Eisner wins D.C. tourism account

About 30 ad agencies were competing for $2 million contract

October 05, 2001|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

On Sept. 11, Eisner Communications was to run through a pitch it was to give less than a week later to try to win the account of the Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp.

Events, obviously, intervened.

That day, "We were dealing with our own emotions, and dealing with what this means for our effort," said Steve Eisner, president and chief executive officer of the agency.

The run-through was scrubbed, and the agency sent a video crew to Washington the next day, attempting to capture a city struggling to recover from the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and on the World Trade Center in New York. When Eisner did get to give its pitch, it started with that footage.

Yesterday, WCTC announced that Eisner had been selected over about 30 other agencies that competed for the business.

It's not a huge account for the agency - about $2 million in annual billings, compared with the $222 million in billings Eisner, with offices in Baltimore and Washington, handled last year. But it's a high-profile challenge at a time when fear and economic dislocation are, in the estimate of WCTC, costing the city $10 million a day in tourism business.

"It's one of those moments you feel very honored and charged up about putting forth a message that can make a difference," Eisner said.

John McLaughlin, executive vice president at Green and Associates, a Baltimore advertising agency, said that, in an ad campaign to rebuild Washington tourism, "You've got to make people feel it's a very safe environment."

However, McLaughlin, who has also taught marketing, said, "How you fool around with danger is a very touchy issue. You should show people enjoying themselves, but I wouldn't hit it head-on."

For Washington to advertise that it is safe again, McLaughlin said, would be like a shopping center saying, "We don't have too many carjackings at our mall."

Eisner said what his crew learned in Washington the day after Sept. 11 was that "there was this great spirit of getting back on the horse, of `we'll be damned if we're going to let this take us down.'"

This, he said, dovetailed perfectly with the theme the agency had already developed based on interviews with travelers and convention planners - that Washington was a city people viewed as inspiring.

"Suddenly," he said, "this theme of inspiration was getting richer and richer. We decided to do a brand essence piece, bringing together great moments in Washington: JFK, Martin Luther King on the mall."

"We're working around the clock to have things break this month," months earlier than planned, he said. There will be no direct mention of the events of Sept. 11 in the ads, Eisner said. "What will linger will be a connection to our capital and patriotism and being united."

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