PR Fairy Tales
Entrepreneurs have a habit of describing their companies in David-and-Goliath terms. Now, some are taking cues from Eloise and James and the Giant Peach. A mini trend in the world of public relations has companies replacing their run-of-the-mill press releases with promotional materials that look and feel like children's books.
When the Dutch advertising agency StrawberryFrog established its New York City offices in 2004, it announced the news via a picture book that told the story of a nimble frog that outmaneuvered its large competitors, which were portrayed as (what else?) dinosaurs. StrawberryFrog also advised Mega, the Montreal-based manufacturer of Mega Bloks blocks and RoseArt crafts supplies, to publish children's books. Mega created a book of illustrated adventure stories that tied into the company's motto, "Creativity to the rescue."
According to StrawberryFrog's Chris Coots, mock children's books are a way for companies to deliver their message memorably. "Anytime you use something childlike, it hits an irony button," says Coots, the agency's producer and editor. "Then people realize there's a bigger point."
The less a company has to do with children, the better the juxtaposition of format and message seems to work. To promote the Pacifico brand of beer, which had 1.2 percent of the imported beer market in 2007, Crown Imports of Chicago commissioned Actividades de Pacifico, an activity booklet reminiscent of Conn and Hal Iggulden's The Dangerous Book for Boys (only with beer bottles). Similarly, when it unveiled the Windows Home Server, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) released Mommy, Why Is There a Server in the House? Poking fun at children's titles that address thorny social issues, the book explains a family's decision to buy a "stay-at-home server." The book, which was cross-promoted in Microsoft's online campaign for the product line, drew coverage in The New York Times. It also garnered enthusiastic reader reviews on Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), where it retails for $5.95.
Most small publishers can help a company create this kind of promo, according to Jerrold Jenkins, the CEO of Jenkins Group, a Traverse City, Michigan, publisher. His business, which has $2 million in annual sales, maintains Booksaremarketingtools.com, a website for companies that self-publish promotional materials. Jenkins has worked with clients such as Bush Brothers, the maker of Bush's Baked Beans, to develop children's books. Jenkins will handle ghostwriting, design, editing, and printing arrangements, charging from $2 to $10 per unit. Press runs typically range from 5,000 to 25,000.
Using children's books for PR does have its limits, however. Now a mature agency with clients including Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and Miller Brewing, StrawberryFrog is phasing out the frog-versus-dinosaur narrative. Once your business grows up, it seems, it may be time to tell a different story.