By Sarah Deem
Most people probably are not aware that the city of Philadelphia was put under a curse over 20 years ago after the construction of the One Liberty Place skyscraper, which was built taller than City Hall. Personally, I had no idea about “The Curse of William Penn” until I attended the Bizarre PR Conference in Philadelphia this weekend, hosted by the Drexel University Public Relations Student Society of America. This conference focused on the “Bizarre PR” world of Philadelphia. Several speakers shared their stories about events that they have been through that are definitely not normal, everyday PR occurrences.
From the beginning of Philadelphia’s existence, City Hall had been the tallest building in the city, with a statue of William Penn (the founder of Pennsylvania) perched neatly on top, making Penn’s hat the apex of the city. In 1987, however, Liberty planned to change these dimensions by erecting a building that was taller than City Hall.
Twenty-three years after the building was established, it came to light that no Philadelphia sports team had won a national title ever since Liberty decided to exceed the height of City Hall with its building – thus “The Curse of William Penn.” Obviously, there are individuals who believe in curses and others who don’t, however, either way, Comcast determined that this would be a fun PR campaign to tackle. Executives at the company decided to place a replica statue of William Penn on their building to hopefully break the curse. Little did they know, William Penn might have been more powerful than any of them had imagined.
After the new statue was placed on top of the Comcast building, the luck of sports wins in Philadelphia immediately took a turn for the better. That year, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, breaking the curse of William Penn.
I guess we will never know if there truly was a curse on Philadelphia for all those years, however, I thought that this was one of the most original and fun PR campaigns that I ever heard. Something that I learned at this conference is that PR is about opportunities. Every time opportunities come knocking, as PR professionals, we should always be ready to answer. It’s not everyday that a company gets to say that they broke the curse that a city was under for over 20 years!
This truly was an example of “Bizarre PR.” Today, a statue still sits atop the Comcast building, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ baseball season has just begun, so I guess we will see if William Penn can work his magic for the 2010 sports season