Product Launch: Broad PR initiative is key in delivering ShipShape launch

With today's technology being what it is, direct mailings have fallen by the wayside, cast aside on kitchen tables and post-office floors.

With today's technology being what it is, direct mailings have fallen by the wayside, cast aside on kitchen tables and post-office floors.

Part of the reason is that years of offers for record clubs and credit cards have numbed people to the sight and feel of the envelopes and the things they promise. Tom Becker, president of Imageworks Manufacturing, saw this trend and decided that to grab people's attention, something had to change.

Becker worked with the US Postal Service for three years to lobby for a new classification of mail called Customized MarketMail (CMM), which allowed for non-rectangular, over-dimensional pieces of mail to be shipped without a package or envelope. As approval was pending, Becker developed ShipShapes, a plastic coating solution that would permit customized market mailings to be shipped without being damaged. The cost of producing and mailing a ShipShape would be a little more expensive than traditional mailings, mainly due to postage, but Becker was sure the reception would be worth the added cost.

"I knew the response rates would be much higher than with traditional direct mail," says Becker.

Strategy

Becker already had put so much effort up-front that Porter Novelli was able to leverage his relationship with the USPS to get it to endorse ShipShapes. The USPS had said that if Imageworks could get a company to talk on record about CMM and ShipShapes, then it would give the product a big push when it launched.

PN also wanted to get spokespeople from the direct-marketing industry to vouch for their product so that it could make a big initial splash. With no direct competition at this point in the game, PN saw the opportunity to equate CMM with ShipShapes. "We wanted third parties that could serve as endorsements as to how great customized mail marketing was going to be and, more specifically, how ShipShapes were the great example of what you can do with CMM," says Erica Swerdlow, a partner at Porter Novelli in Chicago.

Tactics

With less than 30 days to find a company to put its name and brand on the first ShipShape, PN decided to approach an existing client. Krispy Kreme agreed to send out a promotional ShipShape that resembled an open box of donuts and offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal, and the industry was launched.

PN also wanted to take full advantage of the fact that though there eventually would be others in the market, Imageworks was the only one with a product ready to go. Before the launch, it gave exclusive stories to trade publications and made a VNR that would run on news stations across the country. As promised, the USPS had a huge launch for CMM, and with only Imageworks' Krispy Kreme mailing to show as an example, it left the name ShipShapes on the tip of everybody's tongue.

Results

Imageworks worked privately with an AP reporter at the launch, and within a week, the story ran in 550 papers. Meanwhile, Krispy Kreme saw an overwhelming 11% response rate from its ShipShapes mailing, almost unheard of in direct mail. Without any further marketing beyond PN's efforts, Imageworks saw an average of 50 new business leads a day, which it immediately began turning into sales.

Future

"We're trying to get Tom into speaking opportunities because he's now essentially the master guru of CMM," says Swerdlow.

Thanks to the guru, Imageworks also holds the current lead in the industry and has every intention of keeping it that way. Now that CMM has seen such a favorable response among agencies, PN is working on targeting vertical markets and gaining attention in several industries that it sees as the most likely candidates to use the product.

PR team: Porter Novelli (Chicago) for Imageworks Manufacturing (Park Forest, IL)

Campaign: ShipShapes: Changing the Face of Mail

Time frame: July to October 2003

Budget: $40,000

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