Client: Amazon.com (Seattle)
PR Team: RLM Public Relations (New York) and Maloney & Fox (New York)
Campaign: BBQ & Beer with Bezos
Time Frame: July 2001
Back in early 2001, when Amazon.com introduced its Honor System (a
program that enables customers to donate cash "tips" to their favorite
websites), the company denied it was all just a publicity ploy. But in a
strange twist of events even its creator could not have predicted, the
Honor System did eventually open the door to a PR opportunity - one that
arguably helped Amazon ameliorate the negative media impact of a
downbeat earnings report, and showcase its CEO in a positive light.
Modern Humorist, an online entertainment site and marketing firm (and
one of the Honor System's charter members), had vowed publicly that it
would buy Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a gift with tips accrued. And when
cofounder and editor John Aboud called Amazon in June to say that Modern
Humorist had raised nearly $350 and wished to buy Bezos a Weber
Black Genesis gas grill (just as long as the CEO threw a big shindig and
grilled up the burgers himself), he was surprised at the response he
received. "Jeff, who actually has a wonderful sense of humor, was
amazingly receptive to the idea," recalls Aboud.
Obviously, with e-commerce on the hot seat and the stock market
dropping, Amazon's PR team recognized that a fun summer barbecue for VIP
media was just the way to stir up some positive press when the company
and industry needed it most.
Amazon and Modern Humorist teamed up with Maloney & Fox, a New
York-based special-events marketing agency, to select the venue
(Manhattan's B Bar) and coordinate logistics, while RLM Public Relations
was tapped to assist with media relations and publicity.
Anticipating that many reporters would mistake the barbecue for another
Modern Humorist prank, RLM orchestrated a handful of advance placements
in the mainstream press, including an item in USA Today that stirred up
buzz one week prior to the party. From there, RLM secured mentions in
The New York Observer's weekly guide and the AP Daybook, as well as a
feature in The New York Times to run on the morning of the barbecue.
At the actual party, which drew more than 100 top-tier journalists, RLM
stirred fun into the mix, and emphasized the low-key nature of the party
by handing out blank, "news-free" press releases.
Measured by clips alone, the Bezos barbecue was a huge success.
Placements included stories with the Associated Press, The New York
Times, Forbes, Fortune, USA Today, New York magazine, TechTV, the London
Free-Press, The Boston Globe, and Tokyo TV, as well as the cover of the
International Herald-Tribune. CNBC's Power Lunch even aired live from B
"Most importantly, the party was a lot of fun," says Bill Curry,
corporate communications director for Amazon. "But also, it was a
terrific relationship-building exercise. Being based in Seattle, we had
an opportunity to socialize with lots of East Coast reporters in a
And, though Curry called the timing "pure coincidence," the more cynical
PR pro might easily conclude that such socializing probably did not hurt
the climate for announcing Amazon's quarterly earnings just nine days
after the party.