Four PR Lessons Every Company Can Learn from the Amazon HQ2 Search

Amazon HQ2

There were many who came out of 2018 with big wins but Amazon can easily be counted among the winningest – especially in the realm of public relations. News coverage surrounding the tech giant’s quest for another North American location for its second headquarters kept them in the spotlight for most of the year. According to APex Marketing, the media coverage surrounding Amazon’s HQ2 search was worth $42 million. Its “Biggest Delivery Ever” stunt, involving a 16,000 pound Amazon box with a Jurassic World logo, giant air holes and presumably containing a dinosaur, earned it a nod as one of the best-branded stunts of the year. Beyond headline-grabbing PR stunts, Amazon made shrewd business decisions that included timely campaigns for its Echo products and Amazon Fashion brand.

But behind all of these business successes was a keen PR strategy that is worth examining. There’s no time like the beginning of the year to reflect, so let’s take a look at exactly how Amazon’s 2018 PR strategy paid off and how any company can learn from them.  

Four PR Lessons Every Company Can Learn from the Amazon HQ2 Search  

Engage the Public

The Amazon HQ2 search was announced in late 2017 with a formal request for proposal (RFP) sent to metro regions across North America. While the HQ2 RFP’s intended audiences were city and state governments, by publicly announcing the search and releasing the RFP’s details, they were able to cast a wider net and gain a range of attention from private citizens to Capitol Hill. Plus, the RFP didn’t just initiate one of 2018’s biggest contests, it provided Amazon with valuable research from every city that dared to play.  

Engaging the public isn’t just a smart PR move for a massive entity like Amazon – collaborating and consulting with the public can be a winning tactic for a company of any size. When it comes to supporting your company’s next big announcement, take some time to devise a strategy that engages with your target audiences as well as piques the interest of influencers. This can generate buzz, potentially gaining you brand awareness and new prospects in the process.

Know Your Audience

You don’t have to be a billion-dollar company to catch the media’s eye. Get creative about the way you describe your new product (in their case, a new headquarters for 50,000 tech workers). Amazon coined the phrase “HQ2” and it stuck with the media and resonated with everyone from corporate tycoons to your local acronym-loving millennial.

Even after Amazon had selected winners for its HQ2 and HQ3, they still kept the media in the loop, sharing a press release announcing the selected cities, along with their reasoning, an FAQ and their agreements with each city.

What is the lesson here? Well, one of the most important first steps to any successful PR campaign is identifying your target audiences – a fact that’s as true for Amazon as it is for any company. This seems obvious, but it is often an important step that is overlooked when developing a strategy. As the saying goes, if you don’t know who you’re writing for, you may be writing for no one at all. Once you know who your target audience is and what you want to share, crafting a message that resonates with them is an easy PR win.

Largest “delivery” in Amazon history (PRNewsfoto/Universal Pictures)

Use Publicity Stunts To Create a Buzz

PR-drumming can still make some noise, especially when a stunt focuses on digital awareness. Amazon’s “Biggest Delivery Ever” plopped a building-sized box in the middle of Los Angeles and featured a QR code for passersby to scan and learn more, only after they tweeted about it or posted on their Instagram stories (a feature that lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours), of course. The real-time buzz boosted awareness on social media first followed by traditional media coverage.

Even without Amazon’s event marketing budget, finding a creative way to get your audience engaging online can have a huge publicity pay-off. Try something new with your strategy. Though your business may not be able to afford to ship a dinosaur-sized package, you can develop smaller-scale stunts to turn heads strategically and effectively. For instance, our agency placed goody-filled piñatas in highly populated locations around Richmond, Virginia to introduce our client, Tex-Mex restaurant Tijuana Flats, to a new market. This effort grabbed headlines and created a buzz with those who encountered them in the wild.


Influencer Marketing Still Has Impact

Few people will forget Cardi B., Gordon Ramsay and Rebel Wilson temporarily quitting their day jobs to use their own voices to replace Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa’s during last year’s Super Bowl. The cameo-filled spot was the most watched Super Bowl commercial on YouTube and, while Amazon did not report on any impact the well-received ad had on sales, the number of articles and online mentions of Alexa increased 129% following the big game, according to Amobee, Inc.

Throughout the year, Amazon also ramped up its influencer program. Influencers can each create their own Amazon page, highlight their favorite picks and earn money directly from items bought through their Amazon page or affiliate link. While celebrities like Mark Cuban and Felicia Day have utilized the program, 2018 saw the rise of a niche market for influencers via Amazon Fashion. Fashion micro-influencers like Collete Prime, have risen to fame with the program while capitalizing on Instagram Shopping Tags.

The key takeaway for making influencer marketing work for your brand is partnering with the right influencers, whether they have 1,000 or 1,000,000 followers. For the most beneficial partnership, choose an influencer with a niche that directly aligns with your brand’s industry or products. Partnerships are powerful.

Lessons Learned

Amazon HQ2 is a fantastic example for businesses of all sizes, in all markets. By engaging with the public, working with the media, creating a buzz and considering influencer marketing, your 2019 can deliver big wins for your business – even if you don’t have a Prime account.