PR Team: Cold Stone Creamery (Scottsdale, AZ) and Golin/Harris (Los Angeles) Campaign: Cold Stone Creamery's Times Square opening Time Frame: March-June 2003 Budget: $75,000
With more than 400 stores across the country, Cold Stone Creamery, the ice-cream retailer popular in the South and West for its creamy, soft texture and "mix-in" toppings, was having difficulty penetrating the East Coast and New York markets. In other locations, media interest had been locally driven, which meant that the New York media was unfamiliar with the brand. When Cold Stone decided to open a store in New York City's Times Square, the PR team recognized an opportunity to debut the brand, educate a significant number of journalists at the same time, and subsequently drive traffic to the new location.
Golin/Harris, which has been Cold Stone's agency of record for three years, was charged with beating the competition to the market and generating awareness and media coverage. Ron Antonette, VP of marketing and brand strategy at Golin, says, "We recommended doing radio promotions, but it ended up being entirely PR-driven."
"The idea was to get someone to taste the ice cream," says Antonette. Because Cold Stone was training staff in the area and the store was close to opening, the PR team needed to put the ice cream in the starring role.
"Cold Stone's research suggested that the primary customer is young women, and that includes young women who talk to friends, and young women who bring their families to get ice cream," explains Antonette.
The ice cream was brought to media offices, locals, and influencers in the New York region for desk-side taste testings. More than 1,500 invitations were distributed. To ensure that media folk would get the complete Cold Stone experience, desk-side visits included "ice cream socials" that recreated the process by which creamery staffers mix toppings into the ice cream using flat metal paddles on a frozen granite stone (hence the name).
Golin/Harris secured visits with media contacts two weeks in advance, dropped pre-mixed product in media offices, and helped to host a preview day whereby media could see the new store three days before it opened.
"We had about 22 briefings over the course of three days," Antonette says. "During those two weeks we did a lot of media drops. We pitched local television to have us come and bring product. Part of the strategy was to find the person
who had been to a Cold Stone before. In one case, it was the traffic reporter," During all of its appearances, on air and off, the PR team publicized the fact that 50% of first-day sales would go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Smashmouth singer Steve Harwell and Broadway star Lesley Uggams would be on hand for an official opening ceremony.
In addition to the media drops, the PR team arranged for Cold Stone president Doug Ducey to meet with business reporters to discuss the creamery's place in the industry and its business plan.
Overall, the program secured more than 45 million impressions. On the first day, lines ran out the doors at the Times Square location, and sales were 10 times that of the average strong-performing outlet. The store continues to bring in six times the sales of the average store, and has still not invested in advertising.
"It was all buzz and word of mouth," says Antonette. "[E-mail newsletter] Daily Candy was our biggest get, and we got it."
In addition to Daily Candy, the PR team received hits in all four of the major New York City newspapers, the local Fox and WB broadcast outlets, and a mention in Time Out New York. There was also heavy chatter on several local radio stations. Since the opening, the team has received requests from national media outlets.
Golin is working with Cold Stone on long-lead media for the summer season, and will continue to support store-opening publicity.