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5 Smart Social PR Campaigns to Learn From

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As the web evolves from a network of sites to a network of people, public relations campaigns must also evolve, and most successful PR campaigns now include a social component. But beyond the basics, such as creating tweetable press release headlines and reaching out to influencers on Twitter, what are some of the more inventive approaches out there?

Here are five great examples of innovative social PR campaigns.

1. Rayovac: Rapid-Response Twitter Campaign

In early February 2011, with a snowstorm of historic proportions on the horizon, social media outlets were abuzz with news and updates about the weather. Rayovac and Circle PR quickly created a campaign that capitalized on the fact that millions of Americans would be home — and online — on Wednesday, February 2, the day slated to be the worst of the storm.

The central feature of the campaign was a virtual snowball fight that had more than 1,000 consumers changing their profile picture to a Rayovac-branded widget and hurling #snowballs at friends and family coast-to-coast for nearly 48 hours. The brand also hosted a two-hour virtual snow day tweet-up, where followers could tweet about the weather in their area, their favorite snow day activities and answer fun storm-prep and weather-related trivia for a chance to win great prizes.

The campaign generated 1,188 click-throughs to download the profile picture widget, #rayovac made its first-ever appearance as a top-ten trending topic worldwide, and the brand saw a 30% increase in followers on @rayovac_battery.

2. Healthy Choice: Pairing a Social Coupon with Blogger Outreach

Healthy Choice was looking to grow its Facebook fan base, increase engagement and reinforce the brand’s reputation for value. Knowing that the Healthy Choice consumer is a user of social media and interested in coupons, the brand introduced a progressive coupon on the Healthy Choice Facebook Page. The coupon began at a low value ($0.75 off) and increased as people “liked” the page and signed up for the coupon, ultimately reaching a “buy-one-get-one-free” deal.

The progressive coupon was supported through a variety of public relations tactics. The team conducted extensive outreach to coupon bloggers and individuals with whom the brand has built a relationship, purchased a Facebook ad and utilized the brand’s e-mail database to spread the word and encourage consumers to “like” the page and sign up for a coupon.

In just two weeks, the Healthy Choice Facebook page grew from 6,800 to nearly 60,000 fans, and the team distributed more than 50,000 buy-one-get-one-free coupons. The progressive coupon campaign also generated significant trade coverage, including an article in Brandweek.

3. Breeders’ Cup: Social Storytelling

While horse racing continues to have a dedicated following, overall interest has dropped in recent years — the marketing team for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships needed a fresh approach to attracting and engaging new fans.

For the most recent Breeders’ Cup, the team at Conover Tuttle Pace decided to focus its efforts around the story of Zenyatta, the undefeated female horse who had become a star for her dancing, Guinness-sipping ways and thrilling, come-from-behind finishes. The team’s Zenyatta-focused social media efforts included creating a dedicated Twitter handle for Zenyatta to tell her story and share news and exclusive updates. They also seeded the Breeders’ Cup YouTube channel with race footage, relevant fan videos and World Championship race videos, capped off with a viral, Zenyatta v. Secretariat video release right after she won her 19th race.

Within one month, Zenyatta’s Twitter handle reached 1,300 followers. “Breeders’ Cup” and “Zenyatta,” were trending topics on Twitter during the event. The Conover Tuttle Pace campaign also attracted 1,000 subscribers to the Breeders’ Cup YouTube channel, accounting for more than one million views since the channel’s establishment.

The race was the most successful Breeders’ Cup of all time, with ticket sales up 40% from 2009.

4. The BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel: Using Social to Share an Experience

It can be hard to convey the magic of an experience through an ad or a magazine article. Working with agency bobdonpaul, The BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire decided to use social media to tell the hotel’s unique story.

The hotel’s “InnBedded Resorter” campaign used social media to find the world’s first-ever “Resorter” — a person who would live at the hotel for July and August 2010 and use social channels to share all of their experiences at the 8,000 acre resort. Entries poured in from all over the world — after narrowing the field to a few finalists, The BALSAMS then used online voting to pick the winner.

The company’s first Resorter was 23-year-old Martin Edgar Earley, who spent two months at the resort this summer. Early blogged and posted daily social media updates, photos and videos about all The BALSAMS had to offer. The campaign was a hit, and the hotel saw a 20% increase in bookings in August.

The resort then ran a winter campaign with Canadian social media travel superstars Alex & Luke. While at The BALSAMS, the couple used their own website, along with the resort’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other social media platforms to continually update followers on their adventures at the resort. As a result, the hotel’s opening week of Winter 2010/2011 nearly sold out and was the busiest holiday weekend in years. Since launching the campaign, website traffic has also doubled.

5. KFC: The Power of a Single Tweet

With 2.5 million college scholarships awarded every year in the U.S., KFC knew it had to cook up something innovative to stir buzz around the brand’s 75-scholarship Colonel’s Scholars program. That’s why KFC and Weber-Shandwick decided to do away with the tired old college scholarship essay and award a $20,000 scholarship based solely on a single tweet. Students had just 140 characters (including the hashtag #KFCScholar) to convince KFC execs why they deserved a scholarship.

Announced via a USA Today story, the scholarship tweet campaign generated more than 1,000 media placements and tens of millions of media impressions, including two AP Wire stories, multiple stories on CNN Headline News, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and NBC national news. The program also captivated the online world, generating more than nine million social media impressions as a result of tweets during the brief entry period. In all, more than 2,800 applicants tweeted for their chance at $20,000, and the KFC Twitter handle saw a 20% jump in followers in just two weeks.

One of those followers was 17-year-old Amanda Russell, whose tweet, “Hey Colonel! Your scholarship’s the secret ingredient missing from my recipe for success! Got the grades, drive, just need cash!” scored her the $20,000 college scholarship.

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