Paul Holmes 17 Apr 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
Charged with creating marketplace excitement about the new Gillette for Women Venus razor -- at a time when a financially troubled Gillette was under unprecedented editorial scrutiny -- Porter Novelli strategically positioned the shaving system as a “beauty essential” in a launch more evocative of a premium fragrance than a razor. The cornerstone of our effort was a formal product unveiling at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, with a news conference and a financial analyst briefing attended by a total of more than 155 journalists and analysts. Uniformly favorable editorial coverage of the new razor ranged from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times to Marie Claire and Self, with total impressions of almost 300 million after only six weeks.
With the 1992 launch of Sensor for Women, Gillette’s leadership position in the female shaving category was confirmed. Eight years later, under unprecedented editorial scrutiny because of recent declines in its earnings, Gillette was poised to introduce Venus, its most technologically advanced women’s razor yet.
A “good news” announcement from Gillette was essential as a response to the growing perception that the Company was struggling in a changing global marketplace. The company whose products were long characterized as “The Best A Man Can Get” strategically elected to focus upon female shaving -- its fastest growing shaving business, with projected sales of one billion dollars by 2004.
Within this environment, our communications objective was to create widespread excitement about the new razor, while minimizing references to the Company’s financial performance and characterizations of the new product as simply “MACH3 for women.” [The 1998 launch of Gillette MACH3 -- the first ever triple blade razor -- was phenomenally successful and became the benchmark for future Gillette product launches in the eyes of the editorial and financial communities.]
Extensive research of women’s hair removal habits and attitudes confirmed that shaving habits are surprisingly similar across the world. Subsequent consumer use testing of the new product led Gillette to a global core proposition: “the first razor designed for the way women shave and the environment in which they shave.” Based upon this proposition, messages were developed for the financial, consumer and trade media, which became building blocks for the media relations strategy and event approach.
In an effort to shatter consumer perceptions of female shaving as an unavoidable chore, Venus was launched with the elan and trappings of a premium beauty product. Leveraging the new razor’s unusual design and singular benefits, we positioned shaving as an essential component of every woman’s beauty routine. Our frames of reference were the image-driven launches of such premium players in the beauty category as Estee Lauder and L’Oreal; our media audience, the “seen it all” beauty editors of leading women’s magazines and the bottom line-focused business editors of leading newspapers, radio and television news programs.
To ensure consistent product messages around the world, a comprehensive global public relations guidelines manual was developed one year before the official product unveiling, with information control procedures, press materials and an array of design elements. Porter Novelli presented this manual to public relations agencies in 24 countries and subsequently approved all local market public relations launch programs for positioning, consistency and global strategy.
The cornerstone of our media relations strategy was a formal product unveiling at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, with both a news conference and a financial analyst briefing. The Museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rotunda – the spiraling curves of which reflected the razor’s unusual design -- was visually transformed with flowers, screens, images and lighting that reinforced the product imagery.
The new razor itself – with a translucent handle whose delicate curves and blue hues evoked images of shells and the sea – was our foremost influence in designing all creative elements and staging the news conference. The Venus launch was unique in the extent to which every creative and staging element [from invitation to press kit to the event itself] linked directly to the product design and features, ensuring a stylistic consistency that elevated the new product announcement to “event” status.
Complementary elements of the media relations strategy included:
- a trial campaign in which razors were mailed to several hundred female television news anchors and morning drive time radio personalities who were encouraged to try the razor and discuss it on-air;
- satellite distribution of a B-roll package -- incorporating the unveiling of Venus at the news conference -- to television stations throughout country; and
- the posting of all press materials, photography and B-roll on the Company’s online news bureau immediately following the news conference.
Seventy-five journalists, including critically important business media and women’s magazines attended, in addition to more than 80 financial analysts. The reaction from normally jaded journalists was overwhelmingly positive, as was the ensuing coverage, which focused more upon the new product than upon the Company’s earnings. In fact, the Guggenheim setting influenced much of the coverage, with frequent references to the razor having been unveiled in the manner of a work of art. After only six weeks, more than 1,100 placements – with total impressions of 293 million – had been generated. With the new razor scheduled to appear on store shelves throughout North America in April 2001, the “buzz” generated by public relations -- in the absence of any advertising – has been unprecedented in Gillette’s experience.