PR Team: Zootoo.com (Secaucus, NJ) and The Bender Hammerling Group (Upper Montclair, NJ)
Campaign: $1 Million Animal Shelter Makeover
Timeframe: October 2007-March 2008
Budget: About $100,000
Even with all the hype surrounding MySpace and Facebook, getting the media and public interested in yet another social networking startup is not easy these days. So when Richard Thompson started Zootoo.com – a new online community for pet lovers – last October, he quickly realized he needed a great idea that would enable the site to quickly get noticed beyond the technology press.
“There are more than 200 million pet owners in this country,” Thompson explains. “We decided the best way to help Zootoo.com was to get these people involved in helping animals in a way that wouldn't cost them anything.”
Thompson, who founded and later sold the Meow Mix cat food brand to Del Monte, turned to The Bender Hammerling Group to help execute a campaign aimed at pet lovers.
Noticing the popularity of home-makeover TV shows, Thompson came up with the concept of a national animal shelter makeover contest and turned to Bender Hammerling to coordinate the media relations to drive both national and local awareness.
“We had done a survey and found that 70% of everybody in a city or town has no idea where the local pet shelter is,” Thompson says. “So we figured offering up to a $1 million shelter makeover was a great way of both educating the community and getting them involved in their local shelter.”
Leveraging the fact that animals are such a strong visual, Bender Hammerling developed a media kit and quickly began targeting national lifestyle programming. The team got Thompson, along with some of the shelter pets, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Today, and The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.
“We did some media training to make sure Richard spoke not just of the contest, but also about Zootoo.com,” explains Stacey Bender, president of Bender Hammerling. “We also did a lot of local radio and TV, urging them to get their audience involved in voting so that their community shelter would be chosen for the makeover.”
Once TV built the early momentum, Bender was then able to get the shelter makeover covered in national and regional newspapers, including page-one stories in USA Today and The New York Times.
More than 1,000 shelters ended up participating in the contest by getting residents in their area to log onto Zootoo.com to vote. Thompson adds, “From our launch in October to now, we've become the largest online pet community on the Internet.”
In addition to national TV coverage, the campaign was a huge print success, especially regionally, with coverage in the Newark Star-Ledger, New York Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, New York Daily News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Denver Post, Tampa Tribune, Charlotte Observer, and San Jose Mercury News.
Bender Hammerling continues to work with Zootoo.com and will soon launch the second animal shelter makeover contest, which it expects will attract more than 2,000 animal shelters.
Additionally, Zootoo.com is using The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet as the flagship outlet in a second contest, whereby pet owners dress themselves and their animals up for a Fashionable Pet Contest. “Stacey did a great job, and we found that earned media was far more effective in getting people [to] look at both the makeover contest and Zootoo.com,” Thompson says.
In addition to the obvious lesson of the enduring appeal of adorable animals in driving media interest, this campaign also showed the value of matching up the cause to the outlet. By initially targeting TV hosts who were known advocates for animals, Bender Hammerling and Zootoo.com were able to generate a lot of key early traction that lead to additional coverage throughout the duration of the contest.