Client: SalvageSale (Houston)
PR Team: Pierpont Communications (Houston)
Campaign: SalvageSale soft launch
Time Frame: May 2000 - February 2001
Budget: Approximately dollars 240,000
The word "salvage" doesn't generally evoke images of Cartier watches and
other priceless baubles. Rather, it brings to mind sitcom icon Fred
Sanford sifting through piles of junk at his ragtag shop in South
Central Los Angeles.
The folks at SalvageSale are not above having fun with this image - a
picture from Sanford & Son adorns the company's lobby - but the company
had some serious work to do in advance of the May 2000 soft launch of
SalvageSale.com. Enter Pierpont Communications, which was handed the
project a mere 10 days before the site's launch.
The overarching goal of the PR program was to drive traffic to the Web
site. The problem? The salvage industry and the company itself -
SalvageSale sells items once damaged in cataclysmic events such as train
derailments and ship wrecks - had historically received little
publicity. Business analysts and reporters needed to be educated about
the estimated dollars 50 billion salvage market.
"Our job was to take something nobody knew anything about and tell
everyone about it," explains Pierpont VP Sally Ramsay.
Since SalvageSale was trying to beat a competitor to market, Pierpont
had little time to rev up the PR engine. "Launching our site was
basically a fire drill," jokes SalvageSale president and CFO Ira
Recognizing this, Ramsay and her Pierpont teammates adopted a two-word
PR mantra - "educate quickly" - and decided to pitch the SalvageSale
story to business publications first, saving the manufacturing,
insurance, chemical and marine trade publications for later. The agency
also chose to emphasize the SalvageSale's experience; unlike the
company's main competitor, SalvageSale's staff boasted a wealth of
Pierpont trained SalvageSale executives on how to deal with the media
and set up extensive analyst tours in Boston and Silicon Valley. The
agency also coordinated speaking engagements at insurance and marine
industry shindigs, as well as more intimate meetings with executives at
major insurance companies.
Pierpont was quick to notify SalvageSale's target media whenever
off-beat items sold on the Web site. "Somebody in Mexico bought 22
fire-damaged caskets, for instance, and a company in Damascus bought
32,000 door peepholes," Ramsay recalls. "We tried to take advantage of
these wonderful, funky pitching opportunities."
The Economist ran a full-page story with a cartoon, while The Wall
Street Journal featured the company in its "Digits" column. The San Jose
Mercury News devoted a full page in its special March 26
"Business-to-Business Marketplaces" report to SalvageSale, and the story
was subsequently syndicated to 29 of Knight-Ridder's 32 newspapers.
"We haven't broken into The New York Times yet, but give us time," says
Ramsay, who estimates that the PR program generated the equivalent of
dollars 1.3 million in print ads.
Spurred by the media coverage and increased site traffic, a group headed
by Securitas Ventures and Merrill Lynch funded SalvageSale to the tune
of dollars 17 million last October - not exactly a time when VCs were
throwing cash around. Green promises that the 30-month-old company will
be profitable no later than the first quarter of 2002, and claims that
SalvageSale has "doubled, even tripled" the amount of money companies
had previously been receiving for their salvage.
As icing on the cake, SalvageSale's major competitor closed its doors in
the fall, leaving the company as the only remaining player in the online
Pierpont is coordinating a series of meetings for SalvageSale executives
with members of the manufacturing, marine, chemical and insurance trade
media. The agency will also help SalvageSale open an office in London
later this summer.