Since Natasha Case and her partner Freya Estreller founded the ice cream company Coolhaus, in 2009, keeping up with demands has been a challenge. From their unusual combinations of flavours, through edible and waste minimizing wrappers, to social media imprinted popsicle sticks, Coolhaus truly speaks the language of the young generation. We’ve asked the young CEO for some inspirational insights on their PR strategy.
Coolhaus is the result of Natasha Case’s passion for food and architecture. Through her twenties (which, to be fair, is not that long ago), she created and developed the concept of architecture(food + architecture) that would eventually spark the ice cream company into existence. The company serves gourmet ice cream sandwiches that are actually cool houses, made of cookie floors and ceilings, and ice cream walls. With unusual flavours like Fried Chicken and Waffles, Brown Butter Candied Bacon, and Beer and Pretzels, Case has certainly redefined what ice cream is all about.
Like many brands before, the Coolhaus has placed their marketing efforts outside of traditional advertising and built an image through PR and social media. The unusual thing, however, is that a considerable chunk of their marketing efforts is spent on branded campaigns – collaborating with a variety of other companies that are aligned with Coolhaus’ message, such as Pepsi, Facebook, and Tumblr. In addition, the products are sold in thousands of alternative locations, like Urban Outfitters, Quicksilver, Whole Foods and movie theatres – places that might not have a lot in common, but all serve to establish Coolhaus as a cool, sustainable, quality brand.
What’s the idea behind making partnerships, like your branded campaigns, where you help other brands to grow by putting their logo on your food trucks?
“This is a major part of our business – I would say it’s bread and butter as far as our win-win marketing strategy. It’s cool for big brands to work with smaller brands, like ours, because it allows them to reach new audiences and have a grassroots presence. It’s great for us because people get to try our product, usually for free, sponsored by another company. The PR generated from these campaigns is amazing, media mentions in articles plus thousands of social media posts and impressions.
We also love working with alternative retailers. How cool is it that you can shop your favourite brands for clothes and pick up a cool ice cream sandwich in the same store? Especially with our ice cream sammies and bars (as opposed to pints), you don’t need utensils, and you can eat them anywhere. They are single-serve indulgences, so why not put them in places like fashion retailers, sports stadiums, movie theatres, etc.?”
“Positioning ourselves as the cool, millennial ice cream brand. It’s important for our customers to know that everything this company does, is done by young, hungry (metaphorically and literally) people like themselves. We also aim for transparency (sharing numbers, goals, sourcing), and authenticity. It’s important to share the trials and tribulations along with successes – people don’t expect a brand to be perfect, but when they find you more relatable, they will have bigger buy-in with the brand.”
What’s the biggest challenge you face when working with PR?
“Our biggest challenge is the seasonality of ice cream, because most people associate it with Spring and Summer months. In colder months, we shift our PR focus to remind people that ice cream is a comfort food, not just a treat for a hot day. I also think there is an interesting play-off between more traditional media, like magazines and newspapers, and digital. Magazines still require HUGE lead times, so it’s important that we plant seeds in the winter for summer stories. However, digital can go up the same day, so that’s more about quick and aggressive outreach.”
“Through our catering services and online. Over the years, we’ve catered many media, movie and TV sets, so we’ve built relationships with quite a few influencers. We also have a huge social media following of more than 200,000 people, which includes quite a few notable influencers. We always interact with like-minded personalities and brands. In addition, one of our investor partners has a celebrity marketing firm (The A-list), so she has been super helpful in seeding product, and even has a Coolhaus freezer stocked with product at her headquarters.”
How do you measure the value of your press coverage?
“We measure it through sales. If PR is working, it should impact sales at our shops, from our trucks and catering bookings, and purchasing of our products from retailers like Whole Foods, Kroger and Safeway. We also study our media impressions, sales leads, and website traffic.“
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing right now, and how do you plan to overcome it?
“The biggest challenge is that perfect alignment of capitalizing on the major growth I know we are capable of, and making sure that we remain financially responsible and accountable to our bottom-line. We are a profitable business and the temptation is to spend, spend, spend and call it re-investing in growth (which it is). But you want to spend smartly, or find ways to make money off of marketing and activations. Also, we want to have the retailers really behind our new products when we create them, so that we aren’t just making massive quantities of items that don’t get purchase orders.”
What do you think is the main reason behind your success?
“I think our success all comes down to the culture of the brand and of course the product itself. As far as culture, we have a blast, but we also work our tushes off! I think it’s completely possible to do when you create an environment that is inspiring and creative, but organized and systematic. As far as the product, we have such a unique story and merchandising, and also tri-fold market channeling (trucks, shops, distribution). We’ve always used locally-sourced, high quality, natural ingredients for our ice cream. When people try it, they can taste the difference. And with Coolhaus, we bring everyone a world that they want to be part of: nobody is an outsider, and everyone is cooler by association.”
How do you work with PR internationally?
“We have done a small amount of outreach to international outlets, but more often this press has been organically generated international press. We are starting to distribute internationally so I want to put us on WeChat and social media in other global markets. That will be key for success.”
Can you tell us about one publicity achievement that you’re especially proud of?
“I think my young entrepreneur lists: Forbes 30 Under 30, Zagat 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Under 35were huge accomplishments for me personally, and were big-time exposure for Coolhaus. They are a gift that still gives as far as access to events, notability, and so on.”
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