Pitney Bowes uses star power to buoy its literacy efforts

Pitney Bowes' "Pushing the Envelope to Support Literacy" campaign auctions off celebrity-designed envelopes to benefit literacy programs.

Pitney Bowes' "Pushing the Envelope to Support Literacy" campaign auctions off celebrity-designed envelopes to benefit literacy programs.

The idea behind the program is that it reinforces the company's corporate commitment to literacy while highlighting a key part of its business: envelopes.

While the campaign had been a success in its first year, there were certain elements the PR team hoped to improve upon in its second year. Matthew Broder, VP of external communications for Pitney Bowes, says the primary goal was to expand celebrity participation.

Aside from raising money for the literacy organizations, Pitney Bowes was also concerned about reaching out to its consumer base.

"We saw it as an opportunity to burnish the brand, to enhance it, and have people feel good about Pitney Bowes," he says. "We wanted [our customers] to feel good about the company they do business with." Pitney Bowes turned to Alan Taylor Communications (ATC), with which it had worked on the first campaign and other projects over the past two years.

Strategy

Because the ultimate goal was getting consumers to buy the envelopes, Erin Weinberg, managing partner at ATC, says the team knew it had to attract not only more celebrities, but also a more diverse group.

"We thought there was an opportunity to get people who were even more creative ... and [attract] a wider variety that would give us an opportunity to appeal to a broader consumer [base]," she says. "We wanted to have a variety of celebrities, athletes, authors, and politicians."

As with most campaigns, picking the right spokesperson was key. "We wanted someone who is timely and has media appeal," Weinberg says. "But it had to be the right person - someone who is passionate about literacy as a cause."

Tactics

To help get a wider variety of celebrities to participate, Weinberg says, the team started planning and outreach a lot earlier than the previous year.

"Time was a factor in the ability to do that this year," she says. The team selected Cheryl Hines, star of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, as the spokesperson. Weinberg says Hines' status as a new mom, who had also spoken publicly about how she enjoys reading to her child, made her a good fit for the campaign. "She represents a lot of the things we wanted to convey," adds Broder.

The PR team conducted aggressive print, broadcast, and internet media outreach, targeting fan sites to generate buzz for the auction.

One new component to this year's campaign was a kickoff celebration at Pitney Bowes' headquarters. Hines was present at the event to place the ceremonial first bid on an envelope. Broder says the event was designed not only to win media attention, but to educate Pitney Bowes' staff about the effort.

Results

The team secured 74 envelopes (more than doubling the 2004 number), from celebrities such as Sharon Stone, Eva Longoria, Regis Philbin, and Benicio Del Toro. The auction raised $6,000, a 50% increase from 2004. It also garnered coverage in such publications as People, Us Weekly, The Miami Herald, and The Washington Post. The eBay site where the auction was held attracted more than 57,000 unique visits.

The team was delighted with the outcome, not least because Pitney Bowes was more used to appearing in the business press.

Future

Although Broder is not certain if Pitney Bowes will repeat the campaign next year, he notes that this year's results helped to "build a strong foundation to continue the program."

PR team: Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT) and Alan Taylor Communications (New York)
Campaign: Pushing the Envelope to Support Literacy
Time frame: April to September 2005
Budget: $392,800

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