Several years ago, the active lifestyle brand LifeSpan hired my agency to launch its line of treadmill desks. Novelty was on our side. When consumers imagined workplace activity, they didn’t usually think past dusty company gyms and sweaty lunchtime jogs. We had something new and different, but if we were successful launching the line, what would happen after the newness wore off? We created an approach that has driven consistent national media results, year after year, with minimal running tweaks, and could be written on one side of a napkin.
Based on what we learned in the process of earning hundreds of millions of consumer impressions, here are six ways to put together a campaign that’s built to last:
1. Use Every New Study as an Opportunity
“Sitting is the new smoking.” “Your desk job is killing you.” “Get out of your chair.” Those were the headlines as we prepared for launch, and are still the headlines today. We’re very lucky major universities are always publishing research on the negative effects of sedentary lifestyles, linking too much sitting with increased risk for serious diseases. We use each new study as an opportunity to engage our extensive editorial contacts at national health, business and technology media outlets, to remind them why this product matters. But we don’t wait for studies to fall into our laps, and we certainly don’t spend hours checking the health and science sections of CNN, or combing through medical journals. We set up a broad set of monitoring terms covering the downsides of being sedentary. If there’s an issue affecting your customer, which your client’s product was designed to help, monitor for that issue poking its head into stories. It doesn’t even need to be a serious issue. For example, we’ve been toying with the idea of monitoring around the post-lunch food coma.
2. Keep Putting the Customers Out Front
The best stories aren’t about products; they’re about people using the products in interesting ways. Some LifeSpan customers purchase their treadmill desks after suffering the adverse effects of sedentary behavior, like heart attacks and blood clots, following the advice of a doctor. Many of their doctors are treadmill desk advocates, as well. These individuals are a running focal point of our campaign, and sharing their stories helps reporters understand this product isn’t simply a gadget; it’s a potential lifesaver. This is where an open line of communication with the sales and customer service teams comes into play. Sales can alert you of big-name or big-quantity orders as they happen. And customer service can forward you emails from super-fans who’ve had their lives changed by the product and are probably willing to go on the record. A constant influx of fresh success stories is key to a sustained campaign’s longevity.
3. Constantly Mine the Company for Employee Stories
From the head of the company down to the mailroom, people within the organization may have personal stories that fit your communications goals. Nearly a year into the campaign, we learned one LifeSpan executive spent a good portion of his career in the office equipment business, at a time when the goal was to eliminate movement. Rather than skimming over this detail, it’s used to illustrate how a trend has been turned on its head. His front row seat to science influencing the reintroduction of physical activity into the workplace makes him an undeniable trend expert. These stories may come from the oldest company veteran to the newest hire. Ask around.
4. Start With Your Rolodex, and Never Let It Get Stale
In the opening rounds of any PR campaign, any good agency knows who its targets will be: top-shelf reporters with whom we’ve earned trust and respect over time. These relationships remain a large part of why we’re hired. But after you’ve knocked on all the right doors and created your first set of opportunities, it’s time to create new relationships. Daily media monitoring to uncover fresh editorial contacts reporting on the intersection of wellness and technology keeps our LifeSpan connections growing, and ensures efforts stay up to date. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on who’s moderating panels at major industry conferences. Not only are those individuals major influencers, they’re often asked to select their own panelists—which could include your company president.
5. Never Stop Walking the Talk
When starting on a new account, the team should make a commitment to understanding the product by bringing it into their lives. There’s no better way to explain to the media how something works. If it’s a beer, drink the beer. If it’s mouse traps, set them around your house. If it’s a treadmill desk, start walking. LifeSpan sent a treadmill desk to our Boston office near the beginning of the relationship. During pitch calls, I would often tell reporters, “By the way, the entire time we’ve been speaking, I’ve been using the product.” This drove home the ease of walking and working, sparked journalists’ interest and was often a factor in getting them to commit to a story. In three years, I logged more than 3,000 miles on it—the distance from Boston to San Francisco. Firsthand experience with a product also prevents easily-avoided critiques from appearing in stories. For instance, if a reporter complains about a beeping noise when a product’s buttons are pressed, your familiarity will guide them toward the mute option. A commitment to using the product shouldn’t end with the first results report. It should stay current through every product refresh and update.
6. Always Set Up the Product for Success
You can’t be there for every press demo you secure, but your clients’ affiliates can be. When the product you’re working with is large enough to require a crew to deliver it, you’re running a risk, but also creating a golden opportunity. If the crew is well-prepared, not only will they leave the reporter with a demo unit that’s ready for primetime, they’ll be able to give them a one-on-one tutorial. LifeSpan’s sales team and retailer reps are frequently our boots on the ground, delivering and setting up review units at editors’ offices across the country, and breaking them down after each extensive review. If you’re promoting a box of crackers—sure, you could mail the crackers to a food editor and hope for the best. Or you could set up a tasting with an in-house expert who could guide the editor through the range of flavors they’re experiencing. Guess which scenario sets the stage for a more detailed review? Something to consider when repeatedly counting on company personnel is to space out your requests over time. Group them in batches, so you’re not asking non-communications team members to make too many trips on your behalf too often.
Three years later, our media placements are a key piece of LifeSpan’s workplace marketing. Highlights include LIVE with Kelly and Michael, CBS News, BBC World News, Newsweek, BuzzFeed and many more. Our ongoing approach creates a steady flow of media coverage that keeps LifeSpan out front as the category leader. The most significant tweak we’ve made along the way is in the messaging. We initially positioned the product as a way to work out at work. It sounded good, but it wasn’t right for a product that when used correctly, prevents users from getting sweaty or sounding out of breath. We sometimes find ourselves encountering and having to correct that initial messaging in the marketplace—an important lesson for anyone deciding on a launch message. Today, it’s about replacing time spent sitting with time spent moving. Over the long term, the campaign has helped popularize the idea of treadmill desks, educated people on their proper use, helped evolve their perception into accessible, easy-to-use pieces of office equipment and assisted the category’s transition out of a niche and into mainstream corporate America.