"You wanted to see me, Sir?"
I poked my head into the office of the new Commanding Officer of the Planetary Dissemination Organization, Ronnie Miscavige.
"Yes, come in Jeff." He indicated the chair across the desk from his deputy, Bill Dendiu, and I sat down. They both looked very serious.
It was early January, 1987. Ronnie and Bill had arrived unexpectedly that morning. They had briefed the staff of my Strategic Book Marketing Unit that they were sent by the Chairman of the Board RTC, David Miscavige, to establish a new Planetary Dissemination Organization, which was to include my unit. Ronnie was to be the new CO of this org, and Bill was his Deputy CO for Production.
I didn’t know much about them. I knew Ronnie was David Miscavige’s brother, and I could see the family resemblance. Ronnie was taller and had blond hair and he seemed more easygoing, more laid back than his intense younger brother. Dendiu, I knew, had been a major figure in the Portland Crusade, and was known as a go-to guy who could get the impossible done. He bore a certain resemblance to the actor Michael Keaton, and had, in the distant past, done standup comedy in Hollywood. I would get to know Bill very well in the coming years, and would discover that conversations with him tended to be a one-way monologue. He could be very funny. He could also be cruel and abusive, and it was that side of him that I saw first.
"You’ve been ripping off the Church," he began.
"I beg your pardon?" The last thing I expected was an attack.
"That bonus system of yours – you and your staff have been ripping off thousands of dollars of Church money," Dendiu spat out. His face was flushed red with anger.
"Wait a minute – that bonus system was approved by the Int Finance Office…" I stammered.
"You think that gives you the right to make more than any other Sea Org Member?" He challenged.
"We’ve been selling more books than anyone ever has in the history of Scientology," I countered. "We have it on every major bestseller list…"
"You’re making more money than the Chairman of the Board RTC!" he screamed. Of course that was a lie. At that time, Miscavige was paying himself over $85,000 a year, and our bonuses were a few thousand dollars a year. And I’d spent my savings on a second-hand car I was using to do my job!
Bill was not to be deterred, and it went from bad to worse, with accusation after accusation. "You’ve been sleeping with Jan Gildersleeve, haven’t you?" he screamed.
The thought was ludicrous. I was very happily married to Nancy. Jan, my Media Director, was brilliant, plain and practical.
I tried to appeal to Ronnie. "Can I speak to you privately?" I asked. Something was very wrong here – I needed to find out what. He shook his head, and sat placidly watching. Obviously this was part of their orders, to viciously attack me – but why?
The accusations went on and on, for more than an hour. I was screamed at, accused of every crime under the sun, and finally assigned a "lowered condition." I finally left, broken and very confused. We had just ended the biggest book sales year in the history of Scientology. I had been responsible for the sales of millions of books. Dianetics was on all the major bestseller lists. Why was I the subject of a vicious personal attack? It made no sense. And there was no explanation forthcoming, other than that I was "out-ethics."
Ronnie and Bill set up their office across the hall from my corner office on the 3rd floor of the Main Building. They began emptying out all of the offices on that wing of the building – this was to be the new Planetary Dissemination Org. They began running me and my unit with daily "Product Conferences" and inspections.
By February, Dianetics book sales had started to drop – as they did every year at that time. In fact, every publisher in the United States was experiencing the same drop, it was called "seasonal variation." But Dendiu was having none of it. After all, Hubbard never mentioned "sales curves" or "seasonal variations," so they didn’t exist. According to Hubbard, there was only one thing to look at, and that was the weekly line on the graph. If it was up, the person was OK, if it was down, the person was "downstat" and "out-ethics." "Don’t get reasonable about down statistics," Hubbard preached. "They are down because they are down…Any duress leveled by ethics should be reserved for down statistics."
Never mind that even with the slight February dip, we were still selling more books than anyone had ever done in Scientology’s history. I was "down stat" and that called for duress. And Dendiu was willing to supply that duress. He began talking publicly and noisily about how "incompetent" I was and how I was a failure at running the campaign. This was repeated over and over until I half believed it myself. He announced that he was "taking over the campaign" from his position as D/CO Production. This is what Hubbard called "bypass." When statistics go down, it is expected that the senior declare a "Danger Condition," bypass and handle the situation directly, ignoring the junior.
Of course, Bill had absolutely no idea of what to do. He had, literally, no clue as to where to start to handle the campaign. He fell back on another bit of Hubbard "tech," the "Power Change Violation Repair Formula." This is supposed to be done when a "Power Condition" (the highest condition there is, when statistics are going up, up, up) was violated as new incumbents lost touch with earlier "successful actions." He never acknowledged that my campaign had been in a Power Condition, but did the formula anyway.
He had me draw up a long list of the "successful actions" that had gotten the stats up. So I did. He then turned this into a program, a series of targets to be accomplished, and called it "Program X." Then he would call meetings of all concerned and call off these targets and demand "is that DONE?" and if not, the person had hell to pay.
Of course, this had nothing whatsoever to do with what had been successful. What had created the sales was a lot of teamwork and initiative, good research and analysis, and good creative solutions by everyone on the team. To replace that with these top-down, authoritarian meetings, full of threat and bombast, was a travesty. And, of course, it didn’t work.
One of the most ridiculous examples of this kind of robotic "stat management" was the Self Analysis campaign I ran in 1987. Self Analysis was a book that I’d always found fascinating. It was a series of Dianetics processes (exercises) that a person did by themselves, just be reading them. I had tried it and found it fun and therapeutic. I decided to release it in paperback and devised a campaign for it in 1986, including designing a new paperback cover.
This was the mid-1980s, and my target demographics – always a moving target – were mostly concerned about their careers and achieving financial stability. I worked out a slogan to appeal to them, "If you’re not moving up, you’re falling behind." I also had a tag line for the book "The 30 Minute Mental Workout." Mitch Brisker shot a TV ad for me, which intercut between a guy using the book, and the same guy running up a staircase. It was fast-paced and grabbed attention.
A new cover for Self Analysis in paperback
I launched the campaign in early 1987 with a small TV buy. We had sold a lot of books in to the stores and when the ads hit, the sales went straight up. The book had phenomenal "legs." With just a bit of TV, the book started flying off the shelves, and immediately went onto some of the major chain bestseller lists.
The sales followed a sort of bell curve. Except it was more like a whale, with the steep initial sales being the head, and a long, long decline being the body of the whale. And there was a lot of blubber under that curve – or a lot of Hubbard in this case – hundreds of thousands of books
The problem was, after that initial month, it was all "downstats." Therefore the campaign was a "failure." And as a "downstat," and I enjoyed a year of Dendiu’s "duress."
The Sales Whale
By the end of 1987, we had sold a half a million copies, and Self Analysis was ranked as the 11th bestselling trade paperback in America by Publishers Weekly magazine. And I was sick and tired of pursuing a campaign that had got me nothing but grief, verbal abuse, and "lower conditions." The Self Analysis campaign was finally abandoned as "failed."
When I wasn’t dodging threats and barbs from Dendiu, I was arguing with Ronnie about "organization." I was trying to keep my unit together, somehow, anyhow. I argued that my unit should be kept intact, and other units formed around it, to market other things. If you wanted to market Dianetics Seminars, for instance, start a "Dianetics Seminar Marketing Unit" with its own planner, researchers, and project managers. Ronnie argued that this violated one of Hubbard’s dictums – there were to be no "duplicate functions" in an organization. In other words, there could never be two Research areas – even if they were researching entirely different things.
Ronnie eventually prevailed. The resulting "organizing board" dismembered my unit completely. My Researcher, Josie, went into a general research pool, where I no longer ran her. From that point on, little real research got done. My PR Officer, Joann Milan, was reassigned to the LRH Public Relations Bureau. PDO would have no PR area as it was a "duplicate function." That was the end of any volume of Public Relations for Dianetics – it soon faded to nothing as Joanne was assigned "other duties." I was reposted as the Advertising and Promotion Secretary for PDO. So I still had the artists and designers and media people under me. I could run that much, but no more.
I remember that crew muster as if it were yesterday. We lined up in the hallway of the new PDO, in the order of the newly worked out "Divisions." I saw my staff assembling in other lines, not behind me. I felt the bitter taste of defeat. And I felt an inner rage I could not express, didn’t dare express. The Strategic Book Marketing Unit was no more.
That was March, 1987. You can mark that date on a graph of Church of Scientology booksales, and see that as the point where booksales leveled and then began a steep, long term drop. The momentum was hard to kill. Sales leveled, but stayed high for the next year. Within two years, booksales began a steep nosedive that continues to this day. Organization statistics stayed high through to 1991 as the boom petered out. After 1991, Scientology statistics began a steep, steep plunge from which they would never recover. When I finally left the Church in 2005, they were still falling.
"Don’t worry," Ronnie told me. "You’re not losing a unit, you’re really gaining a whole organization devoted to public dissemination."
I wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe that the dream wasn’t dead, that we could do even more. And it looked like the newly formed PDO was really going to be a success. We now had an HCO Division that was recruiting like mad. We took over the whole 3rd floor west wing and it was renovated to make it clean and modern, with a glass door at the entrance and wall-to-wall grey carpet. Ronnie and Bill started absorbing more and more marketing functions. They took over all of the Scientology magazines and absorbed their staff. They took over WISE marketing (World Institute of Scientology Enterprises – the org that oversaw the activities of all Scientologist-owned businesses) and demanded personnel from them. Same with Scientology Missions International. PDO was growing and growing, and soon we were over 50 people – and doing all kinds of marketing activities for the Church.
Dianetics was rapidly becoming a second fiddle, but everyone still gave it lip service as PDO’s most important campaign.
For all the seriousness of its beginnings, PDO grew into a great org to work for. Bill had his abusive moments, but could also get the staff laughing with his incessant comedy monologues. When the "stats were up," he enjoyed treating the crew to a nice dinner, a movie, or an LA Kings Game. For Christmas, we got to join the Int Base Crew, who, in those days, spent three days at Big Bear Lake.
PDO partying hard after an "upstat" week. Jeff and Nancy to the left. Ronnie (white shirt) and Bill (red shirt) are standing, at the far end of the table.
And we still had time off when the stats were up. Nancy and I took advantage of that to see LA and to visit my family. Kim was living in the Valley with his wife and three kids, and Mom was living in Santa Barbara, back from her two year sojourn to Tanzania. I loved visiting her in Santa Barbara – the city seemed so beautiful and free.
Thanksgiving with the Hawkins family. Mom and Kimball at left,
Kim's wife and kids to the right.
One day in mid-1987, I got a taste of what campaigns would be like in the new PDO organization. Ronnie called us together for a briefing, and announced that we would be picking up where the abortive Jack Trout fiasco had ended off - we would be doing a big public campaign for Scientology. We were all excited. Scientology had a negative public image, and it would be great to handle that with proper research, surveying and testing.
"We have to make a presentation in two weeks," Ronnie concluded.
Two weeks? That was a joke. To research, conceive and plan out a major public campaign would take at least three to six months! Even Trout had had three. I met with Ronnie privately and voiced my concern. We could do nothing of real value in two weeks. But he was implacable. The deadline was two weeks. I would just have to "make it go right" he said, quoting another Hubbard maxim.
The research division went into overdrive and in a few days served me up a rehash of my Dianetics research as to target public and demographics, with a few surveys added. Ronnie gave the research a cursory look, and decided that the slogan would be "Scientology: Improving Life in a Troubled World." I got with Rick Rogers, my non-Sea Org pro designer, and we brainstormed some ad concepts. We came up with some concepts that were polished, but somewhat plebeian. I came up with an outline of a media strategy, and we put the whole thing on presentation boards, and Ronnie and Bill rushed up to the Int Base to "pitch" it. I expected a resounding reject, with an instruction to get serious, buckle down and do some real honest research and come up with something brilliant.
To my shock, it was resoundingly approved. They loved it. Ronnie and Bill were high-fiving everyone. See? All that market research, demographic studies, media research, testing and analysis wasn’t needed! All you had to do was do some lick-and-a-promise research, get a bright idea and pitch it! This was to become the standard operating procedure in PDO that I’d be fighting – or failing to fight – for the next seventeen years.
There were other campaigns that started entering in to the mix. In June was the Maiden Voyage of the new Sea Org vessel, the Freewinds. The ship had been bought in1984 and completely refit. It was to be the location for the delivery of the highest OT Level at the time, OT VIII. We designed and printed a bunch of promotion, course packs and literature for the ship. And with each of these added campaigns, there was less and less time being spent on Dianetics. But for Bill, Dianetics didn’t require any time – he had his "Program X," and he just had to pound staff to get it done.
One of the criticisms leveled at the Dianetics Campaign was that it "wasn’t bringing people in to the Orgs." I knew that wasn’t true – it had fueled an unprecedented org boom – but it was hard to show a direct correlation as orgs did not keep track of how many people were coming in from the campaign. That was ironic, since everything else was statistically micromanaged. But "people coming in from the campaign" wasn’t an approved Hubbard stat, so no one ever tracked it.
To handle this supposed lack of people, we began marketing Dianetics Seminars. Hubbard sometimes referred to Dianetics as "Book One" (since it was the book that started everything). Some enthusiastic field people had started delivering "Book One Seminars" to teach people how to do Dianetics. These were getting some success, so I put together a TV ad promoting the Dianetics Seminar. Mitch Brisker filmed the ad, which starred Judy Norton-Taylor, a Scientology celebrity famous for her role as Mary Ellen in "The Waltons" TV Series. We started making the ad available to the orgs and they had some success with it. This was a problem I would work on over the years, finally coming up with a solution seven years later.
In June 1987, a French Scientologist, Phillipe deHenning, created a stir when he raced at LeMans with "La Dianetique" blazoned across his car. He ended up winning in the C2 Class (the lighter cars). The French Orgs went to town with this, making posters of Phillipe and his car.
To say that Bill Dendiu was a sports fan would be an understatement. He was fanatical about any and all sports, and had a seemingly photographic memory when it came to the subject. Phillipe deHenning’s win inspired Bill to do something like that in the US, and he began meeting with a sports marketing firm to see if a racing sponsorship could be lined up.
I did a bit of research on the demographics of car racing fans, and recommended against it. Racing fans were not heavy book readers – quite the opposite. I didn’t see how promoting Dianetics on a race car was going to sell books. But there was no stopping Bill.
"You’re just being elitist," Bill charged. "Scientology isn’t just for intellectuals or college boys – it’s for everyone!" It was an argument I would have many times.
"But we’re selling books," I countered. "It makes sense to promote to people who actually buy and read books."
"Who says that racing fans don’t read?" Bill said defensively.
It was no use. Bill had his sights set on a racing sponsorship, and there was no stopping him. Eventually he connected up with Penske Motor Sports, one of the biggest Formula 1 racing sponsors at the time. We ended up going out to a Penske car dealership in Encino, to meet with the man himself, Roger Penske. As Bill didn’t have a car, we drove out in my beat-up Honda Accord (paid for from my lavish bonuses!). I was feeling decidedly embarrassed about going to visit one of the richest automobile magnates in the US in my old clunker.
Penske was smooth and sleek. With his helmet of silvery white hair and tanned, leathery skin, he somehow reminded me of a lizard in an expensive suit. He was cordial, and gave us a tour of his Indy Car museum in the basement of the dealership. He seemed eager for us to sponsor one of his cars, and we discussed the details. He was running three cars that year, all his new PC-17s. And he had three top drivers, Rick Meers, Al Unser, and Danny Sullivan. Their starting positions were 1, 2 and 3. It looked like a great opportunity to be right in the front ranks of the Indy 500.
Bill was beside himself with excitement. He had me put together a series of presentation boards, including an illustration of a Penske PC-17 with a big "Dianetics" on the side. We then went up to the Int Base and Bill did the song and dance, talking about how many people would see the race live, how many would see it on TV, the visibility it would give Dianetics and so on. No mention was made, of course, about my concerns on the demographics. It turned out that Mark Ingber, the WDC member over Sea Org Reserves, was also a big racing fan, and he was all for it. In short, Bill sold the idea and all the senior execs were excited about the idea – including Miscavige.
The Trade Sales staff at Bridge Publications were also excited. I prepared a sales presentation for them, and they started pitching it to the big book chains and distributors. Bob Erdmann met with the buyers of major book chains and promised them tickets to the Indy 500. They reciprocated with big orders and agreed to in-store displays to coincide with the race.
And there was another wrinkle to this that was to become increasingly important over the years. And that was making money from Scientologists. An organization had been started in 1984 called the International Association of Scientologists – the IAS. It had been started as a means of raising money for Scientology’s legal defense. But the IAS sales people ("Registrars," or "Reges") found that it was easier to raise money for "dissemination" than for legal defensive actions. It was sexier. Soon I was preparing sales presentations for the IAS moneymakers and the Flag "Reges" to use to solicit donations from rich Scientology public. This turned out to be very lucrative – Scientologists were captivated by the idea of a Dianetics race car in the Indy 500 and would pay big money to support it. Unfortunately, little of the money so raised ever actually made it into the campaign coffers.
In April 1988, almost as a fluke, Dianetics showed up as #1 on the New York Times List. Since popping onto the list in August 1986, it had remained on the list, week after week, for over a year, hovering around number 3 and 4. Like a runaway freight train, Dianetics continued to sell and sell on sheer momentum. Then in April it suddenly peaked at #1 on the list. People went crazy. This was just before the big Dianetics Anniversary event that was held every year on May 9th, the original publication date of Dianetics in 1950. Bill and I – and the whole PDO crew – were feted at the Int Base. We were all driven out to San Jacinto, Bill and Ronnie and Nancy and I in a stretch limo, and the rest of the crew in a big Mercedes bus. We were given a big dinner in a white tent set up on the grounds of the Int Base, then watched the May 9th Event, being broadcast from Flag, with the Int Base crew. We were treated like royalty for a day.
Suddenly, the deal with Penske fell through. He informed us he wanted out. Why he pulled out was never clear – what I was told at the time was that he was pressured by Eli Lilly, who were headquartered in Indianapolis, to not allow his cars to be sponsored by Scientology. In other words, it was an "enemy action" by the psychs and big pharma companies against Scientology. This kind of conspiracy was the inevitable reason given for anything going wrong.
Eventually, Penske ended up paying us a settlement, but we had to do some fast stepping to salvage the situation. Bill ended up flying out to Phoenix to meet with racing legend Andy Granatelli – "Mr. Indy 500" – and his brother Vince. They were fielding a Lola-Cosworth in the 1988 Indy 500, driven by Columbian racer Roberto Guerrero. Guerrero was an up-and-coming driver – the previous year, he had led the Indy pack for 182 laps, then lost his clutch and ended up coming in a close second after Al Unser Sr. In September, he had suffered a crash in a test session at Indy and had ended up in a coma for 17 days. Now he was fully recovered and looking at another crack at the trophy.
Bill charmed the Granatellis, and they agreed to have Dianetics as a co-sponsor. We were on again! I revised all of the promotion to show Dianetics emblazoned across the Granatelli Lola-Cosworth and feature Roberto Guerrero. As part of the deal, we were to have a duplicate of the car available which we could take to sales shows and events. It ended up getting pushed out on stage at Flag to wild cheers and ringing cash registers.
I planned the 1988 American Booksellers Association Convention booth to be built around the car, which would be sitting right in the booth. We would have TV monitors mounted up above the booth so convention attendees could watch the race – which was being held that same weekend. Posters of the car and Guerrero would be available to the booksellers.
I was in charge of the ABA presentation. The convention was being held in Los Angeles that year, and I went down early to get everything set up. Meanwhile Bill took off for Indianapolis, along with some senior Church execs – including David Miscavige, Ronnie, Mark Ingber and others. They had a huge box overlooking the track, where they could entertain the bigwigs from the publishing industry, as well as wine and dine Miscavige and company.
I remember being on the floor of the ABA Convention that Saturday. The car was gleaming and bright, all the monitors were tuned to the race. Excitement was running high as the announcer said those familiar words, "Gentlemen, start your engines." And they were off.
Guerrero was in the #12 position. I watched him go into the second turn and – crash.
That’s right, crash. Right into the wall. Finished. Caput. Guerrero was fine, but the car was a total loss. It was one of those moments when the entire universe seems to close in to a single black tube. All I could see was a distant TV screen with cars going around and around, surrounded by blackness. A wave of horror washed over me. I could only imagine what was going on in that posh booth at the Indy 500 racetrack.
I quietly switched the monitors so they were showing a loop of the Dianetics TV ads, and tried to go on with the convention, business as usual.
To add insult to injury, Penske’s Rick Meers and Al Unser finished first and third, respectively.
The reaction was amazingly mild. Dendiu, and the senior execs, did not seem discouraged from their racing goals. Bill had negotiated a series of races with the Granatellis, and the racing schedule continued unabated through to the end of the year, with Guerrero piloting the Dianetics car in Long Beach, Indianapolis and Portland – with mediocre results. Racing fever had hit, and there was no slowing down.
The book sales never responded to the racing in the slightest. In fact, they went down. With large amounts of the campaign budget getting siphoned off to racing sponsorships and promotion, there was less of the usual advertising being done, and sales started to slide.
One side benefit of the whole Indy 500 caper was a new PDO recruit named Becky Bigelow. She was the daughter of veteran Indy driver Tom Bigelow and had literally grown up in the Brickyard – and she was a new Scientologist. She was hired initially to assist at the Indy 500, then stayed on in PDO for many years, eventually marrying Ron Miscavige Senior, Ronnie and Dave’s dad.
In late 1988, Gordon Spice, who had been Phillipe deHenning’s sponsor and co-driver for the 1987 Le Mans "La Dianetique" car, entered a series of GT races in the US, and Dianetics sponsored one of his entries in the Camel Grand Prix of Southern California - a Pontiac Fiero driven by Bill Koll. The PDO crew all got to go down to Del Mar and watch the race, proudly wearing our Dianetics racing jackets. If we weren’t selling books with the racing, we were at least having a good time.
PDO crew enjoying the Del Mar race - in their new Dianetics racing jackets and t-shirts!
In early 1989, Ronnie announced another change in PDO operations. We would be relocating to the Int Base in San Jacinto. Ronnie was to become Marketing Executive International, and we would be a unit directly under him.
I viewed the move with mixed emotions. It would cut us off from direct contact with Bridge Publications – whom we were meeting with daily. It would make meetings with Jan Gildersleeve, Len Foreman and any other outside professionals difficult. And on a personal note, it would isolate me from my family. I considered petitioning to keep the Dianetics Campaign in Los Angeles and re-form the campaign unit within Bridge Publications. Ronnie vetoed the idea. But I had no idea how the campaign would be run from an isolated base in Southern California’s high desert.
My other misgiving was that not everyone was being allowed to go. There were "stiff qualifications" for people going to the Base. They looked at drug history, sexual history, ethics history and so on. Everyone was being scrutinized with a fine tooth comb, as only the elite of the elite got to go to the Int Base. How I ever qualified I don’t know, given my checkered past, but I was "already Base cleared" so it somehow wasn’t an issue.
We had 54 staff at the peak in LA. When the winnowing process was finished, there were only fifteen people cleared for the Int Base. The rest were reassigned to posts in LA. PDO had been stripped back to barely more than my original Dianetics unit.
And as we left for San Jacinto, I had a sinking feeling that this was only the beginning of the end.