Client: CowParade Holdings (West Hartford, CT)
PR Team: Rubenstein Associates (New York, NY)
Time Frame: Nov. 3, 1999 to Sept. 28, 2000
Budget: dollars 200,000.
If the average city were invaded by 500 multicolored cows, one would expect widespread panic, or at least a drop in the price of milk.
But in New York City, even cows need PR. So when the president of West Hartford, CT-based CowParade Holdings, Jerome Elbaum, planned a public art exhibit featuring fancifully designed, fiberglass Holsteins in New York, he looked to PR powerhouse Howard Rubenstein. But two problems faced Rubenstein: first, he had to get city officials to approve the placement of hundreds of life-size cows all over town. Then he had to keep the public focused on them throughout the summer until they were ultimately auctioned off in the fall.
It all started back in 1999 when at Eurolink, an international lawyers association, Swiss colleagues introduced Elbaum to the 1998 Zurich cow parade. Seeing the licensing opportunities, Elbaum stopped practicing law and immersed himself in promoting CowParade New York. He obtained copyrights to the artwork produced on nearly 700 cows.
The New York parade sought to merge public art with charity and was sponsored by local corporations and overseen by the city. The bovines were designed by artists and children and were auctioned off Sept. 28, with most of the proceeds going to benefit local charities like City Parks Foundation, Citymeals-on-Wheels and the Center for Arts Education.
With Rubenstein's reputation as a big city player, getting the mayor on board wasn't that hard, and eventually city officials made a habit of being a part of the campaign. The challenge, said Pat Smith, Rubenstein's deputy, was keeping the media interested.
Rubenstein approached all metro New York media and national morning news programs. He arranged press events for the first cow's arrival at the airport, the opening of a cow hospital for damaged cows and the placement of the first cow in Central Park. Rubenstein let the city's reaction to the cows guide the bulk of the campaign. 'Almost every day we pulled something else - making a fuss when a cow was (vandalized) or when someone tried to haul one off. Whatever happened, we made light of it,' says Rubenstein.
By establishing a Web site, cowparade.net, where the media could get easy access to background and visuals, Smith said, all his team had to do was hit the local media with two-page releases. 'I'm offended by big press kits. Give them a short-term message and direct them to the Web site,' says Rubenstein. 'Keep materials short and make sure your visuals are good.' As the auction approached, they pitched high-end publications like New York magazine and The New Yorker to get buzz and dollars flowing for the cows.
Throughout the campaign the agency staged appearances with public officials and celebrities such as Morgan Fairchild and Mr. T to help hold the public's interest.
Rubenstein claims thousands of clips; repeat coverage on all New York local print, television and radio media; and coverage by the network morning news programs. Additionally, foreign press coverage - particularly tourist media - was heavy. National print coverage appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, USA Today and Entertainment Weekly.
Rubenstein wrapped up by reporting the results of the auction and announcing that over dollars 1 million went to New York charities. Elbaum is planning CowParades in Kansas City, Honolulu and Houston next year. He has not determined who will represent those events.