eLayaway sees recession benefits

Like many startups, eLayaway was launched in anticipation of a trend.

Like many startups, eLayaway was launched in anticipation of a trend.

In its case, it was a hunch that consumers, alarmed by their rising credit card debt, might be interested in using layaway again if it was modernized and expanded as a payment tool.

When the economy began to slow in early 2008, eLayaway cofounder and CEO Sergio Pinon felt the time was right to aggressively expand the company and educate a new generation of consumers on layaway.

“We wanted a tremendous amount of exposure, but as a new company didn't have a lot of money,” he explains.

Strategy
Though it initially worked with an outside PR consultant, much of eLayaway's media outreach was handed over to Michael Bilello, the company's VP of business development and communication, who says he spent the early part of 2008 re-educating reporters on layaway, while also noting how eLayaway had taken this purchasing tool online.

“We positioned eLayaway as filling the gap between upfront cash purchases and... credit cards,” Bilello says. “So when the credit crisis began getting media attention, we were able to connect with journalists writing about the end of the ‘lend and spend' boom by noting how fiscally responsible our service is.”

Tactics
The company maximized what little money it had by creating its electronic press kit and online media room internally, relying on the company's IT division to manage the materials' contents and update the site with white papers and videos.

“[Bilello] also did some mock interviews with us where we came up with message points to address any misperceptions,” Pinon adds. “Though it was never viewed as predatory, layaway in the past was considered the poor man's credit card, so we stressed how our technology had made it ideal for all types of consumers.”

Results
The campaign helped to boost the number of retailers and other business partnerings with eLayaway by 25% to more than 1,000, while the number of consumers who signed up to become eLayaway members increased ten fold to more than 75,000.

Additionally, the campaign garnered more than 40 print hits in the second half of 2008, with coverage including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, and US News & World Report. Broadcast coverage included NPR, the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Fox Business News, CNBC, and CNN.

Future
The company continues to expand with new vertical programs to help people pay for everything from health procedures to sports season tickets.

Pinon says that the company is looking to add some incentive-based marketing to take advantage of the eyeballs eLayaway has attracted, but quickly adds, “PR will remain our number-one tool through 2009.”

PRWeek View
This campaign shows how PR can deliver tremendous results even on a small budget, provided all parts of the company are helping with the effort's execution.

It also shows the importance of using a message that is flexible – as the credit squeeze emerged as a major issue in the news, eLayaway was able to adapt and position its service as a solution for the many cash-strapped consumers.

PR team: eLayaway (Tallahassee, FL)

Campaign: The Smarter Way to Plan and Pay

Duration: January-December 2008

Budget: About $3,000 (not including salaries)

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