My adventures with David Bunnell: a reminiscence

Jim Edlin
Jim Edlin
Oct 29, 2016 · 4 min read

Triggered by the unfortunate recent passing of computer publishing pioneer David Bunnell, who was my friend and onetime business partner, I thought I’d share a few stories about our adventures together in the late ‘70s and early ’80s. (This is the first of five parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

Part 1 — The First Midwest Personal Computing Show

I first met David in Chicago, in the summer of 1977. It was at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show, held at the giant McCormick Place convention hall. (CES now happens in Las Vegas in January, but in those days the big event was in Chicago in the summer.)

I’d spent a footsore day prowling the aisles of CES seeking leads to possible new clients for my fledgling Chicago marketing communications agency. As I was on my way out, I cast a reluctant glance toward the cluster of little tables near the exit reserved for media exhibitors. Amid them I spotted a table for Personal Computing magazine. This popped me out of my end-of-day fog, since I was particularly eager to get clients in the then-nascent personal computer industry — having identified them as having high growth potential my new agency could draft along with.

The table was manned by David, Personal Computing’s founder and then-publisher. He was at CES, solo, prospecting for advertisers and also promoting an event — the First Midwest Personal Computing Show — that the magazine was sponsoring in Chicago the following October. Since it was nearly closing time for the day, with most folks in the hall now focused on their planned evening activities, David was sitting alone at his table and looking bored. So he greeted me with a bit of relief when I walked over and introduced myself.

I was excited at the idea of a personal computer show coming to Chicago and I eagerly pumped David for all the details. Then I explained to David that I was probably the only “ad guy” in Chicago who knew anything about an event like the one he was putting on. That was because the preceding spring, already hunting clients in the personal computer industry, I had traveled to San Francisco to soak in all three days of the First West Coast Computer Faire. (This was kind of a coming-out party for the still-young industry, where the Apple II, among many other interesting products, was first introduced to the public.)

Using that experience, and the fact that my agency was already doing a bit of work for the Byte Shops chain of retail computer stores (who I met on my West Coast trip), to boost my credibility, I told David that I would love the opportunity for my agency to do the local advertising and marketing for his event. In good ad-man fashion, I then invited David to pack it in for the day and join me for a drink. Several scotches later, David bought in to my pitch and agreed to hire my agency for the job.

So, co-ordinating with David’s team back in Albuquerque, I began promoting the hell out of his upcoming event. Because I saw the project as an opportunity to showcase my agency to other potential personal computer clients, I put way more effort into the project than David’s modest budget actually justified.

True to the “marketing communications” banner I was flying to distinguish my company from traditional ad agencies, this involved a lot more than creating and running ads. We did run TV commercials (the very first to promote personal computers, I believe), radio spots, newspaper ads, and even ads both inside and outside CTA busses. But we also did intensive press promotion…

… which was very successful in getting coverage in both local broadcast and print media, like this front-page story in the Chicago Daily News on the opening day of the show.

We even built a “preview show” exhibit to tour around to Chicago-area shopping malls during the month before the event itself to create interest.

And — really stretching the boundaries of “marcom” — I even arranged for a bus shuttle to run continuously between the nearest station of Chicago’s “El” and the show hotel.

The outcome of our collective efforts was a happy success, even though the Chicago event had been accidentally scheduled for the same dates as a competing event in New York, creating a dilemma for potential exhibitors. On the opening morning we had people lined up around the building waiting to get in. Here’s what David wrote about it in Subroutines, his personal newsletter:

That success of the First Midwest Personal Computer Show led directly into my second adventure with David, to be detailed in Part 2 of this reminiscence. Also: Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Written by

Jim Edlin

Veteran tech and web entrepreneur

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