There are global agency offices that offer corporate cafeterias, and there are small boutiques that get by with a dorm-sized refrigerator and a microwave . But Tom Goodman, founder and CEO of Goodman Media International (GMI), presides over the only PR shop that houses a '50s-style diner."My employees can hang out here, but I also thought it would be great for clients,
explains Goodman, seated in one of the red-and-white vinyl booths. "We've done some meetings here, and they've been fun. It's a little different."
The Goodman Diner - so designated by its green neon sign - is furnished with wall-mounted jukeboxes, Coca-Cola memorabilia, and retro salt and pepper shakers. It does not, however, contain a kitchen; visitors can order the services of his firm, but not a side of cheese fries.
Not that they seem to mind: In the five years since he established his own firm, Goodman, a former head of corporate communications at CBS, has represented more than a dozen broadcast and cable networks. His 20-member staff has counseled the likes of Neiman Marcus and Sony on consumer projects, and handled PR for nonprofits ranging from the Million Mom March to the National Dance Institute. Last week saw the launch of one of GMI's newest clients: the New York Sun.
"The diner is lighthearted, but on the other hand, it leaves an impression - and that's not by accident,
says David Charlton, who gave GMI its first piece of business when he was SVP of US marketing at British Airways.
"With Tom, there's a significant drive and ambitiousness there, but it's expressed in such a positive way that you get caught up in his enthusiasm rather than feel like you're being bulldozed over."
Goodman's PR career began the way countless others have: with the realization that he wanted to earn more money. After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1976, he landed a job as a reporter-photographer with The Delaware Gazette, a daily newspaper headquartered not far from Columbus, OH. "I was making $7,600, and I got a $200 raise after my first year,
he recalls. "I just knew it wasn't going to work out for me financially."
Goodman decided to pursue an opening at J. Walter Thompson. As luck would have it, one of his interviewers was married to a woman who had attended his alma mater; he got the job, and was assigned to the agency's Kodak and Bausch & Lomb accounts. Four years later, in 1981, he followed his older brother John to ABC, accepting an offer to serve as publicist to World News Tonight with Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings, and Max Robinson.
At ABC, Goodman's work habits accelerated toward the frenetic pace his current clients prize. "There were more canceled vacations, more all-nighters, more weekends in the office,
he says. "You got used to it, and for better or worse, it's now the only way I know."
In 1987, Goodman became director of communications at CBS News, which provided the platform for what remains his proudest PR achievement: engineering (and then arranging coverage of) the rescue of Charles Kuralt's On the Road van from the scrap heap. Charles Osgood, who took over Sunday Morning after Kuralt retired, remembers Goodman's tour at the network for something else. "A lot of us in the news feel a little diffident about promoting ourselves,
Osgood says. "But we could trust Tom to never put us in situations that would be embarrassing or awkward, or make us look like we were trying to puff ourselves up. I learned that if Tom asks you to do something, it's probably a good idea."
Goodman left CBS in June of 1997. Four months later - after turning down offers from AOL and a top-10 global agency - he had lunch with Charlton and a fellow member of the British Airways marketing team. They were looking for a PR consultant who could maximize press coverage of the 100-foot-long Concorde replica they were planning to mount atop a building in Times Square. "It was a Friday, and at the end of the meeting, they asked, 'Are you going to do this?'
says Goodman, who would have preferred to take the weekend to decide. "There was no malice to it. They were very nice about it, but said, 'We need to know right now.'"
Goodman excused himself from the table and rushed to the basement of the restaurant to phone his wife. "We need to call three people: a lawyer, an accountant, and a graphic designer,
he told her. He'd be going to a meeting at British Airways' offices near LaGuardia Airport that coming Tuesday, and needed to have business cards ready.
"What I looked to create was not a traditional PR agency - there are plenty of those, and plenty of good ones,
he says. "My goal was to create, in effect, a TV-network PR department that just happened to exist outside the walls of a TV network. The thinking was that if you take the experience of working on world events under tremendous deadlines and pressure, and created an agency that followed that model, it would be a very comfortable setting for media clients, and even more helpful for our non-media clients."
Those clients - some of whom have received unexpected rides home from their offices in Goodman's BMW - seem to agree with that assessment.
"It didn't matter that he hadn't worked with catalogues before,
says Neiman Marcus' Ginger Reeder, who uses GMI to hype her store's annual Christmas book. "We knew he was good at what he does and had contacts all over.
"The energy he brought made the decision that much easier,
"He's the most upbeat person I've ever met. I've had those skinny girls in black suits, and I want Tom."