Home to companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Uber, a host of technologies including self-driving cars and Oculus VR simulators are being refined and tested in Pittsburgh—but even though it had come a long way by 2018, the city was having a hard time communicating its transformation from steel town to a thriving technology center. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a non-profit organization charged with attracting businesses to Pittsburgh, enlisted Violet PR to raise awareness of the region’s tech growing technology and life sciences sectors.
The agency was enlisted to secure a group of national technology reporters with social media followings to visit Pittsburgh in October to cover the innovation sector there. The client’s goal was to put the region on the map as a leader in the tech industry and influence C-suite executives that might consider expanding or relocating to Pittsburgh.
The budget for PR fees was a mere $6,000, with a small stipend set aside for journalist travel. Read on to see how Violet PR brilliantly executed this campaign to put Pittsburgh on the technology map—earning the agency a Gold Award in the “Best Campaign on a Shoestring Budget” category in Bulldog Reporter’s 2019 PR Awards.
Though the technologies being developed in Pittsburgh are fascinating, the campaign team was faced with a very small budget that allowed for only one three-day window of time to host journalists. A shoestring budget of $6,000 in PR fees was set—which meant Violet PR had to do all the recruiting within 40 hours of time and couldn’t travel to Pittsburgh for research or hosting.
A pair of strategies was created to maximize the limited time and resources:
Strategy 1: Target national journalists and influencers from top-tier national tech news outlets, with a focus on writers covering robotics, AI and autonomous vehicles. Tactics outlined to achieve the goal included:
- Drafting a press pitch that outlined the many innovations happening in Pittsburgh.
- Creating a draft itinerary to showcase Pittsburgh’s top innovative destinations and share with media.
- Working to coordinate exclusive interviews for the media outlets that were interested in traveling to Pittsburgh.
- Following up extensively with “most wanted” journalists to secure commitments.
Strategy 2: Increase social media activity around the thriving innovation sector in Pittsburgh. Tactics designed to accomplish this included:
- Creating a hashtag (#PghInnoTour) to include in all social posts to maximize impressions.
- Confirming that all stops on the media tour had strong visual aspects (i.e., the reporters were able to test out a robotic arm at RE2 Robotic).
- Creating social content to post during the October Pittsburgh Innovation Tour and sharing behind-the-scenes footage from the reporters’ visit.
Implementation & Execution
“The biggest barrier to success for this campaign was that the dates for the trip were fixed before we began our work (meaning that we couldn’t be flexible if a journalist had a conflict), and the content of the trip was more “evergreen”—which meant there wasn’t a major news announcement taking place during the trip. To overcome this challenge, we began our media outreach three months in advance, and did careful research so we could communicate a specific, tailored message to each reporter,” says Violet PR President, April Mason.
“To make the trip as compelling as possible, Violet PR created tailored ‘mock schedules’ that closely fit with each reporter’s area of interest to give an idea of what the day-to-day schedule would look like. We then counseled our client to create separate tracks for some of the reporters and arrange individual interviews tailored to their needs,” Mason adds.
Ultimately, Violet PR attracted seven national journalists for a three-day group press trip in Pittsburgh called, “Pioneers. Problem-Solvers. Pittsburgh: The Innovation Tour,” from Oct. 14-17, 2018. The campaign team worked carefully with each journalist to meet their individual editorial needs, and the trip resulted in more than 20 national news stories.
“Our initial PR goal was to attract at least four journalists in the tech/biotech space to attend the press trip and garner news coverage from at least three of them. We surpassed this goal by recruiting seven national reporters for the Pittsburgh press trip, from prominent outlets including Fast Company, Forbes, VentureBeat, ZDNet / CBS Interactive, POLITICO and MedTech Insight. All seven reporters wrote favorable articles and / or posted extensively on social media,” Mason offers.
“As a result of our press trip, the Pittsburgh region ultimately earned over 20 news stories and numerous social media plugs from top-tier outlets. This translated into increased visibility for its innovation sectors with national C-suite executives outside the market—far exceeding our client’s goal,” adds Mason. “In total, news articles that featured the Pittsburgh press trip totaled 55 million in impressions.”
Social media coverage of the Pittsburgh Innovation Tour reached over 300,000 users across
social platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. A top-performing post featured Forbes’ Alex Knapp at RE2 Robotics. The tweet reached over 13,000 users, received 10 responses, 15 likes and 10 retweets. Impressions increased by 257.4% and engagement increased by 393.2% across all Conference social platforms during the campaign.
Creativity & Innovation
“Our intensive research-focused approach—as well as persistence—set this trip apart. We knew that getting national journalists to travel as a group with no major new news announcements would be a huge hurdle to overcome. And we only had 40 hours of agency time to spend on the project,” Mason explains. “To overcome this challenge with innovative thinking, we built a carefully targeted media list containing reporters covering highly specific topics ranging from robotics to artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles, sought out media with personal ties to Pittsburgh, and proactively offered exclusive interview opportunities for journalists that needed more ‘meat’ to sell the story to their editors.”
Ultimately, the team was enormously proud of their success on this project and the client was thrilled. By recruiting some of the top journalists in the world to experience the resurgence in the region, Violet PR was able to secure 20+ editorial placements from top-tier media during this three-month project—demonstrating a high level of ingenuity and showcasing why the agency won Gold in Bulldog’s 2019 PR Awards.