George Berger once used a simple method to demonstrate the unique character of his job as SI's director of promotional planning: He began a presentation at a luncheon for ad execs by asking how many of them could tell him what was going on in the Common Market or what the latest news was from Libya or Wall Street. A quick scan of the faces indicated a paucity of knowledge. But when Berger offered the same people an opportunity to talk about their favorite sports, the answers flowed fast and furious. "Everybody can associate with sports," he says. "You can easily bring people down, or up, to that common denominator called sport."
The universal appeal of sport is what Berger had in mind when he asked the Ogilvy & Mather ad agency to create what eventually became our highly successful Get the Feeling campaign. "I'm a strong believer that the best advertising is that which best reflects the product," says Berger. "SI's genius is the real feeling that the reader gets for what's going on. That's what we wanted to communicate." Berger and his staff evaluated some two dozen concepts over the course of several months before Ogilvy proposed the award-winning idea. "When they came in with Get the Feeling," recalls Berger, "we knew it was just right."
Berger began his career 22 years ago writing ad copy for a Pittsburgh-area department store. After moving to a local ad agency, he undertook his pilgrimage to New York—the ad man's Mecca, as he calls it—where he worked for two more agencies before catching on as a junior copywriter at SI in 1967. Four years later Berger left us to try his hand at freelance copy writing and photography, but he returned to Time Inc. in 1979. Subsequently he was named promotion director for DISCOVER magazine and then took the same job at TIME before coming back to SI—"my first and deepest love," he says—in '84.
Away from work Berger gets the feeling by taking his three children on fishing excursions to the numerous lakes near his home in Irvington, N.Y. He is also a confirmed Yankee fan. "I guarantee you, this is the year," he says. "They're going to win by 10. Of course, my wife, Jane, will tell you I say that every year."
May 10, 1987
Jane was at SI for 14 years, ending up as sales promotion manager, and the couple met in our offices. George had heard that he and Jane owned the same breed of dog, so one day he approached her and said, "Hi, I understand you have an English bulldog." Berger's gift for identifying and communicating common themes isn't limited to ad campaigns.