Every now and then, a story will hit the newswires, recapping a small event because of it has some sort of unique nature or oddness. The clip then picks up steam, getting its 15-minutes of fame with media impressions all around the Web, TV, radio and print.
When that happens, it’s celebration time for marketers responsible. It means the marketer took a local event and activated it in a way to give it the impact of a national promotion.
Savvy promoters say that the right combination of persistent public relations and event creativity can deliver national — even global — results from a local event. And if done properly, it can cost less than it would to activate a mobile marketing event.
Take the folks at New York-based Grand Central Marketing, who in August set up a pop-up store near the corner of 42nd St, and 5th Ave. in Manhattan to introduce Meow Mix Wet Food Pouches. If Grand Central p.r. director Keith Fernbach weren’t so exhausted from handling calls from news agencies on six of the seven continents, he may done cartwheels in the middle of The Meow Mix Café.
The boutique and dining establishment for cats and their human friends spurred news reports in England, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and Australia, to name a few. The story even got a mention from nationally-syndicated shock-jock Howard Stern and video clips allegedly appeared on Al Jazeera, the Arab TV network.
Not bad for a four-day event that was held over for an additional week, and received 3,000 live visitors daily.
“Creativity is important, and that leads to the publicity. Having good publicity is the only way to make it become national,” says Matthew Glass, president of Grand Central Marketing. He adds that every event you do, by nature, is a local one. But what makes it feel more like a national event is the location.
“An event in the middle of New York City, which has such a huge international audience, or Los Angeles, makes it feel a little less local,” Glass says.
But Glass adds that you also need to build strong relations with the local press. An event held in New York versus a smaller city like St. Louis will create a bigger impression because New York is a media center.
He notes that the café’s impressions in the marketing column of The New York Times and photos of Meow Mix spokesperson Eartha Kitt made it to the New York Post‘s Page 6, which is read by all gossip columnists, helped build interest among syndicates.
On a smaller scale, was the four-hour publicity stunt Glass did in New York’s Herald Square for Shopping.com the day after Thanksgiving hit the Associate Press wires.
“We could have done this in San Francisco, where Shopping.com is based, but we knew it would have a bigger impact if we handed out 10,000 $1 bills and a rebate coupon sending shoppers to the Web site at one of the busiest shopping locations on the busiest shopping day of the year,” Glass says.
Some smaller cities can still create big results. Take Miami, where Mr. Youth launched Victoria’s Secret’s young-adult brand, Pink, on South Beach in March. Mr. Youth President Matt Britton notes Miami is a hot Spring Break destination and a city with a lot of fashion media.
“You can have a product launch anywhere, but you have to be completely different and innovative to grab people’s attention,” says Britton, whose firm received the 2004 PRO Award for Event Marketing (Five Venues or Less) for the product launch. “People had never seen a three-story pink box before.”
In addition to the box, ads, postings, street teams, aerial signs, hotel collateral and p.r. hyped a five-day countdown. Five thousand Spring Breakers showed up on March 17 for a surprise fashion show and live concert by No Mercy.
Afterwards, Pink brand reps passed out gift cards, branded hotel lobbies and hosted nightclub parties.
The event generated over 24 million media impressions, but Britton says it would not have been as big if it wasn’t a media-friendly event.
“If the media comes and doesn’t know who to talk to, they’re not going to be as enthusiastic about covering it,” Britton says. “We made ourselves available to the media, we knew which media to invite and we had a lot of public photo services, like AP, covering it.”
Insurance giant ING has successfully attached its brand to one of the premier one-day sporting events in the U.S. — the ING New York City Marathon. But Steve Baskin, head of strategic sponsorships, says he won’t be satisfied until the New York media adopts the name.
Despite the efforts of New York-based p.r. firm Edelman, GMR Marketing of New Berlin, WI, and the New York Road Runners communication staff, the attachment of the ING name to the race, going into its third year, has been a hit everywhere but the Big Apple.
“We’re not satisfied with the use of ING in the media, but we’ve been told we’ve had a higher saturation than title sponsors of most marathons have had,” Baskin says. “The media outside New York is embracing it well, the New York Road Runners and the race organizing community see we’re serious about our sponsorship. At industry meetings, people are saying how happy they are that we’re there. The challenge for us is getting the public to embrace the sponsorship.”
Baskin says that may because the marathon had no title sponsor for its first 33 years, and was not particularly interested in having one. But it convinced New York Road Runners that it wouldn’t just put its name on banners, but become a part of the institution’s DNA, Baskin says.
ING was a new player in the U.S. market the year it bought the sponsorship. While it took a soft approach to activation that year with little brand labelling on the event, research showed consumer awareness of ING and its products grew via its role in the marathon.
One of the things ING did to stamp its name on the event was to produce ING Run for Something Better, a race within the marathon that pitted four female runners against each other with prize money going to the health and fitness program of the winner’s choice.
Bennett Global Marketing’s task was to get the word out about The Duff Challenge, a series of one-day local amateur tournaments that offered the winners a shot at competing against PGA stars John Daly and Scott Hoch in a final match that was televised on The Golf Channel.
Jeff Bennett, president of Waltham, MA-based Bennett Global, signed Dunkin’ Donuts as the title sponsor, then had to activate the sponsorship in over 80 local markets ranging from Sparta, NJ, to Petaluma, CA. Bennett said Dunkin’ Donuts was the ultimate match because it is a brand for everyday people, and the tournament targeted everyday contestants.
Bennett Gobal also purchased local media, including signage at the host courses, and sold the tournament as a story of special interest to the press in each city
“It makes for an interesting story when local golfers can get a chance to play against John Daly. That in itself has a built-in interest. It’s a David and Goliath story,” Bennett says.
“As a marketer, I live by the Tip O’Neill rule that says all politics is local,” Bennett says. “All sponsorship activation is local. It’s about building a call to action, and ours was around getting amateurs to play in the Duff Challenge.”
Daly also wore a Dunkin’ Donuts patch on his right sleeve while participating in the Battle of the Bridges golf challenge, which was broadcast live during prime-time on ABC-TV in August. Only one sponsor was mentioned by the show’s commentators, and it was Dunkin’ Donuts. They also gave the Duff Challenge a plug, which helped lure more local golfers.
Bennett adds that when activating a sponsorship, you have to be cognizant of your market. He says you have to consider ways to appeal to the local market, since the attitude about your product will be different in Boston versus Ft. Lauderdale versus Boise.
The championship round was held last month at the Casablanca Resort in Mesquite, NV, and more than 400 golfers from the local events competed. Bennett did not have a final tally of golfers who competed at the local level, but said it was in the thousands.