Kent Bicycles, which sells bikes primarily through mass-market outlets like Wal-Mart, was excited at the possibility of creating a new line bearing the Cadillac brand that it could offer to independent bike shops.
It signed a licensing agreement with Cadillac in November 2004 and rolled out its new bikes in January. But the line received little initial attention.
"We'd done some press releases, but we weren't getting a response," recalls Ron Lippner, VP of independent bike dealer sales with Kent. "We needed a strategy."
The company hired Euro RSCG Magnet for a three-month assignment to increase brand awareness among consumers.
Kent had been aiming outreach at bike dealers, hoping they in turn would lure consumers to the product. But most independent bike shops specialize in various brands. As a consequence, "they're very brand loyal," says Lippner. "To get them to switch to us takes a lot."
Magnet suggested targeting consumers directly, reasoning that if people started asking about the Cadillac bikes, dealers would want to carry them.
"We saw it as a challenge, but also as an opportunity to really build the brand from the ground up," says David Bray, associate VP at Magnet.
Magnet's media outreach began with a news release announcing the launch of the Cadillac bike brand.
It followed that by developing relationships with reporters in key cities, such as a Detroit newspaper auto writer who follows GM and its Cadillac brand. Once that writer did a story on the new bikes - and the AP picked it up - other media inquiries followed, Bray recalls.
As coverage intensified, Tonight Show host Jay Leno mentioned the bikes on the show. Bray, who had a working relationship with a Leno assistant at a former job, called to offer some bikes, which Leno subsequently showed on the show.
The second leg of outreach included creating a release for local newspapers and community shoppers on bike-purchasing tips. The ready-to-use story was attributed to Cadillac bicycles.
Local papers and shoppers would get attention from consumers and also from local bike dealers, who often advertise in such outlets, Bray notes.
A third tactic was product placement. Magnet worked to get a photo of a Cadillac bike included in a Vibe magazine article on hot items slated for its August issue.
Magnet also reached out to the Hispanic market, seeing less existing bike brand loyalty there and an opportunity to push the new Cadillac brand.
More than 100 print publications, including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and Detroit News, have covered the new bikes. A CNN story in the first week of August sent traffic on the company's website to 1 million hits a day, up from its previous level of about 5,000 a day, Lippner says.
The number of dealers signed in July and August was more than triple the number that Kent had been able to sign in the previous six months, Lippner says. Kent now has more than 40 dealers for the bikes, including five or six Cadillac car dealers who work with local bike shops to offer the line.
Bike sales climbed to more than double the levels of the first six months, he adds.
Kent has signed Magnet for an additional three months. The agency has been working to get the bikes included in holiday gift guides being done now by long-lead publications.
It's also given bikes to a New York-area hedge fund manager, who has gained attention for biking to work from New Jersey every day as he trains for a triathlon. Bray hopes to get broadcast and print coverage of his training - and, in turn, the bikes.PR team: Kent Bicycles (Parsippany, NJ) and Euro RSCG Magnet (New York)
Campaign: Cadillac Bicycles
Time frame: April to July 2005