Thomas R. Butler
Yesterday, June 3rd, marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of one of the great characters the city of Vancouver has ever seen. Public Relations genius Thomas R. Butler passed away in Summerside, Prince Edward Island where he had retired. He was 79 years old.
Tom Butler ruled the P.R. roost in Vancouver for years. He was well known and well respected by not only the Advertising, Marketing, and Promotion sector but also the news media in this city.
His creative and somewhat crazy stunts are legendary. His job was to get the news media’s attention and therefore the public’s attention, for his client. I’m guessing the majority of the public wasn’t aware of Thomas R, but we in the media not only knew him but loved him, trusted him, and always knew that if Tom called with a promotion, you could be sure it was going to be fun.
A few of the promotions that Tom cooked up were:
He brought astronaut Neil Armstrong to Vancouver to open the Sears Tower revolving restaurant. He described the event as "The restaurant that soars halfway to the moon in the night sky over Vancouver was opened by a man who went all the way.”
Perhaps you remember this Butler invention, “The World Belly Flop and Cannonball Diving Championship.” That event was first staged in 1974 to publicize the Bayshore Inn Hotel’s new swimming pool. The event moved to the Coach House Inn in North Vancouver and drew contestants and spectators from around the world. One year U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy was brought in by Butler to act as one of the judges in the competition which drew coverage from NBC television. About the event, Butler said, “I mean, there’s no subtlety to it. But what else can a 300-pound truck driver do and get to have NBC declare that he’s champion of the U.S.A.?” The winner was also awarded what Tom called “the coveted green bathrobe.” Later Tom found out that a past winner of the event had passed away, and one of his requests was to be buried in his coveted green robe.
One of his most successful promotions had to be the famous beaver promotions to California and New York City. In 1975 sales executives and hotel people were looking for a way to promote B.C. as a convention destination. They called on Tom. His idea was to borrow a live beaver from the Stanley Park Zoo and fly him and his handlers to New York City, the site of the American Society of Association Executives at their annual convention in New York. These were the people who made the decisions on where their conventions would take place.
The beaver and his handlers checked into the New York Hilton and made the rounds dressed in top hats and tails. The handlers had the top hats, the beaver had the tail. Haha. They took a traffic-stopping walk down Fifth Avenue, and made the front page of the New York Times! This one promotion in New York City produced over 20 conventions for Vancouver that were valued at millions of tourism dollars for the city of Vancouver and the province of B.C. At the end of the promotion, Bucky the beaver was taken back to the Stanley Park Zoo no worse for wear and had to be the most traveled beaver in history. The beaver also made a trip to California - which is another story!
As my old boss, Ian Haysom wrote in an article in the Globe and Mail, “Tom Butler knew whimsical stunts would be an antidote to the grey news of the day. He was a master of the photo op – elephants in ski lifts, horses in swimming pools, pneumatic cover girls, and celebrity supermarket openings. It was a different age.” Haysom goes on to say, “He quickly gained a reputation as a creative and reliable PR consultant, with a flair for the flamboyant. He dressed sharply. He was fun to be around. He was said to have a Roman candle for a brain – and the ability to get his clients on the front page.”
Tom Butler had advice for the aspiring public relations professional, "Never be afraid to fail. Every publicist does.” And, "Never complain when your story fails to make the newspaper. Just don't give up.”
Till Next Week...
1 // Thomas R. Butler (Globe and Mail photo)
2 // Bucky the Beaver in New York City
3 // Dale Scott, Steve Halliday & Ron Drake with Bucky the Beaver
A clip from 1980 of the World Cannonball & Bellyflop Championship in North Vancouver
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White Rock, BC • Canada V4B 3Z2