Especially free advertising-which is exactly what tiny Marquis Jets and ad agency Deutsch got plenty of last week after both appeared on NBC's reality series "The Apprentice," which was seen by a phenomenal 20.4 million viewers.
In the Jan. 15 episode of the show, in which 16 participants vie to become an apprentice to Donald Trump, two teams, broken down by gender, competed against each other to create an ad campaign for Marquis jets. The agency that donated its resources to the contestants was none other than the Interpublic Group of Cos. shop and its telegenic leader, Donny Deutsch.
"We have great awareness in the industry, but we haven't been around as long some of the others like J. Walter Thompson or Ogilvy," said Linda Sawyer, managing partner-chief operating officer at Deutsch. "I think overnight this made Deutsch a household name."
It did the same for Marquis. "It was the ultimate product placement," said Ken Austin, exec VP-chief marketing officer.
By midday Jan. 16, the company had fielded numerous calls from media outlets and pitches from more than a dozen agencies interested in handling its modest $1.2 million ad account; Marquis handles its advertising in-house.
Several advertising columns stoked interest in the episode with stories in advance, and the buzz continued as Mr. Deutsch took the stage on NBC's Jan. 16 "Today Show" and Marquis Jets CEO Bill Allard appeared on CNBC. Marquis also ran a small print ad in the Wall Street Journal promoting its appearance on the show with the headline, "Memo to all other private jet card programs: You're fired." (On "The Apprentice," Mr. Trump dismisses one contestant each week with the same two words.)
Marquis did not pay to participate in the show, although Mr. Austin said it cost the company a significant amount of money to rent two hangars at an airport in White Plains, N.Y. and keep pilots on retainer for the two-day shoot. The upshot was the extraordinary publicity the company received.
Marquis rents corporate jets by selling debit cards that reserve 25 hours of flight time on a fleet of private planes. It sold almost 1,000 last year, at about $150,000 each. Mr. Austin expects that number to double this year based largely on the exposure from "The Apprentice."
Marquis said it is close to a deal with an unspecified national publication in which a print ad from each of the show's teams would run side by side. Readers could then go to marquisjets.com to vote for which ad they like best.
Before the episode's filming in September, Deutsch had not been introduced to Marquis Jets or Mr. Trump. Nor had Donny and Donald met. The agency was informed by the show's producer, Mark Burnett Productions, of the client's identity only the day before the shoot. Marquis Jets only then was told which agency was selected.
The "Apprentice" teams had 48 hours to produce a campaign, a good majority of which was spent at Deutsch's New York office, which was taken over by "Apprentice" producer Burnett and 16 cameras. "You could feel their presence," said Deutsch partner-chief media officer Peter Gardiner, "but it was just like any other day at Deutsch: chaotic."
Both teams spent 10 hours on day one at the airport hangars, and returned to 111 Eighth Ave. that evening. They worked all day and evening the second day. While Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Gardiner couldn't quantify the number of employees who were involved, they did say the contestants had the full resources of the agency.
The women proved victorious, heeding Mr. Deutsch's advice to "swing for the fences" by creating a sexually provocative print campaign that won the competition but was ultimately rejected by Marquis Jets as too risque. The women produced three print ads in which the planes were photographed as phallic symbols and featured suggestive taglines that read, "Upward Bound," "How Do You Measure Up?" and "Can You Fit In?"
But Mr. Austin said he and CEO Mr. Allard were impressed with the creativity and resourcefulness of the women. The 30-second TV spot they produced was accepted and begins running this week in Vail and Aspen, Colo., where many of Marquis Jets' high-end clients keep vacation homes. Marquis Jets will spend about $100,000 to run the spot more than 150 times in the next 30 days.
The men were criticized for producing a safe, but bland, campaign, and for failing to show up for an appointment with Messrs. Austin and Allard.
"I thought both teams did well in the challenge," said Mr. Trump, who involves himself deeply in the creation of print advertising for his real estate properties, golf courses and casino. "They were very different. I just didn't agree with the fact that the guys didn't call the boss. That was a disastrous decision."
contributing: richard linnett