The New Products Conundrum: Part Two – Making Direct Contact


(In this second half of our two-part series, we will explore how progressive PR leaders are eschewing many of the traditional PR strategies in favor of guerrilla PR, event marketing and buzz promotions in order to achieve direct and lasting contact with the consumer and B2B audiences.) Not every new product falls into the category of "sexy." But to the clever PR professional, any new product can be sexy. Case in point: OfficeMax introduced its Ink Filling Stations earlier this year as a means of encouraging consumers to refill their empty printer cartridges. The concept was economical (the company states consumers experience 50% savings on a refilled cartridge versus the purchase of a new one) and ecological (the life of the cartridge is extended rather than trashed). But where's the sex appeal in an eight-foot-tall, 200-pound Ink Filling Station? No, the sex appeal is not the machinery. Rather it's in the ink - or, to be specific, where the ink can be applied. DBB Advertising, which handled the advertising side of the campaign for OfficeMax, created stunning imagery of elaborate tattoos applied to the bare backs of male and female models - with the reminder that printer ink doesn't last forever. From an advertising standpoint, it was clever and eye-catching. But from a PR standpoint, that concept was the inky equivalent of an untapped gold mine. Enter The Maccabee Group, which literally brought the DBB vision to full life on March 24 with its "Human Art Gallery." Positioned on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, this gallery consisted of 10 male and female models who had their backs turned into temporary palettes depicting noteworthy events in the Windy City's tumultuous history. The ink used for the temporary tattoos, of course, was supplied courtesy of OfficeMax's Ink Filling Stations and the designs were applied via airbrush by tattoo artists. For Paul Maccabee, president of the Minneapolis-based Maccabee Group, this dramatic street theater presentation actually first took root as an exclusive story on the cover of the Chicago Tribune business section. "It was a straightforward business story talking about the market for reselling ink cartridges," he says. However, the Tribune business article was used as the selling point in doing media outreach for the decidedly non-business Human Art Gallery presentation. "Every TV station we contacted said: 'Oh, yeah, that was the thing we saw in the newspaper.' Having the first article in the Tribune reinforced our saying this is legitimate news." Maccabee also upped the ante by offering the local TV stations the opportunity to become a part of the gallery. "We told the stations that we would paint their logo on the arm of the newscaster or meteorologist they would send out for the live remote," he says, adding the Chicago Fox News affiliate took the offer and had its logo airbrushed on the reporter covering the live 6:00 am remote (the promotion actually brought out all four network affiliates plus CNN). Beta Is Better The OfficeMax promotion offered a live and experiential spin that put the product in direct contact with its intended consumer base. While the Human Art Gallery is a coup of guerrilla-style street promotion, a more formal but still effective brand of promotion brings new products to the street via mobile marketing campaigns. "With mobile marketing, you rise above the clutter," explains Larry Borden, president of The Borden Agency in Philadelphia. "You go where your demographic is hanging out, and street test and research your work by getting feedback from the road." Borden has produced mobile tours for major product lines; he is now entering his fifth year of working with Avon to preview its new skin care lines. The Avon mobile tours average 20 cities over a six month period, resulting in what Borden describes as "hundreds of thousands one-on-one interactions." Borden notes this type of promotional outreach is ideal for testing new products before making official releases. "For beta testing, you can test a region, city, or even a beach area for three-to-six months to determine whether you are generating the level of buzz you thought you were going to," he observes. On the B2B side, beta testing is also used to confirm the focus and impact of the message. "In 2003, the company I worked for released a new software platform for all its services," says John Sidline, managing partner of the new agency Mobility Public Relations in Lake Oswego, OR. "The product launch process was intense. Two months before our press release went out, we went on an industry analyst tour to test our message and get a reality check on what we thought was exciting with our technology." For Sidline, the analyst tour was an invaluable beta test. "We then honed our messages and gathered customer references," he adds. And when we met with the editors, we were able to clearly explain why our software was important not only to our customers, but to an entire value chain in the Wi-Fi industry. All of our messaging was supported by a wide range of analyst and customer references. Editors had a lot of people to speak to and quote in their stories." PR Muscle Getting scores of endorsements to build momentum is one thing, but using an influential person to plant the seeds of buzz is another strategy. According to Adrian Burke, vice president and co-founder of Fusion Nutrition Inc. in Guelph, Ontario, buzz PR can just as effectively be planted with one person rather than a crowd. For Burke's company, which offers a line of supplements for athletes, having a well-regarded individual (who doesn't need to be a celebrity) is enough to get the product talk into motion. "For the U.S. market, you need someone to take on a new product as an early adopter and shout it from the rooftops," says Burke, who tapped fitness model/actor Paul DeSimone to spread the word on product line. For DeSimone, who runs the Gym Warriors fitness center in Peabody, MA, talking up the Fusion Nutrition products is a natural extension of his own activities. "I am one of the top personal trainers in the Northeast and I am trying to get the edge on all the other trainers in the USA," he says. "So I'm basically trying their products since there is this buzz about them in the industry. I am trying their products in my gym and people in my gym are responding by trying the products. So far, the feedback on their products has been positive." Burke also believes in online direct contact, as witnessed in the blog on the Fusion Nutrition Web site authored by Chris Belanger, the company's vice president of sales. The Belanger blog gives the company a face and a voice, making direct contact in a decidedly human manner - particularly in the recent blog posting "Snap, Crackle, Pop" that outlines how Belanger broke his ankle while playing soccer (a photo of the cast-covered ankle and a visibly displeased Belanger was also published). "The blog is a great tool to let Chris rant," says Burke. "Also, it shows that we're real." Contacts: Paul Maccabee, paul@maccabee.com; Larry Borden, lborden@thebordenagency.com; John Sidline, jsidline@ipass.com; Adrian Burke, aburke@fusionnutrition.com; Paul DeSimone, xxtralargemuscle@aol.com.

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