Unconventional PR (public relations for 2015 and beyond) – Traction Channel #3

Public Relations as most people think of it elsewhere within the SRC Knowledge Base. This post is all about alternative PR. The 3 main ways unconventional PR is used is by publicity stunts, viral videos, and customer appreciation. Publicity Stunts: A publicity stunt is anything that is engineered to get media coverage. By creating a spectacle around everyone of his product launches, Richard Branson turns uninteresting product launches into national headlines. When done well, publicity stunts can propel a startup from anonymity to national recognition in an instant. Great examples:

  • Half.com is a great example given in Weinberg and Mares’ book, Traction. After weeks of trying to create a national type of kick off, Founder Josh Kopelman launched Half.com on the Today Show with the mayor of Halfway, Oregon. This stunt had everything traditional media loved. For one year, the little town of Halfway, Oregon, was known as Half.com.  This plan had several key unconventional marketing elements.  It was unique, surrounded the launch of a high-potential new startup, and told a story about how the company was creating jobs in a small town (they hired several residents).  
The resulting impact:  Half.com received coverage from The New York Times, PBS, The Wall Street Journal, and hundreds of other publications as a result of this stunt.  They launched in late 1999, before the days of ubiquitous email and social media. Even without these sharing tools, this campaign received more than 40 million impressions and gave them a strong customer base.
  • As another example, DuckDuckGo (Gabriel’s search engine) bought a billboard in Google’s backyard highlighting its privacy focus. They used the billboard to get national press stories in USA Today, Wired, and many other media outlets. The reactions from this stunt alone doubled their user base at that time.
Viral Videos:  Blendtec is a blender manufacturer located in southern Utah.  In 2007, they realized they needed to increase their brand awareness but didn’t have a large marketing budget. They decided to create a series of videos called “Will It Blend?” In these videos, Blendtec’s CEO stood by one of their blenders and blended items like a rake, golf balls and even an iPhone. The videos took off shortly after posting the videos to YouTube. The iPhone video alone has received over 8 million views, and the Will It Blend? series became one of the 100 most-viewed on YouTube. For a company that makes blenders! Customer Appreciation: small, scalable actions (like sending cookies or hand-written notes to customers) that increase goodwill and word of mouth. Small gestures like these turn your customers into evangelists, which leads to an increase in organic growth. They add to your unique image and story, both key elements in building a strong brand. On the other end of the unconventional PR spectrum is the more sustainable, systematic form of this traction channel. Customer appreciation is a simple way of saying “be awesome to your customers.”
  • Gifts-Alexis Ohanian is founder of reddit and Hipmunk. Shortly after Alexis launched Hipmunk, a travel booking site, he sent out luggage tags and a handwritten note to the first several hundred people who mentioned the site on Twitter. These tags were functional, cute, and led to many Tweets and pictures from customers excited to have a chipmunk as a travel companion. Hipmunk also gave out other free items of appreciation.
  • Contests, Giveaways and Holding a contest are a great way to get some word of mouth without spending much money or engineering a large PR stunt. Shopify.com, a popular ecommerce platform, is famous for their annual Build A Business competition (and its six-figure prize). Last year, the contest drove 1,900 new customers and more than $ 3.5 million in sales on their platform.
  • Customer Support-Good customer support is so rare that, if you simply try to make your users happy, they are likely to spread the news of your great product. Zappos is one of the best-known examples of a company that has incredible customer service. Rather than spend money on marketing, Zappos focuses on creating the best customer experience possible, especially with their support team.
With policies like free next-day shipping and free returns, this focus on customer happiness has made them famous among customers who rarely receive such treatment from large companies. Dan Andrew, founder of Tropical MBA.com, states the value of customer service:
“It’s the fourth dimension of branding and most important part. Traditionally, a brand might have been represented by ads on TV, billboards, or the football field. Now, this same branding happens on the web . It’s not good enough to just have a cool logo or good positioning; what matters is consistently coming across to your market in a positive and authentic way.”
  • Cost and Impact-Unconventional PR tactics can have incredible returns on investment. At Half.com, Josh Kopelman spent $ 70,000 and made two hires to generate hundreds of articles and over 40 million impressions.
As a Traction Channel, the Unconventional Marketing is one needs creative strategizing. Studying the companies that have had significant success in the article below on the Traction book website would be a good start. Resources ]]>