REI Black Friday PR StuntBy Gini Dietrich

I’m a week behind the news, but I was traveling last week and didn’t have the brain capacity to write about it when it happened.

That said, it’s an important conversation to have, so let’s have it.

When REI announced they are going to be closed on Black Friday, it might have been a PR stunt, but it was a brilliant move.

Here’s why: It’s completely on brand.

How to Define Success

REI is a store that sells outdoor clothes and equipment. Their message is clear:

The outdoors, and the website, are always open. #optoutside

Amen! Let’s all go play outside!

I’m not a big shopper to begin with (heck, I haven’t shopped for myself in more than a  year because StitchFix sends me clothes once a month), but I really, really hate Black Friday shopping.

It brings out the very worst in people and that just isn’t my scene.

What’s worse, is it’s begun to creep into Thanksgiving so now, instead of spending time with your family and friends on the holiday, you’re standing in an obnoxious line to get $20 off a limited supply of TVs.

When REI announced they were doing this, the social media world was all aflutter!

  • Is this a PR stunt?
  • Won’t they lose millions of dollars?
  • Can they possibly make up the money from the amount of earned media they’re getting?

Here is what REI president CEO, Jerry Stritzke, says:

Any retailer that hears this will be startled by the idea. As a co-op … we define success a little differently. It’s much broader than just money. How effectively do we get people outside?

How do we effectively get people outside?

PR Stunt or Not?

The announcement coincides with the unveiling of a new logo which has the word “co-op” in it for the first time since the 80s.

Many experts say this is the optimal word. Because the $2.2 billion company isn’t public, they can take the kind of risk a Target or The Home Depot cannot.

Still, it’s said Black Friday is one of their top 10 revenue days.

So PR stunt or not?

Ben Steele, the company’s chief creative officer says:

If it was just a PR stunt, we wouldn’t be closing down our stores for the day. It is a very real action and wasn’t a decision we took lightly.

That said, they did bring in three firm—Edelman, Spark, and Venables Bell & Partners—to help them build momentum for the announcement. PR stunt or not, the company has more than made up its retail sales in earned media.

Here’s Why it Works

Let’s say The Home Depot did the same thing: We are closing to give our full- and part-time employees the day off to spend with their families.

The news sort of falls flat. It’s just an announcement.

If Target sends the same message, same reaction.

Heck, we’ve always been closed on Black Friday and no one is running around screaming that we get the day off.

But the reason it works for REI is their whole mantra is spending time outside. It’s what they sell. It’s who they hire. It’s what they do.

The reason everyone is talking about it is not because they’re closed on Black Friday (of course, there is a part of that), but because it matches their brand so well, it makes everyone think, “Huh! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I say good for them! I hope more retailers follow suit. And, as a REI member, I cannot wait to shop there and use my annual dividend this year. It just won’t be on Black Friday. I’ll be outside.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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