CAMPAIGNS: Party City's strong comeback is true cause to celebrate

PR Team: Party City (Rockaway, NJ) and FD Morgen-Walke (New York) Campaign: Party City's Comeback Time Frame: February 2002 - present Budget: Over $100,000

PR Team: Party City (Rockaway, NJ) and FD Morgen-Walke (New York) Campaign: Party City's Comeback Time Frame: February 2002 - present Budget: Over $100,000

It had been a while since Party City felt it had something to celebrate. The retailer of party novelties was edging its way back to respectability after accounting problems and a mountain of debt caused its shares to be delisted from the Nasdaq in July 1999. While such a dubious distinction has become common in the tech and telecom sectors, for small chain retailers in the middle of the late-'90s bull run, it was quite a black eye. Nevertheless, with the help of a cash infusion from outside investors and a new management team, Party City had turned itself around in recent years, and had a new story to tell. In two years, the company had regained its footing, was on the comeback trail, and was once again listed on the Nasdaq. Strategy Now the company felt it needed to spread the message to Wall Street and the media that things at Party City had changed. The company tapped FD Morgen-Walke for its image turnaround. "They needed to rebuild the company's credibility," says Laura Novak, assistant VP at FD Morgen-Walke. "Although the company had been making good progress under new management, many people still associated Party City with the debacle that led to the delisting. They needed to eliminate any lingering doubts with a message that said strongly, 'We're not that company anymore.'" Tactics Novak says that because Party City had been operating under the radar throughout most of the early part of its comeback, it had a unique chance to do some basic communications and messaging groundwork. "We had the opportunity to really come in at the ground level in terms of shaping a message and possible story themes," says Novak. "We helped them build a lot of the basic infrastructure that was necessary to be positioned properly as a public company. For instance, we helped them start doing quarterly investor conference calls." The firm decided it was time to get the company some coverage in the retail trade press and in its local media market. That coverage included a "Party City comeback" story written by a Newark Star-Ledger business reporter who had written about the company's fall from grace two years prior. The firm also started to get some smaller stories in national business outlets, including on business wires Bloomberg and Dow Jones. With a strong base of media coverage in place and the company's turnaround nearly complete (with a rallying stock price to prove it), FD Morgen-Walke decided it was time to hit the national business press. The firm pitched some stories around Party City's biggest holiday, Halloween. It secured Party City CEO James Shea an October 31 interview on CNBC, live from one of Party City's stores. That was followed by a Forbes feature in November. Results Party City has seen a sizeable jump in media exposure, and saw its stock rally over the six-month period after it began its comeback campaign. During the same period, three brokerage houses initiated research coverage on Party City, a critical part of the company regaining respectability on Wall Street. All told, since the FD Morgen-Walke campaign began, Party City enjoyed 20 million impressions in the national business, trade, local, and broadcast media, including features in BusinessWeek, Forbes, Chain Store Age, the Newark Star-Ledger, The Bergen Record, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and CNBC. Future FD Morgen-Walke continues to work with Party City, and intends to shift the company's message. "Now we plan to focus more on the subsequent growth story since the comeback," says Novak. "We'll show how management continues to execute, and hit its goals and targets."

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