This is a post by Grainne Carlin. You can follow her on Twitter at @grainnehc.
Social media is a huge part of my day-to-day routine at work and public relations as a whole. I understand the value of social media platforms but sometimes underestimate how many people a message can actually reach. With that being said, when I found out a Twitter campaign managed to exile the rapper, Pitbull to Alaska I was terrified but also intrigued.
You may be confused, so let me explain the situation. A little over a month ago, Walmart partnered with Sheets Energy Strips for a contest; whichever local Walmart Facebook page received the most likes by July 15th would win an exclusive visit from the famous Miami music star, Pitbull. This contest received a lot of coverage and not because of its stellar prize.
The promotion kicked off on June 20th with a press release and an announcement on Walmart’s Facebook page:
Calling all Pitbull fans! “Like” your local Walmart store page here: http://local.walmart.com/. The store with the most new likes between now and July 15th gets a visit from Mr. Worldwide.
David Thorpe of The Boston Phoenix came across the press release issued by Sheets’ PR agency. After reading over the release, Thorpe called the PR agency to validate the accuracy of Pitbull’s quote that stated, “I’m excited to find out which local Walmart store has the most new likes so I can share the experience of using Energy Sheetswith my fans.” The PR agency confirmed that the quote came directly from Pitbull’s mouth. This quote did not strike the reporter as authentic. Thorpe decided to test Pitbull’s willingness to actually go to any Walmart location in the country and discover if Pitbull is in fact, Mr. Worldwide.
On June 29th, announcing his plan on Twitter, Thorpe (@arr) began a campaign to send Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska with a population less than 6,300 people and home to the most remote Walmart in all of America.
Pitbull is having a contest where he’ll visit the local Walmart that gets the most FB Likes. @fart and I are sending him to Kodiak, Alaska.
In less than a week AP turned the Twitter campaign into national news and eventually Billboard, Gawker, CNN, NPR, Good Morning America, Yahoo, and other national outlets covered #ExilePitbull. By July 6th Kodiak, Alaska’s Walmart page had over 60,000 “likes”.
Kodiak, Alaska ended up winning the contest as Walmart announced last week. Luckily, Mr. Worldwide accepted the trip (in a YouTube video) and even invited David Thorpe with him!
This entire situation is a prime example of how powerful social media really is. Somehow, a reporter with less than 7,200 followers managed to generate more coverage than a release sent over a national wire by simply creating a trending hastag.
Thorpe explains his reasoning for spearheading the #ExilePitbull campaign in a Phoenix blog post, “As the summer buying-s**t season heats up, the cross-promotional spokespersoning frenzy is reaching a boiling point. The newswires are humming with fresh pop partnerships — many of them complicated three-way affairs.” Thorpe could not understand what Pitbull, Walmart, and Sheets Energy Strips had to do with one another and he also did not find the press release to be genuine. Thorpe seems to share the same sentiments as many other reporters who are pitched daily with irrelevant news or promotions that simply do not make sense.
In the end, I wonder what Sheets Energy Strips PR Agency would have done differently. Overall, this press release most likely reached (or exceeded) the agency’s goals for several top tier national outlets covered the story and the likes on Facebook for just one Walmart location reached 70,000; but they were made a fool and their promotion was turned into a complete joke. In hindsight do they still think this was a good promotion? Do they still think the press release seemed authentic?
As PR professionals, there is a lot we can learn from the #ExilePitbull campaign. Make your promotions and news relevant, write solid and genuine pitches and releases, know your reporters, and leverage social media the right way—doing this may help you avoid a lot of embarrassment.