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Tattoo from from the Speakeasy Flickr page.
Tattoo from from the Speakeasy Flickr page.

Grow: Mia Wedgbury

Tattoo parlour designs clever campaign Add to ...

If you’ve ever met me, or heard me speak, you know how much I love to talk about the power of social networking.

The number of people on sites such as Facebook and Twitter is getting bigger every day, and because the basic strategy of most public-relations campaigns is to be where the people are, our target audiences have now become much more accessible.

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That said, as we learned last week, some of the strongest PR campaigns succeed because they strike the perfect balance between digital and traditional communications. No matter how big or small, the really good ones draw on the power of online innovation, but they also integrate tried-and-true traditional tactics to get the word out. It might be quick and easy to send a tweet or post a blog, but it can still be very meaningful to reach out in a more traditional offline fashion.

When a colleague told me about Toronto-based Speakeasy Tattoo, I was intrigued. She said Lizzie Renaud, the shop’s owner, was doing some really cool things online – Ms. Renaud and her team fill last-minute cancellations through Twitter and share their stories and artwork on WordPress, Tumblr, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and other tattooing websites. You name the social network, Speakeasy is there.

But marketing is a particular challenge for Ms. Renaud: she runs a very small business in a specialized market, and it is important to her to always respect the tightly knit group of tattoo artists and shops in her community.

“You can’t ever come out and say ‘we are the best shop in Toronto’ because you would be stepping on the toes of the people who made you who you are,” Ms. Renaud explains. “The people who taught me to tattoo are in this city, so it is a huge challenge to stay modest and respect everyone.”

So Ms. Renaud and her team did something innovative to set Speakeasy apart: they reached out to five well-known tattoo artists and asked them to work as guests in the summer of 2010. Despite her commitment to blogging and social media, when it came time to promote the roster of guests, she deployed a completely integrated campaign that used a combination of online and offline tactics.

“We decided to go old school,” says Ms. Renaud, speaking about her offline strategy. She worked with a designer to produce glossy, postcard-shaped handbills, which included art by the guest artists, the dates they were coming, and the shop contact information.

Reflecting back on the campaign, she said she really enjoyed getting the word out in person.

“It felt super cool having a back pocket full of handbills and seeing someone at a bar with a lot of tattoos and saying, ‘Hey, I think you’d like this,’” she says. “It took a lot more guts than it takes to hit send on a blog … it was more like a special invitation as opposed to just a suggestion.”

Two thousand were handed out during the promotion, but they didn’t stop there. Ms. Renaud moved the same campaign online, posting matching animated banner ads for Speakeasy’s contacts to share through their online social networks. She says the integrated campaign experience was a great way to create a buzz around Speakeasy and bring in new clientele: people were calling weeks in advance to book spots with the guest artists.

“The Internet is so easy to advertise on … but is important to have a tasteful amount of online content that keeps you on the tips of everyone’s tongues,” she says. “Plus, no tattoo shops do posters or handbills any more. That sets us apart … it makes us unique.”

The campaign was also a professional development opportunity that elevated the shop’s brand and expanded its network. Today, you can’t get an appointment with Ms. Renaud until February or March, 2011.

“Most tattoo shops in this city don’t have the online presence that we do,” Ms. Renaud says. “But tattoo shops usually don’t need marketing to get by. They’ll be okay with word of mouth.

“We don’t want to get by. We want to do better than get by.”

Though it was a small campaign for a very select audience, the lessons learned from Speakeasy apply to businesses of all sizes. Traditional marketing tactics need not be abandoned for social networking – it is the combined power of both that will deliver the best results.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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