OtterBox replaces PR releases with e-mail newsletter

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Press relations are part of most companies’ marketing programs. At OtterBox, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based manufacturer of laptop, PDA and smartphone cases, press efforts are actually more important than its more traditional advertising efforts, said Kristin Golliher, the company’s public relations executive.

“For our products, people are less likely to buy after looking at an ad than they are after reading a review written by a trusted editor,” Golliher said, noting that OtterBox gets some of its best sales lifts based on editorial coverage and reviews.

In view of this, in April the company started an e-mail newsletter program dedicated specifically to its large database of press contacts—mainstream newspapers and magazine editors, bloggers and Web site editors.

OtterBox also changed its approach. Instead of e-mail press releases it started sending out an e-newsletter, “The Newsletter, News You Otter Know.” OtterBox works with Virtual Press Office, which handles all the company’s media lists, segmentation, design and e-mailing.

The newsletter goes out to “thousands” of contacts sliced into more than 40 segments, Golliher said. These segments, representing a mix of b-to-b and b-to-c press contacts, include business editors; consumer electronics; construction and engineering;EMT and firefighting; government and military; law enforcement; medical media; and travel media.

The newsletters feature links to press releases, product photos and case studies. They also link directly to the OtterBox press room and blog, and allow people to connect with the company via Facebook, RSS feeds or Twitter. A menu across the top has links to five product categories. “We’ve been launching products left and right; and we wanted to come up with a solution so we weren’t overwhelming the press with too many releases each month,” Golliher said. “The newsletter lets us bring all the announcements into one place, a bulleted list, and support them with information, case studies and photos.”

In particular, she said, the case studies pique recipients’ interest.

“Some of these stories are pretty amazing,” Golliher said. “We also get a lot of people who write into customer service and tell these crazy stories. We’re always getting e-mails from managers who say they used to replace hundreds of BlackBerry devices each year and now they don’t have to replace as many. We also find some of the case studies on, a site we have where people can share adventures and talk about how they are using our [device] cases. We also get stories from our sales department and direct from our distributors.”

One recent case study came from a police officer who dropped his iPhone in the middle of a Mardi Gras celebration. It was returned to him in working condition after being trampled by revelers.

Since different media segments cover different subjects, the template-driven newsletter is dynamically generated. So far, the approach seems to be working, said Golliher. “It’s caught the attention of a lot of people and, although we don’t have quantifiable results yet, the response has been very positive.”

Press contacts, she said, say they like the newsletter format better than a straight press release. “The thumbnails are all clickable, it’s easy to understand,” she said. “A lot of our focus is on OEMs—getting them to work with us. We used to have to go out and approach companies like RIM, Palm, HP, and Nokia that make devices. Now we are being approached by the OEMs.”

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