There are few product categories more cluttered or aggressive in their marketing/community relations than wireless phones. Companies merge or change their names seemingly every day resulting in massive ad campaigns to get people familiar with the new entity. Meanwhile, consumers ping-pong between offers for better plans or sexier phones without much resistance. Verizon Wireless (VZW) sought to generate long-term brand support through community relations that would set the brand apart from the “sell at all costs” climate of its competitors.
And let us not forget the growing call for legislation to ban wireless phone use while driving. This challenge lead rbb Public Relations to create a community relations plan to showcase VZW’s commitment to its customers in a tangible fashion and incorporate an unprecedented “endorsement” from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the state’s premier road safety organization. This unique private-public partnership proved that a state agency such as the FHP, with a record of shying away from private sector partnerships, felt the campaign was too compelling and persuasive to turn down.
Although the planning and coordination went smoothly, the campaign did not come without delicate balancing. The FHP was understandably careful about lending its image to a campaign with a commercial entity, especially because it was not receiving any endorsement fee. VZW and rbb committed to keeping campaign collaterals and events focused strictly on safety, not selling phones.
And to keep this goal clear throughout the process, rbb arranged an oversight board consisting of top FHP officers and VZW management who reviewed numerous drafts of materials before agreeing upon final designs and messages. Another major concern was assuring the FHP that the campaign and its messages would reach the entire state, versus merely the large media and commercial markets. To fully satisfy this need, rbb created a turnkey program and provided materials for all 10 FHP units across Florida to conduct their own localized campaigns.
During this time, Sprint launched its PCS Vision service, while AT&T heavily promoted its new mLife services and Voice Stream focused on rebranding itself into T-Mobile. The community relations climate was void. rbb had been monitoring research, legislative action and media coverage regarding the use of wireless phones while driving.
All three components were moving in a direction against the desires and messages of VZW. Studies were being published reporting the dangers of using a wireless phone while driving, municipalities were passing and considering laws banning the use of wireless phones behind the wheel, and the media were reporting/editorializing on the studies and new laws, as well as spotlighting incidents in which wireless phones played a role in accidents.
Some studies were critical of all use of the wireless phones while driving, but others targeted the use of handsets. One major study ranked various other common behaviors – eating, reading, putting on make-up, etc. – as more dangerous than using wireless phones while driving. In addition, rbb had many statistics and anecdotal reports on the safety use and benefits of wireless phones by drivers (numbers of mobile 911 calls, numbers of consumers who have a wireless phones primarily for safety/emergencies, reports of wireless phones helping save victims of accidents, crime, etc.).
rbb used this positive information to help convince the FHP that wireless phones were a road safety benefit, as long as drivers used them responsibly, particularly with a hands-free device.
rbb sought to produce a campaign that would: partner VZW with another ‘driver safety’ organization, specifically the FHP; create a presence of the national VZW “Drive responsibly . . . call with care” campaign in Florida; gain statewide media attention and d) initiate a flexible, on-going campaign with new educational and informational collaterals.
A main component of the strategy was to highlight the role of the FHP to greatly boost media attention and public acceptance. rbb and VZW decided that an FHP trooper should be the prominent image in every campaign communication. rbb suggested using FHP’s 10-year veteran Trooper Charlotte Thompson, who already was the “face of the FHP” on a variety of the agency’s communications. In addition, any news media contact would officially come from FHP public information officers, although all communications were created and delivered by rbb.
The first “news” would be the launch of the partnership and statewide campaign, with subsequent announcements featuring headset give-away events in local markets. Other message delivery would include billboards, PSAs and a variety of collaterals (posters, brochures, tip cards, etc.) displayed in all of VZW’s retail locations in Florida. To boost the public’s participation in the campaign, VZW would provide 10,000 hands-free headsets (retail value of more than $100,000) for distribution in conjunction with the FHP at co-sponsored events.
Publicity would be the primary method of promoting the campaign and headset giveaways, while collaterals would deliver specific messages/calls to action.
After producing the collaterals, the campaign was set to launch just before Memorial Day—one of the year’s major weekends for road traffic offering interest to drivers, as well as capturing a good news hook for media. rbb conducted a special launch event at a busy Florida Turnpike rest plaza, in which 1,000 headsets were given away to residents and travelers. Imagine, you pull off the to make a pit stop and a VZW representative gives you a free headset and some information.
A wireless phone company has just done something more than try to sell you something. You go away thinking VZW is different. In addition, FHP conducted general safety demonstrations to drivers e.g., proper seatbelt use. More than a dozen news outlets attended the launch and rbb directed the filming of a VNR at the same time.
In addition to the pre-event advisory, rbb sent via newswire a full press release – along with a photo of the trooper beneath a campaign billboard – throughout the state on the morning of the launch. The VNR was edited that night and distributed via satellite the next day where it was picked up by more than 20 stations. Radio PSAs, featuring the FHP trooper/spokesperson, were sent to stations across Florida in the days that followed.
After the initial launch event in South Florida, “safety days” were conducted in multiple cities throughout the state.
rbb then produced and delivered a “Wireless Safety Handbook” to all FHP public information officers throughout the state, describing how they can organize and promote similar events whenever they choose. The turnkey kit included media release templates, campaign collaterals and headsets.
In addition to creating a working, long-lasting relationship between VZW and FHP, rbb delivered on its goals to initiate a statewide safety campaign that touched the lives of thousands of Floridians and brought awareness to thousands more about the value of safe hands-free devices. Fostering an on-going campaign through the turnkey program was the icing on the cake.
Topline media results show that the “Drive Responsibly” Campaign placements reached 4,108,464 people, leading to an impression exposure of approximately 89,055,387 individuals to date.
Estimated advertising equivalency for the first month of the campaign launch totaled $177,281.69 for a return of investment (ROI) of 18:1.
The total estimated advertising equivalency of the campaign to date totals $222,435.20.
Florida coverage included news hits in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Naples, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Bradenton, Boca Raton, Lake City and Sarasota.
The campaign caught the eyes of media outside the state including outlets in Illinois, California and Kentucky.
Both VZW and the FHP were thrilled with all components of the campaign. FHP has pledged its continued support, and VZW has budgeted for additional/enhanced collaterals and 10,000 more headsets for 2003.