Features 03/06/02

When JCOM students talk, nation's media are all ears for Earbags

By Bryan Seeley

Earbags of Sweden, makers of polarfleece bandless earmuffs and an official licensee of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games, teamed up with nearly two dozen Utah State University journalism students to make a lasting impression on the national news media -- not to mention the students who participated.

The company approached Utah State University's department of journalism and communication in the fall of 2001, donating $1,000 and dozens of the ear warmers in an attempt to create a lasting relationship between the two, as reported by the Deseret News.

"It was an attempt to bring our small budget company to the forefront of the games," said Valerie Ciptak, vice president of sales for the New York-based company.

Tom Natvig, a Swedish civil engineer and Winter Games enthusiast, developed the earbag after the 1994 Lillehammer games. Natvig developed the product as a solution to his own cold ears at the Games. Valerie Ciptak and a partner won the rights from Natvig to sell the earbags in North America.

On a shoestring budget, Ciptak used innovative ways to create a national exposure for the small company. After becoming an official licensee to the Salt Lake Games, Ciptak approached Ted Pease, head of the JCOM department, attempting to utilize the student resources in the department.

"Earbags has presented USU students with a great opportunity to gain some real world experience and professional training at a time when the entire world is in Salt Lake," said Pease. "Personally, I'm not a hat person. A lot of us have been wearing Earbags regularly."

The Earbags campaign was adopted as part of a class project of ComUSU, the department's student-run public relations agency. ComUSU students created a multi-faceted national media campaign that drew hits from NBC's Today Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Salt Lake Tribune and other national press.

The students, through guerrilla marketing tactics such as venue promotion, media reconnaissance, and film and broadcast gained national exposure for both Earbags and Utah State. Student interns such as Kelly Turner could often be seen at venues like The Olympic Square and Bud World sampling security, media and any high-exposure personnel.

"We've been handing out samples in downtown Salt Lake City to high profile Olympic individuals since the opening ceremonies," Turner said. "People have been hitting us up for them everywhere we go."

The students are very happy about the success they have had with promoting the Earbags thus far. After an encounter with NBC's Today show, frozen from hours in the Park City cold, interns celebrated a successful hit with national prominence. Katie Couric, anchor for the national news show, wore a pair given to her by intern Jennifer Hawkins.

"Katie and I are tight," Hawkins said with a grin from ear to ear. "She was great and it was a great experience for all involved."

"We were extremely satisfied with Couric's willingness to endorse our product and to see it on national television. My knees were trembling from excitement, or the cold, I'm not sure which," USU intern Seth Quillen said.

For more on Utah State's encounters with the Today show click here.

The Olympic Games claims to have brought the world together and the spotlight has been on Salt Lake City. With the focus on and the pressure mounting, students from Utah State basked in the limelight appearing in national media.

"You can't believe how professional these students are," said Ciptak. "Earbags is pleased and thankful for the students' efforts."


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