“I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been.”
— Don Draper, lead character in TV series, “Mad Men”
“It’s hard enough to write a good drama, it’s much harder to write a good comedy, and it’s hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is.”
— Jack Lemmon, actor
Oh, how to characterize this Lincoln City pitchman? A mixture of Jack Lemmon, Peter Sellers and PT Barnum?
Ed Dreistadt is in his office, just above the Lincoln City Council Chambers. He sits me down at a small table, and we both roll up our sleeves for several hours of riffing with this 65-year-old’s adventure as a “wild and crazy guy” (in the words of Steven Martin).
“I’ve admittedly had a strange life. Not sure how you are going to cram it into an article.”
He may be the lead cheerleader for the City’s new iteration of the Lincoln City Visitor & Convention Bureau — Explore Lincoln City (ELC) — but his pathway to our neck of the woods (four and a half years as director of ELC) reads like a script from a Monty Python and David Mamet collision of ideas.
This unofficial member of the Mad Men Club, Ed Dreistadt (he laughs that his wife opted to NOT change her last name upon marriage) has a heck of a resume, typical of someone who has been in marketing and advertising for more than two-thirds of his life.
He’s pretty confident of his positive role in society: “The concept of advertising is to identify the consumer’s needs and present the product as the solution. The game is to identify the Unique Selling Proposition: the point of difference between your competitor’s product and use it to move a product.”
The career of this “ad man” has been a minefield of ups and downs, deals for fat contracts and plenty of lost accounts, and a career tied to the “boom or bust” magic of selling products.
Steel town, college radio, AM rock
His early roots spread back to a typical Pittsburgh working-class: his mother’s family came from Northern Ireland, and his father’s side came over in the 1860s from Southern Germany.
Right out the gate we talk about his infamous birthplace — Homestead Hospital, 1954. And the fact that his grandfather Dreistadt came from coal miner DNA.
The Homestead Strike was a labor/union dispute between the Carnegie Steel Company and workers. That was July 6, 1892, in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The strike went against the company’s management — industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick — who hired scabs (strikebreakers) and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. A gun battle ensued in which a number of strikers and Pinkerton agents were killed and many more were injured.
The young Ed worked with scrap metal and learned how to weld and take apart/put back together a lot of construction equipment.
He was a cartoonist for the high school paper, and he ended up in New Wilmington at Westminster College taking a potpourri of classes — chemistry, psychology and history. His highlight there was working on the college radio station — WKPS. He even did DJ gigs with a country station, WWIZ; easy listening, WEDO; and late-night rock ‘n roll on WKST.
Graduate school was in Athens, Ohio, at Ohio University, where he turned a speech and psychology BA from Westminster to a Masters in radio-TV management from OU.
Then he got into 13Q, a rock AM radio station, as a salesperson. “You want to get a picture of my PTSD associated with FM eating up AM? Watch that show, ‘WKRP Cincinnati.’ Every new rating book was a disaster. I was, I guess, too ethical to sell something like that and didn’t do all that well.”
That hardcore sales experience — banging on doors to pitch AM radio spots on a dying station — taught him a valuable lesson that resonates today: “I have had so many doors slammed on me. I have a very thick skin.”
Advertising agent par excellence
It takes some cramming to get from his days on the advertising account for Coca-Cola’s Mello Yello, to reluctantly pitching Doral cigarettes, then to promoting the new $40 million-dollar Apollo’s Chariot roller coaster at Busch Gardens, the one where the goose smacked romance novel icon Fabio in the face on its first run, and finally to our Central Oregon Coast.
He’s all in for promoting Lincoln City and its seven miles of beaches and 9,500 residents. He sees all that 101 traffic as among one of the unique opportunities — here are nine million vehicles driving through each year “with those 22 million sets of eyeballs looking at all the things we have to offer our guests.”
“When I first started here, the city had 13 different logos. One of my first jobs was to help come up with a single city brand, graphics standards and an official typeface.”
A consistent message is what Ed is after.
He says the needle is moving — the city promises people that “we have a small beach town feel but we’re also seven miles long and full of fun surprises.”
His life is about imagining the potential in things. “As a product, Lincoln City is nothing to sneeze at. We have these beautiful places like Cascade Head and Drift Creek Falls. Seven miles of beautiful beaches.”
He counts on the Chinook Winds Casino Resort as an anchor for major headline entertainment. He sees the outlet mall as a great attraction, as well as all the “treasure trove of quirky, one-of-a-kind businesses and eateries.”
With his background in theme parks such as Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia; and Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta, Ed’s seen recession hit the tourism industry hard. He is of the belief that “nothing goes in a straight line forever” and after more than nine years of economic growth, he expects another recession sometime soon.
However, Ed Dreistadt believes places like Lincoln City are positioned to weather a national economic downturn.
Looking at the Transient Room Tax (TRT) revenue reports, he says he’s pleased to see that while growth halted during the Great Recession, revenue collected by lodging properties didn’t decrease. “It held steady during the bad times.”
When money gets tight, families still want to travel, but they look for places to vacation closer in. “People are willing to trade down, say, from a trip to Hawaii or Paris, to something nearby.”
His big impetus now as director of Explore Lincoln City, which has a budget of $2.1 million coming from the TRT hotel bed tax, six full-time workers and one part-time employee is “to begin to shift Lincoln City from weekend getaway to week-long family vacation destination.”
One tool he is looking at to build this concept is expanding his department’s PR capabilities.
Getting stories and editorial copy about “this gem of a city” he is tasked to promote — especially into such markets as Boise, Seattle and beyond — takes money.
He knows markets and, interestingly, his children from a previous marriage are spread around, and some have taken their father’s lead in their own careers.
Carol Ann, 32, is in DC with a wealth-management company. Becky, 34, is in LA as a character designer whose work readers can see on the Disney Channel’s “Star vs. the Forces of Evil,” Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe: The Movie” and soon with HBO’s “Adventure Time.” Son Kyle, 36, is into network security with military bases out of Virginia Beach.
However, the very reason Lincoln City has Ed in its tourism toolbox falls to Puyallup, Washington.
His wife Shellie Stuart wanted out of the Southeast to be closer to her family in Puyallup from where she was raised.
“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”— Mark Twain
Ed Dreistadt has a litany of stories from his more than four decades acting as a marketing and PR spin wizard. He sees himself as part PT Barnum (he had an account with the circus group, Ringling Brothers) and part Edward Bernays, father of modern marketing (he was Sigmund Freud’s nephew).
One of Ed’s assignments as an advertising account guy in Atlanta was as a researcher for Anheuser-Busch, which was developing a new brand to go against the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull — a mainstay for African American drinkers.
“it was an opportunity to be immersed in the black community,” he said, adding that he was treated like family and as a friend everywhere he went.
He was part-diplomat for the brand he was working for, and part tabula rasa to learn all he could by being invited into a part of an America he might never otherwise have entered. The new brand eventually became King Cobra Malt Liquor through a different shop.
However, what he learned parlayed into events like the Stone Mountain Park Gospel Celebration in partnership with Antioch Baptist Church North and other members of the Southern Baptist Convention.
As a volunteer for the Georgia Council for International Visitors, Ed also took delegations hosted by the U.S. State Department to meetings with Civil Rights leaders like Joe Beasley, who worked with Jesse Jackson on Project Push and the Rainbow Coalition.
Next, Ed dove into marketing the sweetest and highest-caffeine soft drink in the business — Coke’s Mello Yello.
First there was a Dotty West song that supposedly was going to roll out the drink — “Country Sunshine” — but the temperamental singer had a falling out with Coca-Cola.
Ed says got onto the Mello Yello account after ad men attempted to market the drink to the west, to LA. Unfortunately, the three-year drought back then derailed Mello Yello making a foothold in California.
“These signs and public service announcements were all over the place in LA: ‘If it’s brown, flush it. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.’ That pretty much did us in.”
Ed’s work came later, revitalizing the soft drink as a regional brand. “My job was to re-position Mello Yello in a way that made it more relevant to the youth market.”
A pitchman can only do so much with the material he has. For the beverage dubbed the world’s fastest soft drink (lowest carbonation) with the most sugar and caffeine of any other drink (“makes you feel good so fast”), Ed enlisted Lee Abrams, radio consultant, father of the Album Rock format and general radio station fixer.
“This thing called MTV was just starting.” Then there was the Greg Kihn band. Ed and his team convinced the band to re-lyric their song, “Jeopardy” to “Mello Yello.”
“We leased out the old Fox Theater in Atlanta — this beautiful old 1930s art deco venue. We got radio commercials promoting a free rock concert with the Greg Kihn group.”
There were eight roving camera operators with 16-mm equipment. All the kids showed up looking like real kids in their real outfits. “We broke the bank,” Ed says with relish, saying the TV advertisements were new of a kind.
With tongue in cheek, Ed says he’s partly responsible for Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire. It turned out Pepsi and Jackson copied that Mello Yello campaign, and during the filming of “Billie Jean” for Pepsi, the pyrotechnics set his locks ablaze.
The case of the rogue goose
He’s got that dry and wry sense of humor, for sure, as we figuratively screen “Ed’s Very Unique & Excellent Adventure” scenes.
One minor blip in his career, Ed says, is his brief connection to hawking cigarettes — Dorel and Magna brands with R. J Reynolds. “There’s a special room in Hell for me.” He says that he had a wife and kids, a car payment and a mortgage to keep up when he needed to jump from a failing ad agency.
With all the advertising agencies he has worked for, and Ed’s iterations running a few of his own, he ended up spending many years in the theme park biz.
The movie, “Honeymoon in Vegas,” has these 10 Flying Elvises jumping out of a plane. For Busch Gardens, Ed arranged a fleet of 1957 Chevy convertibles for a parade around the park celebrating 15 years of the Loch Ness roller coaster. The Elvis impersonators dropped out of the plane, which resulted in a combined “Loch Ness and Elvis sighting” that garnered worldwide coverage.
Unexpectedly, that airplane also captured the attention of Camp Perry, AKA, “The Farm” (CIA training base near Busch Gardens). “Park security was informed that the plane was close to CIA airspace and the parachutists would be detained if they landed on base property. And shot if they resisted.”
They made a safe landing in Busch Gardens. That was 1993.
Then, he was tasked with creating the brand for a new roller coaster, the result of a commitment of $40 million by Busch Entertainment Corporation.
After finding a place for its construction in the existing Williamsburg, Virginia (it ended up in the Italian section with a big ravine) and naming it (he got the idea for Apollo’s Chariots after reading a book on Greek and Roman mythology), Ed enlisted his brain trust to come up with a logo and a celebrity to pitch the coaster’s grand opening.
They got this model-actor Fabio to play the part of Apollo for the launch of the spectacular ride that rises up 805 feet and reaches speeds of 73 mph and pushes people to 4 Gs.
That big inaugural run with all these actresses playing vestal virgins behind Fabio had loads of TV newsfeeds ready to uplink the fluff stories around the country and world.
The red carpet was rolled out, the music played, and the rollercoaster peeled out — with cameras attached to the ride, on cranes and elsewhere filming.
The news teams were awaiting the three-minute ride to bring back the celebrity.
“They returned from the ride and here the passengers were all aghast as the vestal virgins’ togas had red splotches all over them. Fabio had blood on his face.”
It turns out a rogue goose got in the way, flew across the lead car and hit Fabio on the nose with its neck. The star was left with a nick on the nose and a small bruise on his cheek.
Lucky, Ed said, because those geese can weigh a dozen pounds, and if the bird’s body had slammed into Fabio, the celebrity’s head would have been crushed.
Damage control went into full gear, but the media cat had been let out of the bag. First aid station, news teams wanting to uplink any footage of the ornithological show, and Fabio whining about the dangers of the ride.
National Enquirer was calling. “Good Morning America,” “Entertainment Tonight,” Jay Leno, David Letterman and on and on covered the story.
Fabio had a lawyer who was threatening to have Fabio say there are these dangerous geese right next to the rollercoaster and that children will die.
This taught Ed that the absurdity of that act of nature could instantaneously go global and have staying power as the butt end joke for the late-night scene for months.
Less is always better? In the ad man’s own words
Ed was kind enough to break out of his busy schedule to answer some questions I posed him. What he did premise these questions with is insightful to me as a chronicler of people’s narratives: sometimes I jar awake old things, past lives. “Haven’t thought about a lot of this stuff in years.”
Paul Haeder: Give us your concept of “community” as you see your role here in Lincoln City?
Ed Dreistadt: I just looked up “community” in the dictionary and found this: A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.
I think that sums up how I understand the term and, also, what it means to live in a small town like Lincoln City. You have a bigger stake in a small town. You have a feeling of belonging here as well as a responsibility to help make the community better. I think I actually have two roles, personal and professional. On a personal level, Kiwanis is where I can make the most difference. I was a Kiwanian back when I lived in Williamsburg where I helped raise money with events like their annual shrimp feast (we did wonderfully absurd things to promote the event). Here, I was honored to serve as president of the club for a year. I helped them organize Pixiefest and assist where I can on other fundraising events. Kiwanis is dedicated to improving the world one child and one community at a time. It is where I think I can make a difference.
Professionally, what I do is constrained to promoting Lincoln City as a tourism destination. My role is to convince people to visit and stay overnight. Heads in beds is my defining metric. I find this to be an important and challenging job because tourism is the biggest industry in Lincoln City. However, our tourism efforts go well beyond just getting guests to visit. When my department promotes Lincoln City, the lasting impression is that this is a great place to visit…and work…and live. We demonstrate to the world that Lincoln City is surrounded by natural beauty, populated by fascinating people and home to endless one-of-a-kind businesses and attractions. When we get people to visit our city, they fall in love with it. Some of them can’t get enough and want to be part of it. This is why Explore Lincoln City is working hand in glove with Lincoln City Urban Renewal and Economic Development. What makes our city a great place to visit is the same as what makes it a great place to live and work.
PH: What’s the most difficult decision you have made in your life that changed your life?
ED: Leaving family and friends in the town where I grew up was a tough choice. Not long after graduating college, I headed off to Atlanta to work at an ad agency. That move put me into a boom-or-bust industry that took me to Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, back to Georgia and eventually here. When you work for an ad agency, you learn at least two or three industries a year. Each town I lived in also challenged what I thought I knew. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had committed to a lifetime of learning, which continues today. I came to Lincoln City knowing next to nothing about the Oregon Coast. Fortunately, Anne Hall at the North Lincoln County Historical Museum and Kip Ward, owner of the Eventuary and the Historic Anchor Inn, each took me under their wing and taught me the history of the area. I couldn’t have done my job without them and everyone else in town who took the time to share with me.
PH: What does Lincoln City really need as an economic driver?
ED: I have to answer this as a personal opinion, not as a City employee or an expression of a City policy, so please note it as such. I was lucky enough to work on BellSouth advertising immediately after the breakup of AT&T. That gave me a window to the birth of the internet. I was taught by the network engineers who were taking the world from analog to digital. I still tend to see things through that transformative lens. When I look at the Lincoln City area, I see a town that was close to inaccessible prior to the Roosevelt Oregon Coast Military Highway in the 1920s. From then on, we have been a tourism destination. However, Lincoln City still doesn’t have an interstate highway or a seaport or a railway or an airport. We’re not the ideal city for warehouses or anything that needs to be shipped. However, we can move electrons as well as anyone else. The main fiber optic cable line for the coast goes right down Highway 101. This to me is key to attracting a class of people called Lifestyle Entrepreneurs. These are folks who can work via computer from anywhere in the world. They choose their location based on the lifestyle it affords. I think these are the people who can create high-paying jobs here. Convincing someone that they can do their job with an ocean view, walk along our seven and a half miles of beach when it’s time for a break, hike up to the breathtaking view at Cascade Head for fun when they want and then unwind at Black Squid after an art film at the Bijou, all while earning a high income and creating jobs here in town, feels very right for Lincoln City. Very few cities can offer anything comparable. The same things that are great assets for tourism are great in attracting knowledge-based businesses.
PH: Give us one of your most outside-the-box ideas you have or have heard of which might be a driver of people coming to a place like Lincoln City?
ED: Actually, this one was is actually very much in the box. A vacation is a very ethereal thing. It’s an experience and not something you can literally buy off a shelf. Years ago, I tried to take the vacation and make it a packaged good, same as a box of cereal or a tube of toothpaste. The result was Vacation In A Box. The idea was that you could go into a store, pick your vacation from a shelf, buy it and take it home. Inside the box would be souvenirs, vouchers for your lodging, attraction tickets, everything for you need to just go and enjoy your vacation. Almost all the hassles of planning would go away. I took it to focus groups and people loved it. The use occasion (I’m buying this for me and my family) actually shifted where the vacation could also be gift for others, sitting under the tree with a bow on top. People said that it made the vacation start even before they left home. However, this was pre-internet and we simply couldn’t get it to work because of the infinite number of variations we would have to produce to make it work. Family size being the biggest variable that stumped us. I’d like to revisit this one day, surrounded by internet-savvy folks who can help walk me though the daunting logistics of it all.
PH: If your budget was doubled for the next three years, what sort of things would you be doing differently?
ED: Our current paid advertising budget vaporizes when we hit Portland. I’d love to cast our net a little wider, but it’s difficult when your main market is as big and expensive as ours. One of my frustrations is that, for the most part, Lincoln City is a weekend getaway destination, not the place for that week-long family vacation. There are two ways to change that. One is to get people to visit from farther away. If you invest a lot of time and expense to get somewhere, you tend to stay longer to justify it. The other is to demonstrate that you simply can’t do everything there is to see and do in a weekend. For that we need more attractions, preferably indoor experiences for rainy days and off-season visits. We are going to propose setting up a budget item where Explore Lincoln City works with Lincoln City Economic Development to bring attractions to town. With more money available, I’d make that a much bigger program.
PH: Give us your elevator speech when someone might ask you — say some of those folk in the south you used to work with — “What the hell is in Lincoln City?”
ED: Lincoln City is the Unexpected. It’s a long, slender town that winds its way along the rugged Oregon Coast. It offers endless surprises with rivers and trails and bays and seven miles of beach, plus a full seven miles of beach town to explore that varies in amazing ways along its length. A farm-to-table dining experience that’s also a bowling alley? Lincoln City. Restored 1930s theater featuring avant-garde cinema? Lincoln City. A lantern tour of the cemetery where you meet the people buried there? Lincoln City. Casino gambling, dining and shows? Lincoln City. Glass art that mysteriously appears on the beach? Lincoln City. Haunted historic Bayfront? Lincoln City. Secret-recipe potato salad in a tavern with a view of the ocean? Lincoln City.
PH: If you couldn’t be doing this job, what might you be doing?
ED: A long time ago, I had a boss who wanted to talk to me about career planning. This guy had his life planned out all the way to his grave. I disagreed with everything he told me to do. As far as I’m concerned, life is a parade of opportunities that come by. You watch them go by, pick one and then jump in to join the parade. You have no control over of what will present itself next, so my answer is who knows? Something fun, I hope.
PH: Marketing in some circles — “Mad Men,” Edward Bernays, etc. — has some negative connotations. Which one negative one you regularly hear would you would like to dispel. How?
ED: I get to do luncheon presentations and radio appearances here now and again. I usually start with, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It gets laughs, but it also hopefully dispels the negatives I see the most. It’s not marketing per se, but more a feeling that nothing good can ever come from a governmental entity. My hope is that I can demonstrate the fallacy of that mindset. My department, and the rest of the City of Lincoln City’s staff, work very hard for the common good.
PH: Which one of the myriad marketing campaigns in the world are you particularly intrigued by, or which you would have been happy to be a part of?
ED: I’m showing my age here, but I would have killed to be able to work with Stan Freeberg back in the day.
I started out in radio way back when and Stan was a genius when it came to painting pictures with words and sound. Radio is a medium where budget pretty much doesn’t matter. You can create anything up to the limits of your talent and imagination.
PH: What’s a typical week for you in your position.
ED: Typical? I honestly don’t think there is any such thing in my department. We rarely do the same thing twice. It’s constant challenges, innovation and creation. Just like an ad agency. It’s not the place for anyone who wants a routine.
PH: There seems like a lot of PR spin happening in some of those articles you have on the website — what sorts of things would you like writers coming out to Lincoln City to focus on?
ED: We want the stories to be where the brand promise of the advertising is proven to be true. Lincoln City is the Unexpected. One Place, Endless Adventures. I want to see stories that have a feeling of amazement, the discovery of things they never expected to see and do in a beach town.
PH: Last book you read:
ED: “Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival” on the heels of “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.” I think my fascination with the book, especially in contrast with the Lewis & Clark story, is how almost everything goes wrong. Also, much in the book is close to unbelievable except for the fact that it’s history. It’s a book about fallible humans, which actually gives me some comfort. Things happen. Mistakes can be made, even among people who are making history.
PH: Last film you saw:
ED: “Where’d You Go Bernadette” at the Bijou. Missed “The Story of Valsetz,” much to my regret. Too much going on sometimes.
PH: Favorite activity to do in Lincoln City:
ED: Bluegrass Jam Night at the Eagles Lodge. It’s the one thing I do for me, plus I get to be among a group of supportive musicians who help me try to get better on my banjo. I picked up music late in life and am so far behind everyone else there it isn’t funny. However, they are very supportive and encouraging. I’ve made more progress with their help than I ever could have made trying to learn how to play music by myself.
PH: If Lincoln City could have a theme song, what would it be?
ED: I think we have one. Bryan Nichols, our local surfer-singer-artist-writer-surf shop owner performs songs with his band ZuhG that are inspired by Lincoln City. “Imagine That” from his “Field Trip” album talks about the wonders of living here right next to the surf.
First appeared here, in my lowly paying gig –– Oregon Coast Today.
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Note: Not all my writing sticks to my socialist principles. A feature on a person is also my MOS. Ed is a family man, an ad man, a real member of many parts of his community. Selling a location as a tourist and visitor destination? Well, you know where I stand on urban planning, resilience, sustainability, etc.