Consolidated Telcom was honored with a second runner-up finish as part of NTCA’s Marketing Excellence Awards for PR Campaigns. Rhonda Fitterer discusses how the telco created an outdoor movie tour of it’s service area.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: What does it take to create an award-winning PR campaign? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. I’m your host, Andy Johns, with WordSouth, and I’m joined today by Rhonda Fitterer with Consolidated Telecom. She’s a marketing/PR manager there. Rhonda, thanks for taking the time to join me.
Rhonda Fitterer: Thank you so much for having me.
Andy Johns: We’re recording by phone this time. The last podcasts that you guys listened to were from the NTCA Sales and Marketing Conference down in New Orleans. They were recorded live there, so this one will sound a little bit different from those. But at that conference there in New Orleans, Rhonda and Consolidated won a runner-up slot in the PR campaign category. So, Rhonda, congratulations.
Rhonda Fitterer: Thank you so much. It was quite an honor to be recognized for the work that we do.
Andy Johns: Yeah, it’s always nice for your peers to tell you you’re doing a good job, so I’m sure that felt good. I wanted to get into some of the details about what the campaign was that brought home the award. So if you don’t mind, go ahead and tell us a little bit about what the campaign was.
Rhonda Fitterer: Absolutely. Two years ago, we started a Movie Night in the Park series. It just came about by asking “what can we do to engage with our younger audiences in the service territories that we provide service to?” And I came up with — you know, I love movies. I love taking my kids to movies. And so I said, “why don’t we just take a movie on the road, go to our communities, and show a movie in the park?” So we purchased the equipment — a big blow-up screen and projector — and we invited communities to host a movie with us. We invite local organizations like Lions clubs, schools, or 4-H clubs to provide a meal and/or concessions, however they want to do it. And the money that gets raised while the movie is going stays in that community for whatever project that they want to raise. And we’re showing a mostly animated show, but family-friendly. We have anywhere from 65-200 people show up for a movie, depending on the size of the community that we go out to.
Andy Johns: Excellent. And I like this for so many reasons. You’ve got the direct to your customers, relationship-building there. You’ve also got the partners that you’re talking about with some of the different clubs. So we’ll get into all that. But I guess some of the details. First, what movies have you shown, if you can list some of them? And then how did you guys arrive at those movies? And maybe a little bit about what you have planned for the upcoming season.
Rhonda Fitterer: Absolutely. We have shown animated movies in the past week. Oh, boy, you’re putting me on the spot to try to remember because I have our movies this summer.
Andy Johns: Let’s talk about those then.
Rhonda Fitterer: Sure. This summer we are showing Small Foot and Ralph Breaks the Internet for some newer movies. We like to also show some older movies like Boltz, The Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Hotel Transylvania, because some of our younger audience, they weren’t alive yet when some of these movies were out. And it’s new to them. So we do a mix of new release movies, as well as going back sometimes 10 years to grab a really great movie. So far, we’ve done all animated movies. We’ve done Moana in the past, and we’ve done Ice Age. So any really great movie that keeps kids and families engaged in the park. We have been so blessed with good weather that I just have to knock on wood that our series this summer that starts on July 10th and goes through August 14th every Wednesday, will have good weather as well.
Andy Johns: All right. Well, we’ll pull the strings that we can here at the podcast and see if we can help with some of that.
Rhonda Fitterer: I would appreciate that.
Andy Johns: When you’re talking about movies, obviously those are big-name movies. At my house, we have a seven-year-old. If I’ve seen Bolt once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. But when you’re talking about movies, everybody can get a little worried. You know, nobody wants a phone call from Mickey Mouse’s lawyers. So, you know, get into it as much as you’d like to, but this is all above board and legit. This is not playing somebody’s VCR on a bedsheet. I mean, y’all are doing it right.
Rhonda Fitterer: That is correct. Yep. You do have to license the movie. You have to buy the rights to show that movie. And you can do that in a variety of different ways. We provide a free movie in the park. There are some people that would show or organizations that would show a movie that there might be a charge. And depending on your agreement with your licensing company, the fees might change, depending on the size of your audience and how you show that movie. I won’t get into how much we pay. I would just tell people that do it above board because the fees to pay the fines for not licensing that movie are going to be far greater than if you just did it the right way to begin with.
Andy Johns: Right, plus, if the whole point of it is for a good PR boost, it would definitely be a negative PR thing for the telco or whoever showing the movie to get busted for some kind of infringement there. So I think that’s a good approach.
Rhonda Fitterer: Absolutely, and just one thing with that Andy. When you’re working with those companies, they give you marketing material: all the thumbprints that you need for marketing, the covers of the movie so people recognize them, posters, and movie tickets. You can make it as big as you want to, and they’re providing you all that when you go right through them. It’s a great resource.
Andy Johns: Excellent. That was headed towards the next question. So how are you guys promoting this? How did you get the word out? Obviously, after a couple of years, folks probably know it’s coming up. But what ways did you guys work to get the word out about these events?
Rhonda Fitterer: Absolutely. We do make posters up, and we take them to all the area schools before school gets out. Those kids take them home to their families. We do hang posters up in our communities. Then we also hit social media where it’s on Facebook. It’s an event. We invite people to come to our events. It’s on our websites. It’s on our bills. We put a bill message out there, “come see us,” and we list all the towns. We have people that will go from community to community just to have an experience that you don’t normally have. In some of our smaller towns, you may have a movie theater, but to have an outdoor movie experience doesn’t happen very often anymore. Those are just some of the ways that we get it out there.
Andy Johns: Absolutely. That’s great. Now, as I said, I think it’s important with the folks that you’re interacting with, such as the audience. Those are obviously a lot of the same folks who would be your customers and potential customers. But I like two that you guys are partnering with the groups, the nonprofits in the areas. I think you mentioned Lions Club and some of those. Can you tell us a little bit about those partnerships? What the different groups have been? And if you think that’s added some of the PR value to get those folks involved?
Rhonda Fitterer: Oh, it definitely has, because when you involve kids of any age — whether it’s our 4-H club, the Lions clubs, or the schools — those parents and those families are going to be supporting their kids and bringing the rest of the family out to the event as well. Prior to the movie starting, we do Facebook live right from the park. We talk to the people that are providing the meal or entertainment. There have even been some organizations that have provided games for the kids. We talk about that all before the movie even starts just to get some hype up. To get people to remember, this is the date your movie in the park is starting, and it’s been a tremendous help. It’s fun to interview kids and what they do. I remember last summer we were in Halliday and the 4-H club went all out. They had baked goods, and they made slime that you could buy. And they did a fantastic job. And they loved talking on camera. It was just a really fun night.
Andy Johns: Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. And the Facebook Live idea is a great one. Another question I had for you, so I know that this is not a time when you guys are doing a hard sales pitch. You know, you guys don’t pull a PBS and stand up in front and say, “give us money before we push the play button.” But what are some ways that you guys have worked in the brand along the way with some of these just to make sure that people do know that it’s Consolidated that is making this happen?
Rhonda Fitterer: Absolutely. On the 14-foot inflatable screen that we use, we do have our logo. Our brand is right on that prior to the movie starting. And then, of course, we’re wearing logo-wear. We do have a tent and flags that people can see. Some of the games that we actually bring for families to play prior to the movie, we have a two-on-two basketball hoop shoot, some beanbag toss games, and that’s all branded Consolidated. So it’s kind of a Consolidated theme in the park, as well as a big blow-up screen, just like our brand. And like you said, it’s no hard sales pitch. We are just in our communities because we’re the local cooperative, and we want people to know that we are giving back to them. And if they have questions, we certainly answer them, if they have questions about products or services, but that’s not our intent to be there. It’s just name recognition, getting out there, and letting people know that we’re here for them.
Andy Johns: Excellent, and I think that brings up another point. The last two questions here for you in terms of the employees, how many folks are you bringing out from the office? And is this something that — obviously it’s an after-hours thing — but are you all getting pretty good turnout from the employees as well?
Rhonda Fitterer: Sure, absolutely. We have a video department here at Consolidated where we have a local channel. So I have a couple of people from that department come out and help me, especially on the technical part of it. I can talk until the day is long — sometimes I can’t connect things very well. So we usually have a crew of about four, and there will be a couple of people from customer service that are available to answer any questions that customers have on any of our products and services if we have those, and then myself or Ron from our video department will be there. It’s not hard to go at all. It’s a great evening. It’s a fun thing to do.
Andy Johns: Definitely, yes. Sounds like the kind of thing where even if they didn’t work there, it would be a good thing to come out to.
Rhonda Fitterer: I was going to say that our local technicians that are in those towns, they come out and they help too. So it’s a great thing.
Andy Johns: Absolutely. Last question I had for you. If there’s somebody listening to this podcast who is either considering doing something very similar to this or just looking to do some kind of event to raise their profile, like you said, show that you guys are active and giving back in the community, what advice would you have for somebody who might be considering going down this road and kind of borrowing this idea a little bit? What have you all learned along the way?
Rhonda Fitterer: Sure. It’s not hard to put together. You know, research equipment out on the Internet and don’t skimp on a projector; get something that’s going to last. And then like we talked about earlier in the podcast here, make sure that you are going to the licensing company and doing that correctly and just get out there and engage your community. If you get people in the community partnering with you, it all just comes together and they ask you to come back. It’s that easy.
Andy Johns: And that’s what you’re after is having them appreciate the event enough where they want you back year after year. So, Rhonda, that’s great. I appreciate you sharing those insights with us.
Rhonda Fitterer: I appreciate the phone call too. Thank you.
Andy Johns: She is Rhonda Fitterer. She’s a marketing/PR manager at Consolidated Telecom in North Dakota. I’m your host, Andy Johns. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.