CAMPAIGNS: Virgin realizes the value of exposure

PR Team: Virgin Mobile USA (Warren, NJ), US Concepts (New York), and CooperKatz (New York) Campaign: "What you see is what you get" Time Frame: June-July 2002 Budget: $500,000 - $1 million How do you distinguish your new product when it's launched into a cluttered marketplace? For Virgin, the answer's always been simple: with an eye-popping, heart-stopping publicity stunt. And in the case of the launch of Virgin Mobile USA, as with many publicity stunts, the execution would prove to be no easy task. Strategy Tom Webster, who heads business development for US Concepts, says that the launch was designed to encapsulate the essence of the Virgin company, and to build a personality for the brand in the minds of the target demographic, 18- to 30-year-olds (MTV Networks is a partner in the Virgin Mobile USA enterprise). "We were looking to make an icon," Webster says. Therefore, the event would have to be both stunning and informational - a magical media moment. "It's a publicity stunt and a press conference. We wanted to physically represent that, and make it unique," Virgin Mobile PR manager Kristi Gates explains. Tactics Since Virgin chairman Richard Branson is no stranger to danger (he's made several attempts to fly a hot-air balloon around the world), the company decided to stage a daredevil event where Branson himself would prove that Virgin Mobile USA had literally "nothing to hide." Armed with two-way radios, a 30-page production schedule, and multiple backup plans, the event crew was well prepared. "Everything was timed to the second," says Gates. "Everything had to go exactly as planned." Descending into Times Square via a giant crane-lifted phone, Branson stripped down to a muscular bodysuit accented by nothing but a cell phone covering his, uh, virgin area, and he was accompanied by the Broadway cast of The Full Monty. Also present was a small army of Virgin nymphs (hired ballet dancers and actors in red bodysuits), affectionately called "red people," who infiltrated the crowd and raised the level of excitement with their mime-like antics. Music blared from enormous speakers as a blizzard of red and white confetti shot out of two cannons. After the five-minute attention-grabbing stunt, press members were escorted to the lower level of the Virgin Megastore, where Branson announced the MTV partnership and the availability of hardware and phone service across the US. Later that evening, Virgin hosted a party at White Space, which was attended by Donald Trump, Gene Simmons, and Virgin labelmates Wyclef Jean and Tom Jones. Results The event resulted in more than 150 media hits nationwide, including CNN Headline News, CBS, the AP, Reuters, Knight-Ridder, and Dow Jones. Gates happily reports, "Sales are going fabulously," though she's unable to provide specific figures so soon after the launch. "We've been getting attention from our target market. I'm getting bombarded by e-mails since I put my address on our site." Future Virgin will continue to use red people in its stores, but Virgin only worked with US Concepts for the duration of the launch. Virgin will continue its PR efforts for Virgin Mobile with agency of record CooperKatz, as well as August Bishop, which specializes in urban and youth publications.

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