Marketers hit the picket lines
Our intrepid reporter heads to the WGA strike zone to see how businesses are marketing to the striking media mob.
(FORTUNE Small Business) NEW YORK -- As a snowstorm swept New York City last week, FSB joined members of the Writer's Guild of America East (WGAE) gathered to protest in Times Square, where savvy entrepreneurs took advantage of the striking writers' congregation to get exposure for products aimed at alleviating the miseries of extended stretches in the frozen outdoors.
WGAE's thrice-weekly picket lines draw around 200 scribes each, according to Sherry Goldman, president of Goldman Communications Group and WGAE's publicist. That's a weekly audience of hundreds of protesters seeking food and warmth -- hundreds of well-connected protesters who write mass entertainment. It's a marketer's dream opportunity, and several companies are cashing in and liberally dispensing the freebies.
Organic snack-bar maker Raw Indulgence, based in Ardsley, N.Y., views the WGA protests as an opportune addition to its "cultural marketing program." The company has donated more than 300 of its raw-food bars, which retail for $1.99 each, to the WGAE since the picketing began last month.
"We value creativity, and we feel that the creative community is an area where we get a lot of patronage from. So we give out samples to these people, who are also more likely to be vegetarian or green-consumers than the general population," said spokesman David Friedman. Founded in 2003, Raw Indulgence has ten employees and distributes its snacks through a variety of health-food and organic retailers, including Whole Foods.
Friedman added a charitable spin to his company's WGAE donations: "It's also good to give free food to people when they're not getting a paycheck."
Another crowd favorite at the Times Square protest was E-Boost, a vitamin energy drink launched just six months ago.
"As soon as the WGA started going on strike, we were out there," said E-Boost co-creator Josh Taekman. "I felt almost like a street vendor because I never left the house without a bag of E-Boost.
E-Boost, a two-person startup based in New York City, has donated 3,000 E-Boost packets to WGA's picket lines in California and New York. "As long as we have them in stock, we'll continue to support the cause," said Taekman, who insists he has no hidden agenda or hopes for coverage or endorsements. After all, E-Boost is already on the media radar: The fledgling company has partnerships with marquee names like W Hotels and Fashion Week, and Martha Stewart touted it on TV as her "new favorite travel product."
"A lot of the WGA protesters had already heard of E-Boost because they're in the industry we work with," Taekman said, who also runs a marketing agency. "We have a great network, so we've been fortunate to leverage this."
WGA's friends are also donating goods from their own favorite local places. The crew from The Late Show sent bagels from New York bakery Murray's Bagels, and strangers are often moved to donate supplies purchased from shops near the picket line, according to Goldman. The shops themselves occasionally join in the charitable spirit. At Thursday's protest, nearby Café Metro sent out cups for coffee brought in from elsewhere.
The businesses not getting in on the strike-line action, surprisingly, are the local street vendors. None of the swarming food and clothing merchants in Times Square shifted locations to take advantage of the WGA mob, and a number said they were unaware that the protest was going on and hadn't noticed any sales spike from the gathered crowd. Others noted that the writers came prepared, rugged up in warm clothes and prepared for nasty weather. "They all brought their own stuff," said one umbrella-and-glove vendor near the protest zone.
In the unlikely event that the well of free samples eventually runs dry, WGA's troops don't seem worried about running out of funds to clothe and feed the picketers any time soon. Said Tom Fontana, three-time Emmy award winning writer/producer whose shows include Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street: "We have very strong strike funds. The WGA plans for these sorts of things, so we're not concerned even if this goes on for months."click here.