One of PR's biggest challenges is to generate interest in things most observers consider a commodity.
This was the scenario facing Now & Zen, a company founded in 1995 with a mission of making products - from timepieces to door-bells - that express the ideals of spiritual living and a natural lifestyle.
Late last year, founder Steve McIntosh felt the timing was perfect for the media to take another look at his company's Zen alarm clock, which uses acoustic tones similar to Tibetan bell tolls to gently awaken its users.
"We had used a PR firm in the '90s, but we weren't very happy with them," says McIntosh, "so we tried to do it in-house for a while. Last year, we decided that we needed some professional work, so we turned to Newman."
The agency sought to devise a campaign that targeted not just the "cultural creatives" who had been the core of Now & Zen's audience to date, but also more mainstream consumers.
Newman president and COO David Ratner quickly determined the key to pitching the Zen alarm clock to the general interest press was to augment the spiritual angle with real findings on the product's benefits.
"We had science attesting to tangible stress created by the buzzing sound of alarm clocks," he explains, "so our pitch included that - noting how the continuous chimes of the Zen clock wakes you up in a far more relaxed manner.
"We knew this combination had a real chance of crossing over because so many traditional consumers are now interested in both green and spiritual items," adds Ratner.
Newman quickly realized that the real hook would be the clocks themselves, so the agency worked with McIntosh on an aggressive sampling campaign to get clocks into the hands of the media.
"We wanted people to experience the clocks first-hand," says Ratner. "We sent out a lot of traditional press kits and Steve was great about working to get clocks to every [interested] reporter."
Newman also booked McIntosh on radio interviews across the US where he could tell the company story and tout the benefits of the Zen clock in his own words.
Plus, because Now & Zen does the majority of its business direct-to-consumer, Newman consistently made sure the company's Web site was mentioned in stories whenever possible.
The Zen alarm clock received steady coverage throughout the year in both New Age and mainstream outlets.
Placement was garnered in a broad range of outlets, including Women's Health, Money, Fit Yoga, Playgirl, Chicago Sun-Times, Newark Star-Ledger, Seattle Times, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Tampa Tribune, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Orange County Register, and numerous others titles.
More importantly, McIntosh says, "Business is up 15% and we feel that's largely attributable to PR."
Newman continues to work with Now & Zen and is currently pushing the Zen alarm clock as an ideal holiday gift to outlets across the country.
"We're happy with the results Newman has delivered," says McIntosh. "We're adding a
big new product in the first part of next year. We're definitely going to be using Newman to help publicize that."
PR team: Now & Zen (Boulder, CO), Newman Communications (Boston)
Campaign: Zen Alarm Clock
Duration: November 2006 through November 2007
This campaign reveals the importance of looking beyond a product's core audience and developing different messages for different audience segments.
By using spiritual-themed pitches for some outlets and more general pitches focused
on science and design for others, the agency was able to dramatically expand the number of outlets it could target.
The initiative also succeeded by augmenting a sampling program with other outreach that enabled a company's key leader to explain the firm's history, as well as his story and vision.