Video-on-demand for cable TV subscribers is still in its infancy, so when Rainbow Media was looking to enhance awareness of its MagRack suite of programming beyond the trade press, it knew it needed to capture the imagination of general reporters and the
Sommer Hixson, MagRack's director of PR, turned to Cataldi PR. Agency president Sal Cataldi immediately focused on MagRack's newest offering, a music instruction program called Guitar Xpress.
"We initially looked at something about air guitar, but we did a little research and saw that it had been done," says Cataldi. "So we were looking for what might be that next big idea."
Cataldi thought up the idea of a contest celebrating the "guitar face," guitarists' contorted expression during solos. "We knew it would be cost-effective, easy, and have good visuals," he says.
Cataldi and Hixson knew the contest would need some legitimacy to get press attention, so they established a partnership with Gibson/Epiphone Guitars that enabled them to lure well-known musicians Roger McGuinn, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Wayne Static of Static-X to be judges. With them on board, Cataldi was able to leverage his music-industry connections to attract other guitarists, including Steve Vai, Steve Stevens, Hank Williams Jr., and Gary Lucas.
"There were two audiences here," Cataldi explains. "There was the public and the media. We knew that judges like Gary Lucas, who played with Captain Beefheart, would add a lot of credibility and weight with the people writing the stories."
After getting a first mention for the contest on the New York Post's Page Six, Cataldi and Hixson decided to start the initiative by offering joint exclusives to the AP and The New York Times Arts & Leisure section.
Knowing the selling point would be the visuals, Cataldi crafted a press kit with a heavy focus on the guitar face of music legends like Jimi Hendrix.
The theme also enabled Hixson and Cataldi to take it on the road, setting up booths at conventions and working with cable affiliates at state fairs, where people could don a wig, pick up a guitar, and give their best guitar face. Cataldi also worked with local TV outlets in major markets, going out with reporters on live remotes where people could be stopped on the street to pose for the contest.
"We came up with all kinds of strategies to give it some continuity," explains Hixson. "It ended up being almost a year long. We had celebrity judges, we did the People's Choice Awards, and we had the winner come to New York to have lunch with JJ French of Twisted Sister and get his winning guitar. We ended up with thousands of submissions from people zero to 80."
In total, 3,000 entries were received via mail and e-mail, including from people in Russia, New Zealand, and even the troops in Iraq.
The initial AP story was syndicated to more than 5,000 outlets around the world and, in turn, triggered follow-up features in dozens of papers, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Herald. Spin and Guitar World magazines also picked up on the contest, as did local and national TV outlets, including CNN. The AP continued to follow the story and ran another piece when the contest winner, Les Campbell, was announced.
More important, Guitar Face helped raise the profile of the Guitar Xpress program so that it's now one of MagRack's most popular offerings.
MagRack continues to use Cataldi for PR and is currently working on ideas for another national campaign this year. "I have some things in mind for Sal that he still doesn't even know about," Hixson says.
PR team: Rainbow Media's MagRack video-on-demand service and Cataldi Public Relations (both New York)
Campaign: Guitar Face
Time frame: February 2004 to January 2005