ANALYSIS: Profile - Introducing Edelman's new PR advantage - Sarah Callahan is a veteran at making political ads. Now that her agency has been bought by Edelman, she'll focus more on the corporate and commercial world. Thom Weidlich reports

At 32, Sarah Callahan has already made quite a name for herself in the advertising world, particularly in the political ad area. Her reputation was confirmed last summer when Edelman PR Worldwide bought her New York ad agency in a bid to compete with PR agencies that have their own advertising resources.

At 32, Sarah Callahan has already made quite a name for herself in the advertising world, particularly in the political ad area. Her reputation was confirmed last summer when Edelman PR Worldwide bought her New York ad agency in a bid to compete with PR agencies that have their own advertising resources.

At 32, Sarah Callahan has already made quite a name for herself in the advertising world, particularly in the political ad area. Her reputation was confirmed last summer when Edelman PR Worldwide bought her New York ad agency in a bid to compete with PR agencies that have their own advertising resources.

The deal signals Callahan's ascension beyond just politics and into the broader world of issue, corporate and product advertising. Now that the 2000 elections are over, she's ready to take on that challenge in earnest.



Behind major political campaigns

Callahan's agency does TV, print, radio, outdoor and online advertising, but is perhaps best known as one of the ad agencies behind Hillary Clinton's caustic TV campaigns during her run for the US Senate.

Callahan works at PR speed. For example, when Clinton's opponent, Rick Lazio, was about to air a spot accusing the Democratic candidate of taking money from terrorists, 'Team Hillary' went into action. Four hours later (at 9pm), former New York mayor Ed Koch was sitting in Callahan's apartment taping a counter ad. In the ad, Koch abruptly zaps Lazio's own accusatory ad from a TV and, reading a script written by political consultant Mandy Grunwald, denies the terrorist charge ('Rick, stop with the sleaze already').

It aired the next day.

Callahan, president and creative director, is known for bringing Madison Avenue production values to typically-frumpy political ads.

As well as working on the New Jersey senate campaign for John Corzine, Callahan created the film that introduced Al Gore at the Democratic Convention - the one that led to the famous kiss between the candidate and his wife.

Callahan had sat down at the vice presidential mansion with amateur photographer Tipper Gore to choose the family photos to be included and she was onstage when the film was shown.

This English major from Catholic University in Washington, DC found her calling after college in 1990 while temping for political media firm Squier-Eskew. After being promoted to receptionist, she became a producer, working closely with political strategist Carter Eskew. When Eskew left to start up Grunwald-Eskew-Donilon two years later, she went with him. In addition to political spots, Callahan did issues ads there.

'She started as an assistant producer and became one of the best producers of political advertising I've ever seen,' says Eskew, who was Al Gore's senior strategist for the 2000 election. 'She has an incredible eye, an ability to think in visual terms that a lot of people in PR and even advertising don't have.'

Callahan left Eskew's firm in 1994 for a two-year stint producing promotional spots for CBS. Then she took the plunge and started her own company, then called Callahan Creative, out of her two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. By that time, Eskew was with BSMG's Bozell/Eskew advocacy advertising unit and he fed her some work, including a project for the National Cable Television Association.

In three years, the company's revenue leapt from dollars 500,000 to dollars 6 million in 2000. The agency is now in a blue-punctuated loft space in New York's trendy TriBeCa neighborhood. In an attempt to offer clients a wider offering, Edelman began the search for a small ad shop to work with and Eskew recommended Callahan. The two agencies successfully pitched new business together - for example, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and election site WebWhiteBlue.org - and provided integrated services. In July 2000, the partners decided to make the arrangement formal. Edelman bought Callahan's company for an undisclosed sum and renamed it Blue Worldwide.



When opportunity knocks ...

President and CEO Richard Edelman says he needed an advertising unit to end the disadvantage for his agency - the largest independent - when it goes up against the likes of Burson-Marsteller and Fleishman-Hillard with sister ad shops. 'We believe strongly in the PR-centric model, in building around PR,' he adds. 'A lot of ad folks see PR as a bit of peanut butter spread on top of the bread. But Sarah understands this interlocking piece with free media.'

Callahan says she wasn't looking to sell, but that she liked Edelman's culture and that the PR agency broadened her view of marketing communications. 'People come to Edelman for corporate reputation and corporate image help,' she adds. 'Issue advocacy is perfect for me and I really enjoy it. And defining a corporation is like defining a candidate.'

A typical example of how she presents information graphically: The spot she created for BIO, which first aired in January 2000, features rapid images of an early airplane and a space shuttle, an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and a computer. The voiceover reads: 'If we had stopped here ... we never would have gotten here ...' The ad, seeking to stave off fears of biotechnology, carries the tagline 'Biotechnology: a big word that means hope.'

For clients, Callahan's lure is that she brings the political sensibility to corporate and product advertising. But one of the reasons she's eager to move into new areas is the exhausting pace of political campaigning.

'In my old age I like being able to take two weeks to think about an ad,' she jokes.

But all that political experience should help with her new focus. 'Consumers are being hit with a lot of messages,' says Callahan. 'To cut through and connect you have to be topical and timely. With politics you have to stay on top of the issues and they change from day to day. A lot of time the reason companies hire PR agencies is that advertising is just too slow. And we're not. We can keep up and still deliver the production value.'

It's impossible to say at this point how successful the marriage between the large PR agency and small ad agency will be. The couple is still on their honeymoon - Callahan was deep into political ads until November and is only now switching gears. She's still looking to hire someone with expertise in product advertising. (She has done some herself, for example for Pizza Hut and Ziff Davis magazines.)

After the elections, she embarked on a goodwill tour introducing herself to Edelman offices around the country and explaining what Blue can do for its clients. Her long-range goal is to have Blue Worldwide offices around the country. She expects to have one on the West Coast soon.

'We're in the very early days,' says Edelman. 'We think the strategy is right. We're sure it will work in public affairs and politics. How well it will work on the corporate side we'll have to see. We're not going to go up against ad agencies such as Leo Burnett and we're not going to try.'

Carter Eskew says the move is a good one for Callahan because she can tap into Edelman's network. 'I think what will happen in Edelman is that as Sarah goes and pitches the accounts with them, the account executives will like what they see because the clients will like what they see.' And, of course, she has backing from the top.



SARAH CALLAHAN, president and creative director, Blue Worldwide

1990-1992: Temp, receptionist, producer, Squier-Eskew

1992-1994: Producer, Grunwald-Eskew-Donilon

1994-1996: Special projects producer, CBS News Advertising and Promotion

1996-present: President and creative director, Callahan Creative (now Blue Worldwide).



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