February 20, 2013
Charlie Lubin’s decision to utilize the power of public relations in promoting his baking company, Sara Lee, is perhaps one of the best examples of how a PR agency’s creativity can turn a small startup into a nationally recognized, multi-million-dollar corporation. Founded in 1949, Sara Lee’s unique concept lay in creating cheesecakes with real butter and extra eggs, a stark contrast to the typical industry practice of the day. Charging 79 cents per cake, Lubin had customers paying more than double the price of his competition. Chicagoans didn't mind, it seemed, as Sara Lee's cakes increasingly became a city-wide sensation. Seeing the full potential of his cakes, Lubin decided to implement a national expansion. His only roadblock was his financial inability to pay for a costly advertising campaign.
The supposed weakness in Lubin’s business plan would lead him to retain the services of a public relations firm, an outcome that would ultimately prove vital to the future success of his company. On the heels of the recently launched PR campaign designed to spread word of Sara Lee’s quality came an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Sara Lee Builds Baking Bonanza on Heaping Slices of Quality.” Literally overnight, Lubin’s company was flooded with order requests, some from as far away as California. In garnering greater publicity, the PR agency spared no expense on creativity as demonstrated by a theatrical play put together for food editors at a conference in Chicago, sharing the story of Sara Lee through drama. In addition, understanding the importance of reaching out to industry circles, Sara Lee’s PR team simultaneously targeted trade media outlets that catered to supermarkets, wholesale purchasers and bakers, ensuring all avenues toward greater market saturation had been explored. Perhaps one of the best examples of creative PR to come from this case was the decision to reinvent the structure and execution of promotional work. From this came the idea to link the actions of a PR agency’s CEO with those of the client company’s sales department. Previously, neither side in a campaign shared communications, as the belief was that PR work held no relation to sales. Following the decision to overturn this preconception, the results spoke for themselves.
By 1956, Lubin’s success meant he could sell Sara Lee to Consolidated Foods for a cool $2.8 million. Despite the fact that his company had grown to the point that it could afford advertisements, Charlie Lubin always reflected on the fact that “public relations was worth 100 times the advertising in establishing Sara Lee.”