A top priority for Sprint PCS Public Relations in 2000 was to garner publicity for the newest handsets and services in the “gift-guide” sections of leading consumer publications during the 2000 holiday season. As a company whose main customers are general consumers and whose revenues depend on handset and program sales, Sprint PCS and its agency, Metzger Associates, understood the gravity of the task at hand. To accomplish this PR feat, Sprint PCS and Metzger Associates took a creative new approach. By loading the coolest new phones into a silver, James Bond-ish briefcase and venturing out on a media tour, Sprint PCS gave reporters and editors a clear, first-hand look at the latest product and service offerings from Sprint PCS. The Holiday Briefcase Tour proved to be a smash PR success, as evidenced by the media clips that continued to hit pages well into the new year.
To put this success into perspective: in previous years, Sprint PCS phones had their share of limelight in top-tier national publications such as USA Today, Time and The New York Times. These publications historically had been receptive to including “techie” products from a blue chip company like Sprint PCS, whose name appears in multiple areas of the publications on a regular basis. The media relations challenge was to convince the reporters and publications who traditionally did not cover high-tech products and services not simply to consider Sprint PCS as a contender for its gift guides, but to endorse the latest and greatest handsets as viable gifts alongside Razor scooters, Manolo Blahnick’ shoes and Sony Playstation 2s. In this respect, the Holiday Briefcase Tour forced the public relations teams, the Sprint PCS executives, consumer reporters and editors to shift their thinking about a telephone’s place in a “lipstick-lineup”.
Conversely, Sprint PCS and Metzger Associates had the opportunity to explore new areas for the wireless communications arena. This personal and professional door opened for the public relations teams at a time when trendy wireless communications, hardware and services were still considered very technical, expensive and often unavailable.
Historically, Sprint PCS had not placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on being covered by the national consumer reporters and editors. And, although Metzger Associates had strong relationships with business and technology media, the agency’s emphasis had never been on consumer initiatives. It became quickly apparent to Metzger Associates and Sprint PCS that the key to success with this mission was to research, define and get to know each reporter covering the high-tech space in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Vibe and Glamour. Unlike traditional technical publications with editors assigned to the wireless beat, these fashion, lifestyle and music publications are still exploring the high-tech arena. The onus of telecommunications coverage was one passed from accessories editor to fashion assistant to editorial assistant to editor-in-chief. Metzger Associates recognized that in order to penetrate the national consumer media and build relationships with appropriate reporters, it would be imperative to begin media research efforts in late-spring, despite the fact that publications would not close their holiday gift guide articles until mid- to late-October.
In doing this, Metzger Associates sought to position Sprint PCS as a leader in a new consumer market — that of the holiday shoppers. This would make Sprint PCS the only carrier in the lifestyle/consumer publication segment — opening up a new arena for coverage and branding, by aligning it with popular culture. In all, the team’s objectives were clear: in obtaining this coverage, they would increase the sales of Sprint PCS’ handset and service plan packages during and following the holiday shopping season.
In order to accomplish this hefty task and leave room on the calendar for implementation, Metzger Associates developed a timeline. Publication-by-publication, the team lifted the organizational layers and located the person assigned to the holiday gift guide stories. Once identified, these editors and reporters needed education. In order to make the publications realize the importance of including Sprint PCS in their winter issues, public relations representatives had to introduce a new kind of thinking – one where accessories were not just to be worn, they were to be used. Countless conversations proved effective when the team began scheduling media interviews.
In July, Metzger Associates started scheduling interviews for a long-lead media tour that would allow Sprint PCS to present the newest technologies and hardware available to the consumers for the holiday time frame.
The media tour took place in August. Immediately following, Metzger Associates stayed in touch with the reporters to get them the products, captions and photography they needed to include Sprint PCS in their magazines. This was not as easy as anticipated — in the last months of the year, the holiday gift guide responsibilities tended to change hands several times at many publications.
In late September, Metzger Associates began pitching Sprint PCS for a short-lead media tour with top-tier business and consumer publications.
The short lead tour took place in November and the team used the same follow-up tactics with those reporters.
All told, the Holiday Briefcase Tour coordinated by Metzger Associates and Sprint PCS produced 28 “hits” in major national consumer magazines and consumer portions of daily national newspapers, totaling more than 62 million impressions. This does not count the scores of additional holiday gift guide placements in local markets or the significant numbers of electronic, radio and TV placements that resulted from this heavy holiday push.
Sprint PCS has a record number of phones scheduled to launch in 2001 with new and legacy manufacturing partners. When asked why they chose to pass more handsets over to Sprint PCS, the manufacturers directly referenced Sprint PCS’ public appearance and reputation for carrying top-of-the-line hardware. Additionally, they expressed interest in jumping on Sprint PCS PR-bandwagon because it generated so much positive press. Since then, both Sanyo and Samsung have sought Sprint PCS out when launching a new product so the Sprint PCS PR team can launch it.