Unleash the Power of Events, Gift Bags, and Celebrities

By Sep 09, 2006

All too often, we in public relations box ourselves into thinking that we are limited to press releases, editorial calendars, bylined articles, and direct pitches. But if you step outside of that box for just a quick moment, you will see that there is so much more to be had.

Like it or not, PR inevitably goes beyond press releases and garnering ink in a trade magazine to end up as part of an overall branding, marketing, and promotional campaign. A typical situation (unfortunately) is that businesses engage an outside PR agency and a marketing consultant who never connect or develop plans or promotions in tandem. The fact is, marketing and PR go hand in hand. PR and marketing efforts have even become synonymous with each other. There is a reason for that. Marketing promotes a brand. PR promotes a brand. Integrating them will often give you twice the bang for your buck.

The following are some suggestions to get you thinking outside the restrictive PR box. Let’s start with the easy and move on to the more complex.

Gift-bag inclusions There are many opportunities available to companies to get their products into the hands of consumers through gift-bag placements. Landing your product into a gift bag means that people will be talking about it. There isn’t a centralized “I need items for an upcoming event’s gift bag” directory, so you will need to do a bit of legwork to find outlets (though we think there is a business need here. Hint. Hint). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

• Free vs. Fee. Often you will find there is something called a placement fee, which can range from a couple of hundred dollars (think professional-athlete’s fundraiser) to thousands of dollars and a stringent application process (think Emmy’s gifting suite). Paying a fee is not necessarily a bad thing if that is within your budget. Also, keep in mind that you are donating your product, so be sure that if you sign up for something you understand the quantity requirements up front.

• Hello? Are you out there? Sure, you want to get your product in a bag at a fabulous event. You are even willing to pay a small placement fee. Now how do you start looking? In our pursuit of gift bags, we have had success through the trusted weekly promotional opportunities spotlighted in PRNewswire’s Media Insider, a blog where ProfNet subscribers can post requests for items. Another Website, BiZBash, has a calendar of events in New York and Los Angeles (where much of the gift bagging takes place). You can also go directly to the event organizers or PR firms that regularly put together events for athletes and celebrities, including Jewels and Pinstripes and Klein Creative Communications.

• Gift certificates. If you have a fabulous or expensive product and are looking to include it in a bag, consider a gift certificate made out to the celebrity. We have put bags together for celebrities, and many of the “experiences” or trips required they be nontransferable.

In-kind donations Auctions and charity events are other fairly easy ways to promote your brand and your product. An event will typically promote your donated products (“in kind”) through a link back to your Website and by placing your logo on its Website and by listing you in the event program. The advantages to this type of promotional activity are that you are promoting goodwill alongside your brand, getting positive PR to boot.

Here’s a tip: Where some people stop is where you should pick up. Basically, you need to get some legs out of your donation and extend your promotions beyond the actual event, so mention the donation in your newsletter, post it on your Website, and promote it to philanthropy publications. (And don’t forget, you may be able to use it as a tax write-off.)

Celebrity placements This is one of our more challenging recommendations, but when done successfully, you are not going to get more bang for your buck than this. Select a celebrity who you think would love your product and use it often. Then aim for the stars (so to speak). Think six degrees of separation. Even though you don’t know the celebrity, chances are you know someone who knows someone who can talk to the celebrity for you. This is also an area where you should probably enlist your local PR professional for some help.

Here is a little something to get your started on your journey: Who Represents? is a Website that allows you to search by publicist or celebrity and get the relevant agent contact information. It is subscription-based, of course, but only a few dollars a month.

Sponsorships If it is within your budget (remember, you are crossing over into marketing as well, so your budget should be bigger), consider a sponsorship that relates to an audience or activity that coincides with your product. We aren’t talking about a NASCAR sponsorship here, but something that is moderate and will get your name out there, such as a business conference or a trade industry event. You can try trading sponsorship benefits for a speaking slot at a conference or an in-kind donation. Again, follow up the marketing activity with a PR spin. Get an article about your sponsorship in trade publications, spread the word to your customers, and make sure to connect with your sponsoree’s PR team. There are always copromotional opportunities; you just need to ask what they offer or create your own.

We have said it before and we will say it again: Go beyond the grand openings, the new-product announcements, the releases about employee hirings, to uncover PR opportunities available to you and your business. And although advertising, branding, marketing, and PR each have individual functions, the truth is they overlap and need to be handled in a cohesive, cross- functional fashion. Don’t settle for “that isn’t my job” or “the director of communications won’t share information.” Hand in hand, PR and marketing can take your branding and promotional initiatives to the next level and drive more business through the door.

Amy Chilla and Melissa Gillespie are partners in Innova Communications (www.teaminnova.com), a Ladera Ranch, CA-based public relations and marketing firm.