Earlier this month, while most people were talking about Iron Man 3’s near-record breaking opening weekend, DCI was working with the folks at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce on a response to the city’s cameo appearance in the movie. While Chattanooga’s appearance in the movie is brief – about five minutes or so – the movie scene portrays Chattanooga as being a small, backwater, Southern town, and a place where the movie’s main character, ingenious engineer Tony Stark, struggles with slow Internet service.
In reality, Chattanooga is the first American city to offer gig-a-second Internet speeds (1,000 megabits per second), which has been made available to every home and business across a 600-square-mile service area since 2010. It’s also a mid-sized city with a metro population of more than half a million. Given the ironic juxtaposition between the movie Chattanooga and the real Chattanooga, we wanted to set the record straight while having some fun with our outreach to reporters.
Our strategy was simple – write a brief email pitch (two sentences to be exact) that asks moviegoers to keep an eye out for “inaccurate depictions” of Chattanooga, with a couple of fun “Fact vs. Fiction” factoids, then send this message to every major national tech, trade and entertainment reporter.
The result? The pitch went out on Thursday, May 9 and within hours major tech outlets such as Business Insider, PC Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle and CNET picked up the story. That same evening the folks at Atlantic Cities posted an article calling the move a “Genius ‘Iron Man 3’ PR Tie-In of the Day: Chattanooga Wants to Remind You Its Internet is Awesome.” By Friday evening, the story had gone viral with more than 200 media having published, mentioned or shared on social channels a variant of the story, according to Google News, including Forbes.com and Yahoo! Movie Talk blog. A spokesperson from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce was also invited to write a post on the topic on Wired.com’s “Innovation Insights” blog.
While other economic development organizations might not have a major movie to piggyback on, there are a few key takeaways on what you can do if there’s a misperception about your city being told in the national (or even quite frankly local) limelight.
- Short, Sweet and Fast Is the Way to Go – Reporters are pitched stories continuously every day. If you have a newsworthy bit of information, grab the reporters’ interest using three sentences or less. They are more apt to read it and respond if an email doesn’t overwhelm them right when they open it. In addition, if you have a timely hook, like we had with the movie, it’s best to get the information out as soon as possible. The turnaround of our pitch and when the articles started rolling in was less than three hours.
- Keep it Lighthearted – People in economic development are some of the biggest champions for a community. A downside to this passion though is that when something negative is said about that place in the mainstream media, community representatives can take it personally and become overly defensive. In this instance, we understood that Iron Man 3 is a movie and that scenes and many elements of the movie are meant to be fictional. The approach and tone we took in our pitch wasn’t meant to blast Iron Man. It was more about educating the general public by keeping the tone lighthearted and simple.
- With Stories Like This, Your Pitch Can Become the Story – Attention-grabbing stories like the “Chattanooga vs. Iron Man” headline have very short lead times. Interested media that want to run the story have to jump on it fast, which could mean that they might very well decide to run your pitch, word for word, as the main story. For example Business Insider, PC Magazine, CNET and Atlantic Cities all ran parts or most of the email pitch that was sent.
- Economic Development Stories Can Be Fun – DCI’s favorite takeaway from this experience is that it shows economic development stories can be fun, and don’t always have to be about plant expansions, investment announcements and business incentives (though these stories are of course important to us, our clients and corporate executives with site selection responsibilities). By staying creative, keeping an eye out for mainstream trends and jumping on opportunities to be profiled alongside a major brand or franchise like Iron Man 3, you can help yield quick, fun and positive media results.
Can you think of any other examples where a city, state or region has successfully leveraged tie-ins with major movies or other mainstream brands to garner PR results?