PR TECHNIQUE: PRODUCT PR - Coaxing scribes to cover a product launch

Reporters dread pitches for product launches, fearing that they’ll become mere shills. Sherri Deatherage Green explores clever ways to get media coverage for products

Reporters dread pitches for product launches, fearing that they’ll become mere shills. Sherri Deatherage Green explores clever ways to get media coverage for products

Reporters dread pitches for product launches, fearing that they’ll

become mere shills. Sherri Deatherage Green explores clever ways to get

media coverage for products

Getting cynical reporters to write about new consumer products may seem

as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest without grappling hooks. Journalists

recoil from any story that smells even faintly of promotional hype for

fear of becoming ’whores for the advertising industry’ like Kevin

Spacey’s character in American Beauty.

Although marketing and advertising may seem easier avenues for

delivering product messages to the public, savvy promoters know the PR

mountain is worth climbing. Potential customers often share reporters’

skepticism of single-channel information and look to the media for

objective filtering.

’The mass public still sees the media as being unbiased judges that give

third-party validation to things,’ says Joseph Riser, corporate and

technology VP for GCI Group in Los Angeles. Gaining that validation can

make consumers more receptive to well-coordinated advertising and

marketing messages.

How do you keep a reporter from instantly transferring your call to the

advertising department? The PR 101 answer is to tell her how your

product will improve her readers’ lives. Don’t just overuse the word

’solution,’ but create awareness of the underlying problem. ’If you

build a better mousetrap and convince people that a lot more mice are on

their way, then they’ll beat a path to your door,’ Riser says.

Any product with a chance for success fills some need. But the more

remote the need and the more crowded the product category, the more

difficult the sell. Promoters may need to ’borrow interest’ from events,

trends or even other hot products, says Lisa Kovitz, Burson-Marsteller’s

New York managing director. Kovitz advises fishing where the fish


Reporters tend to school at events like the Super Bowl and the Academy

Awards, and they are often bored enough to bite at quirky sidebars and

features stories.

Media relations practitioners can also draw connections to breaking news

stories. When Reagan and Gorbachev met in Washington in 1985, for

example, Stolichnaya Vodka created and publicized a new mixed drink, the

Stoli Summit, Kovitz recalls.

Opinions seem split on the wisdom of using trends to pitch consumer


Some say the practice is overdone and can dilute a message. Matt

Losordo, EVP with Rogers & Cowan in New York, warns against inventing

trends for the sake of PR. ’You can take a body of research statistics

and come out with any trend you care to maneuver,’ he says. Kovitz,

however, thinks three is a magic number. If you can find two new

noncompeting products that share something with yours, you can pitch a


Companies sometimes borrow interest from other hot products as well.

For a summer promotion of its new Twizzlers Twist-N-Fill candy,

Hershey’s painted two eye-catching Chrysler PT Cruisers to match the


The ’Goo Cars’ motored across the US and through the national July 4

parade in Washington, says PR representative Susan Karli.

Sometimes, face-to-face interaction with customers plays a secondary

role to catching journalists’ attention during promotional events. For

example, Burson knew local media would cover the annual bacchanalia on

Daytona Beach during spring break 1998. So to publicize Gatorade’s new

purple Riptide Rush flavor, promoters dumped purple-tinted snow on the

beach and sponsored the Riptide Rush Winter Games, says Jeff Fagal, a

senior associate in Burson’s Chicago office. ’We reached our target

audience on site but with something that the media was really able to

grab onto,’ Fagal recalls. To stretch the story’s geographic reach, the

agency fed video to stations across the country, many of which picked it

up as a newscast-closing kicker.

Strong visuals, like those created for Riptide Rush and Twizzlers

Twist-N-Fill, often appeal to television reporters and might garner wire

photos with captions. When shooting your own publicity video or stills,

Kovitz advises hiring photojournalists so your images don’t look like ad


Product PR can appeal to print reporters, on the other hand, by

providing a depth of information not available through marketing or


Complex market categories, like technology and healthcare, benefit most

from explanatory PR, says Mark Curran, managing director of Ogilvy’s

global marketing practice in New York.

Many tech magazines feature product review columns, and some consumer

magazines like InStyle and Conde Nast’s new Lucky exist solely to

showcase what’s hot. PR pros debate whether sending samples to

journalists is an effective way to get mentioned in such venues, but

those who promote edibles know sampling is essential. ’Food editors

won’t write about something they haven’t tasted,’ Losordo points


Frequently, PR is used in advance of advertising to establish

familiarity with the brand before an expensive media buy. Hershey’s

marketing manager, David Forney, says his company routinely leads with

PR and waits until new products are available on grocery shelves before

investing in advertising.

Some companies begin PR long before product launches, focusing first on

trade press to generate third-party reviews and endorsements that can

later be used in pitching consumer media. ’It can almost act as a

pre-market pilot of the validity and value of the product,’ says Roy

Miller, account supervisor with Michael A. Burns & Associates in Dallas

Miller’s firm promoted a prototype Internet refrigerator with a built-in

computer touch screen and UPC scanner for compiling electronic shopping

lists and ordering groceries. Although the fridge is not yet on the

market, Miller estimates media coverage was worth dollars 14 million in

ad equivalency.

Climbing any mountain requires teamwork. ’The best campaigns are

integrated across marketing lines,’ Fagal notes. Close coordination

among PR, marketing and advertising teams is essential during product

launches to assure message continuity. When PR leads the expedition, it

often smooths out paths for the more expensive communication efforts

that follow.



1 Educate the media and public about the need your product fulfills.

2 Align your product with news-making events, breaking stories or

emerging trends.

3 Use PR to explain the intricacies of complex markets or capitalize on

the flash of visually compelling products.


1 Tout a solution without a clearly defined problem.

2 Pitch your product as part of a trend story if it is likely to be

overshadowed by competing products.

3 Expect a reporter to write a glowing article just because you mail him

a sample.

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