PR Team: Bernina of America (Aurora, IL) and Accent Relations (Denver, CO) Campaign: Artista 200 launch Time Frame: January 2002 - July 2003 Budget: $46,000Bernina is the third-largest sewing-machine company in the world. It sells 100,000 machines per year. Chicago-based Bernina of America oversees more than 500 independent dealers in the US - home to approximately 30 million sewers and 17 million quilters, who account for $5.1 billion in retail sales annually. In 2002, Bernina was preparing to launch its innovative Artista 200 sewing and embroidery system, which is powered by Microsoft Windows and connects to the web. Faced with the challenge of marketing a machine costing $7,000 - the home-sewing industry's highest price point - without the backing of Microsoft's internal communications team, Bernina turned to Accent Relations, a one-person, Denver-based PR shop. As if convincing Microsoft to help push the product was not enough of a feat, the national launch of the Artista 200, and hence, its advertising campaign, was delayed at the last minute, leaving Accent Relations with no available machines for the PR launch date. At the same time, the delay created "a thrilling opportunity," according to Gina Seamans, principal and senior PR counselor for Accent, as "the launch would be driven solely by PR." Strategy Seamans' goal was to get Microsoft on board by overcoming the fact that "technology professionals don't 'get' sewing." The cooperation of the largest software superpower would create what Seamans calls "obvious" PR opportunities: worldwide name recognition, consumer appeal, and a bevy of communications resources. Bernina and Accent Relations wanted their PR program to build excitement and anticipation about the Artista 200 among women, who make up 98% of people who sew, quilt, and/or embroider in the US. Their single "measurable objective," reports Seamans, was to secure substantial (more than 50 placements) magazine, newspaper, electronic, and TV media coverage within six months of the product launch. Tactics To encourage Microsoft, Accent Relations identified the appropriate internal PR contact, through which on-site Artista 200 training for employees was coordinated. The agency also organized the production of a video testimonial from a Microsoft general manager about the sewing machine, and secured a Microsoft spokesperson for media inquiries. To generate buzz, Accent Relations planned and hosted an invitation-only luncheon for journalists, where they were given a preview of the Artista 200 and the opportunity to interview Bernina's executives. Journalists who signed nondisclosure agreements were offered prelaunch information about the product. "Insider" journalists also received prelaunch information via a password-protected media room, built by DVCO Technology. The online newsroom - essentially, a site within a site - resides on a separate domain, but could be seamlessly accessed from Bernina's main consumer site. Separately, Accent Relations developed a local-market media relations guide for Bernina's US dealers that provided step-by-step instructions for generating media coverage for the product launch in local markets. Results In the week that the Artista 200 launched, the DVCO-built media room saw an 800% increase in unique visitor hits, and a 500% increase in page views. Despite the apparent growth in traffic, Accent received fewer than 30 media inquiries because of how much was provided via the media room. Within one week of the launch, Bernina had 102 confirmed website placements for the new product. Between July 2002 and January 2003, PR efforts generated 162 confirmed media placements (nearly four times the set objective), including mentions in the LA Times and Microsoft's CE.NET site. Inclusion of the Artista 200 inside Microsoft's booth at five trade shows was secured, while CEO Bill Gates demonstrated the machine during his 2003 Consumer Electronic Show keynote address. Bernina dealers pre-sold every single machine before they even came into stores, and demand was high enough to merit another production run. Future Almost immediately after the launch, Bernina hired an internal PR person, who Seamans trained and helped through a six-month transition period. Seamans says the work she did for Bernina "catapulted me from being an independent consultant to an agency." The then one-person shop has grown from four to 14 clients, and Seamans has added a business partner, account manager, and occasional external consulting staff to help power the firm.
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