CORPORATE CASE STUDY: Persistent PR maintains Energy Brands' momentum

Aggressive marketing helped put Energy Brands in celebrities' hands and on the map. As Thom Weidlich learns, that same PR acumen continues to enhance the five-year-old company's ever-growing stature.

Aggressive marketing helped put Energy Brands in celebrities' hands and on the map. As Thom Weidlich learns, that same PR acumen continues to enhance the five-year-old company's ever-growing stature.

It's not easy being a category creator. Not only do you have to get your name out there, you have to explain to people what the heck it is you've made. You're probably an upstart, so you don't have money for advertising. And on top of that, the big guys in your business - the ones who do have wads of cash for ads - will soon be moving in on your turf, nipping at your ankles like a bunch of rottweilers. As New York-based Energy Brands has discovered, there are ways around these challenges. One is getting celebrities to love your product. Another is using savvy guerrilla marketing. And yet another is copping an attitude. In 1998, the company pioneered the "enhanced water" category with Glaceau Smartwater, a vapor-distilled water with added electrolytes. Then in 2000, it built on that with the even more popular Glaceau Vitaminwater, a line of flavored vitamin- and mineral-enhanced waters. Sold in 45 states, Glaceau Vitaminwater comes in 14 versions, each named after the hoped-for effect of drinking it. For example, Determination is raspberry tea with glucosamine and taurine; Revive has vitamin B plus potassium, gotu kola, and ginseng. Word-of-mouth reliance pays off Energy Brands has done very little advertising, relying instead on word of mouth and some great press. It hasn't been shy about getting its product in the hands (and mouths) of celebrities, and its name in glossy publications. "A good part of the outreach we've gotten has been a result of reporters and editors who themselves are fans of the brand," adds Jessica Wolff, marketing communications manager. In the Chicago Sun-Times in September, staff reporter Dave Hoekstra wrote about being a year-long Glaceau Vitaminwater drinker, and about introducing the product to the other members of a jury he sat on. The picture accompanying the piece showed a bartender at Chicago's legendary Billy Goat Tavern mixing Glaceau Vitaminwater and vodka; its use with booze seems to be its next frontier. Glaceau Vitaminwater is a hit with celebrities. In September, USA Today ran a small piece reporting that stars such as Sean Combs, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani get it delivered to their homes. In Touch Weekly magazine showed pics of actors Salma Hayek, Elisha Cuthbert, and Freddy Rodriguez drinking (or just holding) the stuff. Vibe depicted a sweaty female model in a fashion spread drinking Endurance (vitamin E plus astragalus and ginseng). In May, Jeff Cioletti, senior editor at Beverage World magazine, shadowed Energy Brands employees who had traveled to San Francisco for an unusual sales and marketing event. Cioletti says that when he was with them in a hotel lobby, they ran into actor Mike Epps. "They gave him a bottle and took his picture with it," Cioletti says. "I'm sure that'll be popping up somewhere. The remarkable thing about it is they're not paying a dime for it, whereas the Cokes of the world will pay a fortune for product placement in films." The event Cioletti wrote about in Beverage World involved Energy Brands shutting down its office for a week and flying all 100-plus employees, from the mail-room clerk to the CEO, to California. The employees were divided into two teams, one that went to LA and one to San Francisco. They barged into local stores, delis, and public spaces to hand out samples and sign up new accounts. They bounced around the city with small coolers, stopping passersby, imploring them to try Glaceau Vitaminwater. One month after the event, sales in those areas nearly doubled. If it sounds like the employees have drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak, that's because they have. "The thing that they've got going for them is they have managed to get the entire company invested in the brand," Cioletti says. "They're all very passionate about it." Taking on all competitors Indeed, the folks at Energy Brands seem to view as an affront anyone quaffing any other drink. Although the big beverage companies have now entered the enhanced-water arena - PepsiCo-owned Gatorade with Propel Fitness Water, Pepsi-Cola with Aquafina Essentials, and Coca-Cola with Dasani NutriWater (since pulled from the market) - Energy Brands sees itself as competing with all types of thirst quenchers, including Snapple, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other iced teas, fruit drinks, and energy beverages. The privately held company is shy about revealing numbers, but in March The Miami Herald reported that Propel was the leader in the $245 million enhanced-water silo with $100 million in sales, while Energy Brands rang up $85 million. Founder J. Darius Bikoff told Fortune Small Business that the company has been profitable since the second half of 2001. Most of Energy Brands' marketing centers around sampling, events, and PR. Wolff, just 29, oversees the PR work with one other person in New York, using a PR firm on each coast to help with execution. Energy Brands launched two guerrilla-marketing initiatives this year. Its vehicle-marketing program features 10 trucks, decked out like television-news vans and branded GVWTV ("Glaceau Vitaminwater Tasting Vehicle"), that distribute free bottles to the public in markets across the US. And for its sampling program, called Hydrology, it hired and trained 200 part-time "hydrologists" who go to lifestyle events and retail locations handing out samples. Part of the hydrologists' job is to explain what Glaceau Vitaminwater is and what its benefits are. "When you create a category, you have to have education behind it because it's something so new and different," says Rohan Oza, SVP of marketing, who joined the company from Coca-Cola. Energy Brands points out that Glaceau Vitaminwater offers the benefits of water and nutrients, while also having variety and taste. But although it has half the calories of, say, Coca-Cola Classic and Snapple Orangeade Juice Drink (and is sweetened with fruit sugar rather than the less-healthy corn syrup those drinks use), it is hardly calorie-free. Energy Brands sponsors many events ,but Wolff insists it never pays to do so - the party givers want the company's sample-dispensing hydrologists there. Recent events have included the X-Games in Los Angeles, the 4th of July PlayStation2 house in the Hamptons, the Playboy Party at the Super Bowl in San Diego, and Fader magazine's after-party at the MTV Video Music Awards. Sarcasm goes a long way Another aspect of the company's marketing and image is its sarcasm, which abounds. When you call its headquarters, the recording says, "If you have a touch-tone phone, good for you...if you like boy bands, please hang up now." The company story at its website (www.drinkbetterwater.com) is headlined "Our boring history." The Glaceau Vitaminwater Balance Cran-Grapefruit label says it is "Recommended for: gymnasts, ballerinas, tight-rope walkers, people who do yoga, clowns who ride unicycles while juggling chainsaws...." You get the idea. A big part of the company's story is its founder's story. Few articles neglect to mention the tale of how president and CEO Bikoff started the company because he didn't like what he found on his supermarket's bottled-water shelf during a water-contamination scare in New York. They also usually mention how, having launched Glaceau Smartwater, he dreamed up Glac?au Vitaminwater while washing down a vitamin C wafer with water. The company gets amazingly diverse coverage, from newspapers like The Miami Herald and The Seattle Times, to trades like Beverage World and Beverage Industry, to magazines like Wired, Golf, Hamptons, and Fortune Small Business (a cover story). Oza says these diverse media outlets have covered Glaceau Vitaminwater because people in so many worlds - movie stars, athletes, musicians, fashionistas - have embraced it. "We don't go out and target press," he says. "We're organically part of that lifestyle." ----- PR contacts SVP of marketing Rohan Oza Marketing communications manager Jessica Wolff Associate marketing communications manager Lara Bandler West Coast marketing manager Janeane Ardolino PR agencies Full Picture (Los Angeles) and Evins Communications (New York)

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