Friday, June 27, 2008

Chapter Ten: Rolling at Last

It was a warm August day in 1986. I was in my office on the third floor of the main building in the PAC Scientology complex in LA – "Big Blue." We had the windows open and the fans running, to try to suck in any vestige of a breeze that we could. Out the open window, I could see Fountain Avenue below me, and across the street, New York George’s, where I sometimes had a bowl of chili. A simmering haze hung over the jumble of two-story apartments to the south – mostly Armenian and Vietnamese neighborhoods.

But my attention was on the stat graph on the wall next to the window. Since mid-June, the sales of Dianetics had been climbing vertically. I had already added several extensions onto the graph, making it climb up the wall. Of course I could have re-scaled it, but it was more fun to just tack on the extensions so it got taller and taller. The numbers were amazing – we had gone from selling 3,000 books a week through the major chains to over 6,000 a week.

And this was real sales, too. Later, people would say it was all "Scientologists going out and buying the books." No, not on my watch. That’s not the way I did things.

Not that it hadn’t been suggested to me. They had done it for the launch of Hubbard’s fiction book, Battlefield Earth, in 1982. They mobilized Scientologists to go in and buy multiple copies to push up the numbers on the launch week, to try to get it on the bestseller lists. But I wasn’t interested in doing things that way. I was trying to get new people in to Scientology, I reasoned. So why on earth have Scientologists buy Dianetics books? They already have the book. Who are we trying to fool?

I knew the reasoning behind it. Anything and everything to push the stats up, to get on the bestseller lists. It was that "stat push" attitude I had been fighting for years. Because in the final analysis, it was all fluff. It made you look good for a week, or a few weeks, and then reality caught up with you. I wasn’t interested. I was in for the long haul.

So I did it the hard way, with advertising and PR. I guess that was manipulative enough in its own way, but at least no more so than Coca-Cola or any other advertising. And at least it was real books getting into the hands of real people. And people were buying Dianetics – by the thousands every week. I was able to get actual weekly cash register sales from the two largest bookstore chains in the country, B. Dalton Bookseller and Waldenbooks, and from the largest independent distributor in the country, Ingrams. I compiled these together and used that as my primary statistic. It represented about a third of the national sales, so if we were selling 6,000 books a week through Waldens, B. Daltons and Ingrams, it meant we were selling something like 18,000 books a week nationally.

The only question now was how to keep it going. And that was what I was trying to figure out.

Across the office, a phone was ringing. Where was everybody? I hated it when people just let a phone ring on and on. Finally I went across the room and picked it up.

"What?" I said irritably.

"Have you heard?" It was the voice of my PR Officer, Joanne Milan.

"Heard what?" I asked. My attention was elsewhere.

"We made the list," she said excitedly.

My mind was trying to cope with this information. What was she talking about?

"Are you still there?" she said. "The list, the New York Times Bestseller list. Dianetics is on the list!"

Finally my brain processed the information and the news washed over me like a hot flash. The New York Times bestseller list – the Pulitzer Prize, the Oscar, the Holy Grail of bookselling. And finally we’d made it.

It hadn’t been easy. A lot of research. A lot of testing. A lot of trying things out and seeing what happened. A lot of falling on our faces. But finally, finally, it was all paying off big time.

It had taken four years. When we first launched the campaign in October of 1982, the results hadn’t been spectacular. In that first week, we sold something like 500 books. But Hubbard, bless him, came to the rescue. He pointed out that campaigns of this sort have to be continued over time. They aren’t a flash in the pan. They have to build and build. "You have a winning horse here that is not being fed enough oats," he said in a dispatch to management.

In these heady days, I thought of Hubbard as my ally against the legions of stat pushers, an inspired leader who could see past the weekly stat graphs; who could see the bigger picture, the massive dissemination of Scientology through books, the booming Scientology Orgs, the broad acceptance in society as Scientology went mainstream. Sure, he stood to gain personally through the royalties on all the book sales. Sure he was not paying for all of this expensive promotion himself – it was being done at Church expense. But that wasn’t why he was supporting the campaign, was it? Certainly as the visionary Founder of Scientology, he was looking to the broader picture, the main game of Planetary Dissemination.

But whatever the reason, my Strategic Book Marketing Unit had broad air cover and we were left to get on with it. And no one was panicking or calling for my head if the stats dipped for a week. I got a clearance to attend weekly meetings at Scientology’s International Base – in a "confidential location." My old friend Ken Delderfield, now working at ASI, drove me up there the first time, and I remember driving on and on through winding desert roads and finally coming to a rather run down former hot springs resort in San Jacinto, California, near Hemet. For years, we had weekly meetings there where I would brief Scientology’s senior executives on my current strategy and actions.

So we continued to pour it on. And gradually the sales improved. Soon Dianetics was on the Ingrams bestseller list - that meant that the book stores were selling Dianetics and then reordering from the distributor. Then the book appeared on the bestseller lists of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Bookseller, the two largest chains. We were rolling.

Len Foreman was hired on as a permanent publishing consultant. His contract was negotiated by ASI, and included a six-figure annual income. He was appointed as "President" of Bridge Publications, a title that was all but meaningless internally, but that gave him clout with the publishing industry – and gave Bridge a very credible public face. Len was given an office near to the building’s entrance where he could receive visitors. At this time, Bridge was on the west side of the "Big Blue" complex, fronting on Catalina Street. The front-lines "public areas" were poshed up to give Bridge a public façade.

Len advised that Bridge put together a sales force to handle the book trade. Don Arnow had been appointed the Trade Sales Manager, but he was a long-term Sea Org staffer and had no real experience as a salesman. Len wanted to hire a real publishing sales rep, and he recommended a guy named Bob Erdmann.

Bob fit the part. With his easy smile, his thin mustache, and his receding hairline, he could have been a salesman out of Central Casting. He always had a joke to tell. Bob had worked in the industry for years, and knew most of the buyers for the large book chains. He set to work right away negotiating with the chains to close big orders.

Len and Bob recommended that we work out a major re-launch of the Dianetics Campaign for the fall of 1983. This was to become a pattern – about every three months we’d introduce something new – a new ad, a new campaign, a new book cover – to keep the trade excited and buying. Every fall was a major new campaign, and we would hype the book trade on it at the American Booksellers Association Convention in June and take their fall orders.

In early 1983, I was visited by a Scientologist, Lon Tinney, who said he was a film director and would like to work on some new Dianetics ads. Lon seemed to be enthusiastic, and the idea of working with a Scientologist appealed to me at the time. With his blond hair and beard, he looked like an aging surfer, and he had a bit of a slacker-genius vibe about him. His claim to fame was that he had worked in some capacity on the original Star Wars film, and this gave him some cachet as a "Scientology celebrity." We became friends, and started working out ad concepts.

For one of the ads I wanted to feature a well-known Scientologist – a celebrity. We began negotiating with John Brodie, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was probably the biggest Scientology celebrity at the time. John graciously agreed to do an ad. For a second ad, we decided to do an anonymous dancer who would promote Dianetics, and for the third ad, we resurrected the marathon runner ad – one of the original ads that Hubbard had seen and rewritten.

Lon and I went up to San Francisco and filmed Brodie in an empty Candlestick Park. Brodie impressed me as a genuinely nice guy, and he and I sat in a rental car and worked over his success story until we were both happy with it, then drilled it over and over until he could remember it all. After a number of takes, he got through the whole thing smoothly – and he looked great on film.

The second ad turned into a debacle. The movie Flashdance had just come out and Lon’s idea was to do a testimonial story that would capture some of that dancing excitement. It started out as a dance rehearsal and then faded into the actual performance at the end, with flashy costumes and lights. We rented a big studio space in Hollywood to set it up. This was when breakdancing was big and the finale was supposed to be some sort of breakdance move, with the dancer flipping around on the floor, but the dancer couldn’t do it smoothly and just looked clumsy. Julia, my de facto senior at ASI, was at the filming and was soon a nervous wreck – she could see it wasn’t going well. Lon shot it over and over – then said he could "handle it in editing" – a phrase I later learned was director’s code for "it looks terrible and can’t be fixed." We ended up scrapping the ad.

We filmed the third ad, the marathon runner, in Griffith Park – in the midst of a real marathon. It was strictly a guerrilla operation – no permits. We shot the tracking dolly shots out the back of a moving car, and otherwise grabbed shots on the fly. For all that, it ended up looking pretty good.

Jeff, Julia and Lon Tinney filming in Griffith Park

So we had two new ads to put into the mix, and we played the ads against each other and watched the results in sales. The most effective one was the John Brodie ad, which we ended up playing for several years – until he finally left Scientology after a disagreement with management.

Meanwhile I kept building up the unit. After changing offices several times, we finally ended up on the 3rd floor of the main building, in a spacious office in the southwest wing – the proverbial "corner office." We had two large rooms – plenty of space. Nancy became my "Organizing Officer" and handled all the internal matters such as staffing, training, and finance.

I considered public relations a key part of the campaign, so got a PR Officer, Joanne Milan. Joann was a pale, thin, nervous lady with a bright mind and a knack for press agentry. She and I would cook up ideas for press releases and then take them to the "LRH Public Relations Bureau" to get articles placed and interviews scheduled. The LRH PR Bureau had been set up to handle Hubbard’s public relations, and they had offices all over the world. The central office was in LA. I argued that there was no more important action for Hubbard’s PR unit to be doing than getting his books on the bestseller lists, and pretty soon, Joanne and I were virtually running the PR Office, even hiring additional people to get on the phones, place stories, and book interviews with Scientology celebs or spokespeople. Soon they were placing hundreds of stories about Dianetics every week. Joann and I would write the releases and they’d get them out. My favorite was the "flying grandmother" who had, at 82, "cured her arthritis" with Dianetics and had then become the oldest person in the US to get a private pilots license. People loved that story.

The LRH PR Bureau also hired a small PR firm – Dateline Communications, run by Bill and Bev Widder. Bill was an old-time PR man and a joy to work with, always coming up with great ideas to get the word out. He wasn’t a Scientologist, but liked working with us. He had even met Hubbard in the early 1950’s.

My researcher was a bright young woman named Joanne Hawkins. She was no relation, but it became a standing joke in the office when people would say to her "Oh, are you married to Jeff?" She’d smile brightly and say "No, he’s my dad!" She looked young enough to pull it off. For years after that, even when we no longer worked together, I’d call her "daughter" and she’d call me "dad." When she joined the unit, I told her we already had a Joann and she’d have to choose another name. I was halfway serious – it’s confusing when two people in a small office have the same name. She said she had once had the nickname Josie, so from then on she was Josie. Linda Sukkestad, the surveyor who had worked with us from the beginning, worked under Josie.

My star researcher and "daughter" Josie Hawkins - researching the Sunday funnies

And there was a Canadian couple who joined the unit – Phil and Diane Anderson. Phil was a fast talker and a bit of a scamp – we took to calling him "Eddie Haskell" after Wally Cleaver’s smart-ass best friend in the TV series "Leave It to Beaver" – whom he resembled. His wife was a sweet lady, a former ballerina, and very bright. Phil took over as my "Project Manager" – mainly running the sales and distribution lines – while Diane took over the finance lines under Nancy.

And then there was the office cat. Nancy had found a bedraggled kitten in the Complex basement and had cleaned it up and adopted it. She called him Nougie, after his nougat-colored coat. He became an endless source of entertainment. He was convinced that he was a dog and would play fetch with me for 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

Nougie the Office Cat

There were others who came and went, but this was the basic team over the years. I later added two designers and a Media Director – all Scientologists who were professional in those fields, but not Sea Org. They were paid regular wages. The unit was fairly stable at 10 or 11 people.

But our influence was wider. Joanne Milan was running half a dozen people in the LRH PR Office who were sending out press releases and booking interviews for Dianetics full time. She was also directing a Bill and Bev Widder in their actions. Phil was directing the Bridge Publications trade sales force. Josie was running an ad hoc network of surveyors all over the US. I was running a media firm, Ed Libov and Associates, with several hundred staff. So we were really directing the actions of hundreds of people, who in turn were reaching thousands of bookstores, TV stations, radio stations, magazines and newspapers all over the US. It grew into quite an operation.

Nancy worked out a bonus system, based on sales, and got it approved. This enabled us to get a bit of extra money, which we stashed away, and soon Nancy and I could afford a car, an old used Honda we bought for $2000 cash. That made getting around town a lot easier. I never paid much attention to organizing things – at least not with the obsessive zeal that most Scientology executives demonstrated. The usual procedure when starting an activity was to write an extensive project, detailing every single thing that was to be done in great and meticulous detail. This project was then to be followed to the letter with absolutely no deviation. I considered this a grand waste of time for several reasons – one of them being that one never knows what one is going to run into, so one has to stay very flexible to succeed. It’s like in a battle – they say any battle planning goes out the window the minute the first shot is fired. You can’t set everything down in concrete before you’ve even started work and expect that you’ve covered every contingency. It led to rigidity and stupidity. I recall someone from the Commodore’s Messenger Org writing to us and asking for "a copy of our program." Nancy dashed something off and we sent it to them – but it had little relation to what we were actually doing – which was a lot of testing, improvising and trying things out.

Another point was "Organizing Boards." Hubbard was obsessive about drawing up elaborate organization charts and claimed to have made breakthroughs in the area that turned an ordinary org chart into a "philosophical machine" that would assure success. As a result, Scientology executives labored for hours over these ornate org charts, and they would eventually appear on large formica boards with lots of dymotape and colored lines. I didn’t have time for that – everyone in the unit knew what they were supposed to do and who they answered to, so I kept it loose and light.

But the idea of an overall "Planetary Dissemination Organization" that would encompass all of the various Church marketing units had never died. Hubbard had written to the CO CMO International in 1981 on the subject, and that dispatch was still floating around, never "complied to." In mid-1983, there was another attempt to pull all of the marketing units together under one umbrella organization. It was short-lived.

I, for one, had definite ideas about how to conduct the Dianetics campaign, and wasn’t about to let anyone interfere with my unit’s operation. This tended to put me at odds with any "CO Planetary Dissem Org" who attempted to come in, with no real knowledge or familiarity, and order my staff or tell me what to do.

And, with our success and our air cover, it was too easy to do an end run around such interference. At one point, I was actually "removed from post" by an overzealous CO PDO, a guy named Mike Eves. As I often did when I got mad, I went and saw my friend Foster Tompkins, who at this time was running INCOMM, the Church computer operation. I fumed and stomped around, and Foster calmed me down and we worked out a plan. He set me up with a computer and a telephone in a back office in INCOMM, a sort of secret headquarters from which I ran my unit covertly. I sent a report right away to the CO CMO International, Marc Yager, and within a few days was put "back on post." Meanwhile, there had not even been a hiccup in our operations.
Through my friends at ASI, I found out that Hubbard was very pleased with the campaign, and in late 1983, he wrote:

"All those personnel engaged in the promotion, sales and marketing which has led to the tremendous success of the National DMSMH Campaign (U.S.) are highly commended. These personnel, after 33 years, have created an affluence in the sales of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. This is a tremendous accomplishment. I have no doubt that this will continue into the future and we will achieve our goal of a cleared planet."

In 1984, I got interested in computer animation, which was the buzz in the LA film industry. Tron had come out in 1982, and everyone was speculating about the possibilities. I got the idea to do a computer animated ad for Dianetics, including an exploding volcano. I got approval to do it, and began work with one of the first computer graphics firms. They had one of the original Cray computers, a thing that filled a whole room and looked like a big circular airport lounge seat. It came with its own humans – guys in suits with buzz haircuts and black, rubber-soled shoes. The guys who did the graphics, on the other hand, wore plaid workshirts and had unkempt beards. The ad was simple – the camera zoomed through a scary-looking maze and then emerged from the maze as a volcano explodes and then morphs into the Dianetics book. It’s the sort of thing that today a 16 year old could make on his laptop in an hour or so, but then it was a big deal. It took eight weeks of designing, programming and rendering. The result was, for that time, pretty amazing and got a lot of attention.

Gradually, we learned the ebb and flow of the publishing industry. Sales always peaked at Christmas, but I found I could get even higher sales in January by punching the advertising. The ads were cheap at the beginning of the year, but the store traffic was still high. Spring was always a down period, but picked up in the summer with vacation reading. New titles were released in the fall, and sales would gradually increase to the end of the year. I also learned how to pulse the TV ads for maximum effect – on for four weeks and then off for three. By the time the sales started tailing off, I’d hit it again hard.

Soon, the campaign started having an obvious effect on overall Church of Scientology statistics. The income of Churches around the US started to rise significantly. One of our actions as part of the campaign was to collect More Information Cards (or "MICs" – everything in Scientology has to have an acronym). These were cards that were slipped into the Dianetics books and were then sent in by people to request more information about Dianetics. I calculated at one time that about five percent of Dianetics book buyers sent in the cards. It was a seemingly small percentage, but with 10,000 or 15,000 books being sold every week, that amounted to 500 to 750 cards every week – people who had actually reached to find out about the subject. The cards were sent to the nearest Org, and they followed up on them. I was told by many Org "Public Divisions" staff that this was their main source of new prospects. It was the cards that were driving the boom.

This fact was well known by management at the time. Once I was talking to Mark Ingber, who at the time was the CMO Watchdog Committee member in charge of the Sea Org’s Financial Reserves. I was asking about the possibility of increasing the advertising budget. He leaned towards me confidentially.

"Frankly, your budgets are a drop in the bucket," he confided. "This campaign is making us a lot of money."

So the unit was protected, and we were allowed to run the campaign pretty much as we saw fit. In fact, we were all allowed to stay on post when the rest of Scientology took off to Portland in May of 1985 for the Portland Crusade. A former Scientologist, Julie Christofferson, had sued the Church of Scientology for fraud, and had been awarded $39 million in damages, $20 million of that against Hubbard personally. David Miscavige, by that time running the Church, mobilized virtually the entirety of Scientology to handle this "flap," chartering planes and buses to take Scientologists to Portland for a massive "Religious Freedom Crusade." The PAC Scientology Complex seemed empty, as every spare staff member was sent up there, even the RPF. Skeleton crews were kept at the service organizations to keep delivering Scientology training and processing (and making money). And we kept the Dianetics Campaign going. We got our chance to march later, in 1986, when the Wollersheim trial came to Los Angeles. We spent a few hours at the LA "Religious Freedom Crusade" marching around the courthouse downtown.

Nancy at the LA "Religious Freedom Crusade"

For about a year, Nancy left the unit and became Marketing Executive International, working as the senior Church marketing executive under the Executive Director International. She worked at the Int Base near Hemet, and we saw each other rarely, but as I had clearance for the Base, I would sometimes drive up on a weekend and spirit her off to a fancy hotel in San Diego.

In 1985, we started branching out internationally. Len and I went over to Europe for the Paris Bookfair, and also visited my old org, the Scientology Publications Organization in Copenhagen, now called New Era Publications International, or NEPI. There, I started a "Strategic Book Marketing Unit Europe" and found an In Charge for the unit, Andy Kunzli, who had been the Director of Promotion for the Advanced Organization there and was chomping at the bit to get into broad public campaigns. I also met the man in charge of book trade sales at NEPI, Michel Moatty, who would be a good friend for many years.

Len and I also traveled to the south of France to meet an old publishing contact of Len’s, Oswald Boxer. He was the man, Len told me, responsible for introducing paperback books to Europe just after the war. We wanted to hire Oswald to be the publishing consultant for Europe. He happened to be vacationing in Nice, so Len and I had to go through the ordeal of spending three days on the French Riviera. Oswald was a wonderful old man, and he agreed to consult for NEPI. Our Copenhagen arm soon began running their own campaigns based on the one we were running in the U.S.

In 1986, I met another Scientologist film director, Mitch Brisker. Mitch had done some TV ads, and was eager to do work for the Church. He and I hit it off right away, he was funny and smart. His family was Russian Jewish, and he showed me the best Russian restaurants downtown. He and I also shared a passion for the new Apple Macintosh computers. In those days, they were slow and had a tiny screen, but were lots of fun. As Mitch put it, "why spend an hour doing something when you can spend three hours and do it on the Mac."

Mitch and I decided to do the "Stunt Pilot" ad – one of the original 1982 ads that had been rejected by Hubbard and rewritten by him. We hired a stunt pilot and an old biplane, and rented a helicopter. Interestingly enough, we filmed the final scene, of the pilot holding the book, from a camera fixed to the wing as he flew. When we looked at the footage, it looked fake - like it had been shot on the ground. So we ended up shooting it on the ground, with the cameraman weaving and bobbing, and the propeller blowing everything around. It looked realistic.
In the middle of that shoot, I collapsed, and was rushed to the doctor – Gene Denk’s local clinic where there were Scientologist doctors. They found I had a collapsed lung. I was bedridden for a couple of weeks and the Marketing Exec Int at the time, Caroline Mustard, came to LA to finish the ad shoot and help run the unit in my absence. I recovered fine, and took back over the unit.

In early 1986, we had shocking news. We were all ushered over to the Hollywood Palladium on Hollywood Boulevard for a "special briefing." No one could be absent. Scientology public were also required to attend. Whatever it was, it was important – and serious. I wondered if there had been another FBI raid.

We were ushered in to the Palladium, which was eerily quiet as the audience filed to their seats. A cheesy graphic of a golden bridge and a large OT symbol had been hastily erected on stage. The lights dimmed, and a tiny figure walked out on stage and up to the microphone.

"Hello," he said, "My name is David Miscavige."

Miscavige had arrogated for himself the position of Master of Ceremonies, something he was to do consistently in the coming years. I think he realized the inherent power of that position – after all, it was the Master of Ceremonies who brought others on and off the stage.

He began to describe Hubbard’s OT research, how he was charting the upper OT levels. "Two weeks ago," he explained, "LRH completed his research. He has now moved on to the next level of OT research beyond anything we can imagine. At this level, the human body is nothing more that an impediment. Therefore, on Friday, the 24th of January, AD 36, L. Ron Hubbard discarded his body." ("AD" was "after Dianetics," which had been published in 1950.)

Miscavige told us that we should not feel grief, but I found myself tearing up nonetheless. Like most Scientologists, I had considered Hubbard a friend and mentor. I knew nothing of the reality of Hubbard’s final years, of his decline into madness and illness. The impression I had was that he had been lucid and in control to the end. Now Miscavige was saying that he had voluntarily "moved on" to the next level – a sort of suicide – to continue his "OT research."

The rest of the event went by in a strange blur. The Scientology lawyer, Earle Cooley, went into great detail about how the body had been handled, and repeated that Hubbard had been in control to the end. He told us that Hubbard had great confidence that "the Church was in good hands." Then Pat Broeker spoke, the man who had been with Hubbard for the last few years, and again repeated that it was Hubbard’s "causative decision" to leave the body. It was a strange event, and the cheers and applause bothered me. I wouldn’t discover for many years why that event seemed so strange – it was a complete fabrication. Hubbard had died in madness and pain, what was left of his mind addled by drugs, with Broker and Miscavige fighting over the scraps of his religion. But I knew nothing of this, I only knew that the Old Man was dead, and it was now up to us.

I redoubled my dedication. I determined that in 1986, I wanted to do a major re-launch of the Dianetics campaign. The book trade was getting complacent, and the sales had leveled. I needed something new, a whole new approach. At that time I got to know a Scientologist, Rick Rogers, who had worked in the ad business, at Chiat Day. I hired him to work with me and we began brainstorming a new campaign.

I wanted, somehow, to get people interested in what was in the book. Not just flash slogans and images at them, but pique their curiosity. I sketched out a print ad that had a picture of the book with a bunch of questions around it, like "Why do you lose self respect?" and "What makes people unhappy?" and so on. Each question had a page reference saying what page to find the answer on.

Rick liked the idea. "Why don’t we do it as a TV ad?" he suggested. We storyboarded it out. It was idiotically simple. A series of three questions appeared, white type on a black field. Each one listed a page number – but didn’t say what book. Finally, the announcer said, "The book? Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard." At that point we inserted the animated volcano from my "Maze" ad, and it morphed into the book. It was so moronically simple that people I showed it to didn’t get it. "That’s not a TV ad," they’d say.

Of course, since then, everyone has done white letters on black, and it’s become a cliché, but in those days no one had done it. We were, as far as I know, the first. And people just didn’t get it.
"Let’s just make the ad," I told Rick finally. "It will cost us nothing to put together, and then people can see it."

I hired two Scientologist musicians to do the background music, Geoff Levin and Chris Many. I had been listening to an electronic music group called Tangerine Dream, and told Geoff and Chris that I wanted something like that – something staccato and edgy. They made me the perfect piece – something that would get viewers wondering "what’s that?"

For the announcer, I hired a talented voice artist named Greg Burson. He asked me what kind of voice I wanted, and I said "The Voice of God." He nailed it, with a James Earl Jones basso rumble that dripped with Authority.

The final ad was just what I wanted – dark, edgy, mysterious. Something that would stand out amid the frothy TV clutter of the mid-1980’s, with its banal songs, color and glitter. This was minimalist and arresting. And when I showed it to executives, they finally got it – this would get attention.

I made another connection in 1986, a Scientologist who was a professional media buyer, Jan Gildersleeve. She had done a lot of work for Ron Popiel – the "Ronco" infomercial wizard – and knew a lot about direct response advertising. I explained to her my ongoing battle with my media firm, Ed Libov and Associates, how they wanted to just robotically total up Gross Rating Points, and I wanted to target niche audiences with specific programming. She got it right away. After a couple of meetings with Libov, she advised that we get a new firm, which we did, the International Communications Group, or ICG. Jan set about putting together the kind of media buy I had always wanted to do.

Ever since the beginning of the campaign in 1982, we had run what they call "spot buys" – individual cities. We ran anywhere from 10 to 20 cities at one time. We had never run a truly national campaign. One day, Jan came to me with some information about a new kind of television we could test out - cable. Of course, cable TV had been around in some form since the beginning of television, but 1984 deregulation had made it attractive to set up big commercial cable networks, and a lot of major players had jumped into the pool.

"It’s still very cheap," Jan told me, "because it’s not rated by Nielsen, and no one knows what kind of numbers it’s going to do. But the demographics of the cable viewer match our demographics exactly – young, educated, predominantly male. And it’s national."

I studied the programming. It was exactly what I was looking for. The demographics and the programming matched our target perfectly.

"Let’s do it," I told her.

"You want me to set up a pilot?" she asked.

"No, I just want to go with it," I told her. "The whole budget."

It was a gamble, but not a very risky one. The research said it was perfect. And I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. In six months to a year, cable would be too expensive. But we could do it cheaply if we acted now.

"The Gang" at an American Booksellers Association Convention: Jan Gildersleeve, Caroline Mustard, Michel Moatty, Foster Tompkins, and Jeff in front.

I pulled all the other ads and just went with the new "Questions" ads. I was going all out.

And it paid off. The minute we launched in June, the sales went vertical. I couldn’t believe the figures. And they just kept climbing and climbing. Four years of experience, four years of trial and error, was now paying off big time. Dianetics popped onto every major bestseller list, and in August 1986, went onto the New York Times Bestseller List – the prime list for the publishing world. It was to stay on that list for more than a year.

With the marketing of Dianetics rolling ahead, Int Management wanted to do the same thing for Scientology. They wanted to launch a big campaign that would handle the “Black PR” (negative press) about Scientology and make people think well of it. The decision was made to hire New York adman Jack Trout to put the campaign together. The reason they wanted to hire Trout is that Hubbard had spoken highly of him and his partner, Al Ries, when they published some pamphlets in “positioning” in the late 1970s. Hubbard loved the idea – it was simple and manipulative. He soon issued an internal directive calling for all marketing staff to read it, and adding in his own spin. The way Hubbard saw it, all you had to do was “position” yourself with something good, like an angel, and your enemy with something bad, like a devil (or a terrorist), and people would think well of you and badly of your enemy. In other words, it had nothing to do with facts or information, everything to do with image and manipulation. Trout and Ries had expanded on their pamphlets in 1981 with a book called Positioning: The Battle for your Mind.

So it was no surprise that when Scientology’s top execs wanted to hire an outside consultant, they decided on Jack Trout.

As I was considered the Church’s foremost marketer at the time, I was tagged to help set up the deal, along with Caroline Mustard, who was Marketing Exec Int at the time. Caroline and I flew to New York with Greg Wilhere, at that time Inspector General RTC. I’d known Greg for years and had a lot of respect for him. He was easygoing, friendly, and competent. We took a red-eye to New York, checked into an airport hotel for an hour, literally, to shower and freshen up, then took a helicopter into Manhattan. The Church was sparing no expense on this one. We met with Trout for several hours at his office, and briefed him on Scientology and what we wanted to achieve. He was provided with a huge volume of reading material to educate him on Scientology.

Trout agreed to the job, but stipulated several conditions. One was that no one would see his proposal beforehand. He didn’t want anyone monitoring or second-guessing his work. He said it would take him three months to prepare his presentation, then he would fly out and give his presentation to the Church hierarchy as one body. There were to be no previews. This was agreed to.

Three months went by, with excitement mounting. After all, the great Jack Trout, who had gained Hubbard’s imprimatur, was working on a campaign for Scientology!

When the long-awaited day came, a huge Marketing Conference was organized at a big hotel on Vermont, near the Complex. All of the key international Scientology execs came down in buses for the event. The hall was packed with Scientology brass and marketing people. Trout was the guest of honor, and, after some preliminaries, began his presentation.

“We were brutally honest,” Trout later told Time Magazine.

His proposed campaign advised that the Church step away from controversy, and focus on results. He presented some advertising messages which touted the beneficial results that people were getting from Scientology. And, most controversially, he advised to stop promoting Scientology as a Church and focus on its role as a self-help methodology.

He got a polite round of applause. And he was dropped like a hot engram. That was the end of Jack Trout’s Scientology campaign – it was never mentioned again.

Dianetics, meanwhile, kept going at a high roar. We rolled in to the Christmas buying season like a freight train, with over 30,000 Dianetics books selling every single week. It was a phenomenon. Churches were affluent and flooded with new, interested people. It looked like we were on the verge of making it – Scientology going mainstream.

I looked back on the past four years, and remembered my early trepidation about launching the campaign. I remembered my discovery that every single person who had ever run such a campaign in the past had been annihilated, shot from guns, blacklisted. It seemed I had not only escaped that curse, but had finally achieved the success that they had worked for. The future looked bright.

Little did I know that there was a bullet headed straight for my head.

And this time, I would have no way to dodge it.


chuckbeatty77 said...

Thank you Jeff Hawkins! This is going to do MORE for getting others to do their histories of Scientology than anything in years!

You should get some sort of recompense for your blog/book, in my opinion.

This is the best series of memoirs, bar none, in the history of the movement.

Again, you seem to prove the contention of many that it was people like you who carried Scientology rather than Scientology carried itself.

It shows to me, how people, the people in the movement, made Scientology.

Not the other way around.

Hubbard got the ball rolling, inspired people about people's supposed mental and spiritual potential, and then people who became supporters of Scientology figured out how to promote the movement and practice of Dianetics and Scientology.

Excellent history, the best so far, in my opinion.

Wow! Lon Tinney, Chris Many, Mitch Brisker, Len Forman, the Widders, the cast of characters you interacted with in accomplishing the successful promotion of Dianetics, and to me, the biggest thing that hit me, as I lived these same years close to you, in the same building, but I was just a staffer in the Sea Org ranks, was the black screened dit dit dit dit da dee dit dit da dee dit dit dit TV ads with the questions and exploding volcano.

You got it right on those ads and the stats proved it.

I only wish "we" were making the spiritual super-people that other parts of the Hubbard legacy of doctrines were claiming.

Anyways, THANKS Jeff Hawkins!

Chuck Beatty
ex Scientology staffer (1975-2003)
412-260-1170 Pittsburgh, USA (anyone call me anytime!)

G-noramix said...

Again, great writing, great story, and i can't help but think too bad that for once the "church" had someone who knew how to do his job well and got so many people interested in the scam.

P.S: i am not writing this to make you feel guilty, you were just a victim at the times, like all the others.

Thanks for speaking out(and in a great manner)

Cathy said...

It's truly an amazing story. And how sad that your success was for something that turned out to be a sham. Obviously we believed in it at the time. We really thought it was a good thing.

You have such great talent. It's wonderful that now you can use it any way you choose.

Ora said...

Every day I check to see if your next chapter is up yet. Last night I was rewarded.
Your story is so magnetic! I knew some of those people years ago... Diane and Phil Anderson... knew them well... Caroline Mustard used to be the ED for Toronto Fdn... Chris Many... was CO for CC years ago... absolutely genius musician...
What an amazing life you are, Jeff.
Again, I say... your story should be a book and available in all the book stores.
You are special.
Thanks so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You know, in the past month, people have reported seeing the same Dianetics ads on TV that you made a long time ago. Scientology must be really desperate if they are not rehashing old ads on TV again.

Ms. Taggart if You're Nasty said...

Another great read....thanks again for writing this!

Unknown said...

I just spent all day at work reading the first 10 chapters of your story instead of working, and now my wog stats are down!

Dead Blogger said...

Jeff you are now my favorite current writer, certainly best ever so far on Scientology and Dianetics.
Rarely has any writer had such opportunity to inter-act with the readers
during the work, chapter by chapter.
I'm sure you've got a best-seller coming along here.
Please don't put any volcanoes on the cover!

chuckbeatty77 said...

Here's some more evidence of your production for Scientology, Jeff:

At 2 minutes 12 seconds into this video, is a shot of Len Foreman, Charles Lakes the American Olympic gymnast hopeful (came in 19th at the Olympics I believe), Travolta, and an unidentified lady.

Part of your promo/dissem actions at the time.

Within even Hubbard's cacoon policies, you should have had lifetime "ethics protection" but even Hubbard trampled on people who had done great things for Scientology, and likely Hubbard would have thrown you under the bus also, had his insanity kicked in at the inappropriate time, which was routine, and in my hindsight opinion, it's why "cults" are "cults." The founder guy is nuts enough to thrown everyone under the bus, as time goes on. And the founder guy's rules being of the mind of the nutball founder guy, the rules, which are what is left of Scientology, are what will throw everyone, eventually, under the bus, when the opportune time comes, Miscavige/bastards or not.

Hubbard's cult system is doomed, and even people who did all the "good" despite the crappy psychotic system.

Thanks Jeff!

I'll dig up the other commercials, since people are finding and posting on YouTube and google video, all the old commercials you slaved to get produced!

chuckbeatty77 said...


here's the Brodie ad, from 1983: