For the past four years, PR agency Teuwen One Image has helped the New York Chocolate Show become a regular feature on the holiday calendar. To give some idea of how popular it has become, Teuwen One Image arranged a chocolate display at one Barnes & Noble store in the first year, and 13 stores participated for the November 2001 show.
But when tragedy struck New York, the agency risked losing all it had built, as France-based organizer Events International questioned whether to go on with the show. In the space of the two months that followed September 11, the agency had to persuade its client to run with the show, convince the exhibitors to attend, and keep the momentum going with the press and public.
In the weeks following the attacks, Teuwen One Image decided it had to carry on with whatever plans had been in place. "We kept on going; we didn't stop,
says agency founder Stephanie Teuwen. That entailed keeping up media relations work (by giving recipes from participating chefs to journalists), and encouraging everyone involved with Events International to go ahead with the show as planned.
"Part of our job is to be a contact (in New York) for the clients, and our advice seemed to go against logic,
says Philip Ruskin, head of marketing at the agency. He helped assuage the organizers' unfounded fears that the streets of New York were deserted, as the French media was portraying the Big Apple as a ghost town. Ruskin had to tell them "what was really happening."
Both Ruskin and Teuwen felt that New York needed a distraction from the depressing September 11 news stories, and impressed upon Events International the need to support New York during its bad time. The firm then teamed up with tourism agency NYC & Company to gain additional support for the event.
By October, still no one knew if the Chocolate Show was on, but Teuwen One Image continued to bring chocolate goodie bags to newsrooms, despite the fact that anthrax anarchy reigned - mailrooms were closed, and the postal system was backed up. "We had to set up meetings in the street," says Teuwen.
It was at those meetings that Teuwen and Ruskin discovered that reporters were anxious for the show to go ahead as planned. Therefore, the agency asked them to e-mail that message to Events International, and many of the exhibitors also joined in on the impromptu e-mail campaign.
When the doors to the Chocolate Show opened on November 15, everyone involved crossed their fingers. They needn't have worried; attendance was almost 20,000, a 30% increase on the previous year.
The show also garnered much more coverage than anyone imagined, partly because the media was so familiar with the struggle to keep the show going, and also because so many other events had been cancelled. The show was covered by The New York Times and its Sunday magazine. The Daily News, New York Post, and Newsday all dedicated space to it, while NBC affiliates as far away as Arizona devoted airtime, as did NBC's Today and Weekend Today.
The exhibitors who stayed at home drew the ire of the New York Post, who dubbed them "candy asses.
However, most of the press applauded the courage of the show's producers. Events International took a loss on the event because of the number of French participants that did not wish to fly (many were replaced by American exhibitors), but is upbeat about the prospects for the 2002 show.
The November 2002 event is likely to be a little easier. One element of the show that's likely to get bigger is the chocolate fashion show, which Teuwen hopes to see grow into a charity fundraiser.
Apart from the obvious benefits of being attached to a culinary event in New York, the agency has inadvertently become an unofficial source on all things chocolate. Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times have put in calls to the agency regarding unrelated features about chocolate.