Analysis: Profile - Sandy Teller remains the king of PR prose - How did one man working alone out of his den generate an almost cult following among heavyweight journalists? Chris Barnett chronicles the rise of Sandy Teller, a PR pro whose wit and cunning

Good thing for major PR agencies that solo New York publicist Sandford ’Sandy’ Teller doesn’t have his own publicist. If CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies knew the results Teller has been getting for his clients over the last 40 years, they may well be lined up at his door, banging to get in.

Good thing for major PR agencies that solo New York publicist Sandford ’Sandy’ Teller doesn’t have his own publicist. If CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies knew the results Teller has been getting for his clients over the last 40 years, they may well be lined up at his door, banging to get in.

Good thing for major PR agencies that solo New York publicist

Sandford ’Sandy’ Teller doesn’t have his own publicist. If CEOs of

Fortune 1000 companies knew the results Teller has been getting for his

clients over the last 40 years, they may well be lined up at his door,

banging to get in.



Teller is an old-school, low-profile word maestro who grabs the

attention of editors, producers, beat reporters and columnists with

catchy headlines, graceful prose, wry humor and sharp story angles. His

no-frills press releases - double-spaced on plain white paper - generate

media coverage and personal contacts most PR pros only dream about. He

practically has a fan club among some heavyweight print and broadcast

journalists.



’In 20 years, Sandy has never, ever pitched me on something

inappropriate,’ says Claudia Deutsch, business reporter at The New York

Times. ’He knows what I do, don’t do, what bores the devil out of me. Do

I say yes to everything?



Of course not. But I never get a pitch from Sandy I don’t read.’



’There are five PR folks I use on a regular basis - the cream of the

crop - and Sandy’s one of them,’ adds Roland Woerner, a Burbank-based

producer for NBC’s Today.





Digging deeper



Over the years, Teller has pulled off some astonishing PR coups - first

as a young account executive with Ruder & Finn and since 1968 as the CEO

and sole employee of Sandford Teller Communications, which he runs out

of his Upper East Side apartment. It was Teller, for instance, who

engineered a glowing editorial in the tough-to-crack Washington Post for

the 100th anniversary of Ivory Soap. New York’s Robert Marston

Associates had the account but brought in Teller because of his ’humor

and anecdotal skills,’ says Marston. Teller delivered with a pitch

pegged to the little-known fact that gangster John Dillinger once busted

out of prison brandishing a ’gun’ carved out of a bar of soap and dyed

black with shoe polish. Teller ’suggested’ it might have been Ivory.



For his own client, Duncan Parking Meters, Teller once landed a

front-page Wall Street Journal story on the rather pedestrian product

with a riveting query letter. He told the Journal’s page-one editor that

the public safety director of Cleveland who installed the first parking

meters in a major American city was none other than the untouchable

Elliot Ness.



’The trick with Duncan is to take a piece of iron embedded in concrete

and make it come alive with some offbeat, fascinating fact,’ explains

Teller. ’That works for any product if you’re willing to dig deep

enough.’



What Teller learned early in his career is that surveys make legitimate

news. And if the survey findings are cleverly conveyed, the world’s most

powerful publications will pounce on them, even if there’s a commercial

angle. He proved his survey-as-a-publicity tool theory working for

personnel industry pioneer Robert Half, who, in 1970, had a chain of 32

franchised employment agencies placing accountants and data processing

staffers.



Teller says he was lucky: ’Half understood the power of the press,

always gave me direct access to him and agreed to (underwrite) the

surveys.’ One Half survey, headlined ’Best Memo May Be No Memo: Four Out

of Ten Memos Are A Waste of Time,’ produced a ton of news stories,

features and columns, as did others. Plus, Robert Half became a regular

guest on Good Morning America. (Full disclosure: several years ago this

reporter ghostwrote several press releases on Half surveys).



Teller’s trademark is whimsy, and he uses it sparingly but

effectively.



When Allen Bernstein opened the first Wendy’s restaurant in midtown

Manhattan 20 years ago, Teller needed a shtick to get TV coverage in a

fiercely competitive news town. His hook? Have Bernstein challenge the

New York Yankees to a charity hamburger-eating contest. ’Sandy knows how

to use a gimmick not only to get your attention but to make you glad

your attention was gotten,’ says Deutsch, who was working for

BusinessWeek at the time.





When Bernstein took over as CEO of Morton’s of Chicago in 1989, he took

Teller along to publicize his steakhouses - just nine at the time.

Rather than just aim for positive restaurant reviews and compete with

thousands of other eateries, Teller swung for the fences. He cooked up

the angle of the ’late afternoon power dinner’ and sold Morton’s World

Financial Center restaurant as the perfect venue. To flesh it out, he

discovered herds of Wall Streeters who gathered there to pack down

two-pound porterhouses as early as 4:30 pm. The New York Times savored

the story idea, delivering a huge spread on Morton’s as the place to go

’for a late afternoon power dinner.’



Teller’s PR tactics, developed in the 1960s, seem to be working in the

new millennium. He recently placed a half-page feature on client

Turiya’s dollars 2750 comforter in Forbes FYI magazine by playing up

’800 fill-power Siberian white goose down’ and struck gold with a

full-page story in In Style on another comforter.





Making the mundane fun



Exactly how does a 62-year-old guy, working out of his den with zero

staff, pull off this kind of press coverage for clients who seem to love

him? ’It’s his humor, his shticks, his ability to make the mundane

likeable and fun,’ says ex-client Michael Watt, now director of

Longisland.com.



Teller claims any success is due to his direct access to risk-taking

clients, plus growing up in a time when simple, visual, colorful

language was prized - not blue-penciled by stuffy lawyers, bafflegabbing

technology types, posturing marketing chiefs and media-wary CEOs.



His work ethic helps. Teller will spend days researching, writing and

polishing a press release to make sure the headline and message is

inviting and not intrusive. His press calls are polite - ’is this a good

time?’ - never pushy, and carefully chosen. What’s more, Teller eschews

some of the more popular PR industry practices. He thinks voluminous PR

programs are a waste of his time and client dollars. He has never

’canvassed’ for a new account, works almost exclusively on annual

retainers, avoids hourly rates and project fees and never marks up any

expenses. Teller can’t stomach the term ’image.’ ’Image is contrived;

reputation is deserved,’ he insists.



But will Sandford Teller be able to maintain his purity of prose in the

new economy? He just took on his first dot-com, which he describes as an

’international b-to-b e-marketplace company.’ Now watch him come up with

a gee-whiz angle.





SANDFORD ’SANDY’ TELLER



CEO



Sandford Teller Communications





1963-65



AE, Ruder & Finn 1965-68



AE, Ketchum, McLeod & Grove 1968



Launches his eponymous firm



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