How Playboy uncovered its first non-nude magazine issue

The launch of Playboy's revamped magazine garnered two waves of national media coverage.

Company: Playboy Enterprises
Campaign: Playboy's Brand Shift to Non-Nude
Agency: PMK-BNC
Duration: October 1, 2015 – March 2016
Budget: $150,000

Playboy’s successful nudity-free website revamp in 2014 inspired the publication to release its first non-nude U.S. magazine issue this month.

When Playboy made the change to its site, unique visits per month went up 400% from 4 million to 16 million, over the course of three months.

Based on these results, Playboy CEO Scott Flanders decided to cover-up the U.S. magazine’s models for the first time in 62 years, introducing a completely new design and feel to the iconic brand.

The integrated campaign that bolstered this move featured a strategic media outreach effort, helping Playboy to garner two waves of national media coverage.

Strategy             
After Playboy’s website changed, the average age of the site’s visitors went from 47 down to 30.5, and a third of visitors returned each day, explained John Vlautin, Playboy’s head of corporate communications. The fresh approach, Vlautin added, resonated with the audience Playboy wanted to attract: millennials.

As magazines begin selling ads to fill pages months prior to an issue’s release, Playboy had the unique challenge of pitching ads for a magazine in the midst of a major redesign. The PR team knew that news of the Playboy brand going non-nude would leak once the advertising team began selling ads for the March issue in October 2015.

The campaign team decided to select one specific media outlet to produce a feature that would help tell the creative and business reasons for why Playboy decided to make such a historic shift away from nudity. 

Tactics
The Playboy campaign team, along with Flanders and the publication’s chief content officer Cory Jones, met with The New York Times to pitch the story about the brand going non-nude. The group communicated the new direction of the publication, providing insight into the new design, and the magazine’s editorial focus. Playboy released a press release about the changes on October 13, the same day that The New York Times feature ran.

Theresa Hennessey, VP, PR at Playboy, told PRWeek that the announcement garnered more media attention than she had ever seen in her 16 years at the publication.

"We had to be disciplined and make sure we stuck to the strategy," said Hennessey.  "We let The New York Times story do the talking and we waited to peel back the rest of the story until the outset of the new issue."

In December, Playboy invited production teams from ABC’s Nightline, UK outlet The Sunday Times, and CNN into early editorial meetings to help drive coverage of the creative process and document the new direction of the magazine. All three outlets produced feature pieces that highlighted the making of the new Playboy magazine.

The campaign team also reached out to many traditional media outlets, tech outlets, media trade publications, talk shows, and men's blogs. Marie Clare and several other women-centric publications covered the story, as well.

PMK-BNC helped to send copies of the new magazine to journalists and field media inquiries.

In February, Playboy hosted its 16th annual Super Bowl party, giving each attendee a copy of the redesigned magazine. The theme of party was The Future of the Playboy Brand.

"An Instagram-activated vending machine was also on-site so that people could tweet about the new issue and out would pop a copy of the new magazine," explained Hennessey.

Results
The initial announcement of Playboy going non-nude, kicked off by The New York Times feature and company press release in October 2015, generated nearly 7 billion media impressions.

Additionally, the unveiling of the Playboy March 2016 issue garnered nearly one billion media impressions. This included coverage from notable outlets including: ABC’s Nightline, CNN, USA Today, People, Fox News, the New York Post, the Huffington Post, and a mention on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The 2016 Playboy Super Bowl party generated roughly 600 million media impressions.

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