The Hard Rock chain was highly successful until 2000, with a highly recognizable brand and over-the-top grand openings and special events.
After 2000, the group followed an aggressive growth strategy, leading to opening Hard Rock outlets in areas that weren't appropriate.
Needless to say, not only the bottom line, but also media exposure suffered.
As a result, the company decided to close down several smaller locations and went back to its core business: high-impact locations that were launched with grand openings.
When the company moved its Hard Rock Cafe NYC from 57th Street moved to Times Square, it decided to allocate half of its total PR budged for thisNYC re-launch.
Hard Rock’s CMO, Sean Dee, formulated and implemented the following campaign.
- Hard Rock started with the creation and launch of a new, dedicated website: RockTimesSquare.com. The look and feel of the website is very Big City edgy.
The homepage features a spray painted wall – the graffiti text keeps changing when visitors clicked around. The audio background has Big City traffic noises.
- Hard Rock developed a special logo for Hard Rock NYC – a fuse between the "I Love NY" logo and a gray rock.
(The rock replaced the heart symbol – thus spelling “I Rock New York.)
- Hard Rock developed a special PR kit, including a pre-launch sweepstake.
Anyone living in a country that boasts a Hard Rock Cafe could enter the sweepstakes.
The prize: 300 lucky winners in total worldwide would win a trip to NYC for the launch party.
Each Hard Rock location received a kit including information and FAQ about the sweepstake.
The kit also included promotional material - from posters, coasters, pins for the staff, lanyards with company messaging, inserts for the menus, video ad and to guidelines how to work the local media.
- One of Hard Rock’s main gimmicks is the smashing of a guitar on during the launch.
In this case, Hard Rock announced "The World's Largest Guitar Smash" that took place in August, one month before the Grand Opening. During this event, 100 guitars were smashed by the likes of Steven Van Zandt and Brian Wilson. Hard Rock made a point of donating one new guitar to the Peace Games for every guitar smashed during the Guitar Smash.
- The apotheosis of the campaign was the Grand Opening that took place on Saturday, September 17.
It included a benefit concert featuring Velvet Revolver, Reverend Run (of Run DMC fame) and the music of New York DJ Mark Ronson.
What were the results of the Hard Rock NYC re-launch campaign?
- Traffic to Hard Rock sites dramatically increased.
- E-commerce sales of the online “Rock Shop” went up significantly.
- PR exposure was far more than expected - the Guitar Smash made headlines and was featured on Good Morning America and ESPN.
- The two major events (the guitar smash and the grand opening) were competing with each other.
As a result, the grand opening got less coverage than “The World's Largest Guitar Smash"
- Having theGrand Opening on Saturday turned out to be problematic. Hard Rock relaized that events during weekdays have a higher change of being covered by morning shows and other mainstream media outlets than those that take place during the weekend.
- Hard Rock assumed that each outlet worldwide will embrace the PR campaign equally. In reality, Hard Rock’s European partners outperformed their US counterparts.
They were better at both in-store and local PR, leading to a high number of sweepstake entries.
What are the lessons we can derive for our own companies?
- When planning a global campaign, formulate your goals carefully.
Do you want to drum up local business or do you want the boost the corporate image and global brand?
- Coordinate carefully with your local partners.
In the described case study, partying in a Hard Rock Café in NYC is seen in Europe as cool.
- Allocate a reasonable part of your budget to the PR event.
Spending half of your global budget for one opening (as Hard Rock did) is risky and might not generate enough ROI.
- Work towards one grand PR event and make sure to generate media attention and coverage at the main event. Don’t go for two or more PR events; it deludes media attention.
- Select the time and place of the PR extravaganza carefully.
Avoid holidays, other major events, and weekends. If the event must generated global exposure, also check holidays etc. in other countries.
When choosing the location were the event will take place must be easily accessible.