Zaarly: A Startup PR Case Study


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Zaarly, named of of the hottest apps of 2011, is a Geben Communication client. In this presentation, Geben president Heather Whaling shares some of the PR strategy and tactics that help build and sustain momentum. Many of the ideas can be implemented, whether you're in startup PR or other sectors.

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  • Introduction PR lead for Zaarly. Also work with a freelancer in Boston and a NY PR consultant. The three of us for the PR team. Work closely with the rest of the Zaarly team.
  • Particularly in the start-up space, people glom on to jargony words. Pinvot, ladder up, etc. It’s a constant challenge to make sure those things don’t become part of our actual messaging. We’re not talking to other start-ups and techies. So, while P2P marketplaces makes sense in Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley, it’s just confusing to regular people. So is collaborative consumption. Sounds like we’re all just having a massive dinner party! We need messages that will resonate with people looking for a better way to get things done.
  • We have some messages for Zaarly that we’ve been using, but we’re currently in the process of crystalizing the “Zaarly story.” Our goal is to focus on these items. We need to lose the jargon. We have to explain why . Who are we, why do we matter in your life, and what makes us different/better than other options. We’ve found adding context and showing -- through user stories -- are among the most effective ways to persuade people to give Zaarly a try.
  • When working with start-ups (or any business really!), clear messaging is part of a needed foundation. Also need relatable stories. Particularly today, it’s critical to build an online and an offline network. With Zaarly, that means an active FB & Twitter presence. But, it also means organizing “start-up crawls” in NY & SF, hosting happy hours, creating “secret” FB groups to connect power users with each other, “Zaarly nation” for supporters and advocates, etc. In the start-up space, there’s often a lot of buzz when you first launch or when you get funding, but the challenge is building and sustaining ongoing momentum.
  • With Zaarly, we were really lucky to have a lot of initail bizz. Let me tell you the short version of the Z story. Bo, airport. 6 ft tall. A-ha moment. At Kaufman Foundation, knew SUW people. Went to LA event, decided to pitch his idea. It won. Ashton was a judge. Seed funding Bo, Eric and Ian all had “regular” jobs, which they quick to focus on Zaarly full time. In just a couple weeks, they launched at SXSW and facilitated $10K+ in transactions. With that plugged-in tech crwod all abuzz, they knew they were on to something with huge potential. And the timing was just perfect.
  • Zaarly couldn’t have worked a couple years. From a PR standpoint, it’s important for us to understand the evolution of the marketplace. At the intersection of these big trends that are changing how people shop, sell, interact. The media is very interested in how people and businesses are going mobile. But, they’re also interested in how shopping habits change. (How many stories did you see about online shopping, mobile commerce coming out of Black Friday and heading into holiday shopping season?) Our job is to figure out how to capitalize on all these trends to generate media coverage that build awareness, educates people about mobile commerce, and convinces people to try Zaarly.
  • Aside from launching products and updates, Zaarly uses PR to accomplish a variety of other outcomes, including:
  • Educatino and thought-leadership. Guest posts on HuffPo, infographics, op-eds help position Zaarly on the leading edge of these new trends, and also reinforce Zaarly as a credible start-up -- one worth trusting with your commerce. Infographics have been hugely successful for us. Zaarly currates info that relates to how people are using the app, without being too app-focused. For example, the infographic on music festivals, how moms use technology -- all connected to Zaarly, but the graphs don’t focus on Zaarly. As a result, we’ve been on the front page of Digg, shared by Guy Kawasaki and picked up by niche blogs. Together, these have driven significant traffic to the site.
  • PR helps legitimize Zaarly to a non-techy audience. The co-founders have been on Fox Business, Bloomberg West, plus Zaarly’s NY announcement -- and quote from the mayor -- was featured on From a social standpoint, this also provides the social team with additional content to share. Local TV interviews have been really valuable for us, often leading to a spike in user sign-ups and listings.
  • From being included in a front-page WSJ story, to securing local coverage in markets where we’re focusing -- like SF, Chicago, or Seattle -- as well as staying connected to the tech press, we can build and sustain the PR momentum. This helps us generate awareness and catch people’s attention. This increase in attention is an important part of the user acquisition funnel.
  • We use Twitter lists to track reporters we’ve pitched, hope to pitch or worked with previously. This helps us make sure we don’t miss what they’re saying or asking. This helped us secure a place on CNN’s 7 must-have Black Friday apps. Saw the reporter tweet, send the lead to the person on our team who had worked with this reporter previousyl and voila. CNN. Black Friday was a natural fit for us to pitching shopping related stories. Use Zaarly to avoid waiting in lines, etc. We pitched and Zaarly blogged, plus we purchased some promoted tweets and Facebook ads. As a result, Zaarly saw a major uptick in activity around Black Friday:
  • We’re in the midst of a campaign that focuses on parents -- targeting those who think more strategically about their time. Do you want a custom cake for your kids or need someone to pick up the dry cleaning so you can spend more time with your kids? Around the holidays, we’ve seen things like catering for holiday parts or hanging XMAS lights. This campaign is a combination of paid, earned and “owned” outreach. We’re paying some mombloggers and gave a few others Zaarly $$ to test the service and share their experiences. We’re also working with a site to host a contest, and pitching guest posts from Bo about what it’s like being a busy parent and how Zaarly can help parents get more done. And, we’ve got our own blog content -- 25 ways parents can use Zaarly, plus a forthcoming infographic on how technology helps households run more smoothly.
  • Zaarly also launched Zaarly U - to onboard college kids. Hugely successful. In fact, some of Zaarly’s most active users are the college kids. Ambassador program -- Campus CEOs -- lead the program at each college. They create all kinds of campaigns to get students to sign up. We support with targeted PR to their student papers and local community media. The Campus CEOs act as our spokesperson to their local media. It’s been really fun working with the kids. They’re super excited about the program and working really hard. I think I saw that Marquette has nearly 10% of their student body signed up. That’s quite the infiltration in a short period of time.
  • In the start-up space, funding and board members are carefully orchestrated news events. Particularly in today’s tech world, where lots of money is being thrown around, it’s important to plan and execute the roll-out to maximize the coverage.
  • Zaarly recently announced Series A funding -- $!4 million led by Kleiner Perkins. As part of this, we were also bringing Meg Whitman to the board. Meg grew eBay into an ecommerce powerhouse. Zaarly is the next iteration and as we try to lead the shift toward mobile commerce, her insights are invaluable. Despite the blog posts and commentary to the contrary, the embargo is still very much a viable tactic, particularly with major news like this. We developed our list of media -- everything from Portfolio, Forbes, and All Things D, to Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Inc and Bloomberg. We had a few outlets -- WSJ -- decline the embargo, but for the most part, everyone agreed to hold the news. We shared the info with them, set up interviews with Bo Fishback and a KP rep, also offered a quote from Meg. The day the story broke, we had more than 60 news stories go live.
  • Because we emphasized the top-tier media during the embargo process, that initial wave of coverage sparked a next wave of stories, helping us secure literally hundreds of articles. From a social standpoint, we knew when the story was going to break (per the embargo), so we were able to use FB & Twitter to tease it. Then, we shared some of the coverage on our social channels. Also had a blog post from Bo
  • This is one of my favorite quotes from the CEO. Inc did a story on Zaarly gettting a glowing quote from Mayor Bloomberg as part of the NYC office announcement. Our NY PR guy had a relationship with the Mayor’s office that we were able to tap into. The point behind Bo’s quote is something I hope more companies understand. And that’s the secret to successful PR, whether you’re working with a startup or a long-standing company … B2B or B2C. As we’ve shown with Zaarly, you don’t have to work for one of the major, international firms to develop and execute innovative strategies that generate strong, bottom-line driven results. I’m willing to put this case study up against any major firm and I think we can hold our own. With that, questions about Zaarly or our PR? And, now would be a good time to sign up for the service. :)
  • Zaarly: A Startup PR Case Study

    1. 1. A PR Case Study Heather Whaling • @prTini [email_address]
    2. 2. What is Zaarly? <ul><li>Peer-to-peer commerce </li></ul><ul><li>Mobile marketplace </li></ul><ul><li>Collaborative consumption </li></ul><ul><li>“ The new way to buy and sell” </li></ul>Photo credit: Guudmorning
    3. 3. Consumer-Friendly Messaging <ul><li>Lose the jargon </li></ul><ul><li>Explain the “why” </li></ul><ul><li>Constantly refine </li></ul><ul><li>Add context </li></ul><ul><li>Show, don’t tell </li></ul>PR Tip: Lose the jargon. Show, don’t tell.
    4. 4. PR Foundation <ul><li>Clear messaging </li></ul><ul><li>Relatable stories </li></ul><ul><li>Online and offline network </li></ul><ul><li>Build & sustain momentum </li></ul>Facebook groups connect ambassadors & uncover PR opps.
    5. 5. Working in our Favor …
    6. 6. Big-Picture Trends <ul><li>Zaarly is at the intersection of: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mobile </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Commerce </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Geolocation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Location-based marketing </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. socializing product launches
    8. 8. Be Your Own Media <ul><li>Social media release </li></ul><ul><li>Add social sharing to the launch timeline: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tease on Facebook and Twitter </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identify when & how news can be shared online </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Provide sample posts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Internal communication is critical </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Coordinate with high-profile supporters </li></ul><ul><li>Update closed/secret Facebook groups </li></ul><ul><li>Monitor online conversations on FB, Twitter, Quora, blogs, etc. Respond as appropriate. </li></ul>
    9. 9. Coordinated Media Outreach <ul><li>Challenge: Timing is uncontrollable </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We can’t control when apps go live in iTunes or Android Marketplace </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How to “break” the news? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Blog post </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>SMR </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Embargo </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Email reporters with a “tip” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Interviews </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Contest </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facebook, Twitter </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. PR delivers a range of benefits
    11. 11. Education & Thought-Leadership
    12. 12. Adds Credibility
    13. 13. Build Awareness & Pique Interest
    14. 14. Why NOW?
    15. 15. go niche or go home
    16. 16. Parents: Better Time Management
    17. 17. Zaarly U
    18. 18. hello, Meg Whitman
    19. 19. $14.1 million + Meg Whitman
    20. 21. But, there’s more … <ul><li>Events & community building </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Start-Up Crawl </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Happy hours </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>User interviews </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Social media </li></ul><ul><li>Crisis response </li></ul><ul><li>Awards </li></ul><ul><li>Speaking </li></ul><ul><li>Email marketing </li></ul>
    21. 22. “ We’ve been through a few different PR firms and didn’t have a huge amount of luck, so we started to pick who we wanted to work with much more by the individual, rather than the firm.” - Bo Fishback in
    22. 23. Heather Whaling [email_address] @prTini blog: bit. ly/prTini facebook: