Inside Atlanta PR

Bob Hope can’t wait for wacky ideas to come back into vogue … he always has lots of them ready!

Bob Hope not only has a legendary name, he’s had a legendary career in Public Relations: working for the Braves, Coca-Cola, a small Atlanta firm, one of the world’s largest firms in New York and then back to Atlanta to start his own firm.

He’s perhaps best known for the wacky, crazy ideas he came up with to bring Atlantans out to the Braves games when the team was not that successful in the 1970s. And the PR career? It sort of happened when he couldn’t stand rolling giant rolls of paper while working the night shift to help pay for tuition while he studied journalism at Georgia State.

Bob Hope

“I was six months into college and working the graveyard shift and I made a long list of companies that I’d rather be working for and the Atlanta Braves were #1 on the list,” Bob said. “Luckily when I went to apply, a guy in the PR department had just been called up to the Army and they asked if I wanted to fill in. Lee Walburn asked if I knew how to write a press release and work with baseball stats and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ ”

Bob had just started college and hadn’t taken the press release course yet so he found a friend who worked part-time at the AJC and he helped Bob prepare his press release samples to bring back the next day. “I think I impressed him and once I was in there, I never left. It was a wonderful experience going through college. Then Lee left when I was 24 and Atlanta was hosting the All-Star game that summer. Later Ted Turner bought the team and that’s when the real craziness began.”

Ted couldn’t pay the players enough to field a great team, so Bob was charged with coming up with promotions that would attract fans to the ballpark. “I told Ted I wasn’t sure we are going to see a big rise in attendance but since you and I are going to be here we would have to at least entertain ourselves.”

Some of Bob’s crazy promotions included couples marrying before the game with wrestling matches afterwards, a frog jumping championship, flying saucer night, a mattress stacking competition, motorized bathtub racing and the infamous ostrich races.

“I was working with Ted night and day and I always thought I was dying of something, the tension was so high. Some of it was self-imposed as I was trying to meet Ted’s expectation level. He was world’s greatest promoter and I was his promoter. Then I was in my early ‘30s, had two little girls and a wife and I said I have to stabilize myself. Coca-Cola gave me a great job, though it seemed like the most boring place on earth compared to working with Ted.

“I had a brilliant idea to start my own firm and have Ted and Coke as clients and then Bob Cohn of Cohn & Wolfe came to me when he had 11 people and asked if I wanted to come in and slowly buy him out. We grew quickly. Bob was a good salesman and he eventually sold the firm to Burson Marsteller and I moved to New York with my family.”

Having grown comfortable working with CEOs, Bob Hope fit right into the Manhattan scene, working with a colorful CEO who was always inviting Bob to go to lunch with well-known names such as Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, Fred Smith and Roberto Goizueta – even the exiled King of Greece.

In 1994, Bob’s family was tired of New York, so he called Paul Beckham, whom he had met while working for Ted. “Ted is unconventional and he didn’t want to restrict me, but he didn’t have unlimited money, so he had a young financial guy, who turned out to be Paul Beckham, shadow me and occasionally put a leash on me. So when I came back to town, Paul was looking look for his next move and we jumped in together.”

As they knocked on doors to build up the young Hope-Beckham firm, the PR agency grew fast. Today, the firm has 18 employees and clients such as Aaron’s, Belk, Comcast, the Atlanta Track Club and Greenberg Traurig.

“The sad thing about the recent economic downturn is that some companies started playing conservative and they didn’t do things that got them in the successful position they were in,” Bob said. “They began playing it safe. They need to keep employing the good creative ideas that got them to where they were. The biggest killer in this business is the safe choice.”

With Bob, it’s a pretty safe choice that a client will have access to lots of great ideas. Just ask Ted.

– Chris Schroder

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