How do you generate awareness for a new consumer website among a highly techno-averse audience; help generate “buzz” and word-of-mouth recommendations for the site with no advertising in the marketing mix; and attract print and broadcast attention nationwide … all with a tone that echoes the site’s emphasis on fun and creativity?
In the case of its client Shutterfly – the nation’s leading online photo service – Maloney & Fox found a way: the Shutterfly Soirée. A Maloney & Fox representative and Shutterfly’s director of communications convene small gatherings of women in a comfortable setting (usually a third-party hostess’s home) and walk them through the capabilities and nuances of the Shutterfly service (the nation’s leading online photo finisher).
Not only did the PR team need to generate awareness of the company among Shutterfly’s core target audience of women with families, but on a more fundamental level, it needed to educate an audience that for the most part had little or no knowledge about the world of digital photography and online photo-finishing, let alone our client’s range of products and services.
In light of this, the objectives included creating awareness of the Shutterfly service; demystifying Shutterfly’s technology and educating women about Shutterfly’s ease of use; stimulating trials and signups, and increasing monthly photo uploads; and establishing Shutterfly as a company that cares about its customers
 The PR team began the research phase by combing through Shutterfly’s existing in-house research. Primed with their stats (e.g., 65 percent of Shutterfly users are women; the median Shutterfly customer age is 39), it conducted its own anecdotal/non-scientific exploration of the best ways to get women to overcome their aversion to “going digital” with their photography. The team learned that “hand-holding” support would be the determining factor in women’s willingness to learn; 75 percent of the women interviewed revealed that if they could have someone talk and walk them through the Shutterfly “experience,” they’d be more than eager to try the service.
 Taking its lead from the Tupperware parties of yore, the PR team sought to meet and educate our audience on a very personal level, in a very personal setting. The Soirée is a forum where one woman hosts an evening for 5-10 of her friends. The evening is moderated by a Maloney & Fox representative and the Shutterfly director of communications, who walk Soirée guests through the basics of the Shutterfly site.
Soirées can be customized for specific audiences as well. For example, the team conducted a Soirée for expectant mothers, to showcase Shutterfly’s baby-related photo products and services.
The location of the Soirées was another issue that played into our stealth program strategy. M&F held the first three Soirées in Kansas City, Rochester, and Cleveland, the homes of Hallmark, Kodak and American Greetings, respectively. The PR team chose these locations in order to take our messages directly to those living in the hometowns of our competition (and to sow seeds among these companies that might yield future business partnership opportunities). The team has since held Soirées in other key target cities (e.g., Las Vegas, Seattle, New York, Charlotte).
The second aspect of the strategy involved media outreach. The team approaches print and broadcast outlets in each market with offers of in-studio or phone interviews with a Shutterfly spokesperson, and private Shutterfly tutorials. The press is also invited to attend and photo/videograph each Soirée.
The Shutterfly Soirées have achieved results on three levels.
The first is the “word of mouth” success that clients covet. Though difficult to quantify, the company has received enough anecdotal evidence to know that our events encourage attendants to proselytize on behalf of our client to their friends and family.
Second, the Soirées have received extensive national and local print and broadcast coverage. Some of the highlights include in-person broadcast interviews with our spokesperson (e.g., WDAF-TV Kansas City, FOX; WHEC-TV, Rochester, NBC; KTNV-TV, Las Vegas, ABC; WDOK-FM Cleveland); numerous print features (e.g., Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle); and a nationally-released news story by Gannett News Service.
Third – perhaps most importantly – the events have generated the kind of bottom-line results that our client is most interested in. Since we began the Soirées, Shutterfly has enjoyed a 63 percent increase in print volume (the lifeblood of the company); two straight quarters of profitability, a full year ahead of projections; 70,000 new members per month; and a 100 percent increase in all of Shutterfly’s most significant measurements (new members, photo uploads, print orders, revenues).
Says Shutterfly CEO Andy Wood: “The Soirées have injected enthusiasm into the company, and they’ve allowed us to get a real sense of who our customers are and what they’re looking for from our service, so that we can do everything better.”