One challenge for every retailer is cutting through noise during the holiday selling season.
The PR team for office-supply chain Staples and Tilson Communications were able to do this last year with an offbeat campaign that combined celebrity star power with the traditionally unglamorous stapler.
Using the new Staples One-Touch stapler as the hook, the team created "Staplers of The Stars," an auction at Staples.com that would allow people to bid on staplers autographed by the hottest names in music, TV, movies, sports, even business.
As with any event involving celebrities, the biggest challenge was getting the stars on board. Staples turned to entertainment publicists PMK-HBH to solicit signatures from film and TV stars, while Staples associates lined up signatures from athletes and CEOs. Tilson helped by reaching out to charities and getting their celebrity spokespeople involved. "The fact the celebrities were able to donate the proceeds to the charity of their choice made them eager to participate," says Staples PR specialist Sharyn Frankel.
While the celebrities offered the hook, agency president Tracy Tilson says, "We knew that just another press kit would end up on a stack, so we decided to do something right to the point." When names were secured, the firm created an offbeat press kit consisting of a smaller version of the One-Touch with a tag promoting the auction and noting that Orlando Bloom and Cher were among those involved.
To make the celebrity outreach as easy as possible, Frankel says, each star was mailed a kit with a One-Touch, a silver sharpie, a release form, and a prepaid postage label for mailing it back.
All told, 140 celebrities, CEOs, and athletes donated a signed stapler, and the agency and Staples were able to leverage the breadth of participants to pitch a broad range of sports, entertainment, feature, and gadget reporters. "People hear about celebrities autographing a bunch of different things, but autographing a stapler had that quirk appeal that really enabled us to breakthrough to the media," says Karen O'Neil, Staples PR manager for retail. "We were even able to position the staplers as a great holiday gift idea to business reporters because what dad wouldn't want a Donald Trump- or Bill Gates-autographed stapler?"
The online auction kicked off with a launch event November 17 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles that featured actress Jennifer Love Hewitt and a display case featuring 50 of the autographed staplers.
Once the bidding had begun, Tilson kept the media informed of which staplers were attracting the most attention.
"The key was that Paris Hilton was involved, so the reporters became very interested in what was happening to the bidding and who was hot," explains Tilson VP Mary Hightower. "Once Paris Hilton's stapler hit the $1,000 mark, the Associated Press picked it up, and it was all over the place."
The effort generated more than 300 placements, including coverage by Star magazine, Business Week, and Rolling Stone.
But more important, the auction raised more than $50,000 for charity, and at the same time boosted November-to-early-December traffic to Staples.com by 22%. Also, many charities benefited from the auction, with golfer Tiger Woods giving to the Tiger Woods Foundation, Microsoft founder Bill Gates giving to the Staples Foundation for Learning, and actress Helen Hunt giving to the Los Angeles Youth Group, among others.
O'Neil and Frankel are brainstorming ideas for a holiday program for this year. And Frankel says the efforts will no doubt involve Tilson.
PR team: Staples (Framingham, MA) and Tilson Communications (Boca Raton, FL)
Campaign: Staplers of the Stars Online Charity Auction
Time frame: January to December 10, 2004