Nothing Happens Unless You Make the Sale (Part 2)
Apr 21, 2009
By John Freivalds
The Selling of America “Latvian Style”

“An independent Soviet newspaper that has covered the recent wave of reforms in Eastern Europe has become an advertising vehicle for several US companies intrigued by the potential sales possibilities.”

We sent press releases everywhere and got a lot of free publicity, which we then used to get advertisers to take us seriously. Delta Airlines was one of the first advertisers we got into Atmoda. Delta advertised because its sales manager was Latvian (networking) and the only way to get to Latvia was through Moscow. Our group flew to Finland and then took a ferry to Tallinn and then a bus to Riga. We were met at the Latvian border with a band and beer.

My favorite story appeared in the Adweek of January 22, 1990. It ran this little squib after it had run a bigger story the week before:


John Freivalds who owns the US ad-sales rights for Atmoda, an opposition newspaper in the Soviet Union, has a great sales pitch.

“This newspaper is never used for toilet paper. The communist papers like Pravda are”.

They are ugly but they come in volume

Finally I came to my senses and started to look around to see what in Latvia was there to sell to Americans. The country was not ready for prime time I realized as I walked through the biggest store in Riga- Universals. In fact, the only thing available in quantity was Russian made neckties-very ugly.

I came home after a month and the whole world was a buzz with “Gorby” and the new world that Russia offered; I remembered the ties. A friend of mine was going back and forth to Russia so we made a deal with the Usury Tie factory outside of Moscow to export Russian ties.

Another friend was in the PR business and he wanted to jump start his career in public relations by helping market Russian ties. Then a friend who ran the Carmichael Lynch Advertising Agency offered to do pro bono advertising, including radio commercials for us-they wanted to be part of the boom.

The copy they prepared for the ads won a lot of awards. Here are the headlines:

Ties from any Tom, Dick or Gorby

We’ve got the Ties so why are you Stalin?

Just like the one Gorby gets on Father’s Day

Strengthen your Ties with Russia

Be the first Guy in your sector to own one

So in the end we sold 22,000 Russian ties (some wandered in from Estonia as well) to department stores. People who had just turned us down saw the stories which started to appear and called us back. Here’s the headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer

“Comrade in Commerce”

Vodka, Big Furry Hats. No matter where they’re made, items with a Soviet tag are selling big in the United States. Even black bread.”

This whole episode came about due to my first trip to Latvia and showed what power having a “hook” to sell can be of great help and how you can use the media to your advantage. I would be happy to share out marketing plan for anyone who contacts me.

Come one come all

In 1996 I became the US Representative for the Latvian Development Agency, now the Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA). It was then I started to get all sorts of requests to sell Latvian goods in the US: wooden shoes, lingerie, antiques, car parts, blankets, linen, canned fish, and vodka. Since the LIAA was a government institution it had to deal with all comers. I was polite for the first question I would ask “how much can you produce?” The second question was “how much of your money are you willing to put behind this?” Usually they didn’t know how much they could produce and they were unwilling – or unable to put any marketing money behind the product(s). “Isn’t that your job, they would ask?” And I would answer: I am doing this pro bono.

Since I am in the It business I gravitated to this business as did the members of our original group. Janis Gobins was one member of our group and he founded SWH (Software House Riga) which did a lot of outsource work for IBM and others.

I belong to a professional organization called LISA. They were to have a conference in Budapest. At that time they were working on a project “Java Bean s around the World” and having four countries work on the software. China, India, Belarus and Latvia. So in the end the IBM and two Latvians converged on Budapest. They gave a speech and then there were a bunch of mixers where I hoped they would network. When I attended the first social I saw them standing in a corner by themselves. I asked: “Why aren’t you mixing? We don’t know anybody” was the response. “No one knows anybody” I said and led them to the middle of the room and said: “introduce yourself”. Now the localization business in Latvia is well known. Companies like Interverbum and Tilde are doing well; and maybe I had something to do with that.

I got very picky regarding who I would deal with. When I would go to Latvia I always would seek the opportunity to give my pet speech: “How to do business with Americans.” I got a lot of big name Latvians to show interest, including Avers Lembergs, one of Latvia’s home bred oligarchs, The first time I did this I got the Radisson Hotel to give me a room and coffee for free and as “friend of the Radisson Daugava,” I am always able to swing it.

But this didn’t get picked up by the Latvian press, so companies who wanted to do business with the US would approach me bilnd. One was Arsenivich Vodka. They did not speak English well enough to know that “Arsenivich ” sounded like “arsenic,” a lethal poison. And they didn’t know that there were 500 brands of vodka being sold in the US and the competition was now about how the bottle looked. Finally, after I put them in touch with one of the leading liquor importers, Preiss Imports, I learned they were unwilling to spend any marketing money. My friend Henry Preiss was befuddled. “They want me to do all the work for free.”

Another Latvian export that I helped create was using a Latvian advertising agency (Base Baltic- which does Air Baltic's advertising) ) and using a Latvian model Kristine Krumina to promote something in the US. I wanted a European look for a new poster we were developing (The Periodic Table of Toasts) and a tall Latvian model (Kristine was 6 foot two). And since we were in the age of web cams I was able to direct the photo shoot from the US! We ended up using Kristine , a former Miss Latvia candidate for all our posters.

What to do next?

There are some good companies that contacted me like SIA Malteks, which makes furniture. They understand about volume but not US styles. I think it would be worthwhile someone helped getting the good furniture production companies to produce for US style and color. Latvian linen is an example; it has been traditionally dull grey or brown and could use a facelift. I tried to sell the Latvian line to the Four Seasons Hotel chain but “too dull and too coarse” was the response.

The United States is brand conscious country so it would be difficult to establish a presence for a Latvian brand without spending too much on advertising. I always think of Colombian coffee which has a brand presence but was invented by an advertising agency in 1959 and has cost millions to maintain. And in the current market that would be impossible for any Latvian firm to do that...

The best chance would be to supply components to manufacturers ,and sell Latvian food stuffs to specialty stores that carry ethnic food, a market niche There are numerous stores like that and the only consideration would be to get a full container load. But, there are Latvians now trying to make this happen.

The Latvians I now meet tell me that they don’t know what to do. In the period of a few short years Latvia has gone to being a “Baltic tiger” with a fast growth rate to being the EU country with the worst growth rate.

Latvia has to do the same as the United States produce and sell more and consume less on credit. I think we can help make this happen.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the Latvian Chamber of Commerce in the Americas.

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Earl LittmanJan 07, 2010 / 3:35 pm
Dear Mr. Freivalds,

Would you be willing to turn the tables and recommend a reputable Latvian organization which works with the major retailers such as supermarkets and drug chains in their marketing efforts? We are in toatal agreement with you that "Nothingf Happens Until You Make the Sale." Our P.O.P.ShelfAds(R) GUARANTEE to LIFT SALES or it's FREE!
No other media in the world can make that killer, irressistible claim which we have proven with Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestle, etc.There must be a great opportunity in Latvia to be developed.
Earl Littman Founder & Chairman
P.O.P. Broadcasting Co., Inc. Houston, Tx.
AnnJul 01, 2010 / 4:27 am
James Lee withersJun 24, 2013 / 1:28 pm
Hello' Let It Be.............It Shall Be Done! Make It A New! Why Do Americans Have The Right To Own Gold?
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