The Promoter

Joe Dobrow’s book was inspired by the AP American History class he took during his senior year at Great Neck South.

No matter where you end up, there is one fact that cannot be denied—where you grow up affects who you become. This is especially true for Joe Dobrow.

Dobrow grew up in Great Neck and graduated from South High in 1981. In his senior year, he took one class that changed his life—AP American History. The class was taught by department head Dr. Marc Ross.

“It was a great school district, maybe not so surprising that a guy like Marc Ross was there,” Dobrow reminisced. “When I took Dr. Ross’s AP American History class my senior year of high school, that is what lit the fire for me.”

The fire that Dr. Ross lit under Dobrow is like an eternal flame that has not been extinguished. This past June, Dobrow’s second book, Pioneers of Promotion: How Press Agents for Buffalo Bill, P. T. Barnum, and the World’s Columbian Exposition Created Modern Marketing, was released.

The book is in part about Buffalo Bill and the Wild West, the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the World’s Columbian Exposition, but more so about the men who were behind the curtains that helped these three events captivate the world then, and why they are still known today.

John M. Burke, Tody Hamilton and Moses P. Handy are the pioneers that Joe Dobrow talks about in his book.

The South High Class of 1981 grad just wrote his second book.

It might come as a surprise that most of the marketing techniques used today were “pioneered” in the Gilded Age, which took place between the 1870s and 1900s.

During an age when there was no Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or the Internet, these men shone and did what they do best—promote.

“Mobile billboards were put into play in the 1890s by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show in Germany,” said Dobrow. “It was horse-drawn carts carrying these huge posters of Buffalo Bill and of the Indians and of the show.”

Now, if this seems vaguely familiar, it is because the same concept is used every day in New York City. Instead of horses and buggies with giant billboards, it is taxis driving all over the city with roof signs. This is just one example of the many tactics that Burke used to cultivate curiosity and publicity for Buffalo Bill.

Dobrow does not have a PhD in history, but he did have some help with the details of his book from his old AP American History teacher. About five years ago, Dobrow was living in Arizona and it just so happened that Dr. Ross was, too. So, the student and teacher reunited, this time as friends. They shared a few meals together and, of course, Dobrow was excited to tell his former teacher about his idea for his new book. Ross was delighted to help his former student by providing feedback and sharing books and articles that could help him.

The author was a little less than halfway finished writing his book when Ross passed away in January 2015, before he could read the manuscript or the published book. But Dobrow did honor his former teacher, who will always be a part of this work.

Joe Dobrow was inspired by his time at Great Neck South High School.

“I dedicated the book in part to him as one of the people who inspired me to continue to love history and to write about history,” said Dobrow, a communications professional for 30 years, who also authored Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods—How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Business.

The Great Neck South Class of 1981 grad is not the only family member to have written a book, specifically a history book. His older brother and sister are also authors. His brother, Martin, is working on a book about Martin Luther King Jr. and his sister, Julie, has a book coming out about a mother and daughter who found the poetry of Emily Dickinson when she was still unknown. When Julie’s book is published this coming fall, the three siblings want to hold an event in Great Neck to talk about writing, history and their roots on the peninsula. Look for details in an upcoming issue as the event nears.

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