Joe Rein, Producer Extraordinaire
Joe was our VP of Broadcast Production at Cohen/Johnson. It was a big job because we were producing over 75 TV spots a year.
He was an experienced, street smart, can-do kind of guy. A former prizefighter whose tough battles in the ring helped prepare him for the wars on Madison Avenue.
But this is the story of one production where Joe almost went down for the count.
Cohen/Johnson had just made it into the finals of a new business pitch for Bally’s Health & Fitness Clubs. It was a sizable TV broadcast account so we were the perfect agency for it. But, of course, there were forty other agencies banging on their door.
Mark Johnson and I managed to get an hour-long meeting with their VP of Marketing and learned some inside information. He wanted to appeal to a whole new target — boomers. We seized upon this insight and decided to make it the focus of our advertising.
We would invest our own money and shoot a finished spot in order to win the account. The key was to find a talented director who was hungry to put a great new spot on his reel and would be willing to shoot it for nothing. Enter Joe Rein.
He found the perfect director in New York and, as luck would have it, we were heading there to shoot some beautiful food footage for Jack in the Box.
All we needed now was the right guy to play the key role. No problem, right? Wrong! Due to the uniqueness of our story, this guy had to be at least 60 years old and very fit. There aren’t too many of those guys hanging around the streets of New York. But we weren’t worried. Joe Rein was on the case.
In the middle of one of the hottest Augusts on record, Joe started pounding the pavement, like a cheap detective, going from gym to gym looking for our guy. He scoured Manhattan, and when he couldn’t find him there, he took the train up to The Bronx, and when that failed he hopped over to Brooklyn. Time was running out and Joe was getting a little punchy (poor choice of words, perhaps?) but he wouldn’t give up.
One hot humid night after a long day of shooting food, Joe walked into a gym that had seen better days. Due to the intense heat and humidity, he was wearing tight white tennis shorts, a strappy tee-shirt and white sneakers with no socks. He sauntered up to the counter where a big, burly manager was sitting and said, “I wonder if you could help me. I’m looking for a good-looking man about 60, well built with big muscles.” “I’ll bet you are” the manager said.
Without realizing where the conversation was going, Joe continued. “I want him to have large biceps…clear skin with no tattoos…and preferably no hair on his back.” “Listen buddy…” the manager tried to cut Joe off, but to no avail. “And he shouldn’t sweat too much.”
The manager exploded. “Listen pal, this ain’t the YMCA and we’re not The Village People!”
Joe started backing out the door, but wasn’t finished. “I’m staying at the Roosevelt Hotel, room 715! I’ll pay cash!” “Get the hell outta here, you pervert!”
Two days later, as a bunch of us were sitting around the hotel lobby, Joe walked in with a good-looking well-built older man by his side – the very embodiment of what we were looking for. “Gentlemen” he said, “I’d like you to meet our guy!” Joe Rein had come through.
This commercial also marked my official debut as a professional voice over announcer. If my voice sounds particularly mellifluous, it’s because I had a bad case of bronchitis. (With pneumonia, who knows how far I could have gone.)
On the big day of the presentation, we screened the spot for the Bally’s people. They asked to see it again and again, and by the next day, we had won the account.
And to think, it never would have happened without the fancy footwork of Joe Rein — prizefighter, producer and honorary member of The Village People.
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© 2010 Howard Cohen, All Rights Reserved
Posted: November 19th, 2010 under Advertising.