Creating media buzz in a tough product category leads to greater brand distribution

An Alkalol Case Study

Strategies used: Publicity

Challenge

For more than 115 years, The Alkalol Company has produced Alkalol, a unique nasal mucus solvent and cleaner that helps to relieve stuffiness due to allergies and colds. Distribution was a real problem because the product was only sold through wholesalers and in doctors’ offices. Amazingly, the company had only recently pursued a retail distribution strategy.

“My 88-year-old grandfather had been running this company on his own, in partnership with our manufacturer who was handling the distribution,” recalls James Whitters, IV. “As a result, Alkalol had a strong wholesale distribution network but no money was put into marketing.”

Whitters took over the business in 2004. He spent a few years modernizing how the company was run, and injecting new life into it. “We built the company’s first website, re-designed the packaging, and brought on a sales team.”

Brokerage firm P2B, Inc. had secured distribution through a national drug store chain, but the retail distribution momentum was slow to build. The Alkalol Company, www.alkalolcompany.com, hired Media Relations Agency after spending a year with a traditional public relations and marketing firm that didn’t generate measurable results. “That smaller PR company quickly ran into limitations on what they could offer. They burned through their rolodex and that’s about it.”

The challenge for Media Relations was to develop a high profile media campaign that would attract the attention of major retail outlets as well as consumers. Our goal was to increase product visibility, and in the process to teach retailers and the public why Alkalol is a much better alternative to saline nasal rinses.

Background

Alkalol is a saline solution that contains a blend of natural extracts and essential oils that provides the cleansing benefits of a regular saline, with the added ability to dissolve mucus and clean and moisturize the nasal passages while providing relief from nasal congestion caused by allergies, colds, sinusitis and post-nasal drip. Your breathing will become easier because your nasal passages will be cleared of mucus and other irritants.

The major barrier to its ongoing success was the need for national retail distribution. While consumers could always special order Alkalol through literally any pharmacy in the country because of its national wholesale distribution, they had a difficult time finding it on store shelves. That dynamic needed to be flipped.

Media Relations needed to develop a highly credible media campaign to explain the benefits of Alkalol to the buying public, and to the all-important retail decision makers.

Comments Whitters, “Product-to-Brand was starting to expand our retail distribution, and had added some smaller regional chains. But we needed to show the bigger retailers that we were reaching the buying public. So we brought on a serious PR agency. Right away there was a lot more life with Media Relations. They drew from a playbook of ideas and implemented many different strategies.”

Strategies

Media Relations capitalized on its 25-year history of working with reporters and producers on health-related stories. We immediately set to work to create a media campaign that would be meaningful to major retailers.

We led by achieving a series company profile stories, harvesting from company’s rich 100+ year history. This established a foundation for the next layer of publicity. We then assembled an elite team of third-party experts that included pharmacists, nutritionists, personal trainers, doctors and authors who are frequently interviewed by the media. Upon reviewing the scientific data about Alkalol, most of these panelists remarked, “This is the best 100-year-old product I have never heard of.” They were anxious to start talking about it.

“Media Relations generated national network affiliate news coverage in the areas where we had distribution. The news angles, including How to Keep Your Man Healthy in the New Year and How to Avoid Overuse of OTCs, were so perfect! It was the kind of messaging that no one else in our category was doing,” Whitters exclaims. “We had strong consumer health topic platforms that helped us talk about Alkalol with people who may not have ever considered using nasal rinses. Then personal trainers and nutritionists started connecting the dots and seeing the importance.”

For Media Relations, the key to this success was understanding the media’s audience and not be self-serving in our approach to story angles. Whitters says the approach was ideal. “There are very few print ads in our category. Pouring water through your sinuses takes a level of reassurance from a trusted expert such as a pharmacist.

“From the start, Media Relations set the right tone. In my experience working with other PR agencies, that’s the hardest thing to get: this product and this category are a little different than anything else out there. Finding the right tone and the right people to discuss it, are key. It’s the right way to address consumers and make them comfortable.”

For the next six months, we tested a variety of media packages in which these experts tactfully mentioned Alkalol. That resulted in 20 feature media placements. The campaign culminated at the ECRM Cough Cold Show, the largest buyers show of the year for the cold and cough category. During the show, we made sure that there were multiple local news stories airing on TV and radio.

Results

Success! As a direct result of our media campaign, Walgreens agreed to carry Alkalol in all of its stores nationally. That was followed by orders from other large and significant distributors including Super Valu.

“The tremendous amount of media coverage, featuring relevant and trusted experts, made us relevant,” commented P2B Inc. President Curt Behrens. “The media buzz was proof that we could make it occur to the public to go to Walgreens to buy Alkalol.”

The team of experts wanting to help promote Alkalol also continues to grow. “We’re building an active community,” confirms Whitters. “We have reorganized our website to better connect it with social media. Each time one of healthcare professionals appears on TV talking about Alkalol, our Facebook page lights up with new ‘likes’.”

Whitters had unexpected proof that all the media coverage is causing a buzz when vocal coaches and contestants on NBC’s singing competition The Voice began tweeting about how much they like on Alkalol.

Media Relations’ unconventional approach to PR is helping Alkalol reach its distribution goals. “When I came into this company, this isn’t want I thought marketing would be like. But this is exactly what we needed to be successful,” Whitters concludes. “Media Relations’ creative thinking about a product like Alkalol, which is basically pretty boring, and its team’s ability to come up with unique ways to market the product and discuss the brand with consumers and retailers, have been really exciting and effective.”

Written by Mike Danielson

Mike is a visionary and a trusted marketing mentor for many well-known companies within the health and natural products industries. He has an impressive mastery of marketing. He thrives on using his 30 years of experience and good instincts to manage campaigns that have measurable impacts on clients’ bottom lines. Focused and driven, Mike excels at client service and creative development. “I try to help everyone equally. Some will become clients and even long-term friends.” Many also benefit from his extensive connections within the health and nutrition industries. Clients who work with Mike typically comment about how much they learn from him. Mike comments, “I enjoy teaching people how to use solid marketing principles vs. a gut feel when selecting promotional channels. I’m willing to spend long hours helping navigate through all of the other actions that comprise a well-integrated marketing campaign.” Faced with any obstacle, Mike will fight for a win. He admits, “I get nervous if there aren’t barriers to accomplishing goals.” His cause for celebration is when his team’s hard work pays off in great earned media coverage, long-term client relationships and referrals.

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