Where are they now?


July 1
It
was 31 years ago today that Sony introduced the once-ubiquitous Walkman. I have
a personal connection to that launch since I worked for the public relations
firm that helped make the product a true cultural phenomenon (note: I was only
eight years old at the time. This was before child labor laws had been
enacted).

Geltzer
& Company devised the P.R. strategy and tactics for the Walkman campaign.
Our overarching theme was simple, but memorable: 'Hearing is believing.'

Howard
Geltzer made sure we held massive press conferences in major markets (and, in
those days, one could attract 75 or more reporters to a seminal event like the
Walkman's intro). Howard made sure, though, that these events weren't your
typical, boring technology demonstrations. Instead, he persuaded Sony
executives to bring 75 Walkman prototypes to the event. We handed them out to
reporters as they arrived. Then, on cue, we asked them to place the headphones
over their ears, press play and just listen. The broad smiles, looks of
astonishment and rapid scribbling of words on reporters' notepads told us we
had a hit. And, the Walkman really was, as the Japanese executives liked to
say, 'epoch-making.'

Howard
also made sure we distributed Walkmen to every art director at major
advertising agencies, suggesting they use it as a prop in their photospreads.
That was genius. Suddenly, models such as Christie Brinkley and Brooke Shield
(she was older than me at the time, btw) were strutting their stuff sporting a
Walkman.

Howard
really hit a home run, though, when New York was crippled by a major subway strike.
He positioned us account types on either end of the Brooklyn Bridge. We handed
out the Walkman product to tired, angry and frustrated commuters who were
walking to and from work, suggesting they listen to their favorite music as
they crossed the legendary bridge. Oh, and he had us pitch all the local and
national media about Sony's 'selfless' gesture to help ease the pain of
stranded commuters.

It
worked like a charm.

I
was part of a team that helped make the Sony Walkman a true cultural happening.
We even had the Walkman placed on permanent display in the Smithsonian.

Sadly,
Sony somehow took its eye off the ball and never really advanced the Sony
Walkman platform. Instead, a guy named Jobs running a company called Apple came
up with something called the iPod. And, that was all she wrote for the Walkman.

Whenever
I think of the Walkman, I think of Geltzer, and the amazing people who worked
there. What a training ground! It spawned the likes of:


Chris Atkins, head of Standard & Poors corporate communications


Gaye Torrance, who has run her own very successful IR/M&A firm for years


Richard Jones, head of PR at Guardian Life Insurance


Marv Gellman, one of Ketchum's top publicity gurus


Pat Lamb, a top publicist who has been ably serving Sony's hated rival,
Panasonic, for years


Alec Shapiro who, ironically, is now a top muckety muck at Sony


Lorraine Raguseo who, sources tell me, now consults to New York State wineries.
Talk about a sweet job.


Angela Cody, who reported to me on the Sony account at Geltzer and to whom I've
been reporting ever since

The
Walkman may have faded into oblivion, but the Geltzer/Sony team remains one of
the best with whom I've ever had the pleasure to work.

With
the Walkman, hearing was indeed believing. And, at Geltzer, doing was learning.
I arrived as a green-as-grass account executive and departed as a battle-tested
vice president ready to take on new challenges. Looking back, I couldn't
imagine a better training academy for public relations professionals. 

13 thoughts on “Where are they now?

  1. Chris, are you referring to the Geltzer company car that Ralph Patelli, our in-house messenger cum jack-of-all-trades was responsible for? If so, it was a Chevy woody station wagon, not a Chevette. I remember making many a client/new business trip in the well worn, but ever reliable, Geltzer company car. Ah, those were the days.

  2. Ah, yes, the assignment sheet meetings. I can still visualize a badly battered and bruised Joan Carris limping back from one such session. It was always wise to come loaded for bear. BTW, a quick shoutout to my long-ago assistant, Treva Cooke.

  3. My bad on the surname. Admittedly, my mind isn’t what it used to be. I am continuously haunted each night by the same recurring dream in which an emergency phone call from Rotocopy interrupts what was otherwise a delightful assignment-sheet meeting.

  4. ghostofprpast: how could anyone forget Ronette? Actually, though, her surname was Edmead, not Edmonds as you suggest. I also haven’t forgotten Susan Sugg, who now works for River Communications and does terrific work on the Ernst & Young account.

  5. Thanks MedGuy. Happily, I have no recollection of iMojo, their business model or who, besides you, constitued the team. That’s one dog of an account that should be left sleeping.

  6. nice post rep, enjoyed the read. i look forward to next week’s 10 year anniversary post about the team that launched iMojo at Pcom.

  7. Thanks Chris. Yes, I turned 39 on the 29th. Re: my comments about Sony’s post-Walkman fortunes, I guess they’re colored by some lingering ill will towards the Japanese executives. At that time, Americans were treated as second-class citizens within Sony. And, Americans working at the PR firm were the equivalent of India’s untouchables. It’s no exaggeration to say some of the Japanese took delight in persecuting us. In fact, we nicknamed one of them Hideous Hideo. As for your 21 day window, enjoy it while it lasts.

  8. Happy Birthday, Steve. The 29th, right? (The day, not your age — dream on) I always savor the fact that you are 21 days older than yours truly.
    In fairness to Sony, there was something called the Diskman between the Walkman and the Ipod, so they weren’t completely asleep.
    See ya…Chris

  9. Do you remember what music was given with the Walkman to reporters? Top 40 hits at the time? Jazz? Rock? Country? Soft? Pop?

  10. Nice line about the wife! Have a great birthday dinner tonight Steve and we will see you on Saturday.