CAMPAIGNS: Bold initiative nets propitious start for Freedom Tobacco

PR Team: Freedom Tobacco (New York) and Vorticom (New York) Campaign: Launch of Legal cigarettes Time Frame: March-August 2003 Budget: $25,000 for the five-month project

PR Team: Freedom Tobacco (New York) and Vorticom (New York) Campaign: Launch of Legal cigarettes Time Frame: March-August 2003 Budget: $25,000 for the five-month project

Freedom Tobacco CEO Patrick Carroll faced a tall hurdle when his startup company launched a new brand of cigarettes last fall: New York's citywide ban on smoking in public places, including smokers' most reliable refuges, bars. The ban, of course, is just part of the nation's long-running backlash against smoking, one that's taken the form of lawsuits, soaring taxes, and state and municipal legislative efforts. New York-based Freedom Tobacco staked out a different positioning than the industry behemoths regularly vilified for pushing their products on children and failing to admit to the health risks that come with the habit. Freedom took a more transparent marketing avenue, trying to appeal to those who already smoke and openly acknowledging those health risks on the company website. It also took a page out of the cigar-sellers and microbrew coffees by trying to appeal to a more discerning smoker with tobacco from around the world. The first attempt was the launch of the brand Legal (pronounced "Lhe-gal"), right as the smoking ban kicked in. Strategy In addition to focusing on the South American tobacco used in Legal, Freedom's PR strategy established the company as something of a renegade. Not only was it to be seen as more trustworthy than the massive companies that produce almost all of the cigarette brands on store shelves, but the company was positioned as taking on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's antismoking initiative. As a result, Freedom and its PR firm, Vorticom, adopted a bold strategy compared to those of most tobacco companies. That strategy would supplement guerilla marketing and advertising efforts. "Whatever would be quirky and crazy for Philip Morris is not for us," says Nancy Tamosaitis, Vorticom's president. Tactics A splashy party at a New York club launched the brand. On its website, Freedom established the "Right to Smoke Coalition," which got more than 100,000 digital signatures that were sent on to government officials. A key moment in the campaign occurred when Tamosaitis tried to get celebrities to start using the brand by reaching out to their publicists via a release on Profnet. In that tack, Carroll made the offer of a lifetime supply of Legal cigarettes to any star who would try the brand. Results The launch party netted placements in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune Small Business, and other prominent outlets. The release offering Legal cigarettes to celebrities was picked up by an AP reporter, who wrote a major story that was picked up by a number of outlets. Much of the coverage wasn't positive, but that didn't matter to the PR effort. "Being that this is a young, upstart company, I think controversy is OK. The reality is that in representing a cigarette company, every piece is on some level harsh," Tamosaitis says. "No one really writes nice things about you. That's something you learn early on." Overall, the effort generated more than 200 million media impressions, and grabbed the attention of distributors both in the US and overseas. The AP article itself led to a 100% spike in sales volume. Carroll credits the media outreach with driving the launch's success. "From a PR standpoint, we got to where we are thanks to the press," he says. "The ads have been great, but by no means have they [achieved] the reach, penetration, and awareness that PR has," Carroll says. Future Using the success of Legal as a leaping-off point, Carroll is presently planning the launch of Freedom's second brand, Mzuri, which will be made with African tobacco.

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