Ed Koch: A Marketing Original

The death of Ed Koch a few weeks ago brought sadness and a smile at the same time, and maybe for the same reason: He was a true original.

I met Mayor Koch when I worked at AIG in New York.  I bought ad space in magazines and was invited to many media luncheons, most of which I declined because they were “uptown” and killed a few hours.  I accepted the one from Forbes featuring Ed Koch because I wanted to see if “Hiz Honor” was as real in person as his media persona.  I am happy to report that he was and maybe even more so.  The Ed Koch in the room that day made the “media” Ed seem like a wallflower.  He was over the top, flamboyant, dynamic and his excitement was contagious.

His pitch was for keeping business in New York.  Companies at that time (the mid-80s) were moving all or some of their operations out of the city, sometimes across the river to New Jersey and sometimes to low-cost parts of the country. Mayor Koch’s enthusiasm and love of the city was incredible.  He was the perfect marketer for why a company should stay put and why more should move to the city.

My second experience with Mayor Koch was more of a near experience.  We had scheduled a great public relations event for Riverside Park.  New York and Tokyo were sister cities, and AIG had arranged for a group of visiting Japanese students to donate cherry trees to be planted at the park.  Mayor Koch would say a few words (although I’m not sure he ever said just a few words in his life) and there would be a great photo opp.  We were riding to the event when the driver told us Koch had just been taken to the hospital with a possible heart attack.

When we arrived at Riverside Park it was chaos.  The head of the park service agreed to say a few words, but he was so distracted that he basically said “thanks for the trees” and raced off to the hospital.  Any press that would have been there to cover Koch were now at the hospital writing his obit.  In a matter of an hour, what was a certain PR triumph turned into a disaster.  I guess there is only so much you can plan and prepare for.  Fortunately, the mayor made a speedy recovery.

So what made this guy such an original?  Undoubtedly, his trademark “How’m I doin’?” had a lot to do with it.  He was his own overnight poll.  Who in their right mind would ask New Yorkers that question, unless he was doing a great job!  I mean the guy won reelection with 75% of the vote and was endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties.   He won his second reelection with 78% of the vote.  When he ran in the Democratic primary for governor in 1982 and lost to Mario Cuomo, it was said that many New York City residents voted for Cuomo because they didn’t want to lose Koch as mayor.

New York will probably never have a public official who promotes the city the way Koch did.  Although he was out of office more than 20 years when he died, he is still the one I think of when someone says “the mayor of New York”.   Now that’s being original!

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