'Extreme' effort builds exposure

When Extreme Makeover: Home Edition comes to town to build a house for a deserving family, there's a lot more than elbow grease that goes into those walls.

When Extreme Makeover: Home Edition comes to town to build a house for a deserving family, there's a lot more than elbow grease that goes into those walls.

Last November, the ABC show descended upon Sandpoint, ID, and asked local builder Sullivan Homes to construct a house for an as-yet-unnamed family. Sullivan readily accepted, and two weeks before the construction started, it asked Desautel Hege Communications (DHC) to help manage the media flurry that would accompany the project.

Having to adhere to ABC's specific policies regarding how much information could be disseminated before the family itself was notified at the "door knock," DHC was left with little time and few details with which to work.


Without knowing the back story of the family or the exact timeline of the shoot, DHC had to take a preparational rather than informational approach to the entire campaign. ABC's restrictions regarding the use of its stars and the release of information meant that the firm would have to strike a balance between adhering to all the rules and garnering as much media exposure as possible.

"What we had to continually go back to is that Sullivan Homes was our client, and we had to get some good coverage for them," says Lisa Cargill, account executive at DHC. "They were putting hours and dollars into this, and were really relying on media coverage and public recognition as being their reason for doing it."


In the week before the door knock, DHC put together an extensive phone tree of media contacts, spokespeople, and alternate interviews for outlets looking to talk with the family, which would be sent away on vacation during construction.

"That's when the list came in handy, for those backup interviews and story ideas that we could feed the media and ask, 'How about this ? Have you thought about covering this?'" says Cargill.

Although there was no set format for media releases, the firm looked at what had been done for previous episodes in order to build templates for fact sheets, media kits, and daily updates. Once the family was announced, DHC kept the mostly regional media up to date with daily recap calls and progress reports that were quickly put through ABC's elaborate approval process. Because live footage was prohibited, DHC provided on-site staff to escort visiting media.


Months before the episode actually aired, the project saw airtime from local TV news shows, and print in dailies and weeklies in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. DHC pitched building trade magazines to help build an image for Sullivan Homes, which was relatively unversed in the media aspects of the business.

Visitors to Sullivan Homes' Web site saw an almost 350% increase, and the publicity led local company First Horizon to spearhead a scholarship fund for the family's education, raising nearly $20,000.


Thanks to the exposure, Sullivan Homes has been able to go into the community and help a family with an "extreme" project every month. "It opened doors with a lot of different people and developers from other areas that have gotten to know us from that experience," says Lori Sullivan, design coordinator at Sullivan Homes.

PR team: Sullivan Homes (Spokane Valley, WA) and Desautel Hege Communications (Spokane, WA)

Campaign: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition  media relations campaign

Duration: November 12-19, 2005

Budget: Pro bono

PRWeek's view

The key to this campaign was DHC's forethought in recognizing that although the show was national, the campaign's appeal at the time of construction was regional. The location made it hard for major news outlets to provide coverage, and the contract restrictions didn't exactly lend themselves to national media. The firm's refusal to expend limited resources on what was sure to be the diminished returns of a national outreach allowed DHC to devote its time to guiding local media through ABC's intricate approval process, minimizing the loss of exposure owing to red tape.

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