It was well after midnight and the Tampa airport terminal was almost empty. Just a few late-night travelers sitting on the benches, reading, trying to sleep or, like me, watching the movie on the screen hanging above the waiting area. They were showing Pancho Villa, the 1972 Eugenio Martin film with Telly Savalas as Villa. I was identifying with Villa – his betrayal and imprisonment, his escape, his revolt against his enemy, Huerta. I could feel Villa’s hot outrage. ¡Viva la revolución!
I had a couple of hours before my flight back to LA, so I was killing time, keeping one eye on the entrances, half expecting someone from Flag to come and escort me back to the Base.
No, I hadn’t blown the Sea Organization. But I had left Flag after receiving specific orders from Kerry Gleeson, now Scientology’s Executive Director International, to remain at Flag. Kerry wanted me to do things his way. But I knew his short-sighted ways wouldn’t work. Not for what I had in mind. What I was planning had to be done thoroughly and without shortcuts for it to work.
I was returning to Los Angeles, whether Gleeson wanted it or not. I was going to continue the project Nancy and I had started. For once, I was going to do things my way.
I had first escaped from Clearwater in mid-1981, when Annie Allcock and I had been fired on a mission to locate and hire a public relations firm for the Church of Scientology. Military terminology permeated the Sea Org, so when a Sea Org member was sent to do something, they were "fired on a mission." It gave the activity a sense of precision and purpose.
"Big Blue" - The Scientology PAC Complex
Annie and I went directly from the airport to the "big blue building," the former Cedars of Lebanon hospital, which had been purchased by the Church four years earlier. It was a mixed collection of buildings – the original hospital was a hulking V-shaped relic from the 20’s with ornate deco trim, while the newer additions were 50s "modern" - bland blocks of stucco and glass. The entire thing had been painted a hideous shade of bright blue, apparently on Hubbard’s orders – since the color blue was associated with the spirit. Inside, it was bustling with Scientology activity.
The building complex was known within the Sea Org as the Pacific Area Command – again, the military frame of reference - or PAC for short, and housed the Los Angeles Organization (moved up from 9th Street), the American Saint Hill Organization, the Advanced Organization Los Angeles, as well as the Sea Org’s Continental Liaison Office for the Western US. The idea was to have the "entire Bridge" in one place – that is, all of Scientology’s levels from beginning public services all the way to the OT Levels and advanced training, as well as the continental management office.
The new Executive Director International, Bill Franks, had set up his offices in the penthouse of Lebanon Hall, a towering deco structure jutting up from the center of the building complex. It served as staff apartments. The penthouse was spacious, with cluttered desks placed throughout the large main room. A balcony looked out over the grey haze of Los Angeles.
Franks had just been appointed as Executive Director, a position last held by Hubbard himself in the 1960’s, and resurrected as part of the "new management" of the Church. In theory, he was the top dog. In fact, he answered to the Commodore’s Messenger Organization. He was taking his new position seriously, and the office was a hive of frantic activity. Franks sat us down at a long conference table, and briefed us on our mission, which was to locate a public relations firm that could be hired by the Church to repair its damaged public image.
Annie and I set up offices in one of the lower floors of the Main Building, and started calling around and setting up appointments. We got ourselves outfitted with proper business suits and got a couple of briefcases so we’d look the part.
For the next three or four weeks we went around LA, meeting with a list of PR firms, from some of the best-known A-list firms to lesser-known companies. At night, we compiled reports about each firm – what they had said, a summary of their firm, and a client list (to make sure they were not retained by drug companies, government agencies or psychs – the enemy!).
Then one day we got called up to Franks’ office. We were to collect together all of our information and turn it in – he was firing us on a different mission altogether, something that had become urgent. He briefed us that a Scientology celebrity, Cathy Lee Crosby, co-host of TV’s "That’s Incredible," was putting on an anti drug TV special called "Get High on Yourself." It would include Scientologists like John Travolta as well as non-Scientologists like rocker Ted Nugent. Cathy Lee wanted the Church to launch a big Purification Rundown promotional campaign coincident with the airing of the show. Her assistant, Cathy Wasserman, also a Scientologist, was organizing the whole "Get High on Yourself" program and was the one coordinating with Bill Franks (later the allegation was made that she and Bill were involved in more than "coordinating").
But the catch was this: the TV special was set to air in three weeks. We had three weeks to put together a complete and professional TV Campaign.
I was torn. On the one hand, this was exactly what I wanted to do – launch big public campaigns for Scientology. On the downside, this was more of the same panic mentality that was destructive of any proper planning or preparation. The excitement of actually doing a big campaign won out, and I went for it.
I figured I had a little leverage at this point, so I insisted on a third missionaire, someone trained in market research and surveying – my wife Nancy. She was on the next plane. At least that part of my plan was in place.
We commandeered an office on the second floor of LA Org, and arranged for some desks and a conference table where we could have meetings. We contacted a Scientologist, Don Spector, who had worked as Creative Director for both BBDO West and Foote, Cone and Belding, and he agreed to work with us. He had a marketing researcher that he worked with, Janai Pringle, also a Scientologist.
We also had two more people added to our project, Steve Heard and Jack Dirmann. They were supposed to handle public relations. Steve was a former GO staffer, a very smart, very funny guy, and Steve, Nancy and I had each other in stitches half the time.
Steve had a clever idea to promote the Purification Rundown, which was to start a Foundation which would do scientific studies of the Rundown and thereby prove its effectiveness. He and Jack brainstormed the whole thing – it would validate the Purification Rundown, then go on to validate Hubbard’s "Study Technology." They decided to call it "The Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Education" or FASE. They actually did get it established, and it still exists to this day. If you look at their website you’d never know they started in that little office above LA Org as a bright idea to promote the Purification Rundown.
Meanwhile, Nancy and I did some fast research and surveys and assembled a campaign, with TV ads, print ads, and a surveyed slogan, which was, as I remember, "Bring them back to life." It was aimed at parents whose children were addicted to drugs. I ended up presenting the whole campaign to three executives: Bill Franks, Kerry Gleeson (who was still CO Flag Bureaux and visiting from Clearwater), and John Nelson, the Commanding Officer of CMO International. I felt like I was giving the presentation to three department store mannequins. None of them moved or changed expression throughout the presentation, which went on for an hour. There were no smiles, no nods, no questions. It was eerie. At the end of it, they got up and left.
And that was the end of the Purification Campaign. It was never mentioned again. Probably they had other things on their minds, as I was soon to discover.
One afternoon in December 1981, I got a call from Bruce Wilson in Clearwater. He was all excited about a meeting that had just happened there between management and the Mission holders. Not to be confused with Sea Org "Missions," these were people who owned and operated Scientology’s franchises. Scientology had used the term Franchise for many years, but in an effort to pump up "religious image," they had been renamed "Missions." These were smaller organizations, privately owned, that delivered basic Scientology courses and auditing. They had long been at odds with the GO, and some complained that their missions had been illegally taken away from them. A few had even sued the Church to try to get their missions back. With the collapse of the GO, the Mission holders saw a chance to right some of these old wrongs, and wanted a dialog with management. They were looking to the new Executive Director International, Bill Franks, to put it all right. After all, he was Hubbard’s successor and could do something about it. Franks, however, arrived to the conference under CMO Int escort. It was clear that they were really pulling the strings, not Franks. The Mission holders just saw this as more shenanigans, and demanded answers. They challenged the executives who were present.
Bruce was enthusiastic about the meeting. He felt it was part of a bright new era for the Church, where ordinary Scientologists could have a voice in Church operations and a dialog with management.
I called Kim and told him about it. By this time, he was out of the Sea Org and was a "public Scientologist." With three small children to care for, including a newborn baby, Kim and his wife Deborah had found it impossible to live with the limited time and money they had in the Sea Org, so had routed out and were now living in the Valley. Kim had worked his way back into good standing with the Church. He was happy to hear that there might be some reforms. He had had his own bad experiences on staff.
But the "powers that be," the CMO Int hierarchy, saw the Mission Holders conference differently. They saw it as a mutiny against their authority. Scientology, after all, wasn’t a democracy, where people could publicly air their grievances, it was a top-down authoritarian rule, and one did not question those in power. Within weeks, Bill Franks was off post, under guard, and Kerry Gleeson, still in Clearwater, had been appointed as his successor.
For me, all of these internal politics and power plays were a distraction. If we really were to put the past behind us and begin a new era for Scientology, then we had to get out into the public eye and make the subject known to people. That was what was ultimately important.
Jeff and Nancy - loose cannons in LA
Nancy and I discussed what we should do next, and we decided to make our move. I wrote a long petition to the CO CMO Int, laying out a plan to once and for all get a major public campaign for Scientology launched. I laid out the exact steps, which included exhaustive marketing research, isolation of publics, surveys, studies to find the most effective media, research into the book market, and so on. I estimated it would take six months to a year. Amazingly, the petition was approved, and Nancy and I launched the Market Research and Advertising Project.
We started systematically, working with Don Spector, the Scientologist adman. My first question was: what kind of people would be most likely to get interested in Scientology? So we started with a survey of existing Scientologists to find common demographics at the time they had gotten into Scientology – age, education, income, many other factors. And we started surveying broadly for current public attitudes towards Scientology – attitudes we would have to overcome and change. And at the same time, we began researching religious and spiritual trends in society that might work for us. I kept senior executives briefed with weekly newsletters. I knew that unless I kept up a constant flow of valuable information, my project could be cancelled in an instant. As it was, we began to be known and our work valued.
It was all off the cuff. We had the office over LA Org that we had been using, so we just kept that. We had no authorization, we were essentially squatters. The head of Bridge Publications, the Scientology publishing firm that handles all of Hubbard’s books, was a friend of mine, Edy Lundeen. I briefed her on the project and got her support. With that, I was able to slip her Purchase Orders and get a little funding for operating expenses. I managed to get our food and berthing covered from the Continental Liaison Office. So with a bit of scrabbling and negotiating, we managed to stay afloat.
Getting staff was another matter. One day, a girl named Linda walked into the office.
"I heard you’re going to be doing a big raw public campaign," she said. I told her that was right.
"I’d really like to work on that," she said hopefully.
"Great!" I said. "Sit down there, that’s your desk. Nancy will train you on how to do surveys."
A few days later, Linda’s senior showed up.
"I’m looking for Linda," he said. "She’s my staff."
"She’s working here now," I told him. Amazingly, he left, and I never heard another word about it.
Staff continued to wander in, and I would put them to work. Soon there were five of us. I let Nancy run them as a survey team, and spent most of my time researching publics, trends, and the ins and outs of the book industry. Gradually, the bones of a campaign began to take shape.
I never paid much attention to "organizing." I just worked out what needed to be done and then had people do it. But "organizing" things and putting everything on elaborate org charts was an obsession in Scientology, and particularly with Hubbard. At the beginning of 1982, management attention began to swing in the direction of marketing activities, and the first thing that had to be worked out by management was "how to organize it."
Hubbard had started mentioning this problem in a series of communications to John Nelson, the CO CMO Int. He stated that while he had always been able to do "seat of the pants" marketing for Scientology – putting out new courses and auditing rundowns when income needed a boost – real formal marketing required an investment of people, time and money. He seemed to be echoing what I had been saying. He told Nelson how to go about setting up a central marketing unit for the Church. He said to first start a small unit, without touching any existing units, train that unit in "wog" marketing tech, and then gradually pull all other units under that seed unit. It seemed like a simple plan. The only problem was that it actually required setting up and training a starter unit – and no one was willing to put the time or effort into actually doing that.
So the confusion about "how to set up a central marketing unit" rolled forward, getting more and more confusing and complex the more everyone avoided that first step.
Finally, in desperation, Nelson called for a conference at Flag to settle the matter. All of the heads of the existing marketing units would attend – me, the Dissem Aide Flag Bureau, the marketing people from "Golden Era Productions" and others. I flew to Clearwater for the conference, bringing Don Spector along as a professional advertising guy who had worked in agencies and might be able to throw some light on how to organize up a central marketing unit.
The conference soon degenerated into utter chaos. No one could agree on anything. I tried to present what I considered some sane ideas for setting up a marketing function, only to have them shouted down. For every suggestion I made, there were a dozen insane ones. I finally left the conference room in disgust, and sent Spector back to LA. It had been a colossal waste of time. I wanted to get back to work.
It was not to be. I was ordered to Kerry Gleeson’s office in the West Coast Building. He lit into me right away.
"Your project is a failure," he said. "You’re a failed Missionaire. You will never, never, get a campaign launched that way."
When I was still working at Flag under Gleeson, I would have caved under this kind of pressure, and agreed to whatever he wanted. But I was still frustrated and angry from the insanity of the "marketing conference." I was in no mood to agree with Gleeson, or to go along with any more crackpot ideas of how marketing ought to be done.
"You’re wrong," I said, surprising myself a little. "What I’m doing, real research and planning, is the only way to get an effective campaign going."
He looked at me oddly, shocked that I had dared to challenge him. "You’ve changed," he said, narrowing his eyes. "There’s something different about you…"
"You’re not going back to LA," he told me flatly. "You’re going to remain here as my Marketing Executive International. If you want to launch a big campaign, fine, you can do it via the Continental Liaison Offices to the Orgs."
That, I knew, was the sure route to disaster. The CLOs and the Orgs were caught up in Gleeson’s week-to-week stat machine. They would never, never devote the time and resources to running such a campaign that didn’t show immediate weekly stat results. No, the campaign needed to be centrally conceived and centrally funded and run – direct to the public.
"I’m not staying," I told Gleeson. "I’m going back to LA to do my campaign."
He was furious. "You are not to leave Flag. I demand a solution from you before you go anywhere. If you won’t be Marketing Exec Int, then who will? You’d better have a solution by tomorrow!" With that he dismissed me.
I left his office, seething. Factually, Gleeson couldn’t recall me – I was under CMO Int, not ED Int. I headed for the Dissem Bureau offices. I knew that I had friends there, and that one of them, Charlie Updegrove, had a car.
It was after midnight, but I could see lights still on. I banged on the door and peeked through the blinds. There were about five staff in there, staring at the door in a frozen tableau of fear. "Open up!" I shouted, "it’s me, Jeff." Finally they let me in.
"Charlie, I need a ride to the airport," I told him. Graciously, he didn’t ask any questions. We collected my luggage and headed out to Tampa International Airport. I booked the next flight to LA, an early morning flight.
Back in LA, Nancy and I set about consolidating our position. A new organization had been formed at the end of 1981 called Author Services. They were officially not a part of the Church, but were supposed to be L. Ron Hubbard’s literary agency. In fact, like everything else in Scientology, they were run from the top. As my future campaign would involve selling Scientology books, and that would mean royalties to Hubbard, they took an interest in what we were doing, and in fact began running us directly. I sent my weekly reports to Fran Harris, and she started having weekly meetings with us to go over project. She would report on our campaign progress to Hubbard, and would let us know what he said back. He seemed to be pleased with the progress we were making.
Gleeson made one final attempt to stop us. He had been spreading it all over Flag that I was "blown" and sent two missionaries, Debbie Vincent and Aledia Warren, with instructions to take over our market research project and reorganize it. When they arrived and briefed me on what they were going to do, I was furious. I tried to reason with them, but they were determined not to listen to me.
Somehow, I lured them into a supply closet, on the pretext that there was something important in there to inspect. I then closed the door on them and locked it, went to a nearby desk and called Frannie at ASI. I briefed her on what was happening.
"Don’t worry," she said. "I’ll call you right back."
I waited, listening to the pounding and muffled curses coming from the closet. Ten minutes later, the phone rang.
"It’s handled," Frannie said. "They’ve been recalled."
I unlocked the door and let the two furious women out.
"You’ve been recalled," I told them. "Now get the fuck out of my office."
And so we carried on, the surveys and research data piling up. I was getting a pretty good idea of who we should be marketing to and what their attitudes and needs were. It seemed that those most likely to be interested in Scientology were young and well-educated. They were people who were looking for change in their lives. I called them "seekers."
One afternoon, I went to the local drugstore to pick something up, and ran into Bill Franks. He looked hollow, tired. He was, I gathered, out of Scientology altogether by then. We talked for a minute, and I told him what I was doing. He wished me luck. That was the last time I saw him.
Then in April 1982, several things came together at once, like planets aligning. My old friend Foster Tompkins arrived on a mission to Bridge Publications, the Scientology publishing house for Hubbard’s books. There was going to be a major book convention in June in Anaheim, the American Booksellers Association Convention. This was a yearly national convention where publishers showed their wares and made deals with the book chains and distributors. Foster was to arrange for Bridge Publications to have a booth at this fair and sell Hubbard’s books.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wilson had started a new activity at Flag called the Library Donation Project. Its aim was to get Scientologists to buy books which would then be donated to public libraries. The profits were to go to major book campaigns.
At the same time, Hubbard had written a long memo to the CO CMO Int called "Planetary Dissemination" (later issued as a Policy Letter). In it, he stated that Scientology Organizations would continue to be small and static if they only sold to their existing public of Scientologists. In order to really expand, we had to reach out to new people, and the way to do that was with books. He called for a big book campaign to be launched.
The path ahead seemed clear to Foster and I. We would join forces, along with Bruce, in one overall project. That the three of us were good friends, and that all of us tended to be mavericks, only increased the appeal. I would handle the market research, advertising and media; Foster would handle the book trade sales, and Bruce would handle the funding. We would launch the biggest public book campaign anyone had seen.
We discussed what to call the combined project. "Book Marketing Unit" seemed obvious, but I could see an immediate problem.
"If we call ourselves the Book Marketing Unit," I told Foster, "then pretty soon they’ll have us running the orgs’ week-to-week book sales, and that’s all we’ll end up doing."
"Well, that’s tactical," Foster pointed out. "We don’t do tactical; we do strategy."
So the Strategic Book Marketing Unit was born.
And over the next four and a half years, the SBMU would reach a level of success none of us had envisioned.