Client: Marvel Comics (NYC)
PR Team: Bender/Helper Impact (NYC)
Campaign: Heroes: "Comic Relief"
Time Frame: September 14 - ongoing
Budget: phone, e-mail, and faxing costs only
The events of September 11 brought grief, anger, and sorrow to a stunned
world. And in the days following, the surrealism of what they'd seen had
New Yorkers wondering why the likes of Captain America or Spiderman
couldn't swoop in to save the Big Apple. However, it was clear to Marvel
Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada who the city's real heroes were:
policemen, firefighters, EMTs, and the ordinary citizens who volunteered
Quesada decided to create a comic book in their honor, and donate the
proceeds ($3 out of the $3.50 cover price) to various
World Trade Center charities.
After bringing together some of the industry's top artists, Marvel
sought to create Heroes, a 64-page comic book, and have 100,000 copies
ready for an October 17 release. This gave Marvel about 30 days to do
what usually takes three to six months.
"The climate was unbelievably therapeutic," says Quesada. "It was like
going to Ground Zero and lifting a brick."
As production proceeded faster than a speeding bullet, Marvel had to
publicize Heroes with no ad support, while avoiding the appearance of
looking to profit from tragedy. The NYC office of Bender/Helper Impact
(BHI) came to the rescue.
BHI's challenge was to attain coverage from a media concentrating on the
daily developments both here and abroad, so the timing had to be
The plan was to slowly build awareness for Heroes, and then climax PR
efforts right around the day the book would hit stores.
The project was termed "comic relief" to help convey that this was
Marvel's way of honoring the real heroes. Emphasis was placed on how
Marvel invited artists from rivals DC Comics and Dark House Comics to
join the project.
In addition, a minimal amount of Marvel superheroes were featured in the
book. The focus was appropriately placed on real-life firefighters,
policemen, and EMTs.
Initially, exclusives were offered to only the four news outlets BHI
deemed most influential: The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, and
NBC's Today show. This built excitement for the project, but ensured the
story's freshness for an upcoming media blitz.
The second round of coverage, which began on October 15 (two days prior
to release), targeted top major-market papers, major news syndicates,
broadcast stations, and comic book websites. To ensure that none of the
outlets broke the story early, BHI guaranteed access to many Marvel
executives and artwork, and allowed the websites to display the cover
image of Heroes.
While media coverage was impressive, Quesada was proudest of the
personal responses. "Fire stations have called to thank us," he reports.
"National Guard members toured our site. It's been humbling. Our
industry has long fought the stigma that comics are just for kids.
Heroes proves that comics are for all ages, and can really touch people.
The entire comic book world should view this a crowning achievement for
BHI can consider the press it garnered a fine achievement as well: 13 of
the nation's top 15 newspapers ran features on Heroes, and almost all of
the top 200 papers in the US had coverage. In addition to Today,
segments appeared on CNN, MTV, CBS, Fox News Channel, and BBC America.
Extensive online coverage on entertainment, news, and, of course, comic
book sites, rounded out a media barrage that produced several hundred
Heroes' first run of 100,000 sold out in two days. The second run of
150,000, which hit racks on October 26, sold out as well.
"The book will be kept in print for as long as people want it," says
Quesada. It seems that Marvel's presses will keep rolling for some time.