Former Young & Rubicam advertising executive Tracy Lanza has just joined the management team at New York’s Grand Central Station. Her job: to rebrand the historic railway terminal. Having left her glamorous Park Avenue offices and a work environment that was straight out of Madmen, Lanza now sits in a windowless second-floor cell where she has painted one wall chalkboard black and then drawn on some flowers. Still, it’s enviable to be able to schedule a meeting with the words, “Meet me under the clock.”
For Lanza, who has the energy of a teenager, her job also entails a personal mission. “What New Yorker doesn’t have a story about Grand Central Station?” asks Lanza. “This is an opportunity that will never come again. My life started at this terminal, age four, getting on a train in Connecticut with my grandfather to come here for the fun of it. But I don’t want to lose the Grand Central brand, just update it. Grand Central Terminal is fundamentally authentic. So where do you go with that? It’s one of the three places in New York that are innocent from over branding. There’s the Public Library, Central Park, and Grand Central. These places are part of the fabric of New York. So whatever we do, it can’t be cheese ball!”
So how do you re-brand a historic railway terminal that people rush in an out of? How do you convince a commuter that the station is so great, they might want to miss their train? You can’t exactly turn it into a destination, since it already is one. Where do you begin?
“Well,” says Lanza, “you actually could enhance Grand Central’s reputation as a destination, not just a commuter space. It could also become an open cultural space. And retail here is already like its own city – you have mom and pop name-brand shops, good bars, bookstores, restaurants, and gourmet food shops. You have everything right here.”
It is true, there are certainly some interesting things to work with – a secret passageway to Franklin D Roosevelt’s former train platform, the Whispering Gallery where you whisper into the arched tiled dome and can be heard on the other side. You have Cipriani, the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, and The Campbell Apartment – another great bar. So it’s not as though the station has suffered from total neglect – it just needs some fresh thinking to sharpen its look and purpose.
Already four weeks into the job, Lanza is fixing signage, updating the brand book and imagining all the possibilities. “What if coffee is ready when you get off the train? What about an iPhone app to use when you get off the train? What would help people whose day starts and ends here? What is the business opportunity here? How will it work now and transform itself in the future?”
In 2013, Grand Central Station turns 100. “I’ll be 50 when Grand Central will be 100, says Lanza.” There is a legacy here but this anniversary is not about the last 100 years. Instead, it will be a kick off for the second 100. That’s what this is about. It’s about Grand Central Station making history in the future.”