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July 30, 2015
Using Celebrities to Drive Traffic is Nothing New
So you think that celebrity endorsers are the answer to all your brand awareness and loyalty needs? Well, the answer can be an unqualified yes or a resounding no. It all depends on the character of the celebrities and the quality of the brand/endorser relationship.

I know a bit about using celebrities to drive marketing publicity and corporate image campaigns, having cut my PR teeth as a young assistant vice president for branch office publicity at industry-leading, Los Angeles-based Home Savings & Loan Association, later with leading public relations agencies, and my own firm.

Home Savings, which made its’ money by acquiring savings accounts and making home mortgage loans, catered to what has become known as the senior market — those over age 50 with significant assets and little debt. In the early ’70s, Home was rapidly expanding its branch office network by acquiring independent S&Ls, so our in-house marketing and advertising department needed a tool-kit to attract crowds to newly acquired offices. The solution was found in Max Wilk’s illustrated book entitled The Golden Days of Radio, which became a customer giveaway supported by the creation of a celebrity marketing team composed of golden age of radio stars and led by our own corporate spokesman, former radio and television actor Harry Von Zell.

Our all-star team of some eight leading radio lights, led by Von Zell, often called “the Johnny Carson of radio,” made personal appearances at new Home offices to chat with fans and autograph free books. The appeal was that few people knew much about these stars of the ’30s to ’50’s airwaves, who by the Seventies had been out of the public eye for years. Our team included tops stars like Frank Readick Jr.’s The Shadow, whose radio program opened with him whispering into a half-filled water glass to create the iconic line, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" He was accompanied by Mr. District Attorney, portrayed by actor Jay Jostyn, and popular vocalist Andy Russell, who followed Frank Sinatra as lead singer on Hit Parade and is best known for his hits “Besame Mucho” and “Magic is the Moonlight.” Interestingly, Andy, a Los Angeles–bred Latino, played an important role in Home Saving’s outreach to the Hispanic community.

Home Savings successfully employed its Golden Age of Radio team for several years, during which time they made hundreds of branch office appearances, autographed thousands of books, generated reams of glowing newspaper publicity, and gave hundreds of radio and television interviews. While PR measurement was casual in those days, calculated by the number of books given away and literally measuring the size of the publicity harvest, the number of new savings accounts opened and the volume of in-flowing dollars easily measured ROI.

The upshot – our grateful team of radio spokespeople, whose job opportunities had dwindled to next to nothing with the decline of the medium, remained loyal for years, as did Home Savings’ customers.

Having played out the Golden Days of Radio theme, our marketing team updated its campaign theme with a follow-up book by Mr. Wilk, entitled The Golden Days of Television, and recruited TV stars like Gilligan’s Island’s Skipper Alan Hale, Jr., The Beverly Hillbillies’ beauty Donna Douglas, Gale Storm of My Little Margie, and George Fenneman, Groucho Marx’s sidekick on You Bet Your Life.

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Len Stein founded Visibility Public Relations to position the full spectrum of creative marketing services companies for industry thought-leadership. 

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