The best part of our job at Freestyle is being constantly challenged by ourselves and our clients. Our job, at times, is like playing football. Sometimes we’re given the ball on 4th and 1…a distance that is so close but yet so far to reach the next 1st down. That statement couldn’t be more true last November when our client, Dwolla, asked us to plan and execute a national launch in just three weeks (which included Thanksgiving). Mind you, national launches can take two to three months to research and craft, especially if you’re a startup entering a market whose bellwether firm is the likes of PayPal, Visa and Mastercard. To add to the complexity, Freestyle had to negotiate Dwolla’s launch with its two equity partners, each with their own media outreach programs.
First off, Freestyle is a boutique PR agency, so in NFL terms we’re like the Green Bay Packers. We don’t pretend to be the New England Patriots or the Dallas Cowboys, we leave that up to guys like these. Nope, we are a small, but passionate team that leverages our creativity and connections to design the best plays at the best time to create the best results. With that said, the Freestyle team huddled and came up with a new solid strategy in the fourth quarter. The new game plan would provide a solid launching pad that would help secure maximum amount of visibility within the startup’s budget, but this wasn’t without careful consideration and discussion.
See like any game, we needed to know what we were up against and do our due diligence. More importantly, we needed to know the goals of our client (our general manager) and how we could best maximize our efforts to achieve their objectives. Spending hours surveying Dwolla’s competitors, researching industry trends, and crafting strategies, Freestyle then drafted a winning game plan that would differentiate Dwolla and resonate with Ben’s and Shane’s (co-founders) business objectives. In terms of the analogy, that game plan encompassed contextualizing the play selection (key insights), finding our best matchups (writers and outlets), relaying the play selection (facilitating interviews), and establishing offensive and defensive strategies (message positioning).
However, transcending theory into reality isn’t always as clear cut as coaches wish, so when it comes to implementing those insights strategic improvisation is key. For example, knowing we didn’t have the budget to spend on a full blown media tour, which would have allowed us to get in front of the traditional media, bloggers, and reviewers, we chose to go for a calculated hail mary. In our case, this was the Associated Press (AP), where we had relationships with several reporters. So why the AP? Well, as we’ve discussed before, the AP would provide us maximum reach. Most AP articles are syndicated (at various degrees) because most media (print, broadcast and most online) are members of the AP: meaning they get some of their daily content from stories written by AP reporters.
With the plan in place and the ball just being snapped, we immediately looked at our AP contacts (wide receivers). One of our receivers was in Silicon Valley and thought Dwolla’s story would be a sure bet, but was waived off by another AP contact in New York who specialized in social media. After waiting for that AP contact to make a decision (which we didn’t have time to allow), we went to our final receiver, David Pitt, a financial reporter based in Des Moines. Knowing David for several years and already having an introductory interview between him and Dwolla in the Spring of 2010, Freestyle hoped for the best. Pitt agreed to the interview regarding Dwolla’s launch, but by no means was he agreeing (nor his editor in New York) to pen a story on Dwolla. That’s the danger with the AP. There’s no sure bet that they’re going to cover your client. For now, Pitt was looking like a good target, but we had buy time to let the play develop. In the meantime, we leveraged our contacts to protect us from a dangerous sack. Our strong blockers (Des Moines Register, PC Magazine, CNN Money, Internet Retailer, etc.) helped level the playing field, assuring us successful Dwolla touchdown.
The exclusive meant the AP had the first crack at the story before any other media. With a number of previous AP interviews (somewhere between 20 to 25) under its belt, Freestyle knew that the interview with Dwolla’s co-founder and CEO, Ben Milne, was not a
guaranteed story. We knew that to help cement the piece, we needed to help facilitate interviews with third parties, such as Dwolla’s customers and partners. After about five of those separate interviews, we still needed to accomplish one more objective to help cement the article on Dwolla: a multimedia element such as a video, screenshot and/or pictures.After finally getting the green light from his editors in New York (less than 36 hours before Dwolla was going national on Dec. 1), we received a phone call from Pitt letting us know the request for a photographer was approved and that we needed to setup a photo shoot with Ben in a matter of minutes.
Now, with the ball spiraling in the air and the receiver extending his arms to catch it, we all held our breath to see if the AP story would land on the day of Dwolla’s launch. It was important the story appear the same day as the launch, since the article itself was a mechanism (in addition to distributing a press release) for helping spread the word about Dwolla. At 12:17 a.m., on December 1, Freestyle’s CEO, who had almost fallen asleep, received a text message informing him the AP story had appeared. Great, right?! Well it was a start. We needed the AP story to be picked up by other media. An AP story alone wasn’t going to help accomplish getting Dwolla’s name out there in every corner of the country. As a coach, you want your players to not only secure the first down, but the touchdown, too. Thankfully, in addition to the AP running the story, the other articles we secured hit. They included a cover page story on the Des Moines Register, a PC Magazine feature story, as well as articles Forbes, Credit Union Times, Silicon Prairie News, local broadcast stations, etc.
It wasn’t until later that morning, on December 1, that we realized the significance of the AP story hitting. We not only secured the first down, but we scored the touchdown as well. By the time December 1 was over, the AP story had been syndicated in over 115 media outlets. From CNBC to the New York Times, Dwolla’s story of going national was everywhere. In just three weeks, which also includes the Thanksgiving holiday week that created a nuisance for us when it came to getting things done, Freestyle helped a relatively unknown startup in central Iowa realize its potential and transcend itself to the national scene. The agency’s ability to pull together a successful national launch is testament to not only its employees’ fervor to go above and beyond expectation, but how a great client and agency relationship (that exists between Dwolla and Freestyle) can mean the difference between getting the first down and scoring a touchdown!
–David Splivalo, president and founder of Freestyle PR