20th Birthday of the Post-It Note
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Holmes Report
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20th Birthday of the Post-It Note

3M wanted Brodeur Worldwide to develop a communications program that would generate national excitement and rejuvenate the Post-It brand to keep it contemporary.

Paul Holmes

It’s yellow.  It’s square.  It’s sticky.  It’s the Post-It Note and millions of people know the name and use one every day in a million and one different ways. In 1980, 3M introduced the Post-It Note to disorganized office workers everywhere.  Twenty years later, with the advent of high-tech tools and lower-end note products entering the market, the Post-It brand needed a boost.  In addition, 3M’s stock had been slipping and the analyst community was being less than supportive.  The objective was simple: 3M wanted Brodeur Worldwide to develop a communications program that would generate national excitement and rejuvenate the Post-It brand to keep it contemporary with the hopes that a “feel good” story about the company’s innovation history would also boost 3M’s overall position in the market. And that’s exactly what they got.  Just about every major daily newspaper ran a story on the celebration, the VNR received accolades from broadcast media, and overall, the media relations campaign achieved more than 119 million impressions and succeeded in rejuvenating the brand.
 
THE STICKY SITUATION
 
Brodeur and 3M wanted to target the mass audience and general consumer to keep the Post-It Note – something that everyone takes for granted – top-of-mind.
 
The 20th Birthday of the Post-It Note was April 6, 2000 – a month before the annual 3M shareholders meeting.  Ideas flew around about a huge birthday gala celebration with celebrities and artists to draw media attention.  But there wasn’t time or budget to plan an event – and the team didn’t want to take the emphasis off of the most important thing: the Post-It Note itself.  Brodeur Worldwide recommended leveraging this milestone with an aggressive national media relations campaign.  The program was designed to remind consumers of how much they love and need the Post-It Note, but it wasn’t going to be easy.  After all, 3M had previously celebrated the 10- and 15-year anniversaries of the product, and the 20th was not unique.  It was going to be hard to break through the media clutter of all of the other high-tech organization tools, like PDAs, and prove that the Post-It Note still had relevance.  And, PR had to do it – 3M was not going to support the 20th Birthday with advertising, direct mail or any other marketing program.  It was all hinging on PR.
 
3M and Brodeur Worldwide knew that consumers have a personal connection with this product – 3M receives letters, emails and phone calls every day from happy consumers who depend upon this product.  Ah ha! The team realized that the best approach would be to tap into how consumers really feel about this product to help celebrate 20 years of an American – and global – icon.
 
STICKING IT TO THE MEDIA
 
Brodeur Worldwide knew that the press materials celebrating the 20th Birthday of the Post-It Note needed to be special – no ordinary folder holder would do.  It needed to be something fun and informal – just like the Post-It Note.  The team also needed something that would reinforce the importance of this product and commemorate the 20 years it’s been helping to keep the world organized.  The team designed a “storybook,” written from the perspective of the note itself, that detailed the history of its invention, featured interviews with the inventors, provided tips for using the product and highlighted fun facts about Post-It Notes that media and consumers might not know (such as the fact that it took 12 years from the time the adhesive was discovered in a lab to bring the Post-It Note to market.  And you thought it was just a simple piece of paper!)
 
Key elements of the storybook were the tips for using Post-It Notes in creative ways from real users – reinforcing the Brodeur /3M strategy of leveraging consumers’ love of the product.  There was the story of a weary traveler, desperate for sleep, who stuck Post-It Notes on himself that read, “Please wake me for the 8:35 am flight to Savanna.  Thank you.”  Thanks to helpful fellow travelers, he made his flight.  Or the story of the husband who writes a loving message to his wife a few times a week on a Post-It Note and sticks it to the bathroom mirror where he’s sure she’ll see it.
 
The stories and the storybook were a hit.  To reinforce the birthday theme, it was packaged in a commemorative gift box and, of course, a special Post-It Note pad was also included.  Brodeur distributed
 
hundreds of storybooks to national and local print, broadcast and online media.  In addition, 3M produced commemorative titanium dispensers and those were distributed to key media as well.  The coverage came rolling in.  The Associated Press and United Press International distributed stories on April 6th.  Just about every major daily newspaper ran a story on the celebration, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Austin American Statesman, Times-Picayune, Newark Star Ledger, San Jose Mercury News, Columbus Dispatch, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Detroit Free Press, to name just a handful.  Online publications weren’t left behind either – USAToday.com, MSNBC, People Online, CBSNews.com, CNNfn.com all ran stories.
 

TV ANYONE?

 
It didn’t end there.  The executives at 3M had a strong desire to obtain broadcast coverage of the 20th Birthday of the Post-It Note.  Again, competing with hard and breaking news was going to be difficult.  Brodeur knew that in order to obtain coverage, the team had to make it easy for producers to include the Post-It Note story – we had to go to them, not make them come to us.  A video news release was just the ticket, but it had to be creative if it was going to get picked up. 
 
As with the storybook press kit, Brodeur wanted to hit upon consumer love of this product and make the VNR quirky, fun and informal.  What better way to see how consumers really feel about the Post-It Note then to come right out and ask them?  So we did.  A small SWAT team traveled to New York, NY, Santa Monica, CA and Miami, FL and conducted man-on-the-street interviews with passersby.  We asked them basic questions, such as what they thought of when they thought of the Post-It Note and how they use them.  And out came some pretty interesting responses.  From the Russian immigrant who likes red, white and blue Post-It Notes to the office worker who pulled a pad of notes from her purse because she never goes anywhere without them, consumers were eager to share their zany stories.
 
The VNR spliced responses from real consumers with words of wisdom from the inventors themselves – Art Fry and Spencer Silver – to tell the story of the product’s life.  The VNR received accolades from broadcast media.  In fact, a producer at CBS stated “we almost never use company footage, but yours was so well done we were comfortable using it as is.”  Broadcast outlets covering the 20th Birthday of the    Post-It Note included “CBS Sunday Morning”, “CNN Headline News”, CNNfn, “Good Morning America”, “The Early Show”, “PBS Nightly Business Report”, and more than 100 network affiliates in major cities including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Washington DC, and Detroit.  In addition, the VNR was run in full on the “Jumbotron” in New York’s Times Square throughout the day on April 6th for additional exposure.
 
THE CELEBRATION OF A LIFETIME
 
Overall, the media relations campaign achieved more than 119 million impressions for the 20th Birthday of the Post-It Note and succeeded in rejuvenating the brand.  Brodeur’s program successfully positioned the Post-It Note as relevant in today’s high-tech world.  Charles Osgood said it best in his coverage “ CBS Sunday Morning”, “And, it’s always nice to know that when the office email goes down – as it will – you can still leave a message for someone on their computer.”  The outreach also succeeded in keeping the brand contemporary with such placements as on “The Hib List” segment on The Early Show which covers pop icons and trends (the Post-It Note and Sisqo’s “thong song” in one segment – wow!)
 
In fact, the vice president of 3M’s Office Supplies Division was so impressed with the program, he chose to show the VNR at the annual stockholders meeting, and had copies of the storybook and recap reels on-hand to demonstrate the breadth and reach of the program.  Media were so excited by the program that articles continued to appear in major publications long after the April 6th date had come and gone.  This program demonstrates that a strong media relations program, based on sound strategy and flawless execution, can have a huge impact on a product, brand and company.
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