Industry on the Move Selling Itself as It Goes

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The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, in building its new 25 story Home Office, demonstrated that it is possible to "build good will from a hole in the ground." Too often, companies erecting new buildings simply move into a neighborhood and tear it up without regard for the rights and feelings of neighbors. Mutual of New York, instead of resigning itself to the ill will that usually accompanies such operations, inaugurated a definite program to build good will in the neighborhood.

Just before plans were publicly announced, the company held a luncheon for the principal property owners in the neighborhood and gave them advance information about the whole project. Next, a letter was sent to nearly 3,500 families and business firms that lived or worked within sight or sound of the building site. This letter announced the plans, apologized for the inevitable noise and dust, asked the patience of neighbors, and promised that the net result would be a fine improvement in the district. There was a very favorable response. Scores of residents wrote to say that no one had ever thought about their feelings in such a matter before.

Clifford Reeves organized Mutual of New York's public relations program in 1941 when he joined the company as assistant to the president. He was advanced to second vice president in 1946 and has been vice president for public relations since 1952. Earlier he was a vice president and director of Dormers 6 Co. for eight years. Before that he was manager of research and a director of J. G. White & Co., Inc., investment bankers, a member of the publicity department of the Guaranty Trust Company and assistant editor of its publication, "Guaranty News." A native of New York City, he was graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The company asked prospective neighbors to report any special problems created by the construction work, and promised to work out such problems if possible. For instance, if an extra hour of drilling proved necessary each day, the neighbors were asked whether they would prefer it at 8 in the morning or at 5 at night.

The company saw that a good "housekeeping job" was done at the building site. An attractive fence was built around the construction. Plate glass portholes were put in the fence at all levels, so that the public could watch the progress. A Sidewalk Superintendents' Club was organized. Portholes were put in a few inches above the sidewalk level, and marked "For Curious Canine." Following humorous protests by cat lovers similar portholes were provided "For Cats Only." The fence was attractively decorated, and three dimensional models of the completed building illuminated at night were placed on the principal corners of the site. The fence and the Sidewalk Superintendents' Club resulted in favorable publicity throughout the country. Much of this was picture publicity.

When the building rose above ground level, an attractive sidewalk bridge was erected. The entire block front was decorated with cartoon cutouts that kept the public posted on the progress of the construction. These illustrations forecast completion of various phases and gave statistics on the work being done. The company also kept the press informed about the award of contracts, progress of the work, and interesting features, including snow melting pipes in the sidewalks.

As the construction was nearing completion, the company sent another letter to all prospective neighbors, thanking them for their patience and understanding, and inviting them to inspect the company's new quarters after completion.

Throughout the period of construction, a series of advertisements was run in The Westside, a community magazine.

Policy holders were fully informed of the company's plans through discussions in the annual reports.

The company's employees were also continuously posted. Models of the building were displayed in the lobby of the company's old quarters. Architectural drawings of various exteriors and interiors of the new building were displayed in the employee club rooms.

"Progress pictures" of the construction were circulated each week. Scale models of all floors, including furniture and equipment, showed exactly how work areas were laid out.

An employee committee was appointed to help select all furniture and personnel equipment. The company conducted a series of tours for all its employees.

In the company's magazine, a special column was run regularly in which all rumors about the new building however wild, were reported and the facts given. Questions were invited. In addition to this a special "New Building Bulletin" was issued periodically.

A booklet known as "The Trail Blazer" was issued to all employees. This booklet, written in light, humorous style, gave employees interesting facts about the neighborhood of which they were to become a part, such as information on transit lines and shopping facilities.

Newsmen were brought in for a complete tour of inspection, and were furnished a complete kit of facts for possible future use.
The building was dedicated "To the Company's 1,000,000 Policyholders." At the dedication ceremony, the company brought together all of the principal groups interested, including union representatives, contractors, and suppliers.

For inclusion in the dedication stone, the company obtained from national leaders statements on hopes for mankind in the next half century. Among those who contributed such statements were Herbert Hoover, Cardinal Spellman, and General George Marshall. The company left instructions to have the dedication stone opened in the year 2000, so that the hopes of men of good will in 1950 could then be compared with the actual events of the second half of the twentieth century.

One of the most important features of the actual move into the new building was the transfer of the company's investments which involved a total of $2,100,000,000. This was the biggest move of negotiable wealth ever conducted by any business. To prevent possible speculation, the company gave both time and route to the press more than a week in advance. The newspapermen were asked, in the public interest, to protect the company against any leaks. This confidence in them was fully justified. As soon as the move was completed, the press was immediately notified and all stories released.

On the first day of operations in its new quarters, President On the day following Mutual of New York ran a 1,000 line ad in the newspapers, entitled "A Ballad for Moving Day." The copy comprised a humorous poem by Phyllis McGinley, a well known writer of light verse, thanking everyone who had played a part. A dinner was given for all contractors and subcontractors who worked on the building. One of the 250 guests rose, at the conclusion of the dinner, spontaneously, and said that although he had been in the contracting business for 25 years, this was the first time that any client had ever done anything so nice for him.

The company also worked out a plan with The New York Times, under which it issued a special 24 page rotogravure supplement. The company itself took a substantial amount of advertising space in this supplement, as did various contractors and suppliers.
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