A local assist to Big Apple

Welcome: Pikesville firm makes compact disc for visitors to the GOP convention.

August 27, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The nearly 5,000 delegates arriving at next week's Republican National Convention have already received personal welcomes to New York from the city's mayor, two of its former mayors, top tourism officials - and a company from Pikesville.

Kol Rom Multimedia produced an interactive CD-ROM that New York City officials have mailed to thousands of delegates, journalists and other visitors for the political gathering that begins Monday.

How a company with six employees in a small suite tucked behind the auto shops and budget hotels of Reisterstown Road landed a supporting role in the Big Apple's red-carpet rollout is a story about entrepreneurial pluck, the power of a promising idea and the value of a well-placed contact.

C.J. Kramer, president of Kol Rom, approached New York tourism officials last winter with the idea of using a CD-ROM as a means to orient visitors and to dispel fears of New York as unsafe three years after the terrorist attacks.

Kol Rom - a wordplay on CD-ROM and Hebrew for "loud voice" - has built a niche working largely for Jewish organizations during its five years. The Jewish Renaissance Foundation, Baltimore Zionist District, National Conference of Synagogue Youth and Ner Israel Rabbinical College, among others, have used Kol Rom's products to raise money and train employees.

But it was the company's work with another client, IDT Corp., a global telecommunications company based in Newark, N.J., that led to the New York job.

IDT Chairman Howard Jonas serves as a financial co-chair of the Republican National Convention. IDT President Ira Greenstein introduced Kramer to members of the convention host committee, who then referred him to NYC & Co., New York's convention and visitors bureau.

"C.J. is a likable person, and though there are many, many people competing to do the type of work he does ... he is genuinely, passionately involved with his work, and takes it so seriously, and it becomes his whole life at the moment," said Rachel Berg, a senior vice president of corporate and community business development for IDT.

"You feel like he's part of the company, as opposed to having hired an outside vendor," she said.

Before he suggested it, the convention bureau had no plans to produce an interactive CD-ROM, Kramer said. Convention organizers' original plan was for a welcome package with a New York City guidebook and brochure.

"How C.J. got this project is really a credit to his entrepreneurial nature. He found us," said Lisa Mortman, communications director for NYC & Co. "It would have been easy to not do the CD-ROM. C.J. really pursued it and made sure it happened."

The CD-ROM is organized in chapters such as New York's spirit, its patriotic past, fun facts about the city and deals for delegates and customized tours, with each chapter introduced by a political personality or tourism official. Each section allows viewers to click on information about the city's history, culture, neighborhoods, attractions and restaurants.

The format of a CD-ROM offered more flexibility than, say, a video for marketing or educational purposes, Kramer said.

The final version blends video images of the city, personal welcomes from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and former mayors Edward I. Koch and Rudolph Giuliani, and a wealth of information that viewers can browse at will.

The format "worked well because, in addition to a welcome video, we wanted to drive people to businesses and to attractions and to restaurants," Mortman said. "It really allowed us to tailor each channel, to create the best experience for the user."

In one section, Mayor Bloomberg invites visitors to "stroll the boardwalk in Coney Island in Brooklyn and ride the world's most famous roller coaster, the Cyclone. ... New York is a city of neighborhoods and you'll enjoy bustling Chinatown, romantic Little Italy, historic Lower Manhattan and charming Greenwich Village.

"You couldn't be visiting at a better time," the mayor assures visitors. "New York City is back stronger than ever and safer than any other big city in America."

Kol Rom is hoping the "Welcome to New York" project helps vault the company beyond its current $400,000 in annual sales, although it would not disclose its fee for the New York job.

The company has sent the New York CD to 200 convention and visitors bureaus across the country in hopes of landing jobs to promote other cities.

The company's strength, Kramer believes, is in taking media often already available and assembling them digitally in ways that hadn't occurred to a client.

Kol Rom has produced more than 100 CD-ROMS, with photo galleries, virtual tours, music, animation and games.

"Everything we were doing on a smaller scale worked just the same" for New York's welcome, said Steve Levin, vice president of operations and marketing for Kol Rom. "It really does work."

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