Home > PR > How a Brilliant and Creative PR Idea can Flop [Case Study]

How a Brilliant and Creative PR Idea can Flop [Case Study]

How a Brilliant and Creative PR Idea can Flop

Good creative PR ideas are hard to come by. Harder still if they actually make business sense.

The Potomac Tech Wire, reported on October 28, 2009, had a stellar example of a great idea poorly executed:

Sterling, Va. — SkyBitz, the Sterling-based maker of satellite tracking systems, said that it will deploy one of its mobile tracking units on the flatbed trailer transporting the official U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from Arizona to DC. Beginning Nov. 10, the technology will allow people to track the progress of the 85-foot blue spruce as it crosses the country from Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Data will include a detailed street-level map of the most recent location, as well as the full route that the tree has traveled. The tree is scheduled to arrive at the U.S. Capitol Building on Nov. 30, with a lighting ceremony to take place the week of Dec. 7. The tree can be tracked at the link below. http://www.trackthetree.com

Why is this a Creative PR Idea?

The news hooks are obvious: the Christmas season, an American icon, and a national story. More importantly, it’s a feel-good story with a very soft-sell: in following the tree’s movement, SkyBitz is indirectly demonstrating the value of its technology: asset tracking.

SkyBitz plugs GPS devices on cargo so that shippers can track its movement from point to point. If you are a retailer, carrying extra inventory is expensive, so the ability to anticipate delivery times is incredibly important.

As an executive from SkyBitz once explained, imagine you are a grocery store, and your shipping container of canned goods is placed on the wrong truck in the shipping yard at the Port of Los Angeles, and next heads to San Diego instead of San Francisco.

That’s the wrong direction and a $100,000 worth of goods you aren’t going to get on time. If you are retailer, you might want a head’s up.

There are obvious implications for national security as well. Port security and shipping containers have often been cited as a major security risk. If someone tampers with your container in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Uncle Sam might want a head’s up too.

What I like about this SkyBitz PR move is that it’s tied to its business value proposition. It’s a creative way to offer a feel-good story – at a national level – that demonstrates the value of their technology.


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A Great PR Idea Poorly Executed

The website, http://www.trackthetree.com is down.

It’s been down — from the best I can tell – from the moment I saw this announcement which is now approaching two days.

Secondly, I take exception to the quote used in the press release making this announcement:

“We are excited (emphasis added) to provide this unique and interactive experience for everyone, young and old, to get engaged in this event and the activities and history that surround it,” said SkyBitz Senior Vice President of Marketing Craig Montgomery.

Excited? Of course, you are, I’m excited too!  This is part for the coarse on bland press release quotes in corporate circles – the word ones add an adverb – very pleased or very excited.

Quotes should give context or analysis. Ideally, quotes don’t provide statistics, but help readers understand what the statistics mean.  For example:

  • On average, how many miles to Christmas Trees cover each year?
  • What is the average length of travel for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree?
  • How far will this year’s tree travel relative to historical distances?
  • How many miles does any Christmas tree travel for the average consumer?

What are the Results so far?

This is a creative idea with a business tie that isn’t overly promotional.  It’s a good idea that could be great.

Unfortunately, it’s not doing well. I did a Google News search which displayed zero editorial placements, the Potomac Tech Wire notwithstanding and Reuters.  Those publications merely picked up their press release.

I also did another search query variations to dig for results and found one placement to date in the Tulsa Daily Commerce and Legal News.

Social media is looking pretty quiet too. Just 10 tweets were all I could find.

* * *

It’s sometimes easier to provide constructive criticism with the benefit of hindsight. It’s a lot harder to think creatively when we all have so many other tasks to juggle. I believe SkyBitz has something here, they have some experience, and there’s an opportunity to do so much more.

Disclosure: Many years ago I did some freelance work for a small PR shop that counted SkyBitz as a client. I successfully pitched a SkyBitz story and landed them a segment on CNBC about port security. I haven’t spoken to the company since.


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Photo credit: Pixabay (CC0 1.0

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  • Mary Conley Eggert

    Hilarious take on a blitz for Skybitz gone awry. You are right, Frank!…The tie-ins to their business, to the holiday season, to the common man's experience all suggested that this could be a grand slam! Bummer for Skybitz and for interested viewers.

    Your post is a great reminder to all tech marketers to test and retest before showcasing technology to the masses.

    Reminds me of a secure server firm for whom we recommended the hacker-proof server challenge. A $1M award generated considerable publicity, and reinforced the firms reputation as the server held up its claim.

    Years later, I mentioned the concept to a similar company, and the CMO laughed, happy to report he wasn't present when the organization launched a similar promo. The prior CMO didn't anticipate the demand the contest promotion would bring, and not only lost the $1M reward but the company's reputation and his job in the process.

    Moral of the story: Consider what can go wrong and address that before placing our clients or our companies on the front lines!

  • Frank Strong, MA, MBA

    I've been checking in on SkyBitz, hoping they turn this into a success. In searching for clips, I've noted one additional placement — a trucking trade publication, probably a good hit for SkyBitz, called Trucking is bringing Christmas home. And the Website is up SkyBitz Track the Tree

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