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RICHARD TIMMONS FIRST ALERT

By Published on .

Richard Timmons knew he had a good thing when his company, BRK Brands, developed a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector 18 months ago. The only question was how to clue in the public.

"We wanted a one-two punch, which had analytical knowledge [coupled with] emotional appeal," says Mr. Timmons, VP-marketing. "We found it was vital to educate and appeal to" consumers.

A PR campaign by Wheatley Blair, Chicago, was launched in July 1993, six weeks before the ad campaign broke and shortly before the First Alert-branded product was seen on retail shelves.

Through agency-generated stories in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, people began to learn about the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the country-and noting the First Alert product.

Videos were made available at point of sale explaining potential poison hazards.

The ad campaign, developed by Lois/-USA, Chicago, complemented the PR effort with testimonials from victims' families. Due to demand and product shortages, however, the ads were pulled in mid-November.

The detectors-one retailer dubbed them "the cabbage patch of the hardware department"-started selling out almost as fast as they could be stocked, says Mr. Timmons, marketing director during the campaign.

Sales in 1993's fourth quarter were $9 million; in first-quarter '94, sales hit more than $15 million. The problem now, as he sees it, is keeping up with demand.

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