Product PR: Mystic Tan targets journalists to help gain local interest

Spring is tanning-booth season because many people prefer not to hit the beach with lily-white skin or to look pale in strapless prom dresses. So last spring, small-but-growing Mystic Tan grabbed its big chance to bronze dozens of New York fashion and lifestyle editors.

Spring is tanning-booth season because many people prefer not to hit the beach with lily-white skin or to look pale in strapless prom dresses. So last spring, small-but-growing Mystic Tan grabbed its big chance to bronze dozens of New York fashion and lifestyle editors.

Founded in 1999, Mystic Tan used market-by-market, grassroots PR to tout its UV-free booths as they spread to new cities. "We don't spend a whole lot of money on advertising," explains Lisa Bielejeski, the company's marketing director. "We feel that placing it in the PR and publicity arena produces more value."

Two vendors were about to install Mystic Tan's first UV-free tanning booths in Manhattan last spring, allowing the firm not only to court local customers, but to spread the word nationwide by targeting key journalists where they live and tan.

Strategy

The company and its PR firm, Parrish Blanchard Schaefer (PBS), knew they needed to overcome perceptions of older, sun-free tanning lotions that left users with orange skin and uneven distribution. (Mystic Tan's electrostatic booths provide more even application)."The key strategy behind this entire campaign was to give key influencers the opportunity to experience a Mystic Tan," says PBS partner Ken Schaefer. The team adopted the tagline "Tan in Less Than a New York Minute."

The firm also wanted to expand its client base to people younger than its usual demographic of men and women over 30 who tan for special events.

Timing proved crucial, as well. The campaign needed to coincide with the Manhattan tanning booth installations, and a spring schedule was necessary to meet the summer-issue deadlines of long-lead publications. So the campaign went forward as planned in March despite stiff news competition from the invasion of Iraq. The team steered clear of pitching mainstream media and the TV networks because of the war, Bielejeski says, focusing instead on fashion, lifestyle, and teen media.

Tactics

PBS planned a March media tour for Mystic Tan aimed at luring the press into the Manhattan booths. They e-mailed editors, inviting them to bring their staff out for a free "Mystic Tan Day." The press release dropped the names of West Coast celebrities who had become Mystic fans.

"The response to that invitation was so incredible that we had to earmark a person exclusively to just manage the flood of requests for appointments," Schaefer says.

The team set up sessions for some reporters who wanted to sample the product before the media tour and distributed more than 1,000 free-tan cards to those who couldn't attend.

Results

Sixty people from 14 magazines visited Mystic Tan booths, and the PR team met with editors from another nine publications. Twenty magazines ran stories, including Cosmopolitan, GQ, People, and Seventeen. Television hits included Live with Regis and Kelly and The View.

Mystic Tan also was written into scripts for Friends and Miss Match, home runs, Schaefer says, that were scored by creating buzz, not by paying for product placement.

Since the campaign, the number of Mystic Tan booths has doubled worldwide to more than 1,500, with several added in Manhattan. Salon owners also report more young customers. "I think it shows that with the right strategy in place, you don't need a huge budget to be effective," Schaefer says.

Future

Mystic Tan is seeking more product placement opportunities and has been setting up booths at high-profile fashion events. Recently, for example, the company installed a booth at the Sundance Film Festival and participated in a beauty event sponsored by Allure that preceded the Golden Globe Awards, Bielejeski says.

PBS is also working with Mystic Tan on some upcoming new product launches, Schaefer added.

PR team: Parrish Blanchard Schaefer (Arlington, TX) and Mystic Tan staff (Dallas, TX)

Campaign: "Tan in Less Than a New York Minute"

Time frame: March 2003

Budget: About $15,000

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