(From the July 25, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—I've never been in a Goodyear blimp.
As someone who has been covering Goodyear for years, that might seem a bit odd. Back in the “good old days,” Goodyear public relations always made a point to get the Akron-based press into a blimp.
They knew perfectly well that a blimp ride would make the crustiest journalist feel warm and fuzzy about Goodyear. Everyone loves the blimp.
A couple of times I had the offer, but passed it onto staff members—hands clenched in anticipation, eyes dewy with tears. Please, please, pick me! It was an easy way to keep the troops happy. I had an intra-staff lottery for one blimp ride, and a cheerful reporter won it, much to the consternation of another reporter who I then discovered had been obsessed with the blimp his whole life.
I put him on the next blimp ride Goodyear offered.
On another occasion a high-ranking executive of our parent company in Detroit asked me if I could get his son's tennis coach a blimp ride in Florida, where one of the blimps was hanging out. Within 45 minutes some truly helpful public relations operative at Goodyear had him scheduled. I could just see the gold star placed next to my name at our headquarters.
At the moment I'm putting together a history of the rubber industry, as reported by our publication, for our upcoming 40th anniversary issue. As I looked at a dramatic 2003 picture of the Spirit of America crashed headfirst into a plant nursery in Carson, Calif., I started adding up the blimp disasters I have known.
The latest, of course, was in Germany on June 13. The tragedy produced a hero, pilot Michael Nerandzic, who saved his passengers but sacrificed his own life in doing so.
Then there was the Spirit of Akron that went down in the woods not that far from Akron in October 1999. As is the usual case with blimp mishaps, no one was hurt, and it gave Chuck Slaybaugh, who at the time was working for our sister publication, Tire Business, a great photo op. Although he felt bad about it.
The following year freak winds lifted and then slammed to the ground the Spirit of South Pacific in Australia, and shortly after that the Stars and Stripes blimp, still tethered to its mooring mast, was torn in part by high winds in Philadelphia.
Going back a few more years, I remember when the Europa, being leased by the BBC for a wildlife shoot, crashed into a marsh in France. Goodyear at the time was selling the store to pay off the debt it incurred in fighting a hostile takeover, and opted not to replace that blimp. Actually, some of its parts were recycled and used on a future blimp.
I find the Goodyear blimp to be a fabulous marketing tool, equal, if not better, than Michelin's Bibendum. The Michelin Man's motto—“Nunc est Bibendum,” Latin for “Now is the time to drink”—is more jolly than “the spirit of Ã ,” but Bib is French, so what do you expect?
The blimp has a truly distinctive sound, and many times in the summer I'd hear it before seeing it, look up, and there she was. Comforting, knowing Goodyear was watching over us Ã and giving rides to its dealers, customers, politicians and people from the press who can help the company. But not the old Akron trade press.
Just as well. I'd just give the ride to someone else.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.