Unexpected partnerships drive Whirlpool

Respect for PR reflected in how internal tagline guides integrated comms efforts at Whirlpool

Respect for PR reflected in how internal tagline guides integrated comms efforts at Whirlpool

Keeping a brand like Whirlpool top of mind with its core audience can be a challenge. After all, the appliances industry isn't exactly one of most tech-savvy or fast-moving in terms of product developments.

"There's very little that differentiates the competition," says Audrey Reed-Granger, director of marketing and PR for Whirlpool brand portfolio. "We excel in one thing, but a [competitor] can easily copy that."

While many consumers will consider price, color, or energy efficiency as factors in their buying decision, Reed-Granger says the company wanted to throw another factor into the mix. "You can't always wait for the consumer to come to you and where your product is sold," she says. "You have to go to where the consumer is."

Two years ago, Whirlpool's PR department developed an internal tagline - "unexpected but relevant" - designed to guide its activities. It has since helped to guide the effort of the company's entire marketing communications team, including partnerships with other companies.

"It puts the impetus on emotional PR rather that just traditional PR," she says. "One of the things that I wanted to work on when I joined the company a couple of years ago was expanding the definition of PR. So few people understood more than media relations. There's so much more to it now."

That philosophy has helped guide unions with "unexpected but relevant" companies and organizations. This summer, the team sought a unique way to promote the launch of the Whirlpool Gold dishwasher with PowerScour technology, a machine that does not require any pre-rinsing of dishes.

The PR team suggested partnering with OPI, a leading nail-lacquer manufacturer known for giving its various colors quirky names. Research had shown that 70% of women have a manicure on a biweekly basis, and, of those, 55% reported washing dishes as the chore that most destroys their nails. So Whirlpool teamed up with OPI to develop a new limited-edition nail lacquer line, aptly named "I Don't Do Dishes."

The line, available until February 2007, features three colors: "I Don't Do Dishes," "More Time for Me," and "Rinse Charming."

That PR idea became the center of an integrated campaign that included ads and point-of-purchase displays, including Whirl- pool dishwashers and literature in select OPI salons.

"You'd never expect to see a dishwasher, let alone literature about a dishwasher, at a salon," says Reed-Granger, admitting that because the connection between chipped nails and washing dishes isn't a stretch, it's surprising someone didn't make it sooner. "That is the heart of 'unexpected but relevant.' It may not be expected, but it's perfectly on target with your brand and your products."

"They're looking for fresh ways to approach [PR] - and it can't just be media relations," says Maggie O'Neill, director at Peppercom, Whirlpool's AOR. "Their target is an active balancer, and [a PR or marketing partnership] has to be something that resonates with that person. It can't be something that's a really hard fit."

Another program that falls into that category is Whirlpool's Building Blocks program with Habitat for Humanity. The company has long donated a new refrigerator and range stove to every house the organization builds. But this month, the company will sponsor the building of 10 homes in one week on an entire block in Nashville, TN.

"That is a very unusual thing for this type of brand to do," says Reed-Granger. "You would think that would be more synonymous with a building products company, [but] it's a brand and corporate social responsibility story. We're finding ways to expand the story to share it."

Jeff Davidoff, VP of marketing and brand communications for Whirlpool, says that he views PR as an equal part of the company's very integrated marketing mix.

"I see our role as a client to foster an environment of trust and respect in which all agencies have an equal voice - and PR is one of those," he says. "There is no above the line or below the line. We really try to focus on finding the big ideas to integrate around."

That integration idea carries fully into the company's dealings with its marketing communications agencies, which meet weekly to brainstorm on upcoming campaigns.

While "I Don't Do Dishes," the most successful integrated campaign to employ the idea of "unexpected but relevant" so far, was born out of a PR idea, Whirlpool acknowledges that concepts can come from any of the marketing disciplines. Still, the company's commitment to PR is strong.

"The respect for PR within this corporation is astounding," Reed-Granger says. "If the brand managers or marketing directors have a meeting, they will do anything possible to make sure PR is at the table from the get-go. That's a significant improvement in just the past 18 months. People see the value of it."

At a glance

Whirlpool Corp.

Chairman and CEO:
Jeff Fettig

Benton Harbor, MI

Revenue and latest earnings:
$19 billion (annual sales)  

GE, Electrolux

Key trade titles:
Appliance Magazine, Electronic House, Kitchen & Bath Business, Builder, Professional Builder, Appliance Design, Remodeling, Dwell

Marcomms Team:   
Jeff Davidoff, VP, marketing, brand comms
Audrey Reed-Granger, director of marketing/PR for brand portfolio
Yvonne Erickson, director of marketing, Whirlpool brand
Tom Hassett, director of advertising/POS
Joyce Karel, director of CRM
Daniel Cooke, marketing senior manager, interactive

Marketing Services agencies:  
Arc Worldwide, ARS Advertising, Digitas, Miller Brooks, Optimedia International, Peppercom, Publicis, Smith-Dahmer, and Walton Isaacson

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