HOW TO ATTRACT NATIONAL MEDIA ATTENTION FOR OFF-THE-WALL CAMPAIGNS


Tomorrow's election --regardless of who wins --serves as an unofficial launch pad for many PR campaigns. Hundreds of businesses try to get in on the act of selling something politically related, from pins to opinions. Some go even further by trying to pitch a $30,000 four-night stay at a hotel --Beluga caviar included. The Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., which less than a decade ago was striving for an image makeover after suffering some financial hardships, is in the midst of its third marketing and PR blitz surrounding its successful "Premiere Presidential Package." The package --a five-day, four-night presidential suite stay that's priced for Inauguration '97 at $30,000 --is considered one of the hotel's most sweeping and beneficial marketing moves and is part of what helped the Ritz-Carlton in Washington recoup its flagging image, according to Vivian Deuschl, corporate director of media relations. "We needed something to give us a boost," said Deuschl, who is credited with coming up with the winning presidential package that landed the hotel considerable press in major newspapers - The Wall Street Journal, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Washington Post and USA Today, and on network TV news programs. "I never could have imagined the press coverage we received," Deuschl added. The formula hotel PR staffers used to promote the presidential package --which this year guarantees the buyer a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, breakfast in bed every day, Beluga caviar and 24-hour butler service -- is one that other businesses might consider when embarking into new PR territory. When dealing with large-scale events "a campaign has to be extremely well planned, very creative, deliver a message that affects the company's bottom line and has to tie in with the greater event," said Hill & Knowlton's Jerry Archambeault, a senior account supervisor in the firm's sports marketing group in Irvine, Calif. Archambeault has been part of several PR campaigns that have revolved around major events. He's worked with World Cup sponsor Adidas, which was launching a new athletic shoe for the 1994 soccer event and needed Hill & Knowlton's help. He's also worked with Wilson Sporting Goods to help it promote a new golf club. In both cases, the requirement was that the PR experts come up with something different, something that would whet media hounds' appetites for something off-the-beaten-path. To promote Adidas' part in the World Cup, Hill & Knowlton tried an approach that seemed light-hearted on face value but turned out to be business-savvy. It built a message that the new Adidas athletic footwear was technologically advanced and would be the key that would give the American team an advantage in the tourney. The campaign resulted in 600 million audience impressions. The better planned and better thought out an avant-garde idea is, the more chance you'll have at tempting the media to take the publicity bait. In another campaign, Hill & Knowlton used golf pro John Dalyo help promote Wilson Sporting Goods' release of a new driver. After Daly won the British Open, Hill & Knowlton encouraged him to not do a lot of interviews with media representatives to trigger interest in Daly, whom, in turn, could trigger interest in the new club (which he uses) when he came to Los Angeles for the PGA championship. And talk about far-fetched. Along with turning away press, Hill & Knowlton got the Santa Monica Airport to close down for 15 minutes one day so that Daly, who had arrived in Los Angeles for the championship, could hit golf balls (with the new club of course) across the runway. "You've got to create a tactic that gives you the ability to find a unique angle," Archambeault added. "When's it's a huge event, everyone's looking for a story and if you can tie it back to the event that's great.... And when you do an event around a special event you have to make it easy for the media to cover and you have to make it timely." The PR department at the 70-year-old, 200-room Ritz-Carlton drew on some must-have elements that ensured a big media splash. They included: Thinking at least 12 to 15 months ahead of time so that there is build-up to the launch of the program or campaign;Finding a unique way to announce and tout the promotion. The Ritz-Carlton promoted this year's package by emphasizing that the hotel was "the childhood home of Vice President Albert Gore Jr." and that the suite, on separate occasions, was used by Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bensten to rehearse for the vice presidential debates;Knowing the players in the media and making sure that, when you're seeking blockbuster attention, people involved in the campaign and locations relevant to the campaign can be showcased; andBeing accessible to the press at crucial times - the night of the Inaugural ball Deuschl was armed with a cellular phone and a pager. And what makes the package prime pickings for the press, Deuschl said, is that it not only capitalizes on the excesses surrounding the Inauguration and related galas but captures the essence of D.C.'s political scene with "a special event that is fun." "This [campaign] worked because it was unique and nobody else had anything like this," said Deuschl. "But it also was somewhat tongue-in-cheek in the way in which it celebrated the rich and famous and fit in with the idea of what Washington is all about." The Ritz-Carlton gave the press something out-of-the-ordinary with just the basic fact that the hotel's presidential suite would cost $15,000 (eight years ago), $23,000 (four years ago) and $30,000 (this year). So far this year's suite has yet to be sold, but Deuschl said it's usually booked closer to the date of the swearing-in events. To those concerned about hidden costs in the Ritz-Carlton package, rest assured: taxes are included. (Ritz Carlton, Vivian Deuschl, 202/296-8300; Hill & Knowlton, Jerry Archambeault, 714/752-1106)

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