A brilliant example of a PR-first idea executed well across earned, owned and paid media

I first came across REI’s (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) #OptOutside campaign from 2015, only at PRAXIS 7 in September 2018 when someone from Edelman showcased the case study on the stage. I was floored! Here was a PR-first idea (though Edelman was not the main agency behind the campaign, but was one of the many agencies that did the work, collaboratively) that was so simple in terms of insight and idea, but was expensive at a business (business-cost) level. It literally required guts to approve and execute, at a management level.

The idea, in short: close shop, during the biggest, busiest shopping time in the US – Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day (a long holiday season in the US)!

Why would they?

Because the brand is all about asking people to get out and do something, using its products, of course. So, the brand had a contextually inherent interest in exhorting people to get outside. And if they close shop during the biggest shopping period in US, they ask their employees to get outside too!

The most interesting thing is that the simple act on behalf of REI was about closing, but the tag was #OptOutside. That’s where framing comes into play. If the campaign was communicated as ‘we are closing on Black Friday’ that appeals primarily to employees, and not to customers (who would simply shop elsewhere, if they want to). But the campaign was framed as ‘Opt Outside’ thereby appealing to all constituents at once – employees get to opt outside on the day when the country is looking at shopping and consumers get a reason to opt outside because that’s the buzzword.

The idea was so contagious that more than 100 other retailers followed suit, inspired by REI!

The mechanics of the communication cadence are equally important beyond just having a great idea. To be sure, this is not an organic PR campaign. It was a carefully coordinated 360-degree effort.

– banners outside their retail outlets

– print ads in New York Times, The Wall Street Journal among others

– a microsite (by the agency North Kingdom)

– Thanksgiving leftovers supply kits containing freeze-dried holiday staples like turkey, stuffing, and apple crisp to take out on the trail were sent to select outdoor enthusiast influencers

– a video, of course! (produced by Tool of North America, a production company)

– on Black Friday 2015, REI’s website featured a black takeover screen that encouraged customers to #OptOutside!

The REI Opt Outside campaign was developed at Venables Bell & Partners and PR (including influencer management and employee communication) was managed by Edelman.

The planning of the launch was impressive too. The print ads and employee communication happened way before the Black Friday date, in October. The team, though, credits the TV ads and a meme generator (that lets people share images and videos related to their own outdoor experiences with the #OptOutside hashtag) as the biggest drivers of virality.

This is a brilliant example of a PR-first idea that is so simple in concept, but deservedly went places. And a showcase of how even the best idea needs a carefully planned orchestration of tactics to really take it places.

Here’s the case study video that explains the whole execution and its impact.