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Ding, Dong, Her Ads Are Gone

August 2, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ An advertising agency Wednesday dumped hotel queen Leona Helmsley’s $5 million-a-year account and depicted itself as the latest victim of her imperious attitude and penny pinching.

Mrs. Helmsley had a penchant for intruding in the ads and sealed her fate with Taylor-Gordon, Aarons & Co. Inc. when she imposed an arbitrary 60 percent cut in agency fees for May and June, three company executives said.

″I’ve been reading the papers. This is part of the pattern. She’s squeezed other contractors,″ said agency president Elaine Taylor-Gordon. ″Eventually, no one escapes.″

The company had handled the Helmsley account on a verbal agreement for three years. Mrs. Helmsley was informed of the decision in a letter sent to her home.

The harsh words were the latest directed at Mrs. Helmsley, who was in federal court Wednesday for her tax evasion trial. Witnesses have detailed her abrasiveness and hair-trigger temper. Mayor Edward I. Koch called her ″the wicked witch.″

Ms. Taylor-Gordon, who said her company stands to lose $500,000 a year from its decision, pulled no punches herself.

″All of us knew she was queen and we were there to serve her,″ she said. ″It was evident in her body language, her imperiousness and her arrogance.″

She also described a typical business meeting with Mrs. Helmsley: ″She was drinking martinis, and I was drinking Brioschi. There was a lot of tension. ... She told me, ’Don’t get comfortable. You’re not here for a social event.‴

Mrs. Helmsley, approached by reporters at the courthouse about the agency’s decision, said nothing and zipped shut her lips.

Taylor-Gordon, Aarons was not the first agency to use Mrs. Helmsley in ads for the hotel chain, or to dub her the ″queen″ - her nickname among agency employees. In fact, she plays a smaller role in the agency’s ads, which emphasize the luxury of the accommodations.

Still, the tag line remains: the Helmsley Palace, the ads say, is the only palace where the queen stands guard. And the ads worked: Occupancy jumped from 24 percent before the ads to 87 percent after.

Nevertheless, the ads were recently critiqued in Adweek magazine as ranking ″among the worst advertising of our time ... terrible, conceptually unoriginal, poorly written, badly art-directed and photographically ugly.″

Agency officials said Mrs. Helmsley was deeply involved in their ad campaigns.

″She’d say, ‘I don’t like the way that lapel looks. I don’t like the way that button looks.’ And it wasn’t a question,″ said Larry Aarons, the agency’s creative director. ″It was ’Move that button. Lift that bale. Tote that barge.‴

Ms. Taylor-Gordon cited a recent New York state advertising awards competition in which the Helmsley ads were nominated.

″There was such an uproar from certain judges that it was decided not to consider us for the award,″ she said. ″It was the client, not the ads.″

But Ms. Taylor-Gordon predicted Mrs. Helmsley would have no trouble finding another ad agency. ″And we’ll send them all our Maalox, Advil and extra suits of armor.″

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