PR Powers Plasma Sales
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

PR Powers Plasma Sales

In July 2002, Sears, Roebuck and Co. (Sears) designed an aggressive media relations campaign surrounding its introduction of plasma/LCD televisions in more than 650 Sears stores nationwide. The rollout came at an opportunistic time; Americans were spending more time at home with their families and investing more in top-quality home entertainment.

Paul Holmes

In July 2002, Sears, Roebuck and Co. (Sears) designed an aggressive media relations campaign surrounding its introduction of plasma/LCD televisions in more than 650 Sears stores nationwide. The rollout came at an opportunistic time; Americans were spending more time at home with their families and investing more in top-quality home entertainment. 
Sears decision to offer this level of technology was newsworthy in itself; in past years, similar innovations were reserved primarily for the technologically savvy consumers and “early adopters.” However, when prices dropped during the summer of 2002, Sears was able to offer the nation’s largest variety of plasma/LCD televisions, proving to consumers that the innovation was finally affordable for the mass public. Upon completion of the rollout, plasma sales rose immediately and the media began positioning Sears as a key competitor to major retailers like Circuit City and Best Buy.
A “Techs in the City” national survey measured consumer awareness on advanced technology including plasma/LCD and revealed the following trends:
· Little knowledge of recent technological advancements in the plasma/LCD arena 
· Those aware of plasma/LCD TVs thought them to be unaffordable and/or unavailable to the mainstream public
· Sears is not generally considered the destination to purchase consumer electronics
Armed with research, Sears identified print and broadcast media and consumer audiences for the plasma/LCD rollout. Media audiences included business, technology, retail, consumer electronics, features, lifestyle and home editors of major newspapers in Sears top 20 markets; major television outlets in Sears top 20 markets; and national business, technology, consumer and home magazines. The campaign would ultimately reach general consumers and electronics consumers nationally(as potential Sears customers).
Sears set several objectives to measure the success of the plasma/LCD television launch:
· Increase sales of plasma TVs in Sears stores nationwide
· Generate media coverage on a national level and in Sears top 20 markets
· Build customer preference for Sears as the destination for consumer electronics and flat screen TV sales
Understanding that the rollout of plasma/LCD TVs may not be considered newsworthy within itself, Sears leveraged the 75th anniversary of the television as a timely, relevant news hook. Sears produced a creative, industry-appropriate press kit containing survey results, plasma/LCD vocabulary and a fact sheet on Sears consumer electronics offerings. Visual elements of the press kit included images of plasma TVs, the Sears logo and photos of plasma TVs in Sears stores. Seeding the media with background information on the plasma/LCD TV launch helped position Sears as an expert in the industry and provided media with valuable consumer information.
Sears strategically planned its plasma/LCD PR launch prior to the break of the advertising campaign, allowing the opportunity to measure PR’s direct effect on sales. Sears also launched the campaign in advance of the holiday season and secured spokesperson Corey Greenberg for its satellite media tours, also aiding in consumer outreach and education.
To meet the established objectives and challenges identified from “Techs in the City” survey results, Sears launched the plasma/LCD rollout program with a four-tiered approach specifically targeted toward print and broadcast media.
Leveraging the 75th anniversary of television, Sears positioned the introduction of plasma/LCD as a celebration of the greatest consumer electronics invention since color TV in 1954. B-roll of antique televisions and historic photos of Sears consumer electronics departments were distributed.
Sears partnered with NBC’s Today Show technology correspondent Corey Greenberg to serve as spokesperson, delivering key messages of the Sears plasma launch to targeted broadcast media. In early September, Sears conducted an SMT with Greenberg, targeting TV stations in Sears top 10 markets. Greenberg’s messages reinforced the notion that plasma/LCDs were the hottest technological innovation since the birth of the color TV and had now become mainstream. To help viewers visualize the history of the television, a 1950s antique television was displayed on the set with Greenberg.
To continue the momentum of media interest in Sears plasma offerings and Greenberg’s expertise in the industry, Sears conducted a second SMT the day before Thanksgiving, capitalizing on the first weekend of the holiday shopping season and broadening the plasma TV message to include home theater systems.
Sending press kits to national media and outlets in Sears top 20 markets, Sears crafted specific pitches for the introduction of plasma/LCD products in stores for lifestyle/feature, business, technology and consumer electronics editors. Sears initially targeted wire services such as Reuters and the Associated Press, knowing placements in these outlets would have an enormous effect in disseminating the news quickly
  Sears sold $1.5 million in plasma/LCD TVs in the first month of the launch. Averaging just one plasma sale a day before the PR kickoff, Sears boasted more than five plasma sales a day thereafter. Because the PR program strategically took place prior to any of the marketing activity, Sears could measure a five-fold plasma television sales increase during the launch of the campaign.
The Sears plasma/LCD publicity effort garnered exceptional coverage on both national and local levels through broadcast, print and online media. Sears initially captured media attention through exclusive interviews with targeted reporters at Reuters and the Associated Press. Key print placements in the Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News (two placements), Chicago Tribune (three placements), Chicago Sun-Times (three placements), Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Detroit Free Press, Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle (two placements) soon followed. On the broadcast end, Sears secured several hits in Sears top 20 markets as well as high-profile national placements on CNN Headline News and NBC’s Today Show Weekend Edition, in which Greenberg stressed the importance of Sears bringing high-end products such as plasma TVs to the mainstream public and informing viewers, “when Sears carries a new technology, that’s when it’s arrived.” Local broadcast highlights included hits in major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles.
Sears set out to position itself as a leader in consumer electronics in the media. Proper positioning not only ensured that key messages would peak the interest of targeted consumers, but reinforced messages would also influence their purchases. Upon hearing the new product announcement, the media took almost immediate notice and began positioning Sears as a key competitor of specialty retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City.
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