CAMPAIGNS: Corporate Reputation - Bezos passes PR exam with Humor

Client: Amazon.com (Seattle)

PR Team: RLM Public Relations (New York) and Maloney & Fox (New York)

Campaign: BBQ & Beer with Bezos

Time Frame: July 2001

Budget: $50,000



Back in early 2001, when Amazon.com introduced its Honor System (a

program that enables customers to donate cash "tips" to their favorite

websites), the company denied it was all just a publicity ploy. But in a

strange twist of events even its creator could not have predicted, the

Honor System did eventually open the door to a PR opportunity - one that

arguably helped Amazon ameliorate the negative media impact of a

downbeat earnings report, and showcase its CEO in a positive light.



Strategy



Modern Humorist, an online entertainment site and marketing firm (and

one of the Honor System's charter members), had vowed publicly that it

would buy Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a gift with tips accrued. And when

cofounder and editor John Aboud called Amazon in June to say that Modern

Humorist had raised nearly $350 and wished to buy Bezos a Weber

Black Genesis gas grill (just as long as the CEO threw a big shindig and

grilled up the burgers himself), he was surprised at the response he

received. "Jeff, who actually has a wonderful sense of humor, was

amazingly receptive to the idea," recalls Aboud.



Obviously, with e-commerce on the hot seat and the stock market

dropping, Amazon's PR team recognized that a fun summer barbecue for VIP

media was just the way to stir up some positive press when the company

and industry needed it most.



Tactics



Amazon and Modern Humorist teamed up with Maloney & Fox, a New

York-based special-events marketing agency, to select the venue

(Manhattan's B Bar) and coordinate logistics, while RLM Public Relations

was tapped to assist with media relations and publicity.



Anticipating that many reporters would mistake the barbecue for another

Modern Humorist prank, RLM orchestrated a handful of advance placements

in the mainstream press, including an item in USA Today that stirred up

buzz one week prior to the party. From there, RLM secured mentions in

The New York Observer's weekly guide and the AP Daybook, as well as a

feature in The New York Times to run on the morning of the barbecue.



At the actual party, which drew more than 100 top-tier journalists, RLM

stirred fun into the mix, and emphasized the low-key nature of the party

by handing out blank, "news-free" press releases.



Results



Measured by clips alone, the Bezos barbecue was a huge success.

Placements included stories with the Associated Press, The New York

Times, Forbes, Fortune, USA Today, New York magazine, TechTV, the London

Free-Press, The Boston Globe, and Tokyo TV, as well as the cover of the

International Herald-Tribune. CNBC's Power Lunch even aired live from B

Bar.



"Most importantly, the party was a lot of fun," says Bill Curry,

corporate communications director for Amazon. "But also, it was a

terrific relationship-building exercise. Being based in Seattle, we had

an opportunity to socialize with lots of East Coast reporters in a

non-pressure situation."



And, though Curry called the timing "pure coincidence," the more cynical

PR pro might easily conclude that such socializing probably did not hurt

the climate for announcing Amazon's quarterly earnings just nine days

after the party.



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