Author: 06 Apr 2023minutes read
We commonly hear from Buy with Prime merchants that getting the word out about their brands has become more expensive, less targeted, and overall, just harder and more competitive. The battle to break through the noise is real.
For those unfamiliar or just starting out, Public Relations (PR), can be an incredibly powerful tool as part of your marketing strategy. Often referred to as earned media, PR is all about leveraging media outlets with scale to earn credibility and trust with your potential customers. However, making PR work for your business can be a bit different than any other form of marketing.
In this post, I’m going to walk through how to tell a story that gets earned media attention, how to connect and engage with the right journalists and influencers, and how to manage the spikes in demand that may result from PR campaigns.
First, a bit about my business journey. Before joining Amazon and the Buy with Prime team as a product management leader, I co-founded a mostly ecommerce brand called J&D’s Foods. Our flagship product was called Bacon Salt, which is exactly what it sounds like – salt that makes everything taste like bacon. We followed this up with Baconnaise, the Ultimate Bacon-Flavored Spread, and even made novelty products like Bacon Lip Balm. Ironically (and intentionally), the products we made were vegetarian and even kosher. Our tagline was, “Everything should taste like bacon.”
A big part of why our products took off is because people, especially Americans, really love bacon. According to Statista research, more than 268 million Americans consumed bacon in 2020 and that number is expected to grow to 275 million in 2024.
Over the years, free PR was our #1 source of traffic, and helped increase conversion rates across our other on-and-offline media spending, due to the credibility we had built through PR mentions. While running a business centered around a taste millions of people love certainly made getting the attention of the press a bit easier, building a successful PR plan still required a lot of dedication and hard work.
The results were very much worth the effort. During my nine years at J&D’s Foods, we counted at least 2 billion consumer impressions that were directly attributable to our PR efforts. We made appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC Nightly News, the Daily Show, the Tonight Show, People magazine, the Wall St. Journal, and many more.
Thinking back on the success of the business I co-founded, four things really stand out about how we made PR such a successful part of our marketing mix.
Content creators for websites, blogs, newspapers, magazines, TV, podcasts, and radio have one thing in common – they cover noteworthy news and trends. To get the attention of these busy content creators, they need to believe that your story is compelling enough for their audience to pause, read, click and share.
At J&D’s Foods, we had a pretty unique brand story to tell. Our original funding came from my five-year-old son Dean winning $5,000 on America’s Funniest Videos, and our self-given titles were “Bacontrepreneurs.” We had a unique line of bacon-y products that were highly differentiated than anything else on the market.
There are only so many times a single product or story can be covered before it’s considered old news. To keep the PR momentum going, it’s important to develop fresh angles; new products and variations, charitable and community initiatives, and significant company achievements are some examples to consider.
For entrepreneurs, consider spending some time thinking about how you’d answer questions such as ‘what is my brand story?’ or ‘what’s my unique angle to drive momentum around my latest products?’ Answering these types of questions can help you create a differentiated PR pitch.
Find your differentiator and lean in to find fresh and interesting ways to keep the PR machine humming.
An especially shameless way we generated PR was to launch several bacon-themed novelty products. From bacon-flavored lip balm to candy canes to envelopes with glue that tasted like bacon (called Mmmvelopes). We weren’t shy about leaning into bacon!
Every holiday season, we’d launch a new, more over-the-top novelty product specifically designed to generate a PR buzz during our busiest season. These PR campaigns created a virtuous cycle, as anyone coming to buy one of our annual novelty products as a gift would inevitably fill their baskets with one of our staple products like Bacon Salt and Baconnaise. This approach increased our average order values, and allowed us to attract new shoppers while nurturing existing customer relationships.
Our approach to events was potentially even more shameless. We’d show up at sporting events like college and pro football games dressed in giant bacon costumes, handing out samples. At one point, CNBC called our giant bacon the most wanted man in sports. We hosted a Bacathlon, with a variety of bacon-themed events and feats of strength. These were fun ways to drive awareness in our local communities, and unique enough to drive several big PR hits.
Building relationships with the right journalists and influencers takes time, but it can pay off in big ways. If you have the scale and budget, PR firms can engage relevant media and influencers on your behalf. At J&D’s Foods, we tried some PR firms, but found that most journalists preferred to hear directly from us as the founders. We found that humorous press releases and emails were a good way to build trust with the media.
We found that local media, especially small-town newspapers, daytime TV shows, and regional radio shows were almost always willing to give us airtime or write stories about our brand. We often used these local placements to get larger national media outlets to cover our brand story. ABC News heard about us after a story ran in our local paper, The Seattle Times. And Oprah liked our story and asked us to come onto her show after seeing the story on ABC News
When the Oprah Winfrey Show profiled our brand and showcased our products, we knew it was likely to result in a ton of orders. We’d gotten some big press hits before, but this was different. It was like a rolling apocalypse for our business – every time zone it aired in, once per hour, our phones and website would simultaneously crash due to huge increases in visitors.
Then the influx of orders hit – thousands of them, almost all at once. We hired an army of temporary workers, and packed 10,000+ orders a day in our warehouse late into the night for several nights until the order queue was clear. We filled up so many postal service trucks that they told us we had to start bringing shipments into the sorting facilities directly. We also knew the high volumes could delay order shipments while we caught up, so we proactively sent emails to customers letting them know that their orders might take more time than usual due to the high demand.
Not everything went according to plan though – we missed shipments, lost orders and we had to ship out replacements for things that were mis-shipped. I have several gray hairs that I know came directly from this experience. Buy with Prime, which wasn’t available at the time, would’ve been an awesome solution to our fulfillment headaches, while also offering our customers fast, free shipping and easy returns.
As digital advertising becomes more expensive and less effective in reaching intended audiences, PR can be a very cost-effective and high-impact way to get the word out about your brand. Remember these key takeaways: effective PR strategies require a unique brand and product story, relationship-building skills, and a lot of preparation.
PR is one of the many marketing tools to activate as you grow your online brand. Solutions such as Buy with Prime can also help elevate your marketing programs, while also aiding in simplifying your ecommerce operations.
Learn more about Buy with Prime marketing solutions.