PR Team: DogGone newsletter (Boulder, CO) and CTA Public Relations
Campaign: DogGone subscription drive
Time Frame: February-March 2002
Budget: Under $5,000
Robyn Peters, a Boulder, CO psychologist, purchased the DogGone newsletter in May 2001. Launched in 1993, DogGone is a subscriber-funded, bimonthly newsletter written specifically for dog owners who take their pets everywhere they go. Peters, an avid dog lover/traveler herself, was a loyal reader of the publication, and figured the subscription base mirrored her own lifestyle.
However, Peters was surprised to discover that readership had been steadily declining over the past two years. "When I bought DogGone," explains Peters, "I didn't realize that you must keep bringing in new subscribers just to stay ahead of those who drop out. You can't sit on your laurels in this business."
Of DogGone's 16 pages, only one - classifieds - is dedicated to advertising, so the only way to survive is with paid subscriptions. Peters first tried the conventional route of placing ads in local newspapers. After getting nowhere with that, she knew a different approach was necessary.
Peters contacted Rebecca Jones, reporter for the Rocky Mountain News' Pets section, and DogGone was prominently mentioned in a January 2002 feature story. The newsletter received 100 new subscribers from the piece alone, and Peters got a helpful education.
"Through the article, Robyn experienced the power of PR - its direct and immediate effect on sales and revenue, says Bevo Beaven, VP at CTA Public Relations in Denver.
Peters immediately called in CTA to help build the nationwide readership of DogGone.
CTA started off by gathering information on the dog-owning public.
A 2001-2002 American Pet Products Manufacturers Association survey found that there are about 68 million owned dogs in the US, which equates to about four in 10 households with at least one pooch. Further results showed that in the past three years, 22.7 million Americans traveled with their dogs on trips 50 miles or more away from their homes.
Through research of other animal publications, Beaven concluded that DogGone was unique because it was the only source that solely discussed dogs on vacation. "The subject matter of our client's newsletter truly has tremendous broad-based appeal and, thus, a huge potential audience," explains Beaven. Moreover, he adds, unlike other similar titles, DogGone's catchy headlines, appealing graphics, and exclusive information make it very readable, and a likely hit with the pet and travel media.
CTA targeted 2,300 pet, travel, and feature reporters nationwide mostly via e-mail, with the top 50 US papers getting phone calls from Beaven, and every weekly newspaper in North America receiving a blast e-mail written like a DogGone feature story.
Of course, Peters' bare-bones budget was still an obstacle. Beaven simply put together a "we do, you do list that divided the work between CTA and Peters. Essentially, CTA would set things up (planning, targeting, writing, and pitching) and Peters would close the deal by mailing press kits, returning editors' calls, and coordinating interviews.
"The agency-client tag-team approach really worked, says Beaven. An intense two-week media relations blitz yielded dozens of hits in pet, travel, and vacation pieces, including the LA Times, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Indianapolis Star, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Among the more interesting targets was Weddings & Honeymoons, a Toronto-based publication that was interested in a story about taking your dog on your honeymoon.
The bottom-line effect was also considerable, as Peters estimates that DogGone's subscriptions have been boosted 43% to date by the campaign.
Though Peters found an effective short-term cure for readership woes, constant subscriber turnover is an incessant reality. She recently completed a manuscript for a pocket-sized travel reference book that will offer dog owners 19 chapters of quick tips, emergency information, and travel advice. The book is tentatively titled Have Dog, Will Travel.
CTA has been retained to help design the book, seek a publisher, and handle all PR and media relations.