Part 2: Indian rebirth 1991 style

Public relations pitches are usually less lavish productions than advertising ones – mainly because the sums of money at stake are generally much smaller. But I wanted the Indian account, and I was determined to win it. So we set about creating one of the more elaborate PR pitches ever seen in New York.

Just days after meeting Zanghi, I spotted a late ‘40s Indian Chief in a nearby shop window as part of a clothing promotion. Next to the bike was a small card giving the name of the man who had supplied it. I wanted that bike in our foyer for the pitch, so I called the guy. He said the Chief was committed to the store for some weeks to come, but he could go one better: how about a fully restored 1906 Indian single? I jumped at the chance, and it was duly delivered to our offices on the eve of the pitch – raising a few eyebrows as it was wheeled down the deeply carpeted corridors.

Meantime, I contacted a friend in our Los Angeles office and he arranged for a professional TV crew to visit one of the nearby canyon hangouts used by local riders every Sunday morning. I wanted ‘vox pops’ – motorcyclists speaking to the camera about how they felt about the possibility of Indians going back into production. Would they buy one? Was the brand still desirable?

The camerawoman, luckily, was a thorough pro. Not only did she get great footage and wonderful interviews, but she even spotted a few Indian riders and got them to ride their bikes through the canyon bends for the camera. The motorcyclists she spoke to were unanimous: a revived Indian would be a big hit.

Back in New York, the video was crisply edited and Born to be Wild added to the soundtrack. Okay, it was a bit corny, but the imagery was wonderful. “Get your motor running” was accompanied by a guy kick-starting an Indian; “head out on the highway” had five bikes doing just that; “looking for adventure” had guys on bikes riding slowly through a sea of parked machinery; “and whatever comes our way” had a Californian blonde reflected in a handlebar mirror – and so on.

On the morning of the pitch, Zanghi and his entourage arrived on schedule and were asked to wait a few moments in reception. The receptionist was briefed to use a remote control to play a tape on the nearby TV screen.

My colleague Pat Carle’s face appeared on screen: “Mr Zanghi, gentlemen, welcome,” he said. “We will be ready for you in just a moment. While you wait, we’d like to show you what some motorcyclists in California have to say about Indian.” The music started, the images ran, the interviews played. The receptionist later told me the Indian guys were gobsmacked. Well, that’s what she meant. What she probably said was something like: “Hey, those guys were blown away! It was awesome.” Certainly, when I picked them up a few minutes later, they were clearly delighted.

We walked down the long, plush corridor towards our conference room. At the end, under all the agency’s imposing Silver Anvil awards, sat the 1906 Indian. This time, they really were blown away. They stared in awe. And Zanghi recognised it as a 1906 bike; he clearly knew his Indians.

With this kind of a start, the pitch was bound to go well. By the time we’d unveiled the details of the main launch, I knew the account was in the bag. The launch event capitalised on the Indian name and its heritage – fly the motorcycle press to Springfield, to the factory, and give them each an Indian to ride on a carefully selected route that would take in a whole raft of Indian (or Native American) reservations, pass by Mount Rushmore and finish at Sturgis, home of the famous annual Sturgis Rally. After that, the bikes would be ridden or shipped to (in most cases) California for longer-term evaluation by the bike media. I think we threw in the Fourth of July weekend as the launch date, for good measure.

Zanghi and his team were clearly impressed and promised to call us with their decision. The call came within an hour, from their car. They’d discussed all the pitches, and we’d won! We agreed to meet again next day to thrash out all the details. And that’s when it all started going pear-shaped, albeit slowly. How pear-shaped? Read more in Part 3.

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