WEB EXCLUSIVE — PR 101, pt. 3: Winning Pitches with Super Superb Superlatives

In my first PR 101 column, I promised some “juicy bits” in future installments in the form of case studies of winning publicity campaigns for clients, many of whom would be near and dear to Building readers. Well, now I’m delivering. This month’s column will talk about several clients near-Teknion, Stratus Vineyards, Context Development, Perkins Eastman Black-and one dear-good ol’ Dad. Their common denominator? They are all superlatives, and superlatives are catnip to journalists.

To define terms, a superlative harks back to that day in fifth-grade English class when Mrs. McPhee taught us about comparatives and superlatives. As in “good” being the absolute or positive condition of an adjective or verb, “better” being the comparative and “best” being the superlative.

The hostess with the “mostess,” for instance, qualifies as a superlative because she is the best hostess in the world. (Well, she’s actually the hostess who best embodies the Platonic essence of “hostessness,” but let’s not get technical.)

However, a superlative isn’t restricted to something that’s the best. It can also signify the worst, first, last, least or most. Guinness World Records fodder, in other words.

Why are superlatives relevant to public relations? Because superlatives are inherently newsworthy. Editors stand up on their hind legs when a press kit about a superlative lands on their desk because they know they’ll always be justified in devoting space to such a project or product, and that their readers will be interested. So, whenever you can make the claim that the product or project you want to publicize is a superlative, seize the opportunity.

When Teknion tasked me with promoting their new flagship task chair, the Contessa, I pondered how to demonstrate that the chair was demonstrably better than its many competitors. Realizing that there was no way to could wing it, I undertook an intensive mini-course of study in the world of task chairs.

I plotted a Cartesian grid: On the vertical axis I listed dozens of parameters of an ergonomic task chair, such as: are the adjustment actuators easy to find and adjust, and is the headrest adjustable? On the horizontal axis, I listed Teknion’s Contessa and its competitors: Allsteel’s #19, Haworth’s X99, Herman Miller’s Aeron, Humanscale’s Freedom, Knoll’s Life, and Steelcase’s Leap. I marked an “X” on the spreadsheet to indicate when a chair exhibited a particular parameter.

Behold! A pattern emerged that I hadn’t dared hope for. Only one chair had a solid row of X’s. All the others were hit or miss. I had connected the dots. Now I could savour the Eureka! Moment when the pattern emerged.

The solid row of X’s showed, objectively, that Teknion’s chair was the best on the market. Certainly, members of the press agreed. Nowhere in the text of the press kit did I actually say that Contessa was the best task chair in the world. I just let the spreadsheet, grandly titled “Contessa Comparator,” speak for itself.

The campaign won press hits in unexpected places, such as an entire page in Canadian Business and, in The Globe and Mail, a feature in the Style section and inclusion in their top four design stories of the year. Financial Post took my Comparator to heart and published a Get It (Contessa)-Forget it (Humanscale Freedom chair) story. Surely, Humanscale wasn’t thrilled with the story. But, what could they do if they wanted to sue Teknion or me? The information in the press kit was factually true; I had vetted it with Teknion’s Director of Competitive Intelligence to ensure that my ass was thoroughly covered and libel-proof. The icing on the cake: Teknion’s sales people use the Contessa Comparator as a marketing tool.

Teknion’s president, David Feldberg, was so delighted with the Contessa campaign that he assigned me the plum, (no, grape) job of publicizing his winery, Stratus Vineyards. The superlative here was Stratus’s status as the world’s first LEED-rated vineyard. That fact, coupled with the gorgeous boutique design by Toronto’s Burdifilek, garnered the extraordinary achievement of feature stories in two competing New York-based arch-rivals known to jealously guard exclusivity on projects they publish, and scratch each others’ eyeballs out: Interior Design and Contract.

For Context Development, just then proposing to build Market Wharf, yet another high-rise in condo-crazed Toronto, I scored several bull’s-eyes. These included Market Wharf stories in Toronto Life, the front of the Real Estate section in The Globe and the Condos section in The Toronto Star, and lengthy profiles of company head Howard Cohen in National Post and Building.


So what was “first” about Market Wharf? Howard had mentioned during a meeting that Market Wharf would be the subject of a special Committee of Adjustment hearing at City Hall by Toronto’s newly created Design Review Panel. I figured that the building design, by Canada’s reigning condo superstar architect, Peter Clewes of Architects Alliance, would garner praise. Sure enough, Market Wharf became the first high-rise condo development to win unanimous raves from the Design Review Panel. And if it was good enough for those eminences, it was good enough for editors, as events proved.

As for Perkins Eastman Black, the Toronto firm of architects and planners, finding the suitable superlative was a no-brainer. The firm master-planned China’s Shanghai International Medical Zone. At 11½ square kilometres (4½ square miles), SIMZ will be the world’s biggest medical centre.

All right, then. Harrumph! We’ve breezed through case studies of best, first and biggest superlatives. Let’s conclude, fittingly, with a “last,” my own father, American painter Joe Lasker. His works hang in the permanent collections of the Whitney and National Academy Museums in New York, the Smithsonian and Hirshhorn Museums in Washington, and in the art museums of Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Tel Aviv and dozens of other important museums. He has pages of rave reviews from New York Times and Art News critics and art historians.

Still all that didn’t add up to a sufficiently sexy, compelling news hook if he was to get press for his first Canadian exhibition, opening this past Nov. 5 at the Liss Gallery in Toronto’s Yorkville District. A few weeks before his opening, inspiration obligingly, if belatedly, struck.

My media kit touted Dad as literally the “last realist” because at 92 he is the only living member of the 48 outstanding realists-including Raphael Soyer, John Sloan and Edward Hopper-who wrote for Reality, the mid-Fifties polemical journal that argued against abstract art. Now, that was a newsworthy pitch.

To justify that claim, I Googled the birth and death dates of all 47 other Reality contributors. (In case you’re not familiar with these personages, Hopper’s Nighthawks, depicting lonely customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner, is probably the most famous American painting of the 20th century.)

The result? As of Joe Lasker’s Liss Gallery opening (and deadline for this story), eight paintings sold and Zoomer assigned a feature story on Dad and shot him in front of his work at the gallery. That success proved, yet again, that when it comes to press coverage, superlatives are super.

NEXT MONTH: WINNING PITCHES: When you have a brilliant idea-or none.

David Lasker is Associate Editor of Canadian Interiors and President of David Lasker Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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