CAMPAIGNS: Food site takes to the Street - Web Launch

Client: US Foodservice (Columbia, MD)

Client: US Foodservice (Columbia, MD)

Client: US Foodservice (Columbia, MD)

PR Team: Imre & Associates (Towson, MD)

Campaign: Web site kickoff on Wall Street

Time Frame: September to November 9, 1999

Budget: dollars 850,000



When US Foodservice launched a business-to-business site, it wanted to blow the lid off the food service industry. NextDayGourmet.com would seek to be the online answer to all culinary needs, offering an extensive array of professional culinary supplies within the next business day (it also sells to consumers).

For the site's PR campaign, US Foodservice, one of the nation's largest foodservice distributors, with dollars 6.2 billion in revenue last year, needed to make a big statement. It sought to draw Wall Street's attention to the competitive advantage e-commerce gives the company and to get noticed by existing customers (Chili's and Subway, among others), potential customers and vendors. 'We wanted to tell a dramatic story in a dramatic way,' says David Imre, president of Imre & Associates, the agency of record.



Strategy

The primary audience for the public company's PR campaign was the investment community, so Imre & Associates came up with a plan to all but take over Wall Street for a day. 'Some brokers and analysts have a perception of us as a trucking company, that we're just about shipping,' says Bonna Walker, VP of marketing and public relations. 'We wanted to let them know we're much more than that.'



Tactics

For the site's November 9 event, Broad Street, in the heart of New York's financial district, shut down to accommodate the world's largest cyber cafe, in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Hot coffee and muffins were served to some 15,000 Wall Streeters during the early morning rush, and company chairman and CEO Jim Miller rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange, with NextDayGourmet.com signage in the background.

Throughout the day, a group emulating the cast of the Off-Broadway show Stomp gave a performance using only US Foodservice products such as pots, pans and colanders. And in case one didn't have time to take a seat in the cafe-style tents, where plenty of computers were available, models waltzed around with laptops, imitating cigarette girls from the '40s.

A 30-foot Sony Jumbotron with live feeds from the street and 25-foot inflatables of chefs, a toaster, a crock-pot and a blender were on site.

A print media conference call with Miller and a luncheon/multi-media analyst presentation in the boardroom of the NYSE was also Webcast. To close the event-packed day, key customers, analysts, board members and US Foodservice management toasted the launch with a cocktail reception on the exchange floor that evening.



Results

US Foodservice got wide coverage, including live interviews with Miller in front of the NYSE that ran in three-minute segments on CNNfn, CNN and CNBC. The next day a small item ran in The Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg, Reuters and The Washington Post. Several trades also ran stories.

The key audience was clearly impressed. 'The day after the event some analysts upgraded our ratings, with many giving the company strong 'buy' ratings,' says Walker. 'The Web site also opened our business to a new channel, the consumer.'

As early as last March the company surpassed its goal of having 200 customers order online by May. As of August, the number was well over 1,000. Another big bonus occurred when an executive in Paris caught the event coverage on CNN and called US Foodservice within two days to discuss co-branding a new product line to be sold exclusively through NextDayGourmet. The deal is still on the table.



Future

Look for bits and pieces of the Wall Street events to be replicated at company-sponsored, big-name event parties.



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