Business-to-Business Wallcovering Campaign Sets a ‘Model’ Example

Edward Howard & Co. got a tall order in 2001: Take a relatively small budget and build a business-to-business campaign that would persuade designers (a notoriously picky audience) to use more wallpaper - a not-so-sexy product that had fallen out of demand within the design world. A minimalist trend in decorating has wallpapers and other wallcoverings suffering something of an identity crisis, says Barbara Paynter, VP with Edward Howard. The national Wallcoverings Association wanted a campaign that would improve the image of wallpaper and educate potential commercial users (designers, architects, and others) about the attributes of wallcoverings. It would require an extremely creative approach - and that would mean convincing association management and membership to think beyond their traditional notions of PR. Dressed for Success "We needed to do something that got designers' attention, something that could get designers to look at this product in a different way," Paynter says. The PR team had worked with the design industry in the past, developing an award-winning outreach program that targeted interior designers for another client, the Vinyl Institute. So team members knew that younger designers are moving toward a more urban sensibility. At the same time, the interior-design industry always is closely tied to the fashion industry. Trends on the runway inevitably influence trends in other realms of design. With these two principles in mind, the PR team set out to create a campaign that would present wallcoverings as a creative and fun option, while at the same time resonating with designers' inherent respect for the fashion world. Edward Howard's solution: Use decorative wallcoverings to make clothes. Dress up fashion models in those clothes and create a series of glossy collateral materials built around these "fashion" layouts. Then distribute these materials to the membership of the association - manufacturers and retailers who in turn could pass them along to the designers. The team sold the senior execs on the idea, but it had one more hurdle to leap before diving fully into the project. "We really had to pitch it to the entire membership [of the association], because they all had to purchase the brochures in order to distribute them," says Paynter, who spoke at the group's October 2001 annual meeting in order to do just that. It was no easy sell. "I think they were a bit taken aback by our approach," she says. The pitch was edgier than they were used to, "and we had to convince the membership of the association that they are talking to young designers who think very differently from wall-covering manufacturers." Fortunately, the PR team's prior work had included focus group studies on just such issues. "The fact that we could say to them, 'Here is what our research tells us about how designers think' - that definitely helped to convince them," says Paynter. Still, there were stumbling blocks along the way. "When I went to the October meeting, I was telling them what we expected it to look like, but I did not actually have brochures or even mock-up brochures for them to see," she explains. With less than six weeks to come up with the design concept, it was not possible to put together samples beforehand, "and I do think if they had been able to see the entire thing it would have generated more excitement in the industry, but there just was not time." Results The overall plan calls for some 240,000 brochures to be distributed during the course of the campaign to association members, who will distribute them to potential customers. These pieces will be published at intervals through the beginning of 2003. The first brochures hit the streets this summer, so it is a little early to quantify the results of the effort. Still, the early feedback has been positive: The trade publication Paint & Decorating Retailer, for instance, called this a "bold new campaign" for the industry. One thing is certain. The campaign has been a runaway hit with membership. The association has surveyed its members, and of those who responded, 75 percent said the first brochure has generated new sales leads or new business. Fully 100 percent of respondents said the material was worth their investment. The PR team also has seen anecdotal evidence that the association's membership is responding to the material. "We got calls from distributors asking what wall covering we had used in the brochures, because designers wanted to purchase those products," says Paynter. Agency Stats Company name: Edward Howard & Co. Founded: 1925 HQ: Cleveland Major Clients: Rubbermaid, Inc. (Home Products Division), The Hoover Company, The Vinyl Institute, Huffy Bicycle 2001 Net Revenue: $6.23 million Number of Employees: 42 Staff on this campaign: Barbara Paynter, VP; Diana Lueptow, VP; Mark Grieves, SVP and Creative Director; Bill Reid, Art Director. (This was the primary account team, but they had help from additional staff members in developing the campaign theme.) Campaign Stats Timeframe: One year. (Brochures will be distributed from March 2002 through January 2003.) Budget: $50,000 in fees (does not include out-of-pocket expenses) (Contact: Paynter, 216/781-2400)

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