A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a small, unique event at the Verizon “Concept Store” at the Mall of America. I say “unique” because it was pitched as a red carpet event where Verizon would show off its latest holiday technologies and gadgets.
Now that’s a different approach, I thought. And, I happened to be recording a podcast with Kevin Hunt at the Mall of America right before the event, so the timing worked out perfectly.
I’m no tech blogger, so I wasn’t going to blog about the event from that perspective. But, I thought the red carpet strategy was an interesting approach from a large company like Verizon to roll out its newest holiday products.
Here were my general thoughts, impressions and takeaways from the event (from a PR planning perspective):
Invite influencers–but don’t discriminate too closely
When Verizon pitched me initially on this event, I was kinda perplexed. I don’t talk about tech all that often. I’m a PR/marketing blogger. But, the more I thought about it (and saw who else they were inviting), it started to click. They didn’t have to limit the list to JUST tech bloggers. Why not open the list up to all sorts of local “influencers?” After all, virtually everyone is a target for the types of technology they were rolling out on the red carpet.
Get Verizon employees involved
Instead of hiring actors (or stand-ins) to showcase the Verizon products, they simply let their employees do it. And, largely, they seemed to have a lot of fun with it. Simple idea, but a really nice way for the Verizon folks to get those local store employees more engaged with media and local influencers.
Make the red carpet fun!
Verizon really did have fun with the red carpet idea. They had people showcasing drones, waterproof technology (using a fish tank, which was kinda fun) and even ‘smart’ soccer balls. They even asked local media personality, Alison Kaplan to emcee the event, which I thought was pretty smart (instead of having the Verizon folks do it). I even heard local tech columnist and friend, Julio Ojeda-Zapata say afterward, “This was definitely a first for me. I don’t get too many ‘firsts’ anymore.”
So, overall, I really thought Verizon did a nice job with this event. If I had any constructive feedback, it might be to showcase fewer products (man they flew through a lot in 20 minutes). And, maybe have a little more fun with the GIANT screen behind the red carpet. But, that’s really nit-picking.
I also had a chance to ask Karen Smith, PR manager with Verizon (Great Plains), a few questions about the event. See below.
How did you measure success for an event like this?
We consider the event a great success – both in attendance and in media and social coverage of the event. And, it was fun! Everyone had a great time.
What was the general approach going in?
We were looking to do something to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Verizon’s first Destination Store at the Mall of America. It was Nov. 21, 2013 that the store had it’s first official full day of business after a national announcement. We also wanted to preview Holiday Tech gadgets because of the slew of new devices available this year. And, increase knowledge of all the lifestyle smart accessories now available and our hands-on store design.
I thought you had a good turnout in terms of media/influencers–what were your expectations?
We wanted to have a minimum of 15 people at the event. We had RSVP’s from 20 and 18 came (two emailed that they had gotten ill and were not able to come). We had a mix of media and bloggers at the event, which was also a goal.
Seems like the Verizon employees were having fun–was this an employee engagement play, too (in a small way)?
We did leverage the expertise of some of our store employees who are “experience and solution specialists” and they had a great time participating in the show. I think now other employees would be anxious to be involved in future events!
I noticed Albert Maruggi there taking video–how do you plan to use the video you captured at the event? Or, maybe you’ve already used it!
Verizon has two content creation blogs – for the 15-state Midwest area at vzwmidwestarea.com and nationally on our website at news.verizonwireless.com. Albert was shooting video for a Midwest Area blog post about the show interviewing some of the attendees.
I noticed influencers from all walks of life at the event–not just “tech influencers.” What was your thinking when selecting “influencers” to reach out to? How did you conduct the outreach?
You are correct – we have worked for years with tech bloggers but we also work with various lifestyle bloggers because wireless devices are now used in facets of everyone’s life (or could be!). The Destination Store is also a Tech playground where products are in “lifestyle zones” and many of the bloggers had never been to our experience store. We had met most of the bloggers or worked with them before and we knew the event would have something for everyone.
Anything else to add?
We asked Alison Kaplan (Arik note: For those not in MSP, Alison is a local media personality/journalist) to emcee the show as she had attended events with the original store opening and is the Mall of America expert as well. We hoped to create a buzz for the Holidays and for Tech Lifestyle Fashion and use of the #VZTechHoliday hashtag.
Finally, I think the event showed our operations team and store general manager that we can have an event successfully in the store while it is open to the public. We usually have three or four free wireless workshops every day at the counter area behind the chairs. But the space is large enough to accommodate a live event and the red carpet and lighting added a nice touch.
One of our takeaways is the backlighting from the 27-foot brand focal wall killed a lot of the bloggers candid snapshots! The wall is interactive, if you ever stood in the foot prints and waved your hands, and we were not able to turn it off. We also would have the second public fashion show that ran Thursday night at 7 p.m. on a Saturday – now that we have had the event a crowded store would not be an issue.
Today’s Rock Star interview is with Tressa Robbins. Now, Tressa is one of those folks I don’t know all that well. We’ve never met in person. I’ve never heard her speak. But, I still feel like I know her a bit. Tressa has commented on my blog many times. We’ve went back and forth on Twitter. We’ve participated in Twitter chats together (back in the #journchat days!). In fact, now that I really think back, I’ve “known” Tressa for probably about four years now. But, I wanted to get to know her a bit better–so I asked her to participate in this interview. Let’s hear what she has to say about working for BurrellesLuce, PRSA and telecommuting…
You’ve been with BurrellesLuce for almost 12 15 years. In an era where people switch jobs every year, what’s kept you at Burrelles for all these years?
The nature of this industry lends itself to always having to learn new things. I think that’s the key to reducing burn-out…no two days are the same!
You’re also very active in PRSA. In fact, you’re the president-elect for the PRSA St. Louis chapter in 2013. What have been the biggest benefits of being involved in PRSA for you?
I’ve been a member of PRSA for nearly 10 years but only got really active in the past couple years, when my alma mater (SEMO U) PRSSA chapter asked me to be their professional adviser. I knew that the only way I could do that position (and them) justice was to become more involved with PRSA—so I can keep the students abreast of professional development events, networking opportunities, job openings, etc. I’ve been super involved this past year but it was still a bit of a surprise when I was asked to consider the President role! I’ve met lots of new people, made new friends, and learned from local speakers as well as national PRSA webinars.
On that note, what do you think the future holds for professional associations likes PRSA? Do they hold value for tomorrow’s PR pro?
I do. I think professional organizations in general are struggling a bit right now—not just from the economic point-of-view as many companies have slashed budgets (and are not reimbursing employees for professional association dues or activities), but also as the entire communications industry is shifting. So, let’s say my job is marketing as well as public relations which includes social media—do I join AMA, BMA, PRSA, SMC? Or, my job is both internal and external communications, do I join PRSA or IABC? Or perhaps I’m doing PR in a creative shop, do I join AAF, Ad Club or PRSA? Many of us belong to more than one group, but as we have to spend our money (and time) more selectively, something has to give, and I think we’re in a state of flux at the moment. Regardless, I do believe there’s both personal and professional value in belonging to and participating in these kinds of organizations.
You’ve been active on Twitter and other social networks for a while. We connected out there a number of years ago, in fact. Yet, many in our profession continue to shirk tools like Twitter as a waste of time, personally. What would you tell those people?
Yes, Tuesday was my 4 year Twitterversary (11/21/08)! As with all social media, it can definitely be a time-suck. You’d never know it now, but I came into the social media age kicking and screaming. I resisted joining Facebook. I really resisted joining Twitter because of how public it is. (I was old school and was used to keeping my private life and my professional lives separate.) I’m a bit surprised now (and little suspicious) if I can NOT find someone on social media! We are communicators and we have to be wherever our audiences are, or we are not doing our jobs effectively.
You’re also an active blog commenter–I know, because I often see you commenting on this blog! When so many people are just scanning blogs, why do you continue to take the time to comment? And, do you comment as part of your job–or do you do it for more personal reasons?
Both. I do scan hundreds of blogs, but ones that teach me something are the most valuable and I try to let the writer know that. Or if I feel that I can add to what another reader takes away from a post, I’ll take the time to share.
I know it’s cliche to ask this, but what’s been your biggest professional accomplishment? And why?
Oh my! That’s not something I’ve thought about a lot. I remember the first successful media relations pitch where I garnered front page coverage for our client (while working for an agency in St. Louis)—even though that’s been years ago, it was definitely one of my most exciting accomplishments. The other thing, more recent. As much as it surprises people who know, public speaking has never been my forte; however, I challenged myself once I became more involved with PRSA and PRSSA and last year began pitching myself as a speaker. Since then, I’ve spoken at a few local PRSSA events, four PRSSA regional conferences, and most recently co-presented at the national PRSSA conference. It still scares me, but I’m proud of myself for pushing through the fear J.
You telecommute from your home office in St. Louis–and you’ve been doing that for 10 years. What’s been your secret to success?
Yes, and more and more as I’m talking to PR pros, I’m find they’re doing the same. I’m actually not even in St. Louis anymore—I’m down in the southeast Missouri Ozarks now—although I’m in St. Louis at least every other week. It’s no secret, but in order to successfully work remotely, you have to be disciplined–and like what you do! You have to be a master at communicating and utilize all the tools available (instant messaging, email, phone, social networks, etc.) to make it work.
You serve as a community manager for Burrelles on Facebook and other social networks. Without giving away too many trade secrets, what have you found works well–and what hasn’t–in terms of connecting with PR professionals across the web?
Our marketing department manages the brand pages and feeds. By extension, I suppose I am a brand advocate for BurrellesLuce and do respond to company-related questions (and leads) but I try to keep my feed industry-related. I think that’s why I’m able to connect, converse and add value to my followers. Do I sell a service you may need? Sure, but I’m also a voice for the industry–not just my employer.
I realize the fact that I’m writing this post subverts my whole point, but I’m going to write it anyway because I think it’s an important conversation.
By now, you’ve probably seen the recent PR flame-out between Ocean Marketing (i.e., Paul Christoforo) and a customer (“Dave”) on a number of blogs across the Web (namely Penny Arcade, which “broke” the “story”). If you haven’t read about it (and if you haven’t, just Google “Ocean Marketing” to witness the insanity), I’ll boil it down for you in a couple sentences. Customer sends email to marketing agency repping gaming company wondering when new PS3 controllers will ship. Agency owner responds and that leads to a heated (and childish–I might add) discussion between the two. The email chain is sent by “Dave” to a popular gaming blog (Penny Arcade) and posted and the next thing you know everyone is talking and blogging about it.
We’ve seen this movie before, right?
Think about the Bloggess ordeal earlier this year with a PR rep.
Think back to the run-in Scott Stratten had with a surly PR fella in Vegas a couple years ago.
We’ve definitely seen this movie before.
And, I’m hear to tell you it’s boring. And horribly unproductive.
We get it. There are PR people out there that are poor at their jobs. Isn’t that true in every industry?
We get it. This guy behaved like a jerk . But, last I checked, the internet (and the world) is full of people who behave like jerks. Chances are you probably follow a few of them (I know I do).
We get it. The conversation that was published was reprehensible. It’s disgusting. None of us would act like this.
So, why not leave it alone?
If you’re the customer (“Dave”), why send it to Penny Arcade when you know damn well they’ll publish it and you know what will happen next?
If you’re a blogger, why blog about it? (again, I get the irony here since I’m blogging about something I’m encouraging others NOT to blog about–hang with me)
Think about it.
By blogging about this incident you’re giving more credence to the situation than it deserves (this is nothing more than some ass-hat making a fool of himself–happens EVERY day on the Web, almost literally).
By blogging about this you’re reinforcing a perception that far too many people already have about our industry: That it’s full of shysters like this guy. Please stop now.
And, by blogging about this, you’re merely piling on. Adding fuel to a fire that’s already raging out of control.
Why not just read the original Penny Arcade post, ackowledge the fact that you don’t want to repeat this behavior ever, and move on.
Our industry will benefit.
And you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself.
PS: By the way, want some smart thinking about this “ordeal”? Check out Kevin Dugan’s post on the Bad Pitch Blog yesterday.