OUR PLEDGE TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
When real estate mogul Peter Kalikow purchased the New York Post from Rupert Murdoch in 1988, it was widely assumed that he was interested solely in the newspaper’s real estate assets, without any ambitions for its journalistic potential. This ailing newspaper was beset by dwindling circulation, advertiser resistance, and a Murdoch-inherited shlock image. (“Mr. Murdoch”, went the apocryphal remark attributed to a prominent retailer in response to Murdoch’s pitch for ads in the Post, “your readers...are our shoplifters!”) Such was the scuttlebutt in the Big Apple when Kalikow took over, following an impressive line of previous owners before Murdoch that included Dorothy Schiff, Franklin D. Roosevelt (one of a consortium of owners in the 1920s), Oswald G. Villard, William Cullen Bryant...and its founder Alexander Hamilton.
To lay to rest this damaging rumor and to convince New Yorkers that the Post was headed for renewed prominence in the city, I established at the outset a strong sense of commitment to the newspaper’s heritage.(To me, New Yorkers’ understanding that the Post was founded by Alexander Hamilton, a Revolutionary War hero, a founding father of the nation, and the icon on our $10 bill, would bring new meaning to the imagery of their New York Post.) We redesigned Kalikow’s newspaper, beginning with a fast-paced masthead, and on the new masthead I slapped an oval engraving of Alexander Hamilton, overlooking the newspaper he had founded in 1803. Simultaneously we created a jumbo bus shelter poster that was seen throughout the city, boldly delivering this message: A reassuring word to Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the Post...Don’t worry, your paper is in good hands!
This poster, hanging proudly behind Kalikow in his office whenever he was interviewed on TV, may well have prodded him to commit himself to the new Post. Indeed, I believe our “Hamilton pledge” helped keep the Post alive – it was a breath of fresh air, it shored up morale, it was a meaningful message to the world that Kalikow was serious...and probably stiffened his resolve. New owners of the Post removed the countenance of the journalist Alexander Hamilton from the masthead. They just don’t get it.
MAKING THE NEW YORK POST THE PRIME TABLOID IN TOWN.
Don’t worry, Mr. Hamilton, your newspaper is in good hands. This reference to founder Alexander Hamilton captured the New York Post’s irrepressible gall, and we then underlined it with our coup de grace slogan: We’re keeping the sizzle, but adding the steak. The “steak” was new columnists, new features, new reporters, and a new editor. The “sizzle” was the tabloid style that had made the Post distinctive (and infamous) over the years.
In 1988, new owner Peter Kalikow brought in the liberal columnist Pete Hamill to add some balance to the Post’s conservative bent, and he hired Jane Amsterdam to be the only woman editor of any newspaper in the tri-state area. So I shot two 60-second spots starring no less than 34 (34!) Post reporters eating steak at a famous Manhattan steak joint.
Each of the 34 well-known Post stars interrupts their eating by informing us of their duties: Jerry Nachman –The City! Clive Barnes – Broadway! Pat Buchanan –Washington! Jeane Kirkpatrick – Foreign Affairs! Richard Johnson – Page 6! Suzy – Society! Peter Vecsey – Hoop du jour! Pete Hamill – Keeping the big boys honest! And Cindy Adams (as she stabs her steak with a vicious knife thrust) – Celebrities! The rallying cry in the corridors of 210 South Street became “More steak! More teak!” One frantic day at the Post I heard Kalikow, after receiving the previous day’s issue on his yacht in the waters off the Bahamas, bark on his ship-to-shore phone, “There’s not enough steak in this [bleep] issue to pour ketchup on. I paid for a 3-lb. porterhouse and you clowns give me a [bleep] hamburger!” I believe great advertising should reach slightly ahead of the product. (Gertrude Stein said to Picasso: “I don’t look like that!” Picasso replied, “You will!”) And the Post kept serving steak until New Yorkers bit. Circulation went from 460,000 to over 600,000, while the crass image of the Murdoch years (phony Wingo-hyped circulation, lurid headlines, typified by the classic “Headless Man in Topless Bar”) had been upgraded, making the New York Post the prime tabloid in town.