Publicis Dialog Pedals an Uphill Course With SFBC

Peek under the stairs in the lobby of Publicis Dialog, San Francisco, and you discover a different kind of parking lot: a space reserved for bicycles. On any given day, there are more than a dozen bikes perched in the alcove.

With all the cycling enthusiasts in the 80-person office, it isn’t surprising that the shop recently added the pro-bono San Francisco Bike Coalition account.

The shop picked up the account as a result of a new internal program called “Creative Calisthenics.” Begun about six months ago, it is designed to give employees more creative opportunities, said executive creative director Tom Kavanaugh. Rejecting the idea that a lack of new business gave rise to the program, Kavanaugh claimed, “We’re trying to keep people inspired to do good work, regardless of the economy.”

A four-person “Creative Calisthenics” team had the responsibility of picking a client and developing ads for it. The team consists of a cross-section of employees and will change from campaign to campaign.

Phase one of the campaign aims to convince people that the streets are safe for riding. Phase two will have what copywriter Jody Horn called a “butts-on-bikes strategy,” aimed at getting more people to ride.

The San Francisco cycling community recently hit some rocky terrain, said Horn. In-house research found that a series of well-publicized fatal bike accidents discouraged many cyclists from riding.

To help curb those fears, the first four outdoor ads carry the tagline “Road safety. It’s all the rage.” The ads “focus on bikers and motorists co-existing on the road,” Horn said.

Two feature motorists complimenting bikers for obeying safety regulations; two others have bikers lauding the smooth maneuvering of motorists. The ads went up in 45 transit shelters citywide last week.

“One of the unfortunate things about pro-bono clients is that we’re at the whim of the media they can get donated,” said Horn. The SFBC was able to spend $8,000 from its ad budget for the transit shelter space, said Dave Snyder, SFBC executive director. Snyder hopes the campaign will help position the SFBC as a more mainstream organization.

Publicis Dialog claims annual billings of $90 million.