Ed Lewi saw a great public relations opportunity in the deer crossing sign he spotted on a highway in Bear Mountain State Park.
The idea was simple: Snag a reindeer from the North Pole, haul it south to the sign and take a picture of the animal next to it to use as a promotion for the amusement park at Whiteface Mountain. What Lewi didn’t expect was to have four reindeer loaded onto the truck and to have all of them rush out when he opened the door to check on them.
The escaped reindeer forced authorities to shut down both sides of the highway leading to the George Washington Bridge while park rangers tried to corral the errant reindeer. Lewi was riding with one of the rangers when he noticed the man was carrying a gun and implored him not to shoot the animals.
“He said ‘I wasn’t planning on shooting them,’ ” Lewi recalled Monday, a broad smile forming on his face. “ ‘I was going to shoot you.’ ”
Despite the irate rangers and traffic snarls, the stunt turned out quite nicely for Lewi. By the next morning, images of the North Pole’s reindeer plodding down the highway was in the newspaper, with the name of his client — a degree of publicity the picture alone would have never garnered.
Lewi’s work in public relations over the course of more than a half-century often came down to making the best of quirky situations. In his estimation, there really is no such thing as bad publicity.
“It’s being able to take advantage when things happen,” quipped Lewi from his box at Saratoga Race Course.
Lewi’s prowess in the PR world lead him from a part-time job covering sports for The Daily Gazette to building one of the most successful marketing firms in upstate New York. And the ride he took along the way was nothing short of wild.
From pulling a young Caroline Kennedy from the whitewaters of the Adirondacks to directing media after the United States Olympic hockey team won the gold medal in Lake Placid in 1980, Lewi has some incredible tales about his time in the public relations business. Now, he’s releasing them in a 128-page, self-published book hitting the market this month.
“A Wild Ride — Bears, Babes, and Marketing to the Max” chronicles some of the stories Lewi has been telling for years. The book is intended to be a humorous read, patterned after Lewi’s general philosophy on life.
“I always have this slogan: If it isn’t fun, don’t do it,” he said.
All proceeds from book sales are going to benefit the Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne, the camp for critically ill children Lewi was instrumental in founding. He’s already gotten orders for roughly 400 books, some that came in with payments of far more than the $25 listed on the jacket cover.
“A lot of them are buying it for far more than the book costs,” he said.
Lewi will be signing copies of his book, written with the help of Paul Grondahl, at the track’s Jockey Silks Room Porch at 2 p.m. Wedneday. Some of the subjects included in his book are expected to be on hand.
A Schenectady native, Lewi started working in the media largely to avoid the dreaded Saturday shift at his parent’s downtown clothing store. He started at the Gazette even before graduating high school and continued there for about three years before being hired by the rival Albany Times Union.
Lewi worked for 18 years with the Albany paper, but not as a reporter. He ended up being the promotion director, a job that let him experience and explore the fun side of the media business.
“It opened some doors for me,” he said.
Though Lewi didn’t found his firm until 1976, at the urging of his wife, Maureen, he did freelance promotions for years prior. By the time he incorporated Clifton Park-based Ed Lewi & Associates, he had already garnered several major clients, including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Price Chopper and Charles R. Wood Enterprises.
He landed work with the New York Racing Association after its vice president of public relations proved to be prickly with the media during the late 1970s. He scored a job as press director for the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid in part because his company was an economical choice for the cash-strapped U.S. Olympic Committee.
Lewi describes a “love-hate” relationship with Team USA hockey coach Herb Brooks that ended with him on the bench with the players as they were presented the gold medal. He recalled trying to get as much press as possible for the unruly group of young hockey players, all while Brooks was trying to keep them under wraps.
“We couldn’t control them until Herb walked in the room,” he recalled.
His work on the games landed him contracts for the 1984 games in Sarajevo and the 1988 games in Calgary. For the Sarajevo contract, he recalled garnering attention from Soviet bloc soldiers after he and a few others were caught boosting his wife into an open classroom at a university in Prague to use a typewriter.
“We then had guys from the KGB following us around,” he said.
Lewi was always a master at staging bombastic stunts aimed at maximizing attention for his clients. When Gore Mountain opened to the public, he coaxed some of the workers to mix champagne in with the water for the snow jets, a gag that drew the ire of the head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation but landed him plenty of publicity for the new ski resort.
“If you’re going to celebrate, then celebrate right,” he said with a grin.