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10 Companies That Hacked Traditional PR for Big Digital Marketing Wins

Research executed by Bizible found that only 64.2% of businesses today are using PR to drum up business, while (for the same reason) 82.1% are investing in content marketing and 79.2% in SEO.  bizible

Why? I don’t profess to be an expert in PR, but hearsay tells me the industry has been suffering from a flailing reputation for a while now.

In 2014, Think Different[ly] founder Lyndon Johnson wrote a piece for Marketing Profs in which he declared the industry “broken,” stating the problem to be a result of “excessive retainer fees, a lack of transparency, no clear value proposition, and dubious business ethics.”

Hearing that, I can understand how businesses would approach PR with caution, and I could forgive them for writing off the idea altogether.

And yet I’d still say that’s a shame.

The PR industry might have suffered its fair share of setbacks, but that doesn’t mean to say the discipline itself isn’t worth investing in.

My work has shown me that PR is going through a particularly difficult period of transition. Digital isn’t the future – it’s the here-and-now, and traditional PR agencies that want to survive need to adapt – and quickly.

They’re up against marketing channels that offer fast, measurable results. They’re fighting for coverage in media that updates not by the month, week, or day, but by the second. It’s tough, and PR agencies that don’t adapt will fail.

On the other hand, we have digital-only agencies dipping their toes into the world of online PR. SEOs and content marketers are testing the waters by using traditional PR techniques to win online coverage for their clients.

In my experience, I’ve seen few marketers that are truly skilled in both digital marketing and traditional PR, but those that are, are getting some pretty awesome results.

Let’s stick with this positive train of thought and see some examples…


In 2013, UK designer brand Aquascutum was suffering the lingering effects of going into administration the previous year. Despite having been acquired by YGM Trading (who already owned the rights to the brand in Asia) only a short time after the bad news broke, Aquascutum was unable to shake the general public’s view that the brand was done for.  Aquascutum

To help turn things around, Aquascutum enlisted the help of digital specialists Media Vision. When the two first joined forces, the search results were choked with stories about the brand entering into administration.

To remedy this, Aquascutum decided to capitalize on the launch of a new store in Great Marlborough Street, in London. Media Vision decided that the best chance of success would lie in reaching out, not to traditional journalists, but to the “journalists” of the digital age: bloggers.

Media Vision sought out fashion bloggers who had never featured the brand before and invited them to meet with Aquascutum’s designers ahead of the store’s opening. In short: it adopted a traditional PR tactic and updated it for the digital age.

It worked well. Branded searches and direct traffic began to increase along with visitors to the new store.

This gave the company the confidence to expand and begin targeting bigger online publications. It secured features in a number of men’s fashion blogs as well as localized sites such as Time Out London.

The final result was a 348% increase in visitors landing on the site via branded search terms, alongside a 1087% increase in revenue from customers who arrived on the site via the same means.

Key takeaway: Don’t just target the traditional media with your PR campaigns. You can often get far better results through speaking to industry-specific bloggers. This strategy works best when you’re able to offer them products or invite them to events that will help them get excited about your brand.

Pizza Express

In 2011, UK pizza restaurant chain Pizza Express set about changing the way diners pay for meals for good with the launch of a new mobile app. The app allows customers to book tables, view menus, and store vouchers and receipts. More importantly, the app enabled customers to pay their check directly from their phone, using PayPal.

This proved to be excellent news for diners who, frustrated with having to wait around to pay their check once they had finished their meal, downloaded the app by the thousands: it quickly became the number one downloaded lifestyle app in the UK.

Of course, Pizza Express didn’t just launch the app and wait for users to find it. They used a traditional press release and distribution strategy in order to get the media talking (with a bit of a difference).  Pizza express

Instead of a standard plain text release and token photo, Wolfstar PR company created a “social media news release (SMNR)” which contained news copy and images alongside a video and screenshots that showcased the app in action.

This was distributed to journalists in the tech, food, and marketing media, in addition to the UK national media.

The result included more than 50 digital articles while “Pizza Express” became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. The release also nabbed Pizza Express and Wolfstar the Best Multimedia Press Release at the 2011 Digital Impact Awards.

Key takeaway: The mobile app market is a tough nut to crack. Make things a little easier for yourself by entering the market with an app that’s unique, innovative, and fulfils a genuine consumer need. Just make sure to publicize its launch with an engaging press release and a smart distribution strategy, too.


Grammy-winning rock bands probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about digital PR, but truth be told, Coldplay never really fit the traditional “rock star” stereotype.

It probably shouldn’t have come as any real surprise then, when Coldplay began to get tongues wagging in anticipation of their 2014 album “Ghost Stories” with a good old traditional PR stunt.

In the lead up to the album’s release, Coldplay hid lyric sheets, written by Chris Martin himself, inside ghost story books in libraries around the world.  coldplay

The band hid nine sheets in total (one from each song on the album) in libraries as far and wide as Singapore, Finland, England, and New Zealand (FYI: the England envelope also contained a “golden ticket” with a prize of a trip to see the band play in London).

Throughout the stunt, the band tweeted clues to the sheets’ whereabouts, both to help fans track them down, and to leverage the online coverage the stunt secured them that much further.

The result was an incredible amount of online coverage and an album that debuted at number one on both the UK and US charts. It also went on to become the UK’s biggest-selling album in the first half of 2014.

Key takeaway: Don’t just get the media involved in a PR stunt — getting the general public fired up about what you’re doing will spread your message further, and should naturally get the media talking, too.

BizBuySell is where companies go to try and sell their business. Despite being the internet’s biggest “Business for Sale Marketplace” (or so they say), like most companies, BizBuySell was hungry for more publicity.

Enter Walker Sands: a forward-thinking PR company that places high value on social and search, alongside traditional media.

BizBuySell worked with Walker Sands to devise a data-led PR strategy. Like many companies, BizBuySell was sitting on heaps of unused data. This goldmine included key insights into business-for-sale transactions: specifically, the listing and sale price of small businesses from all across the US.


Rather than approach journalists with a list of facts and figures, BizBuySell and Walker Sands decided to boost the usefulness and appeal of the data, and increase its longevity, by incorporating it into a quarterly economic report called the Insight Report.

I admire this tactic because it takes a sort of “evergreen” approach to PR. Okay, so each set of data might age quickly, but where one report failed, the next may well succeed.

It’s cumulative, too. When a publication reports on a data set, there’s a good chance they will report on the next one as well. Each time a respectable publication writes up a story, odds are other publications will follow. This can cause a domino effect.

BizBuySell and Walker Sands utilized one more classic PR strategy in this campaign: exclusivity. Every publication wants to be the first to report on a story, so if you can offer a reporter exclusive rights to it, if only for a limited time, you’ll make the prospect of using the story sound much more appealing.

BizBuySell and Walker Sands did just that: they approached ACBJ business journals with data that was specifically relevant to them, and offered temporary exclusivity on its use.

The result during a one-year period was 353 online and offline placements including outlets like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Reuters.

In the same period, traffic to its site increased by nearly 27%.

You can read the full case study here.

Key takeaway: See what data your company is already collecting that can be turned into a report and presented to the media.


Great PR happens when a company does something completely unexpected, and I can’t think of a better example of that than Ikea’s latest business venture: weddings. Yep, you heard that right – your favourite Swedish furniture store can now host the wedding of your dreams. Theoretically, anyway. This isn’t your standard church, barn, or hotel wedding. This is a webcam wedding.

Ikea is no stranger to off-the-wall PR stunts. In December 2014, they replaced the movie seats in a theatre with beds.  Ikea

In February 2015 they launched a range of emoticons designed to help prevent relationship break up in its stores.  ikea2
Then in April of last year, “Wedding Online” happened. The cynics among us might assume that this was all a big hoax. They would be right, to an extent. The stunt was designed to be a bit of fun that would help to promote products and yet… it was entirely, 100% genuine. Ikea was able to marry couples over webcam and even offered Swedish citizens the necessary paperwork.

Did anyone actually get married via Wedding Online? Sadly, I can’t find anything saying that they did — a Google search just led to a story about a couple who got married in Ikea rather than by Ikea. If you know anything more, comments are below – please let me know!

And if you’re tempted by a webcam wedding, I’ve got bad news for you: according to the Wedding Online website, it’s no longer possible to book an Ikea webcam wedding. Not that Ikea will be too upset about that: the stunt secured the brand a huge amount of online coverage that included mentions and links on sites like CNET, ABCNews, Cosmopolitan, and PCMag.

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to try something completely off-the-wall and unexpected. Remember that big media publications are not interested in product launches or company expansions unless there’s something new or unusual about them. Unless you’re about to launch a product or company that’s (genuinely) going to change how we live or work, you might need to start thinking a little more creatively.

Design Crowd

Here’s another case study courtesy of the guys at Walker Sands (no, they’re not paying me, they just do lots of awesome work). This time, they were tasked with boosting sales and driving traffic to DesignCrowd, a crowdsourced marketplace in which businesses can submit a design brief and choose from many (often a few hundred) different designs, courtesy of the site’s freelance designers. The clincher (for the businesses, anyway) is that they get to choose and pay only for their favorite design.

Walker Sands’ strategy involved executing and promoting a series of five design competitions. DesignCrowd’s members were asked to create “topical, humorous designs to showcase their creativity.”  Design crowd

Walker Sands would then promote the competition to the media with the aim of reaching DesignCrowd’s target audiences: small businesses and freelance designers.

The project ran for 3 months, with the winner taking home a $2,500 prize. In the meantime, entries were collected and shortlists were made and shared with the media and target customers.

During the 3-month period, Walker Sands secured coverage for DesignCrowd in 65 online publications including Adweek, HuffPost Business, and Buzzfeed. These placements saw a total of 54,000 social shares across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, while referral traffic to the site increased by an incredible 1,900%. More importantly, new member registrations increased by over 700%.

Key takeaway: Competitions can generate publicity, but you generally need to be asking entrants to do or create something intriguing if you want to spark the media’s interest. A substantial prize tends to help, too.


When integrated marketing agency LEWIS was enlisted by LiquiGlide to raise awareness of the brand and its innovative “make anything slippery” gel, it had a pretty tough job on its hands.  liquiglide

LiquiGlide was struggling to shake an image that saw the brand as more of a “science experiment” than a multipurpose product to be reckoned with. LiquiGlide wanted consumers to understand that the product could be used in a wide array of applications. It also wanted to target the B2B market,  specifically manufacturers of viscous liquids who would be able to cut costs and even eliminate waste thanks to LiquiGlide.

In short: LiquiGlide was after a PR campaign that educated potential customers on the product and its uses.

The key here was to get the brand in front a very specific group of people – people who would be able to grasp the science behind how the product works.

While it might have been easy to go down the silly “look what crazy things you can do with this product” route, LEWIS and LiquiGlide knew that wouldn’t help erase the idea that the product was just a “crazy science experiment.” Rather, their goal was to help potential customers gain a deeper understanding of LiquiGlide. They wanted customers to not only understand the ‘what’ of the product, but also the ‘why.’

Their quality over quantity approach (in terms of the reporters they targeted with the campaign) worked well. Very well.

In a single year, LiquiGlide was featured in the digital media 790 times.

Its proudest achievement, however, was a feature in The New York Times. Not only did the article communicate everything LiquiGlide wanted to convey, but it also led to:

  • More than 50,000 views of LiquiGlide’s videos
  • Over 38,000 Facebook likes
  • 81,000 website views
  • More than 600 new sales inquiries

Key takeaway: Outreach isn’t necessarily a numbers game. Taking the time to carefully approach a handful of highly-qualified prospects can often gain better results than sending out emails in the hopes that if you send enough, some of them have got to stick.


One of Häagen-Dazs’ key selling points is its use of natural, quality ingredients. Even today, Häagen-Daz is one of the very few commercial ice cream manufacturers that doesn’t use stabilizers like carrageenan, xanthan gum, and guar gum in its products.

What it does use, however, is a lot of ingredients that are reliant on honey bees (as are one third of the foods we eat worldwide). This wouldn’t be a problem… if honey bees weren’t in crisis.

In the last five years, the U.S. has lost more than a third of its honey bee colonies, due to factors like parasites, pesticides, poor nutrition, and an unexplained phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in which honey bees desert their hive and die.

In 2008 Häagen-Dazs responded to the situation by devising its “Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees” campaign.  Haagen-Dazs

Since the campaign’s launch, Häagen-Dazs has donated more than a million dollars to honey bee research.

This included a $125,000 donation to the UC Davis Department of Entomology to help them establish “Honey Bee Haven”, a garden designed to “provide honey bees with a year-around food source, and to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own.”  Haagen-dazs 2

More recently, the brand has teamed up with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a non-profit organization that helps to protect bees and other insects through the conservation of their habitats.

In the year following the launch of Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees, sales increased 5.2%. The brand also won multiple awards including a gold Cannes Lion for Corporate Responsibility and Environmental Issues and saw a 13% increase in its brand advocacy rating.

Digitally, Häagen-Dazs drove 469,798 visitors to its Help the Honey Bees site and also secured online and offline media impressions worth around $1.5 million in advertising.

Key takeaway: Charity PR is brilliant for brands and the world at large. Try to identify a link between your brand and a social or ethical issue and use this to devise a charity-led PR strategy.

Alpine Lace Swiss Cheese

A unique, fun, and interesting event with the right guests in attendance is an excellent way to get people talking about a company – a strategy that achieved awesome results for Alpine Lace, a brand of reduced-fat Swiss cheese.

The brand’s Dine, Dance and Discover event was one element of a multi-pronged PR strategy devised by Exponent PR.

A Facebook strategy was launched with the goal of aligning the brand’s values with those of its customers.

Alpine lace
Lifestyle bloggers were asked to share personal stories about “what goes into their healthy, happy lives” and devise recipes that used Alpine Lace cheese as an ingredient.

For the Dine, Dance and Discover event, Alpine Lace invited lifestyle bloggers and media personalities from the Boston and New York areas to one of two events in which they would learn the rumba and dance with Kristi Yamaguchi (an Olympic gold medalist skater, children’s author, and entrepreneur) and try “innovative cheese pairings” alongside, naturally, plenty of wine.  alpine lace 2
Although it’s best practice and just plain polite not to ask anything in return for your invitees’ attendance, if you put on a good soiree and your guests enjoy themselves, you can expect most of them will put a positive write-up on their blog. This is exactly what happened for Alpine Lace. See the results for yourself here. This coverage drove 10.5 million impressions in total – more than 3 times the brand’s goal.

Key takeaway: An event is a great way to get people talking about your brand, but prepare to spend. Many of your guests will likely be traveling a long way and taking time away from their work and family to attend, so you need to make the event worth their effort. Cut corners and you can expect to burn bridges and reap the “rewards” of pissing off reputable bloggers and journalists.

The Tatura Hotel

When Australian pub, bistro, and hotel “The Tatura” needed to raise funds fast, it turned to a form of fundraising more commonly associated with consumer products than the service industry: crowdfunding.

Unfortunately, crowdfunding only really works if you can offer something in return for your crowdfunders’ cash. This is simple for consumer product startups, who will have something tangible they can offer to contributors.

It’s not so easy for a hotel/pub. It might be able to offer drinks, food, or hotel stays as compensation, but this limits the company to potential crowdfunders who live within the vicinity of the venue.

Those standard compensation options also lacked the creativity needed to generate something else The Tatura team was after: PR.

The plan instead was to offer contributors the chance to name parts of the pub in their honor.

This included things such as the Chicken Parma, a barstool, the men’s urinal, a car park, and a pool cue. Alternatively, a $6 contribution could even ‘buy a local a beer.’

Owner “Bugs” Ryan was used as the face of the campaign, parts of which entailed posing for photos:  Tatura Hotel

And starring in videos:

The video above racked up 200,000 views in the first 24 hours of its release. It also made the front page of Reddit and secured more than 160 pieces of coverage including features in, The London Times, and Woman’s Weekly.

A second video saw the Tatura team call on Kanye West to play a gig in the pub should it hit its fundraising target. While this generated plenty of PR for the pub, it’s still waiting to hear whether Kanye will be coming to perform.

Over five weeks, the campaign raised $32,000, but more importantly, it resulted in an unimaginable amount of publicity, considering its source – a local pub, restaurant, and hotel.

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to aim high. This case proves that with the right story, even a small, local business can gain international coverage.

That’s it for today… just a reminder that if anyone knows whether any couples did get married via an Ikea Webcam Wedding, please leave a note below – I’m really curious to find out! And as always, I love to hear about your experiences. Have you tried hacking traditional PR tactics to gain coverage online? Let me how it went, also in the comments below.



Nathan Thomas

Great read as always Sujan, hilarious about the Ikea weddings, I think the emoticons certainly fill a need though, those stores can be risky places for couples! Looking forward to reading more, and I’ll no doubt be visiting the Tatura when next in Australia!

Danny Lynch

Really interesting post Sujan, I particularly like The Tatura Hotel example.

I agree that traditional PR and SEO are merging – creating “Digital PR”. I’ve personally had a lot of success learning and applying PR techniques to win online coverage for my clients, in what would normally be considered an SEO service.


I like the article, but it seems more geared for B2C companies as opposed to niche B2B markets like Enterprise Technology.

John Cobbs

Impressive! I’ll personally say you marveled me, Genius Hack! I never expected it could be that soon and comprehensive.
Thanks to geniushack08(at)gmail(dot)com, i appreciate everything you did!

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