Overview: DealTime is an online comparison-shopping site where consumers can search and compare deals and products from over 8,000 online and offline merchants. Consumers use comparison-shopping sites, or shopping bots to find and compare deals from almost any retailer, essentially leveling the online and offline shopping playing field. DealTime lagged behind category leaders mySimon and Bottomdollar (acquired by ShopNow for $70 million) and struggled to catch up due to the lack of capital, resources, and recognition.
Media coverage of shopping bots was limited, at best. Tech trade press reporters were more interested in back-end systems of e-retailers, or Business-to-Business (B2B) marketplace stories. Business press covered the astronomical marketing budgets of retailers and dotcoms, in addition to the dotcoms’ lack of profits and new venture capital investments. Consumer press covered the best places to shop online, which at times included a listing of comparison-shopping sites, but gave mySimon coverage as the leading bot. DealTime saw some ink in these round-ups, but received very little play elsewhere.
Enter-The Weber Group: Not satisfied with its media coverage, DealTime turned to The Weber Group in February 2000 to wake up the business and trade press. Hidden in the consumer/online shopping messages was an emerging business that had a seasoned management team and very reputable investors. DealTime was not about to run out of money or entertain acquisition offers. In fact, at The Weber Group’s initial meeting in New York, DealTime closed a $50 million mezzanine round of funding with major investment from America Online (AOL) and Time Warner. A few weeks after the engagement began, DealTime filed its S-1 and landed in the “quiet period.” As the only major player in the comparison-shopping space to remain independent, DealTime planned to use PR as a cost effective means to promote the Web site and build momentum for the company to support its IPO (NOTE: DealTime’s advertising campaigns were set to appear in only two markets, New York and San Francisco, for very limited time). Poised to accept the challenge, The Weber Group created a roadmap to position DealTime as a stable market leader with an experienced management team at sound execution.
From February to December at Internet Speed: DealTime turned to TWG to focus efforts strategically on a plan (Appendix A) that would generate the best media coverage for the company. In order to elevate DealTime’s coverage, TWG strategically set DealTime’s expectations to focus efforts on the media that would be interested in DealTime’s story, as well as impact DealTime’s business and trade constituents. TWG began to create PR materials, positioning and lists to plan editorial and media relations. With client expectations set, TWG had to deliver on that promise, but from February to December, the following challenges would arise:
Media’s perception of B2C and/or online shopping: The media played favorites with companies that sprung up with radical new business models. This Internet “flavor of the month” continuously changed as headlines looked like alphabet soup. Media coverage of Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies stalled while B2B companies took center stage. Media latched onto any new acronym as soon as it was coined. Consumer messages from e-retailers like Amazon enablers were buried as the market opportunity for selling goods and services to businesses over the Internet exploded. Trying to pedal online comparison-shopping messages, in this market, fell on deaf ears.
With the media not covering B2C, there’s no chance of comparison-shopping coverage: Big name investors, industry analysts’ growing predictions, and brick-and-mortar stores entering the online fray would not change the media’s desire to cover B2B companies or new Internet Exchanges. Even brand named brick-and-mortar stores announcing Internet strategies, such as Wal-Mart, remained second tier news.
…and then there was the day the dotcom money train ran off the tracks: Investors wanted the dotcom entrepreneurs to recite the definition of “profit.” Those that did not have “profit” in their vocabulary saw stock prices plummet. Billionaires became millionaires overnight. Suddenly, news broke about dotcoms closing, laying off employees, or raising prices in order to survive. Welcome the age of digital Darwinism! At this point media finally wanted to talk to B2C companies, but only if they were going out of business. There was a backlash toward foolish investors and entrepreneurs throwing old economy rules out the window. Fortunately, DealTime was executing its business model and making sound business decisions. This provided TWG with ammunition to attack the skeptical business and trade press.
Through persistence and an artful eye to acknowledge up and coming trends in the market, TWG set out to execute its own plan that included announcement creation and support and media and analyst relations through proactive pitches and an editorial calendar program. DealTime fit into many trends, but it was up to TWG to effectively communicate that story to the media, most importantly, TWG did not want to associate the company with dying dotcoms. The positioning statements TWG/DealTime developed in February served as the basis of an enormously successful campaign that elevated DealTime. The strategic PR program set forth by TWG beginning in February and continuing through today created huge momentum for DealTime, effectively shedding its start-up label.
Keeping the momentum through the holidays: Online retailers’ greatest fear this holiday season is going out of business. Last year was a major test for dotcoms, spending excessive amounts of money on advertising and promotions, trying to gain market share. Because of fulfillment problems, delivery, and return issues, too many mistakes were made. This year online retailers are trying to make the consumer happy, addressing needs created by last year’s mistakes and are trying to retain customers rather than acquire them. Because DealTime is now recognized as the number one comparison-shopping site, it is being watched like a hawk by consumers, competitors and press. With competitors like mySimon and Bottomdollar, just waiting for them to make a false move, DealTime is poised, armed and ready to go this holiday season.
Execution that is killing mySimon: With the DealTime marketing team and the CEO focused on PR as a change agent to elevate DealTime to the leadership position in the market, TWG scripted press playbooks that delved into the hot buttons of key influencers and their publications. The development of the playbooks was labor intensive, but would prove an enormous return on investment. TWG was armed and ready, and DealTime delivered the goods.
As TWG cultivated a working relationship with DealTime, news poured out of the company (over a dozen big announcements in seven months). A first-to-market wireless offering, an acquisition and joint venture with Bertelsmann, an AOL partnership and service provider deals with AT&T Wireless, Sprint PCS and Nextel added fuel to the PR machine. TWG creatively wrapped this news into proactive pitches that highlighted trends in the media (Appendix B). As DealTime’s media momentum snowballed from February through December, the press had finally given attention to DealTime. TWG fought through the media’s disregard for a company that was in the B2C/dotcom/comparison-shopping space. Coverage during the month of July proved that DealTime shed the start-up label and is now one of the “big boys.” The best example of this, are articles that appeared recently– Fortune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, and eWeek.
Holiday 2000 – “Make or Break?”:
Focused on a successful holiday season to help meet business goals, TWG composed an extensive plan that created momentum and impact.
Proactive Pitching: TWG has pitched such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Self, Mademoiselle, Entertainment Weekly and the Rolling Stone with a series of three pitches. The “Holiday Hot Products” pitch described two hot gift ideas that can be found on DealTime, followed by a “Happy Holiday” pitch that reminded all contacts of what DealTime had been doing since last year and new features DealTime has this coming holiday season. The “Holiday Horrors” pitch describes the challenges of online shopping last year and how DealTime will be overcoming these problems and answering consumers’ fears, essentially becoming a consumer advocate.
TWG also chose six of the highest circulation consumer publications and sent the contacts a gift--Tekno, the Interactive Pet saying that this will be one of the popular gifts sold on DealTime this year. TWG followed these pitches up with phone calls and determined that coverage will appear in two of these publications, USA Today Weekend and Self.
Broadcast Plan: With little-to-no advertising this holiday season, TWG and DealTime attacked the broadcast press with the “DealTime as a consumer advocate” message through fraud protection, buying guides, and merchant alerts and ratings. TWG worked closely with Kotchen Group, an expert tour firm, to find experts and create a twenty hit tour of the top 100 media outlets. TWG also proactively pitched major news outlets including CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, and CBS with the consumer advocacy pitch and have had much interest so far.
NAPS: (Appendix C): TWG continued the consumer advocate theme and created a North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS) article that will be featured in most nationwide dailies. The NAPS gives 10 tips to have successful and secure online shopping during the holidays. With DealTime’s name backing up the NAPS, they are described as the online shopping site that is truly there for the consumers.
Survey: (Appendix D): As part of TWG’s ongoing print initiative, TWG and DealTime compiled a survey to use for pitching to the press that reinforces DealTime’s strength during the holiday. By announcing results, DealTime again served as a consumer advocate. TWG and DealTime asked questions that followed themes such as saving time, shopping online, stresses of the holiday season and consumer concerns. TWG utilized Caravan ORC International to conduct the survey over a four-day period. TWG leveraged the results in pitches to demonstrate credibility.
The results garnered by TWG can easily be measured in circulation numbers, but in this case, the best measurement is the increase in business for DealTime. Large circulation rates are great, but for DealTime, the increase in unique visits to the Web site is the best measurement of using PR to support overall business objectives. Considering that DealTime’s limited advertising campaign covers only two markets, PR has generated great momentum for DealTime for the upcoming IPO and holiday season.
DealTime milestones since working with TWG:
- DealTime experienced an increase of 298 percent in unique visits (Neilsen//NetRatings).
- DealTime broke into the PC Data Top 100 visited sites on a continuous basis.
- DealTime became the 8th most visited shopping site (PC Data).
- DealTime averaged around 2 million unique visits a month in February. By September, DealTime experienced over 6.7 million unique visitors, fueled in part by broad media coverage.
- DealTime won awards such as Unstrung25 Top Innovative Wireless Companies and Forbes Best of the Web.