Seeking sweet influence
|Businesses aim to build brand with gifts, but the return on investment is sometimes sour.|
To promote its grand opening earlier this month, L'Auberge Casino and Hotel deployed several public relations strategies, including social media, traditional news releases and a dramatic use of tchotchke. The company, working with Wright Feigley Communications, sent a succession of fancy giveaways to media members in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, including teddy bears, plush towels, chocolate sculptures and barware. Each item was meant to plant a different story idea about the $368 million casino complex, says Wright Feigley partner Jeff Wright.
“There was a specific reasoning behind this,” Wright says. “We were trying to get reporters to understand that there are multiple stories to tell.”
The teddy bear was a nod to the pronunciation of the casino's often butchered name. The handmade chocolate referenced its high-end eatery. The glasses, its bar scene. The towels, its hotel and spa services. They were brand-appropriate gifts for L'Auberge, which has positioned itself as a Vegas-style casino, distinct from other regional venues, Wright says.
“The strategy gave a sense of the place. It was meant to cut through the clutter,” Wright says. “Not all media will take it, but we felt it was a successful way of showing what we have.”
Wright says Pinnacle, the gaming company that runs L'Auberge, didn't hesitate to invest in the knickknack strategy. They'd successfully used a similar tactic in another market. Wright says he heard favorable responses about the items from television journalists, and is hoping they and print reporters will translate them into diverse stories about everything from the casino's contribution to local job numbers to its chef's herb garden.
Part of the milieu of conferences, conventions, sporting events and parades, giveaways are among the oldest tricks in the public relations arsenal. But they have to be used strategically to garner return on investment and build a brand, says Jensen Moore-Copple, assistant professor of strategic communication the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.
“We're starting to see a little more targeted use of tchotchke than we used to,” she says. “You might see an icepack at a road race, rather than a T-shirt. You really want someone to connect with the item.”
Journalists can be a dicey bunch to shower with tchotchke, she says.
“Ultimately, you want to create something that ends up in the hands of your target market, your customer,” Moore-Copple says. “You're not necessarily going to get a lot of stories just because you send things, and a lot of publications have cracked down on gifts. It could be that it creates disdain.”
Businesses that invest in free goodies should think through their strategy, she says. In the case of the icepack, the freebie succeeds because it's useful.
Others succeed because they're attention-grabbing reinforcements of the brand—such as a piece of sod delivered in a pizza box as an invitation to a ground breaking, which Wright says he used for a former client.
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Others are useless items designed to sit on shelves. But if they've been issued in limited supply, the phenomenon around them can create a buzz for the brand, says Moore-Copple. Bobbleheads circulated at major-league ballparks in the 1990s became sought-after items by fans simply because they were given to a limited number of attendees.
“It created such demand. In some cases, people were lining up the day before a game,” she says. “It became an obsession.”
Ann Edelman, Zehnder Communications director of public relations, says gifts should be distributed carefully and are one ingredient in a larger strategy.
“There's a potential negative to simply blast them, or to send them to the wrong people,” she says. “They're really just a tactical tool in an entire branding process.”
Edelman has used them routinely to help clients connect with target markets, but adds that some companies are forgoing tchotchke in favor of an increased focus on social media.
“It's another way people can reach out to consumers and build relationships with them,” she says.
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