Rabinowitz, president of 911 Media Relations, a company specializing in crisis media relations, said he has worked on making sure that when O'Malley lands in Tampa, Fla., tomorrow, there is a plan in place to work a media village that will be hungry for stories.

"This is a full-court press," Rabinowitz said. "You've got the biggest pool of media opportunity short of a political convention.

"It's a once-in-ages opportunity for the city to get positive national and international exposure."

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