Paul Holmes 03 Jul 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
As business-to-consumer dot-com companies faced hostile press, layoffs, budget cuts and waning venture capitalist dollars, MS&L successfully increased visibility, site traffic and merchant recognition for BizRate.com. MS&L’s sound strategy, creativity and persistence resulted in company and executive profiles in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Bloomberg, CNN Television, Reuters, Industry Standard, and hundreds of other top‑tier outlets. As testament to our success, BizRate’s overall traffic ranking on PC Data Online increased by 385% since MS&L was selected to bolster the company’s public relations efforts.
In a media and financial environment hostile toward dot-com companies – particularly those categorized as business-to-consumer companies – MS&L was challenged with transforming BizRate.com, known almost exclusively as an Internet rating guide prior to 2000, to a viable consumer shopping site. In addition to the prevailing media scrutiny, BizRate.com is a privately-held company, so MS&L was unable to enlist financials or other success metrics to help tell the story. Finally, this goal was to be achieved without assistance from an advertising or branding campaign and with little hard news.
BizRate originally launched in the mid-1990’s as an aggregator of consumer data that was offered for resale under analysis to e‑commerce companies. During the start-up phase, BizRate employed a peer pressure-like effect that quickly and efficiently encouraged numerous companies to enlist in the BizRate Star Rating Guide, which used consumer-generated data to evaluate companies across multiple, standardized metrics. This data and in-depth research allowed BizRate entree into the media world as an e-commerce analyst firm. As the number of enlisted merchants reached critical mass, BizRate capitalized on the opportunity to expand the company’s business model to an online comparison-shopping site. By late 1999, prior to MS&L’s involvement on the account, BizRate launched anew as a shopping site but received little media attention. The company invested in, and shared with MS&L, significant quantitative research on the online comparison shopping market, competition and customer behavior. A media audit conducted by MS&L shortly after being awarded the account verified the team’s suspicions, including:
Media sought BizRate’s statistical research, revered as the benchmark for the entire dot-com landscape;
Media were growing increasingly reluctant to cover dot-com companies, especially following the stock market “tech wreck” of early 2000;
BizRate’s name was not consumer-friendly and implied the site was a business-to-business dot-com;
Competitors had already gained a significant foothold in the space and BizRate was perceived as a “me too.”
Based on this research, MS&L defined the following objectives:
- Garner positive news articles with influential business and trade press;
- Generate profile pieces and business stories in top tier outlets, featuring BizRate’s CEO and its founder;
- Position BizRate to key press as the only comparison shopping site that also provides statistics and anecdotes;
- Help drive traffic to BizRate.com and topple significant online shopping competitors;
Given the media backlash toward dot-coms, it was critical MS&L leverage existing BizRate strengths to win over media and garner positive press. Recognizing that the company’s research division generates the industry’s most credible data that is widely used as media proof points, MS&L enacted a strategic program leveraging this crucial competitive advantage. The MS&L team quickly established the BizRate executive team as reliable and efficient resources for all topics related to e‑commerce. Our strategy was to heighten executive visibility and build long-term relationships with key trade, consumer and business media through consistent face-to-face contact. MS&L leveraged the charisma of the founder to communicate the corporate story through anecdotes and colorful stories, and capitalized on the business acumen of the CEO to tell the business story. Once contacts were solidified, we rolled out program elements designed to transition media opinion of BizRate from an Internet research firm to a leading comparison shopping site. The stock market tech wreck proved to be a significant hurdle. As technology companies folded and IPOs were pulled, it was imperative that each of our tactics reinforced BizRate’s viability as a financially sound, long-term company, focused on traditional benchmarks for corporate success.
Due to the fact that BizRate.com is a privately held Internet company, MS&L created unique programs to resonate with media and result in positive articles. The creative campaign capitalized on timely news events; utilized BizRate’s real-time online shopper survey capabilities; profiled BizRate’s eccentric and experienced executive team; targeted top-tier press for multiple face-to-face meetings; and, tapped the BizRate “family” of more than 1,000 e-tailers. MS&L became increasingly valuable as our public relations expertise expanded to support BizRate’s business development department by presenting partnership opportunities through brand initiatives that resulted in a BizRate syndicated data feed to Bloomberg, one of the largest news services. All of these tactics were implemented to highlight BizRate’s leading – but little known – consumer attribute: That BizRate offers the widest choice of products and the most convenience and confidence of any online shopping site.
To influence media’s recognition of BizRate as a comparison-shopping site, MS&L executed the following programs:
Strategic Pitch Efforts – MS&L capitalized on media trends through consistent media monitoring. Once a trend was identified, we quickly crafted pitches that positioned BizRate as an industry “mover & shaker.” For example, during the tech wreck, we pitched BizRate as a private company thriving during unstable financial times. These pitches were used in all outreach efforts to pique reporter interest and to “get us in the door,” increasing our opportunities to communicate BizRate’s key messages. Additionally, MS&L supplemented day-to-day outreach efforts with strategic pitches designed to result in high-profile coverage.
Planned and Opportunistic Media Tours – After extensive media training, we sent the executive team on tour to build one-on-one relationships, introduce BizRate to key media and communicate the shopping story. We leveraged executive travel as an opportunity to book media appointments and schedule desk-side briefings. Ultimately our persistent efforts paid off as BizRate’s CEO is considered a friend of many media and has even been known to occasionally hit the ski slopes with influential press!
BizRate BizDex – Having the industry’s gold standard of e-commerce data is one thing, but knowing how to showcase it to the world takes the work of MS&L! Knowing that media are hungry for research, we implemented the BizDex program, which offers to media BizRate’s data on a syndicated basis. The program is still in its infancy, but Bloomberg has signed on and is now utilizing BizRate’s data via its international wire service.
BizRate HoliDaily – MS&L helped BizRate dominate the holiday season by regularly disseminating e‑commerce sales and trend information through “BizRate.com HoliDailies.” Daily e-mail updates were sent to influential reporters followed by strategic pitch efforts to encourage coverage and interviews with BizRate executives.
BizRate appeared in more than 9,000 news articles during 2000, with more than 1,500 articles running in November and December alone
Secured a four-page profile in Business Week of BizRate co-founder that included photography
Secured feature profile in Wall Street Journal including front page teaser and caricatures of BizRate executives
Secured interviews with BizRate’s CEO on CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg TV and several major market stations
BizRate HoliDaily and supplemental holiday-related PR efforts resulted in broadcast audience reach in excess of 150 million impressions and a corresponding ad value of more than $1.5 million
Secured feature articles in numerous trade press including Industry Standard, Advertising Age, PC Magazine, PC World, Interactive Week, Network World, etc.
Placed BizRate in articles in top dailies including NY Times, LA Times, SF Chronicle, SF Examiner, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, etc.
Secured BizRate syndicated data feed with Bloomberg News Wire
Secured media interviews with top-tier consumer books such as Family Circle, McCall’s, Redbook, YM, Cosmo Girl, Teen People, Seventeen, Self, Working Mother, Baby Talk and Fitness
BizRate’s Success as tracked by PC Data Online:
Pre-MS&L (Jan. 2000)
MS&L (Sept. 2000)
BizRate’s Success as tracked by Media Metrix:
Pre-MS&L (Jan. 2000)
MS&L (Aug. 2000)
Rank Among Shopping Sites
While other consumer dot-coms are being challenged with negative press as a result of high capital burn rates, lay-offs and closed doors, BizRate has enjoyed significant positive coverage in major national media and key trades. Through MS&L’s aggressive PR campaign, we have won over the media – many of whom now frequently call upon our client for commentary on comparison-shopping and e-commerce. MS&L was invited to present a six-month account review to the CEO, founder and top-level executive team – all of whom were impressed with how we successfully changed media perception and heightened consumer awareness of BizRate. Today, MS&L plays an integral role in, not only the communications strategy, but also product development, launch, marketing, corporate initiatives and crisis planning.