Case Study: From America With Love: Xerox Goes Viral to Touch Troops Overseas


Company: Xerox Agency: Text 100 Public Relations Timeframe: 2006 - ongoing For the 300,000 U.S. servicemen and women who are stationed overseas, serving their country during a very unpopular war heightens their sense of duty ever more poignantly. With this in mind, Xerox felt a moral obligation to show its appreciation to the troops. Teaming up with Text 100 Public Relations, the communications team launched its "Let's Say Thanks" program, which would not only affirm its commitment to social responsibility and leverage its brand, but would also give the public a free and easy way to send a postcard of gratitude to the military men and women. The project came about as a result of two previous programs that were similar in intent, though far smaller in scope. Both provided a model for what would later become the "Let's Say Thanks" campaign. "We were looking for a way to connect with our sales office in the Atlanta community," says Carl Langsenkamp, director of worldwide corporate public relations for Xerox. "We had already done a card program up in Canada where on Valentine's Day, we put two of our printers on a very popular street and printed out Valentine Day cards. [The gist of it was], in case you forgot to bring one to your spouse or loved one, [you would pay us] $5, and we would print you out a card with the money going to charity." The initiative was very popular among passersby and media, and it spawned further iterations of the idea. "So when we were looking for Atlanta, I was thinking along the same lines: What if we do something with cards? We knew there was a 48th brigade in Atlanta. We thought maybe there's a way to connect the brigade with the cards," Langsenkamp says. "We worked with the Family Readiness Group and collected drawings from the children of the troop members at that time. We had a professor from the Atlanta School of Design pick the best cards. Then we printed them out, rented space in a local mall and asked people to sign well wishes to the troops. In one weekend, we had over 5,000 cards signed." Spreading The Love The success of the initiative led Xerox to consider using it as a framework for other campaigns involving cards. "Our sales office in Phoenix had heard about it and asked us to do the same thing at an event there," Langsenkamp says. "We worked with the California and the Arizona National Guards; we had their children draw pictures, and we basically replicated the program out in Phoenix. We then printed out the winning cards and gave gift certificates to kids who were finalists for best cards so they felt some sense in doing something right in getting a reward for this. We had thousands of people sign the cards. We then realized this was a great opportunity to build really good press and a really good feeling in the community." To apply this idea to one that would involve the troops overseas, Xerox execs realized they needed to use a larger canvas as their primary channel of distribution. "We knew we had something here, but how do we do it where it's not just a one-off effort?" says Langsenkamp. "That's when we began saying to ourselves that we need to bring this to the Web somehow and let anyone worldwide sign a card that could be sent overseas to the troop members." Enlisting Help Fleshing out the program, Xerox enlisted the help of Text 100, which, according to its VP Erin Humphrey, has been the company's agency of record for over 10 years. "From a client/agency standpoint, it's been a strong relationship," she says. "This program came about from our natural work that we do for them on a day-to-day basis. We really are an extension of their team and I think that's what you get and see when you're working with such long-term relationships." To kick things off, Xerox and Text 100 needed to partner with a military support organization to help distribute the cards overseas. Upon identifying key criteria, such as access to all branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard), and a system in place that would enable the delivery of messages to deployed troops on a regular basis, Xerox and Text 100 zeroed in on Give2TheTroops, a nonprofit organization that supports American armed forced in combat zones around the world. They enthusiastically joined the team and the program was soon underway. Targeting the American public, which consists of veterans, parents, children and all those interested in showing their support to the troops, the three main objectives of this campaign were the following: Drive traffic from all 50 states to a Web site, http://www.LetsSayThanks.com, where users could send a postcard from home to represent each of the 300,000 servicemen and women deployed overseas; Build brand awareness for Xerox's corporate social responsibility; and, Increase Xerox customer satisfaction/loyalty and employee morale. Equipped with an out-of-pocket budget of $200,000, the team began working in March 2006 on developing and launching LetsSayThanks.com to fulfill the program's aims. To ensure that as many people as possible would be aware of the Web site and it would be successful, the team employed the following strategies: Solicited American children to submit drawings with patriotic themes; worked with schools across the nation as well as local 4-H Clubs, Boys & Girls clubs of American chapters and military Family Readiness Groups; Identified a design professor at Rochester Institute of Technology as the artwork judge to determine which designs would be featured on the Web site; Developed http://www.LetsSayThanks.com by buying the URL, drafting site copy, designing a look and feel, creating a card submission/review/approval process to ensure message quality and establish an e-mail inbox that could receive and answer to questions and comments from the public; Identified internal Xerox printers and external Xerox iGen3 customers to print postcards; Engaged artwork designers and U.S. military representatives to act as spokespersons for the media; Launched Web site on July 4 to leverage the holiday in national and local media pitches; Conducted an aggressive viral marketing campaign, including a pass-along e-mail and instant messaging; Issued a news release across the national wire and did outreach to national print and broadcast outlets; and, Consistently updated Xerox employees on the progress of the program by providing content and photos on the Xerox intranet. Aside from retaining press interest, the main challenge of the program was vetting the cards for government approval before dispatching them to the military. "In the beginning, I had to hire people that literally went through all of these cards to make sure there weren't any offensive messages based on government regulations," says Langsenkamp. "But we realized when we started getting millions of people signing on, that this was no longer problem. We had to use technology that had software application that could filter the cards." Counting Their Blessings The return on investment was far-reaching. Following the launch of the Web site in the first month alone, more than 1.5 million messages were submitted from people across all 50 states, as well as Europe, Canada and Asia. Currently, the site has received more than 10.3 million messages. Media coverage has also been extensive. Among the national media highlights were Fox News Channel, CNN Headline News and "Wake Up with Whoopi," a nationally syndicated radio program. Print got fair play with articles and mentions in regional and national publications. The online action also registered wide and deep. "We created a viral campaign that was something you could text message to a friend and say, 'Hey, look at this cool thing you can do. Here's a program where you can send a word of thanks to a troop member. Click here,'" explains Langsenkamp. "That's how we started the PR--literally by sending it to our own groups of friends. From that, we really started getting a lot of traction on the Web site. Our executives were even rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange." Word-of-mouth was also an important core of the campaign. "One of the elements of the program was the viral e-mail we sent out," recounts Humphrey. "It was along the lines of 'hey, there's this really great campaign--check out this Web site.' We knew we had succeeded when we started getting e-mails from our aunts, uncle and friends [telling us about it]. That was great to see the real power of this community that exists today." In addition, more than 3,100 blogs linked to LetsSayThanks.com, including Soldier's Angels New York, and Palm Springs Beach Club. And more than 500 comments received in the "Let's Say Thanks" e-mail inbox regarding Xerox brand perception were highly favorable. For Langsenkamp, the lessons learned hinged on exercising patience before announcing a program to the press. "In one of the first days of the program's kick-off, we had a national media day about it," he recalls. "The interviewer said to our Xerox exec, 'How many of these had been sent out?' He said 10,000, and the national interviewer said that didn't seem like much. It hit me right then that if I had taken a step back as a PR person, I would have waited for the site take off before going to the national media, because it would have had more cachet with them. In the beginning, if we had stepped back and let the program build a little through our viral campaign before going out, then we would have had something to tell them." For Humphrey, the main lesson learned was simple: "Never underestimate the impact of the social media. We really weren't sure how many people we would get in terms of visitors to the Web site. Always estimate high because if you get a really big spike or peak, you're prepared for it." PRN CONTACTS: Carl Langsenkamp, carl.langsenkamp@xerox.com; Erin Humphrey, ErinH@Text100.com Following Federal Guidelines For PR programs to succeed, they must be executed with the utmost in detail, attention and review. When it comes to the government, however, this maxim is taken to a whole new level. Following is Xerox PR director Carl Langsenkamp's advice of what to take into account if ever in this situation: "If you're working with the government, you have to follow their regulations when sending something overseas. You have to be very cognizant of what you're doing. We're letting the people offer words of encouragement to the troops, but we're talking about a subject that can be extremely volatile. This is not about what's happening over there--it's about the people over there. This was an altruitic way for Xerox to express appreciation and to use our technology."

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