Marketing executive makes a personal pitch for himself and others
South Florida Business Journal - by Jeff Zbar
Alan T. Brown has marketed Florida Marlins baseball and Slim-Fast. He launched Café Martorano in Las Vegas, and helped create sports radio station 790 The Ticket.
Now, he’s on a humanitarian mission to market a different product: Himself, and the millions of paraplegic and quadriplegic Americans who need better access to medical products and services.
Brown is using his marketing skills and connections to raise awareness of the conditions America’s disabled and wheelchair-bound individuals face each day. His effort includes pushing for improved funding for Medicaid and Medicare recipients, and helping veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan secure motorized wheelchairs.
It’s not easy, he said, and the number of Americans living with disabilities is growing. Some 1.27 million Americans live with spinal cord injury, and 5.6 million have some form of paralysis, according to a study from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
When these findings were released this spring in Washington, D.C., Brown was there to “put a face on paralysis,” he said. He visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in May with Dean Kamen, creator of the Segway, and helped arrange the donation of a motorized wheelchair to a returning veteran. He’ll go back in July to meet with the Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Task Force.
It’s an issue that’s been part of Brown’s life since January 1988. Vacationing in Martinique, a wave’s undertow flipped Brown. The athletic, 21-year-old college student landed on his head, breaking his neck. He was left a quadriplegic.
Though confined to a wheelchair, his active pace continued. He twice completed the New York City Marathon. He’s scuba dived and skydived. Until recently, his days were long – in the office at PrimeTime Public Relations & Marketing before 8 a.m., and home to wife Susanne and their two boys after dark.
It’s not been without challenges, he said. Brown’s frenetic pace led to infection, common to the wheelchair-bound, 17 times in 2008. He battled his insurance company, which claimed Brown no longer needed a nurse, physical therapy or medical supplies.
“When people see people like me, they don’t realize what it takes to get from point A to point B,” he said.
Few who know Brown are surprised he’s taken to highlighting the plight of the disabled, said Lorne Fisher, CEO and managing partner with Fish Consulting, the Hollywood franchise marketing specialty firm where Brown has served as creative director since early 2008.
“Alan realizes there are so many people who are running into the same roadblocks in staying healthy and improving their lives,” said Fisher, whose office manager – Arno Bergara – is a paraplegic whom Brown encouraged to participate in marathons.
Brown’s decision to champion America’s disabled came last year. He had been using and promoting Johnson & Johnson’s iBot wheelchair since its debut four years earlier. Kamen developed the chair using technology from the Segway. In his iBot, Brown can climb stairs, travel through deep beach sand, and – most importantly to him – rise safely on two wheels to talk to people face to face.
But, although Brown bought his iBot, federal reimbursement caps the costs of durable medical supplies far below the iBot’s $22,000 price, he said. Johnson & Johnson ceased production earlier this year, Brown added.
“They’ll buy a guy arms and legs all day long,” he said. “This is my prosthetic device.”
He’s marshalling Kamen, the Reeve Foundation and other groups to “speak the same message” and build on his campaign to help people understand what the disabled endure. He’s helped garner TV reports and Associated Press articles. Newsweek is preparing a story, he said. He hopes to create “some sort of normalcy and fairness” for the disabled.
“This is about using my gift of gab to get as many people together on this subject as possible,” he said. “When I go to Washington, I’m not a lobbyist, I’m Alan Brown.”