CAMPAIGNS: Viral PR - Spark singles out Silicon's e-boys

Clients: Epinions (Brisbane, CA), Vividence (San Mateo, CA), eLance

(Sunnyvale, CA), AuctionWatch (San Bruno, CA), Tellme Networks (Mountain

View, CA), VA Linux Systems (Fremont, CA) and Backflip (San Francisco)

PR Team: SparkPR (San Francisco)

Campaign: e-bachelors

Time Frame: June 1999-July 2000

Budget: about dollars 20,000



When a Newsweek reporter called SparkPR about a piece she was doing on

single men in Silicon Valley, the agency was happy to provide names of

its clients. The June 1999 article, 'Sex and the Valley,' pointed out

that Silicon Valley had surpassed Anchorage, AK, in having the most

single men per capita (5,372 for every single female). It quoted two

Spark clients, Lou Montulli of Epinions and Chris Misner of

Backflip.



Donna Sokolsky, cofounder of Spark, which handles the births and

infancies of start-ups, smelled a bigger opportunity to promote many of

her clients using viral PR.



Strategy



'A lot of these companies really needed to drive traffic to their Web

sites,' says Spark cofounder Chris Hempel. 'Epinions, for example, is a

consumer site, and it's difficult to reach that audience. But people get

attached to human interest stories. The goal was to raise publicity for

these companies and increase the number of visitors to their sites.'



Tactics



Sokolsky coined the term 'e-bachelors' and encouraged People magazine to

do a story on the e-bachelors of Silicon Valley, submitting Bill Demas

of Vividence, and Montulli and Nirav Tolia of Epinions as candidates.

People decided to work the idea into an issue it was already developing:

'The Sexiest Men of the Year,' which appeared in November 1999. Montulli

was named 'Sexiest Internet Mogul.' And Epinions' Web traffic

skyrocketed as a result.



But many of Spark's other male clients contested Montulli's new status.

So the agency mocked up a Silicon Valley e-bachelors Web site featuring

a half dozen clients' pictures and biographies. Visitors were encouraged

to vote for the hottest e-bachelor.



Spark purposely made the site look unpolished to lend it viral appeal

and asked each agency employee to send the address to 30 friends.



Within days of the launch, Tim O'Mahoney of VA Linux Systems was in the

lead as the most eligible bachelor. 'At first it started out in

jest.



Then we realized, 'Hey, folks are clicking on the site,' says

Sokolsky.



Spark pitched other magazines, and Deanna Kizis, an Elle reporter,

responded.



The magazine wanted to send her to Silicon Valley to date some of the

e-bachelors.



The agency arranged a cocktail party in Palo Alto on Valentine's Day

2000 to kick off Kizis' series of five dates in five nights. Elle's

six-page feature, 'Single Gal Heaven,' appeared that June. The next

month, one of Spark's clients was named as one of People's 'Sexiest Men

of the Year.'



Results



ABC affiliates in San Francisco and San Jose, as well as network news

stations in Portland, OR, and Springfield, IL, covered the story. And in

January 2000, Fortune.com did a piece based on a Women.com poll called

'Top Ten Bachelors of Silicon Valley.'



Future



E-bachelors may be coming to a screen near you: the Elle story has been

optioned for a movie.



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