Marc Ecko, the clothing designer whose Ecko fashion line is the anchor brand of Marc Ecko Enterprises, developed a video game based on graffiti, called Marc Ecko's Getting Up, that is set to be released by Atari this fall.
To promote the game, and to provide a showcase for many of the famous graffiti artists he had idolized in his youth, Ecko teamed with Susan Blond Inc. (SBI), his AOR, to plan and promote a daylong festival in New York celebrating the art form.
But when local politicians objected to the event at the last possible minute, what started out as a simple block party morphed into a political battle that threatened to scuttle the event before it even began.
Late last year, Ecko's internal PR team began planning the event, meeting with the city and securing permits. It already had a blueprint to work from, having held a concert in Central Park recently for Ecko's charity foundation that it looked to for guidance. Clint Cantwell, communications director for Marc Ecko Enterprises, says that his boss simply wanted to celebrate graffiti culture - but the city's opposition would ultimately require the team to change plans.
Cantwell says the original promotional plan for the event called for "calendar listings in the weeks leading up to it, local radio ads, print ads in some of the local papers, and [SBI] working to secure media to actually come out and cover the event." But, he added, "Obviously, things kind of changed."
Brad Zeifman, a VP at SBI, says the agency began working two months in advance of the event to secure national and local TV and print coverage for the festival. After the city abruptly announced its intention to revoke Ecko's permit because the event might encourage vandalism, SBI was forced to shift gears.
It organized an "emergency press conference" at which Ecko announced his intention to sue the city and set about lining up media interviews with Cantwell and Ecko. The next day, it organized another press conference at the Ecko showroom to discuss the lawsuit that had just been filed. Everyone was mindful that there was no backup plan in case they lost in court.
"At that point, it was an all-or- nothing deal," says Zeifman.
Luckily, the judge ruled in favor of Ecko, leading SBI to organize yet another press conference on the courthouse steps, competing for coverage with John Gotti Jr.'s trial.
Ecko, at the city's request, had removed the promotion of the video game from the event, making it simply an art festival. But that did not deter the PR team at all; by the time it was given the OK, the free media it had gained had far exceeded original plans.
"The city gave us free publicity for this event," says Zeifman, "and made it something every New Yorker was talking about."
The modest Ecko block party exploded into a controversy that gained wide media coverage in virtually every outlet in New York City, as well as the AP, Reuters, Fox News, and other national media - and the coverage also drew valuable attention for the new game, the original reason behind the festival.
The event itself went off without a hitch, drawing an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 attendees over the course of a long afternoon. "At the end of the day, it was exactly what we had intended," says Cantwell. "Almost a museum-like atmosphere."
Ecko's in-house PR team is small, so the company will continue to use SBI as its AOR for support on larger projects. "I'm very pleased with the work that their team did," Cantwell says.
PR team: Susan Blond Inc. and Marc Ecko Enterprises (both New York)
Campaign: Ecko Graffiti Block Party
Time frame: October 2004 to August 2005