Client: Ourhouse.com (Evanston, Il.)
Client: Ourhouse.com (Evanston, Il.)
PR Team: Internal
Campaign: Promoting Mr. Fix-It, Lou Manfredini
Time Frame: December 1999-ongoing
Budget: dollars 50-dollars 75,000
Home improvement site Ourhouse.com, launched in November 1999, was looking for a way to stand out. It had the backing of Ace Hardware, a recognized brick-and-mortar retail network, but wanted something more to help it stay at the forefront of consumers' minds.
Head of marketing Gary Briggs and director of communications Jon Harris had worked together at Pepsi, which regularly uses celebrity spokespeople to build brand identity.
'We knew how important it is to put a face on a brand,' Harris says.
They decided finding a 'face' for the site would increase consumer awareness and provide a unique element competitors couldn't duplicate.
After initially considering celebrity spokespeople like Tim Allen and Ray Romano, Harris and Briggs decided to develop an in-house talent.
Chicago homebuilder Lou Manfredini joined Ourhouse.com to answer consumer e-mails and provide home repair content. But he also already had his own weekly Chicago home-repairs radio show, which was pulling in good ratings.
Manfredini came off as personable and comfortable with the media, and he had just written a book, Mr. Fix-It, 101 Answers to the Most Commonly Asked Questions About Repairing Your Home, that he wanted published.
Harris decided to build what he dubbed 'Brand Lou,' with the goal of translating exposure for Manfredini into consumer awareness of Ourhouse.com.
Manfredini 'is the perfect ambassador for our site; he has credibility,' says Harris. As Harris and Briggs fed Manfredini's celebrity, they cultivated popularity of Ourhouse.com.
Using contacts he'd developed at Pepsi, Harris arranged for Manfredini to discuss home repairs on NBC's Today Show and The Rosie O'Donnell Show.
TV executives were impressed with his on-screen presence. Other appearances on local television, HGTV and the Discovery Channel followed.
Manfredini sticks to home- repair topics in such appearances, rather than pushing hard-sell messages about the site. His affiliation with the site is noted, and his credibility helps drive traffic to the site.
Ourhouse.com also decided to back Manfredini's book, initially offering it for sale exclusively on the site. A national satellite media book tour was created last spring for print, TV and radio.
Several on-site promotions capitalized on Manfredini's media exposure.
Winners of the 'Win a Guy' promotion got a visit from Manfredini to tackle repair problems. The promotion was linked to a Today Show effort to raise dollars 50,000 for Katie Couric's fight for colorectal cancer research.
Manfredini also helped Rosie O'Donnell build houses for families in need and became personally involved in Y-Me, a national Breast Cancer Research organization. Such efforts reached women consumers, who 'are driving home improvement today' and are a key target audience for the site, Harris says.
In June Manfredini was named a Today Show correspondent, ensuring regular appearances and continued exposure. He has been featured in People magazine, Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other major newspapers.
Traffic to Ourhouse.com increased from 2.4 million visitors in May to 5.9 million in September, according to Top9.com, a site that tracks Web site popularity. Top9 ranks the site as number one in its home improvements and tools category; it got more visitors in September than the next eight sites combined. Media Metrix ranks the site number one in its home and garden category, putting it number 20 overall among e-commerce sites.
The privately held company does not report sales or earnings.
Harris is developing a syndicated weekly TV show for Manfredini and working on a nationally syndicated radio show, a newspaper column and a second book, all to keep Brand Lou in the public eye.