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Publicity: A Better Way to Seed the Market

A look at how a small company offered a popular product at cost in a highly successful promotional campaign.
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Some companies go crazy trying to get noticed. One software developer sent its customers -- technical help-desk departments -- huge steaks with a cute "instruction booklet." Pardon us, but where's the meat? The connection between the stunt and the software product was forced at best.

Contrast the steak giveaway with this more natural publicity bid: Peachpit Press, a small publisher in Berkeley, Calif., announced it was selling, at cost, 77,000 copies, or $1 million worth, of its then-latest book, Zap! How Your Computer Can Hurt You and What You Can Do About It. The book lists for $12.95, but corporations that ordered it within four months of publication would pay just 90¢ a copy for a minimum order of 30.

Within four weeks, Peachpit had heard from more than 30 corporations. IBM, Wells Fargo, Gillette, Allstate, and USA Today placed orders. They were all new customers Peachpit would never have reached through conventional retail channels.

In planning its promotion, Peachpit called several corporations. A safety manager liked the preview enough to order 300 copies for her own company; she also alerted her industry group. That led to an order for 3,000 copies. More orders came in as the offer went public in newspapers and trade journals.

Sales manager Keasley Jones called the Zap! promotion "more beneficial" and more measurable than any other marketing he's tried, including image advertising. "We know the benefits: exposure to a new niche and new customers."

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