2008 PR News Platinum PR Issue Winner: Word of Mouth

The winners and honorable mentions in this year's PR news Platinum PR awards issue exemplify the most innovative approaches to redefining traditional PR with anything-but- traditional strategies. From a marketing communications effort that united a country over the search for the stars of a 1950s TV commercial to an event that landed a flock of pink flamingos around the windy city, the following winner confirms that the PR profession has indeed stepped out from the shadows to take a front-and-center role in delivering business results to their own organizations, and to their clients. Below is the winner of the 2008 PR News Platinum PR award for word of mouth.

Crest & Weber Shandwick Beijing

Crest Smile-vocates Journey Campaign

If you thought your U.S.-based digital communications efforts were tough, you can at least be relieved to know that there is an even more rough-and-tumble media environment out there: China, which is now the biggest internet market in the world.

This is the situation faced by the team at Weber Shandwick Beijing, which was tapped by Crest in 2007 to bolster the oral healthcare brand's awareness and loyalty throughout China. Given the country's mammoth population--1.3 billion and counting--the only way to attack the challenge would be via word of mouth (WOM). Once the method was established, then, it was just a matter of getting people to talk.

Say Cheese

Based on research findings from surveyed media, consumers and opinion leaders, the team decided to construct the "Crest Smile-vocates Journey" campaign around a group of traveling crest representatives--smile-vocates--whose wom advocacy would be supported by online media and traditional PR.

"After the core Smile-vocates team was established, [Weber Shandwick Beijing] set up an official web site [http://www.smile2u.com.cn] and blog to further promote the Smile-vocates," says Jeff Wang, senior consultant at Weber Shandwick. "Simultaneously, we facilitated numerous discussions on online bulletin board systems, a powerful platform for social-networking among Chinese 'net-izens.' this drove traffic to the official web site, where information about the crest brand and product were subtly integrated."

With an in-person component and a digital infrastructure in place, the Smile-vocates--with the help of a campaign mascot, a "creature" with a sparkling white smile--were set loose to spread the campaign message--"smiling makes the world fall in love with us"--by engaging audiences around key events and locations, including the 2008 beijing olympics and the crest china headquarters in guangzhou.

A Word of Advice

The Smile-vocates journey campaign made a big impression among media and consumer audiences, a result that is perhaps best illustrated by the 5,100 photos of smiling people that were uploaded to the campaign site. Wang and his team attribute the success to a few key best practices that can be applied to any wom effort:

"Study the brand and product, and then be clear about what you want to communicate and who the target audiences are," he says. Identify their web lingo, attributes and triggers, and be prepared before you enter social channels. The trick is knowing how to make it snowball into massive internet wom. In new media, it's all or nothing."