Edelman: PR Agency of the Year ’09

Everyone knows eBay is the place where you can rummage through the contents of grandma’s attic and bid what you think is fair for a milk glass vase. But in early 2009, not everyone knew that the online auction site was also a one-click shopping destination for new toys, fixed-price tools and bargain backpacks.

So eBay enlisted independent public relations powerhouse Edelman last March to help update its image and boost sales. The partnership has taken eBay to places it had not been before. The shopping bazaar — previously only accessible to consumers in cyberspace — came to life with a pop-up store that opened on West 57th Street in New York during the holiday season. Before that, Edelman rolled out the glitz when it created a promotion inspired by the classic television hit Let’s Make a Deal that let shoppers win the prizes they correctly bid upon. The three-day event in June — dubbed Let’s Make a Daily Deal — was set in Times Square.

Hosted by Monty Hall (co-creator and emcee of the TV show) and actor/comedian Mario Cantone, the games took place live, online and on digital billboards.

“We wanted to shift perception and contemporize the understanding of what eBay is today,” says Alan Marks, svp of corporate communications at the San Jose, Calif.-based company. “We’re not just an auction site for stuff out of your house.”

Edelman was tasked with creating an original, high-profile program that delivered results. It succeeded. EBay saw a 260 percent increase in first-time buyers and a 136 percent increase in first-time Daily Deal customers, the shop reports. Momentum also spiked from the pop-up store on 57th Street. The 5,500-square-foot venue sold electronics, designer clothes, cosmetics and housewares to hordes of price-conscious holiday shoppers.

“We were thrilled with how well Edelman captured the fun and energy of the brand,” Marks says. “We put a lot of challenges in front of them and they ramped up in a matter of a few months. Their execution was spot-on.”

Landing a marquee client like eBay and guiding the marketer into uncharted territory illustrated Edelman’s M.O. for the year. The New York-based shop was determined to broaden the definition of public relations and become invaluable in helping clients speak directly to consumers. It did just that.

“We’re promoting the concept of public engagement,” says Richard Edelman, the president and CEO. “It’s as much about what clients do as how they say it. It’s about being in people’s lives, taking on relevant, of-the-moment issues.”

Even a few years ago, that kind of thinking would have been beyond the mandate of traditional PR, which focused largely on landing media coverage, says Edelman, whose entrepreneurial spirit and hands-off management style are applauded by his staffers. While he holds people accountable for success, he encourages risk.

His technique is clearly working as Edelman and his team, Adweek’s Public Relations Agency of the Year, have become key partners in every stage of marketing. In 2009, the shop married computer giant HP with award-winning designer Vivienne Tam for a first-of-its-kind “digital clutch” notebook that landed HP in the glamorous worlds of Fashion Week and Vogue. The agency also created FilterForGood.com, a multi-layered online program for Brita where more than 1 million consumers pledged to reduce their plastic water bottle usage by buying Brita filters and reusable Nalgene bottles. The vibrant social media-based program, along with alliances with the Sundance Film Festival, NBC’s hit reality series, The Biggest Loser, the 2009 Grammy Awards, and U2 and the Dave Matthews Band tours, drove double-digit growth for Brita and saved more than 182 million bottles, according to the agency.