Ever wondered if it is possible to take a company that had been in business for 18 months, yet enjoyed little public recognition, and turn it around so they were appearing in the press four times a day?  This is exactly what Access Communications was able to accomplish for Switchouse.com.  In a matter of five short months and with a total budget of 125K, Access took this drowning dot com, built a category for them and made them media darlings.  What follows is a summary of how a PR team at Access Communications was able to achieve this success for Switchouse-- something no other agency would dare take on.


Switchouse is the largest online swapping service in the world, with more than 3 million listings of entertainment goods in these entertainment categories:  CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, videogames, books, hardware and software.  Founded March 1999, Switchouse gives users the option to swap, buy or sell their goods online, instantly matching them with potential swap, buy and sell partners using Switchouse’s proprietary matching technology, Switchcraft.  


Switchouse is one of five companies competing in the crowded online swap space.  They neither had nor planned to invest in advertising efforts, which might have helped to generate awareness.  To complicate matters further, they had recently changed their name from Swaprat.com to Switchouse, further weakening their already dismal brand identity.  Finally, a week before coming to Access, Switchouse changed the company’s leadership to a CEO who was new to the swap/Internet arena.  


Access’ task was clear:  To get one hit in the first week after its initial meeting with Switchouse.  However, the overall goal was for Access to drive Switchouse’s membership and increase transactions.  The president was desperate to boost company morale and relieve pressure from board members and nervous investors.


Access took on the account as media were becoming increasingly skeptical of dot coms.  In addition, the Switchouse service was free.  This caused added media skepticism about Switchouse’s business model.   Finally, as was discovered through research, there was public confusion about swap versus auction sites.  Consumers and media thought they were one and the same.

Besides these industry challenges, Access faced internal challenges as well.  Although the client was skeptical of public relations, having been burned by their former PR agency, they were resting their sales goals and the entire success of the company on public relations. Their entire marketing budget of $25K per month was placed on PR.  Due to the limited budget and the urgency to get coverage, Access could not utilize long term, traditional PR tactics.  It had to do a media blitz.


Access quickly assessed where Switchouse stood amongst competitors and how the media perceived them by researching competitor sites, reviewing industry coverage and making spot calls to media.  The competitive comparison revealed good news.  Switchouse had three key advantages over the competition: technology that quickly matched users, a guarantee to cover damaged goods and bad transactions, and most importantly, the largest number of listings available to swap, buy or sell.  Despite this, the media were unfamiliar with Switchouse and weary of the business model.  Access learned through a media audit and coverage analysis that there was no one company that claimed to “own” the swap category.   This laid the groundwork for Access’ media campaign. 


Beyond the immediate task of getting one hit in the first week, Access’ overall objectives were as follows:  to brand Switchouse as the market owner of swap, get coverage, drive traffic to the site in order to increase transactions and members, and increase general awareness about the company by educating the consumer and media audiences on swap.


To accomplish these objectives, Access would need to address two audiences.  The indirect audience consisted of Switchouse’s target demographic of males age 18-28, females age 21-35 and the investment community.  Access focused on males and females in the above age groups because this audience would have a lot of inventory to swap, along with disposable income to purchase items on the site.  To reach this indirect audience, Access targeted the direct audience of media—consumer, business and colleges – to accomplish the objectives.


With the audiences identified, Access aggressively pursued its objectives using these strategies:  educate media on swap vs. auction, explain Switchouse’s business model to media and how they generate revenue, and leverage the Switchouse benefits and experience.

To accomplish this, Access incorporated the following key messages into every pitch:

  • Switchouse is the world’s largest swapping site
  • Switchouse offers an alternative way to shop without cash which is safe, fun and free
  • Switchouse is capturing a social evolution, tapping into the $180 billion marketplace of used goods


After consultation with the client, Access set these measurable objectives for the first five months:

Quick hits:  1 article in first week

Holiday:  5 hits

Media tours:  4 appointments per tour

News: 1 hit per announcement

Most wanted:  5 specific hits requested by CEO

College outreach:  1 hit per month

To meet these objectives, Access initiated a media blitz consisting of seasonal pitches, business angles, company news announcements, media tours, college outreach and an editorial calendar program.  One pitch that was received particularly well was:  “Didn’t like that Barry Manilow CD your girlfriend’s mom gave you?  Swap it for Sega’s NFL2K1 with no hurt feelings.”


Access exceeded all of the measurable objectives, securing 481 hits in five months—that’s an average of four hits per day, reaching a total audience of 41,490,746 people with more than 51,200,000 impressions overall.  Here’s a side-by-side summary of the target objectives with actual results:



Actual Result

Quick hits

1 article in first week

2 TV & 4 print

Media tours

4 appointments per tour

16 appt./2 tours

Most wanted

5 specific hits

1.3 hits/announcement


5 hits

Hits in all 5 targets


1 hit per announcement

14 print & 7 radio

College outreach

1 hit per month

1 hit (program initiated in 12/00)

Switchouse membership escalated from 100,000 to 500,000 people, and listings on the site increased by more than one million.