What are two of the hottest hobbies out there and what does a poncho have to do with this craze?
Knitting and crocheting. And the fact that Martha Stewart was wearing a poncho as she was released from prison knitted by a fellow inmate has kicked the popularity of these hobbies into an even higher gear (actually it was crocheted, but for some reason the media doesn't get the difference).
Now, whether you're a knitter/crocheter or not, there's some interesting lessons to be learned from this situation.
The key learning for us as PR professionals comes as we see how several different companies jumped onto this story and used it as a way to get more publicity for their company while generating some positive customer reaction at the same time.
Let's take Lion Brand Yarn for example. Here's a timeline of how they tied into this story (with a few side comments thrown in, because I can't resist teaching a lesson or two along the way):
- March 4, Martha is released from prison wearing the crocheted shawl
- March 9, Lion Brand Yarn sends an email to their customer base, saying in part:
"After receiving the largest number of requests ever for a single pattern, Lion Brand is creating a Homespun® pattern to match the poncho that Martha Stewart wore for her return home this week."
They added that they were working as fast as they could on the pattern and they would email out a copy as soon as it is ready.
(Note: Some may argue that this is not a publicity project. They say that it was a result of listening to their customers and giving them what they want. I say that it's both. The essence of marketing is identifying and fulfilling consumer needs. Lion did that - even though the consumers expressed that need somewhat deafeningly. The publicity part came when they made sure that their customers and the media knew about the work they had done to fill that need. Marketing and publicity are not two different warring strategies. Rather they are two different methods of getting the word out to consumers. Neither is better than the other; they're just different. Both are vital to the success of a company.)
- March 12, Lion emails out the crochet version of the pattern,
- March 13, Lion issues the following media release:
i-Newswire, 2005-03-13 - Manhattan, New York - On March 12th at a little after 1 PM EDT The Lion Brand Yarn Company released the "Coming Home" poncho pattern, the first free version of Martha Stewart inspired poncho on their Web site at http://www.LionBrand.com .
Within the first 48 hours that the free pattern was available online, Lion Brand Yarn estimates that over 50,000 copies of the pattern have been downloaded by visitors to the site. During that first 48 hour period, the free poncho pattern was featured on ABC's 'Good Morning America'. Following the broadcast, the Lion Brand Web site was so overwhelmed with additional requests for the free pattern that it was forced offline for nearly two hours.
"The demand for Martha Stewart inspired 'Coming Home' poncho pattern is just amazing." said Ilana Rabinowitz, director of consumer marketing for Lion Brand Yarn."To serve our customers better, we've increased the capacity of our Web site to handle the large number of requests for the free poncho pattern. People are sending this pattern to their friends at a rate that is 10X higher than any other free pattern we currently offer online. We've never seen anything like this before."
"Because of the overwhelming demand for this popular crochet pattern, Lion Brand Yarn will also be offering a knit version of the poncho pattern, which will be available on their Web site, sometime next week."
(Note: Lion did a great job in this release with a couple of things. The first paragraph is great, but it's in the 2nd paragraph that the kicker steps in - 50,000 downloads.
Next, note that they are also recycling their publicity by announcing in the second paragraph that they were featured on Good Morning America.
Now, look at the points made in the third and fourth paragraph:
1. We listen to our customers,
2. We're willing to spend more money to better serve them,
3. This pattern is free,
4. You can send copies of it to friends for free,
5. This is big - we've never seen anything like it before,
6. We're releasing it as a knitting pattern next week.
Pull out your last press release. Did you take the opportunity in it to communicate other vital marketing messages that may have not been strictly newsworthy to the press and to your audience? Or did you just announce the news and go on? Always, always make sure that every message you send out contains key customer communications and is focused on your main media message.
For more information on how to structure a great press release, see our best selling training manual Creating Powerful Press Releases
- March 17, Lion emails out the knitted version of the pattern (knitting's harder than crochet; both to do and to create patterns)
In this email they also paid tribute to the person who knitted it, honoring her creativity and inspiration. Plus they announced a donation of yarn and crochet hooks to the Alderson prison in honor of her work and generosity.
- March 23, Lion brand issues another press release, stating that over 500,000 people had downloaded the pattern.
Also included in this release was the line "The popularity of this poncho has inspired many people to start crocheting and knitting for the first time." (Nothing like subtilely reminding the media and the public that this is a hot, growing hobby.)
Now, just for fun, go to http://news.google.com and search for Martha Stewart Poncho. I got 1240 results - lots of stories have sprouted from this one.
Other Companies Also Jumped On This Story
Lion Brand Yarns saw a need, fulfilled it, and got some great publicity along the way.
But Lion Brand's not the only one. Go to http://news.google.com do a search for
martha stewart poncho +"press release"
(I just taught you a valuable research trick. In Google News type in your subject followed by +"press release" (with press release in quotes). This shows you exactly how many press releases on this subject were picked up by Google News.)
24 in this case - some are duplicates, but it shows that several companies jumped on the bandwagon and did similar patterns and sought publicity for it.
Now here's the interesting thing. Lion (and a bunch of others) jumped on the news, got huge number of downloads, created goodwill among the knitting and crocheting community, and probably sold a bunch of Homespun brand yarn (the yarn they used in their pattern.)
But Red Heart Yarn, one of the major players in the industry, appears to have done nothing. Martha's not mentioned on their site, I see no press releases, in fact the Red Heart page on Coats and Clark's site contains the following valuable information about Red Heart: "Red Heart Yarn information here..."
Maybe this is why their market share is plummeting in the midst of a revival of the yarn arts (which was going on well before Martha's prison exit).
You snooze, you lose...
What growth opportunities have you lost out on lately because you didn't react fast enough?
Want more ideas on how to tie onto a hot news story? Check out our new audio CD: How to Get Publicity By Hitching Your Story to a News Trend
And, by the way, if you're a knitter or crocheter, check out our favorite knitting site: Craftfinder.com (Full disclosure - Craftfinder.com is owned by the same company that owns 101PublicRelations.com. Now you see why we paid attention to this story!)
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