In early 2000, national online apartment guide and PR21 kicked off a search for the messiest college apartment in the U.S. with the first Messiest College Apartment Contest.  The contest awarded $10,000 cash to the college student with the messiest apartment. The campaign’s primary objectives were to distinguish as the most visual online apartment guide and to creatively capture mindshare among target audiences. Created by PR21, the contest surpassed expectations. With only $63,000 and four months to implement this contest, PR21 placed more than 443 total print and broadcast hits for a total audience reach of 37,371,157.


The online apartment guide market was becoming saturated with new players trying to capture renters and build market share. needed to distinguish itself as the most visual national apartment guide through key message placements across a wide-scale of media. In addition, needed to develop a creative publicity campaign to build mindshare with its target audience.  PR21 created the Messiest College Apartment Contest to help meet its business needs.



A number of competing online apartment guides were sprouting up within the industry, including Rent Net, Springstreet and Apartment Guide.  Although remained number two among the competition, it was necessary to make stand out within the marketplace to build even greater mindshare.

AUDIENCE’s primary target audience is male and female college students, aged 18 to 24, who are looking to make the transition from college life to professional living.  According to Jupiter Research, 92 percent of this demographic is the most ‘connected’ to the Internet of any other group, and ranked within the Top 10 sites visited annually.

Messy Facts

PR21 conducted research by consulting sources and reading waste trade magazines to develop the “Messy Fact Sheet,” a factual look at the habits and lifestyles of people and messiness. This fact sheet was used to give creative fodder to media in order to ‘hook’ reporters and encourage story placement.


Program Objectives

To generate significant local and national media coverage of the contest and

To raise awareness of with college students - heavy Internet users who are looking to make the transition from college life to professional living - while conveying brand messages.

Position as the most visual national apartment guide through key message placement across a wide-scale of media.

Program Strategies

Leverage a unique human interest story.

Educate the media, through the Web site, about the highly visual capabilities of

Develop relationships with national media as well as media in areas in which has strong content.

Offer compelling visuals through a video news release that can easily and quickly be used by broadcast media.


The contest needed to be implemented from idea conception to winner announcement in a four-month time frame. This was necessary to enable to announce the winner before the end of the school year, to reach graduating students, and by the beginning of moving season, the time of year in which most renters use resources such as


Program Tactics Executed by PR21

  • Contest Announcement 
  • Distributed press release announcing the contest to college newspapers and radio stations, national wire services, radio stations and general newspaper lifestyle editors. 
  • Actively pitched the contest to college newspapers and radio stations, radio stations in the top 10 DMAs, and newspaper and magazine lifestyle editors. 
  • Distributed flyers at top college events. 
  • Finalists Announcement 
  • Distributed media alert about the finalists to wire services, newspaper lifestyle editors, and radio and television media. 
  • Pitched the future winner to national TV talk and lifestyle shows. 
  • Offered finalist visuals to media through the web site. 
  • Winner Announcement 
  • Granted exclusive coverage of winner announcement to Extra! Entertainment Magazine Show
  • Distributed press release, with strong message focus on site features, announcing the winner to national wire services, newspaper lifestyle editors, radio and television outlets. 
  • Distributed winner’s photo and caption to newspaper editors via PhotoWire. 
  • Actively pitched winner to key print (newspaper and glossy lifestyle magazines), radio and TV media. 
  • Placed VNR, photos, virtual tour of winner’s apartment, contest logo and press release on, an online resource for registered media 
  • Coordinated check presentation ceremony. 
  • Video News Release 
  • Produced and distributed a video news release (VNR) and B-roll of the winning apartment to approximately 10,000 television, radio and print outlets. 
  • Developed creative way to illustrate the extreme messiness of the contest winner and to highlight the visual nature of 
  • Worked with Image Base Inc., Chicago, to film winner’s school and apartment and interview winner.


From the time the concept was initiated, PR21 had only four months to execute, in order to reach students before the school year ended. In addition the $63,000 allocated budget did not include an advertising budget. PR21 learned in the course of the program that most college radio stations either do not have programming to support such announcements or were on hiatus due to exams, graduation and summer sessions.


Media Goals Reached

Exclusive winner announcement on Extra! Entertainment Magazine show

Video News Release usage by 245 television stations. The story aired more than 283 times across the country with total viewership of 25,270,716.

Radio tour on more than 47 stations across the country, with listenership of 5,047,400.

More than 443 total print and broadcast hits for a total audience reach of 37,371,157.

Qualitative Goals Reached

Contest mentions: at least (1) in each story

Messaging: at least 50% conveyed at least one brand message

Brand Messaging: is a leading national online apartment guide represents 1 million apartments in 50 states and Washington, DC offers the most detailed and visual apartment ads on the web