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Smallbiz

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Rachel McCallister and Allison Thomas

Third installment in a series of four articles.

To demonstrate the role of public relations in the launch of a company and its products, we have been following the story of Blue Streak, a fictitious business launched by Tom Jones to manufacture and market blue, glow-in-the-dark widgets.

When it was launched, Blue Streak received considerable attention from the widget trade media and some notice from national business media. Focus was more on the company than on the products or their applications.

His next step is to focus on the product and its end use: highway safety and concert/event promotion.

Jones’ public relations group needs to work closely with the marketing and sales teams to convey consistent messages through advertising, sales collateral and promotions.

Since Blue Streaks are targeted to two very distinct markets, separate product publicity strategies are developed to support sales in the transportation safety arena and to develop a hip, cutting-edge image for broad-scale consumer outreach.

To reach the transportation industry, Jones and his team decide to work closely with Caltrans to create a case study that can be presented to other potential clients and to the media.

They select a stretch of Interstate Highway 5, known for its high number of accidents. Local media and transportation industry trade press are alerted to the installation of the neon blue dots via a release and photograph.

Following a six-month test effort, the results are in. Focus groups conducted with groups of drivers ranging from commercial truckers who travel the route regularly to vacationers turn up incredibly positive responses. Statistics show a 40 percent reduction in accidents.

With strong research in hand, Jones convinces Caltrans to join him for a press conference in Los Angeles to announce the pilot project test results and CalTrans’ commitment to switch over to Blue Streak statewide.

Press materials are prepared, including a release announcing the news and a backgrounder on the research plus photos and video of the Blue Streak dots in action. News crews from the local and network television outlets are contacted, in addition to members of the national popular news media.

On the day of the press conference, the release and photo is sent out over a wire service as well as faxed or e-mailed to everyone unable to attend. Video is provided via satellite.

Because highway safety is a hot topic and because it’s a very slow news day the story gets wide pick-up and other state transportation divisions start calling Blue Streak.

Reaching Gen-Xers with the Blue Streak message is more challenging. Consistent with his first deal with MTV, which actually involved Jones licensing the MTV brand to produce neon concert wands, Jones proceeds to explore similar deals with other music-related companies. He and his marketing team realize that in order to make Blue Streak wands de rigeur at rock concerts, they’ll have to seed the market in the early days.

Because of his substantial transportation industry business and the low manufacturing cost, Jones is in a position to follow this path.

His team contacts radio stations about distributing Blue Streaks, branded with the station logo, at their concerts and community events. Blue Streaks are sent to music press, announcing their use at specific concerts, in hopes of securing a mention in the concert review.

Photos taken at concerts where Blue Streaks are in prominent use are serviced to lifestyle and music editors at publications ranging from major market newspapers to Rolling Stone, positioning them as a hot new concert trend.

The public relations team is constantly on the lookout for a star who will either endorse or reference Blue Streaks at their concert.

The P.R. team also suggests a stunt, which would be staged at a televised concert like the MTV Video Music Awards or a nationally televised nightime NCAA football game. Much like a classic card stunt, illuminated by flashlights, Blue Streaks would be used to spell out a message or visual at the opening of the awards show or during the half-time show. MTV passes, so they move on to the football idea, finally settling on the classic USC/UCLA match-up. The two schools agree to substitute Blue Streaks for their traditional card stunts.

The P.R. team prepares a release announcing the use of its Blue Streaks during the half-time show, and distributes it to sports outlets who will be covering the game, positioning Blue Streaks as a pop culture phenomenon that is migrating from the concert hall to the football stadium, forever revolutionizing the classic card stunt.

P.R. also secures game tickets for widget industry trade press and lifestyle publications to witness the stunt. Even if they don’t report on the stunt, this is a good relationship-building activity. P.R. also arranges to have its own photographer and videographer on hand so that Blue Streak is in a position to service art and video of their product in action the day after the game.

The game launches Blue Streak as a pop culture phenomenon! With Blue Streak successfully launched as a company and in its respective product categories, we next take a look at some of the problems that might occur with a fast-growing company.

Allison Thomas and Rachel McCallister are partners in KillerApp Communications LLC, a Los Angeles public relations agency for the interactive entertainment and online services industry.

Small Business is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact Dan Rabinovitch at (213) 743-2344 with feedback and topic suggestions.

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