Richard Weiner, 86, a native of Brooklyn who built a PR firm that billed $4.5 million and had 83 employees in 1985, and who sold it to BBDO in 1986, died in Miami Jan. 29.
His firm, No. 25 in the 1985 O’Dwyer rankings, in 1983 ignited the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of Coleco Industries that swept the country. The company was unable to keep up with demand for the dolls, each of which had its own “personality” and came with “adoption papers.”
Weiner, who had won the account from Hill and Knowlton, sparked the fad by winning segments on three network morning TV shows in early November. He had introduced the dolls at a press conference in the Central Park Zoo in June.
Despite the overwhelming publicity obtained for the product, Weiner later said his firm never made much money off it.
Coleco, which also sold the Adam Home Computer, another product beset by supply problems, went bankrupt in 1988 and Hasbro and others took over production.
Weiner a Prolific Author, Lecturer
Weiner’s 23 books included Webster’s New World Dictionary of Media and Communications (1996); Professional’s Guide to PR Services (1998); Professional’s Guide to Publicity (1984), and The Skinny About Best Boys, Dollies, Green Rooms, Leads and other Media Lingo (2006).
He conducted more than 100 workshops for PR Society of America and other groups including the National Institutes of Health, and taught a three-credit course in PR at Fordham University Graduate School of Business Administration. It was the first such course for MBAs. He also taught at New York Institute of Technology.
Weiner’s firm specialized in marketing publicity, working for clients such as Bristol-Myers, Cigar Assn. of America, GTE Telephones, General Foods, Hebrew National Foods, Mattel, Philip Morris, Smith-Corona, Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi-Cola, Suburu, Volvo, Colonial Penn and AARP.
Sold Firm to BBDO
Weiner sold the firm to BBDO in 1986 which was then merged with Doyle Dane Bernbach and Needham, Harper & Steers to form the Omnicom Group. Omnicom merged the Weiner firm with BBDO-owned Doremus and the Porter Novelli PR unit of Needham Harper. Porter Novelli was the surviving name although Weiner was its biggest unit. Weiner left the firm in 1988 but kept an office in New York until he moved to Florida in 2002.
He received a B.S. in 1949 from the University of Wisconsin and an M.S. from the same school in 1950 with genetics as his major field of study. He took one journalism course—scientific newswriting.
Weiner was admitted to the University’s medical school but dropped out after the first year.
After living in Madison, Wis., from 1943-53, where he partnered with Morton Levine in a PR firm, he moved to New York where he obtained a job with Ruder Finn.
He rose to senior VP and partner, supervising a group of consumer product accounts, remaining until 1968 when he started his own firm.
Press Relations Was Paramount at Weiner
The Weiner firm was noted for its cordial relations with the press.
Weiner himself was always available for phone or in-person conversations and reporters were welcome at his offices at 888 Seventh ave.
His art of building relations with reporters included sending reporters clips of articles that related to their beats. A widely-read person, he would call reporters with tips and advice for their stories.
His awards include the Gold Anvil of PR Society of America and the John Hill Award of the New York chapter of the Society.
He wrote a monthly column on language for PR Tactics of PRSA and other articles for Communication World of the Int’l Assn. of Business Communicators, PR Quarterly and Writer’s Digest. He wrote a substitute column on language for New York Times columnist Bill Safire when Safire was on vacation.
Married Florence Chaiken
Weiner, the son of George Weiner, who had a printing business in lower Manhattan, was married in 1956 to Florence Chaiken, author of Peace Is You and Me and other books in the healthcare field including two written in association with the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation, New York. (Full biography of Weiner - PDF)
Also surviving are two daughters, Jessica Lampert, who is married to Alan Lampert and lives in Stoughton, Mass., and Stephanie Weiner, married to Joe Losbaker, who lives in Chicago, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Stuart Pearlman, pearlmanpr.com (Feb. 12, 2014): In the PR profession's most understood, most valued and hard-to-use-well tool of publicity, nobody did it better than Dick Weiner. He also did lots of other related things with excellence, including as an author.
Just last October, he gave an enjoyable TED talk in Miami that demonstrated his consummate communication skills. It was well researched and well crafted, delivered with understated authority, quite interesting and with a sweet sense of humor.
You may want to check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpiTp2COVZk .
Dick will be missed but he won't be forgotten.
David Grant (Feb. 10, 2014): There weren't many like Dick Weiner. A legend in our profession!
Marcy Mechanic (Feb. 9, 2014): I worked at Richard Weiner from 1984-1986. It was my second agency job in pr - and at age 24 I was responsible for generating all publicity for the Crystal Light NYC Triathlon. One day I was called into Dick's office. It seemed that a top editor at the New York Times (whom I had been bombarding with messages) had just called to say, "Marcy Mechanic is never to contact the Times again." Well, I was certain Dick was going to fire me! Instead he said, "I have never been prouder of one of my account execs than I am right now. Go get 'em!"
A wonderful man and teacher - rest in peace.
Stephanie Weiner (Feb. 6, 2014): Thank you for this excellent article. It was clearly written by Jack from the heart as well as all the comments added .
We all know my father would have been touched. My family is working today to post more in the New York Times as well as other places.Please feel free to pass this article around or write to me for more photos or information.
I have ,for example, a Ted Talk clip he did on the topic of Gossip just in October, 2013.
My email address is email@example.com
Ravelle Brickman (Feb. 6, 2014): Dear Jack,
Thank you so much for this lovely bio of Dick Weiner. Although he died last week, yours is the first obituary I've seen.
As you know, I worked for Dick's company in the 1980s, and was the VP directly in charge of the introduction of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Initially, the account was an afterthought, a sibling of high tech products, such as the much hyped--and ultimately maligned--Adam Computer. The Adam, which suffered from product flaws rather than shortages,was far more important to Coleco. For example, the fee for the Cabbage Patch Kids was one-fifth that of the Adam!
Some other small points of correction, which Dick himself would surely have made: the press conference, complete with 60 children (half belonging to the media and half from PS 3), was held at the Children's Museum of Manhattan (and not the Central Park Zoo, where the Parks Commissioner of the time banished all commercial tie-ins); the company was sold, in 1986, to Doremus, which was subsequently purchased by BBDO and merged with Needham, resulting in the sudden demise of the Weiner name, along with all traces of the agency. Many of us left at the time of the sale.
Like Jon Weisberg (below), I was saddened to learn of his death. It is in many ways the end of an era and of a certain kind of PR. I learned a great deal from Dick and owe much of my subsequent career to the years I spent at his company. My condolences to his family.
Sakita Holley (Feb. 6, 2014): Thank you for this bit of history. Underscores why O'dwyer is so important to our industry!
Jon Weisberg (Feb. 6, 2014): This is very sad news. Dick was a man with a good mind filled with ideas and always open to new and interesting approaches to generating media exposure. We worked together from 1976 to 1984, when I left Richard Weiner PR to go in-house with one on my Weiner clients, Bristol-Myers. While at the agency, I led a group that introduced the Belgian Endive to the US market, planted the seeds for the resurgence of premium cigar smoking, represented real estate projects, authors, trade associations, brands, companies, non-profits, etc. We were having difficulty getting press for the Howard Sloan recruitment firm, a smallish Manhattan firm, and Dick suggested a simple survey that would determine the average height of Fortune 500 CEOs. It was before the Internet; at a time when a carefully worded letter would get a response from the corner office (probably the secretary, but who cared). I don't remember how many responded, but it was enough for a credible news release (Dick always counseled 5-7 word headlines and 25 word lead sentences). A week or so after the release went out, the survey results (attributed to Howard Sloan) appeared as an item on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Then we enjoyed months of business page and trade pick up.
Several years later, I was on a plane and saw it in the in-flight magazine. We used the survey technique with success for numerous clients. I've had a few great teachers in my PR career and Dick was one of them. The Internet helped him keep up his lifelong practice of sending clips to journalists, clients, colleagues, and friends. I received his missives up until a few months ago. Now this sad news.
If heaven's in need of good press, it now has a great resource to lean on.
Michael Durand (Feb. 6, 2014): Dick was a mentor to scores of us and always willing to hear our ideas, our aspirations and our gripes. Even when "retired" he kept working and kept in touch with the many, many public relations professions he help develop.
My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Chick, and family.
Mark Weiner (no relation) (Feb. 6, 2014): Dick was one of our profession's most generous souls; a mentor to many and a role model for all.