How Our Experiment in Self-Promotion Revved the Plaid Engine

Roadshow Started as Fun Event, Now Key Component in New Business

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Darryl Ohrt Darryl Ohrt
A couple of years ago, we were having a brainstorm about how to spread some Plaid awesomeness across our nation, and one of the Plaid crew suggested: "Let's get a van, paint it plaid and drive it across the country. We could visit brands that we like or would like to get to know."

We chuckled for a bit, and then said, "Why not?"

There were countless reasons why not:

  • A road trip across the country is an expensive proposition for a small agency.
  • How could we just show up unannounced to companies that have never heard of Plaid?
  • Isn't this really something that bands do, not agencies?

And then we started exploring. We put together a real plan, some budgets and a tour route. And PlaidNation was born.

Plaid makes a stop at Zappos.
Plaid makes a stop at Zappos.
Our first tour kicked off in 2007, when we took a graphic-wrapped, rented Ford van from New York to Dallas. There were plenty of great brands and people along the way. Segway, Sony Music, Joseph Jaffe, the Martin Agency -- and some fun Waffle House waitresses. We found great success and repeated the process last year. For 2008, we drove the West Coast, where we met and profiled Robert Scoble, Biz Stone, Jones Soda, Seesmic, Aptera, iiiDesign and more.

What started as an adventure of unannounced visits has become a produced "show" that profiles some of the world's greatest, most interesting and innovated business thinkers.

As we finalize preparations for our third (now annual) tour, we've learned something: The PlaidNation tour has become the star component of what we call our attraction engine.

There are thousands of creative agencies as good as or better than Plaid spread across the country. Larger agencies, smaller agencies and hotter agencies. How could we possibly grow, get noticed and attract brands outside of our market, and stand out against a nation of thousands? An attraction engine.

An attraction engine would call attention to Plaid, shine a light on our unique brand and show our audience what we're capable of. Our engine is growing, evolving, and it's always running. Today it consists of multiple blogs, employee Twitter streams, videos and all things Plaid.

With a nationwide road trip on top.

People love to watch, brands have taken notice, and it's brought us business. Beaucoup business. It's now common for a client to contact us and say, "We've been watching what you're doing since last year's tour. Now we need help with ..."

We've found that agencies, brands, startups and marketing executives love to tune in. Here's why:

  • Everyone loves a road trip. Maybe you hit the road yourself after college or always dreamed about it. Countless books, films and stories have centered on the great American road trip.
  • Marketing people are enamored with the agency business. They love that we seem to have fun all day long, and enjoy hearing our stories.
  • Everyone wants to see what the other brands are doing. Other agencies, other brands and businesspeople galore.
These are the factors that have made PlaidNation a great success. We're now in an extremely fortunate position. We're overflowing with business during some really tough economic times. And we've accomplished this without the help of a business-development person on staff.

We believe that business development in the small-agency arena has changed. RFPs, cold calls and old-school sales tactics are out, and attraction is the name of the game.

You can do the same thing. Not a tour, of course (that wouldn't be very original now, would it?), but you can build your own attraction engine. Devise something that is unique to your firm, suits your brand well and provides value to an audience of potential clients.

Take a look around your agency. What could you be sharing, exploring or exploiting in a new way? What's your attraction engine?

(Full disclosure: The 2009 Plaid tour is sponsored by Ford Motors, Sprint and the Q Hotel & Spa.)

~ ~ ~
Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, the founder of creative agency Plaid and chief contributor to the greatest blog in all of the land, BrandFlakesForBreakfast. While his business card says he's "band manager" for the agency, Darryl prefers to call himself an internetologist. Darryl knows just enough to be dangerous. He's on the internet right now, playing, investigating and exploring. Watch out.

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