Grab It While You Can...

This case study was written as part of a presentation for my final public relations class during college. It is interesting to note that this was not my original campaign to analyze. Although a checks and balances system was set into place to ensure each student presented a different study, another student mistakenly used the campaign I had already chosen. I found out about this as she presented her study two days before mine was due for presentation. When I told my professor about this, I noted that I did not want an extension, pity or an easy way out. I saw this as a challenge and an opportunity to push my limits under a constraint. Two days later, my case study received praise from my peers and an A+ with extra credit for my unique presentation style.


Following an aggressive acquisition strategy, Washington Mutual, a Seattle-based financial services institution, became one of the largest banks in California with virtually no brand recognition in the market. Very soon afterwards, the United States Treasury’s decision to introduce a new $20 bill provided WaMu with a major chance to increase name recognition in the new markets and highlight their personal commitment in developing affordable housing in service.

WaMu continued to research attitudes of California consumers showing a negative view of banking as being stiff and big business. A poll showed that 95% of bills requested from ATMs are $20, common bill for the common man. WaMu’s researched throughRogers & Associates PR firm found that $50 and $100 launches did not exist giving them the go to do something original and powerful. Their main focus for the event was the consumers with appealing to them the one thing everybody loves – free money given away.

And thus the institution developed “WaMoola Madness,” a special campaign event that on the new $20 release date from the Federal Reserve, Washington Mutual gave 20 consumers in seven major cities a chance to enter a wind cube filled with new $20 bills. Once inside, consumers would have 20 seconds to grab as many of the swirling bills as they could. The grand total in each city was matched by WaMu and donated to a local non-profit housing organization. The idea was genius to me. It’s always better to hit two birds with one stone if you can do it successfully and with style.

Through this event WaMu sought to boost name recognition in reaching an audience of over 45 million, raise awareness of the Washington Mutual name in new markets by 50% and achieve media coverage equivalent to advertising dollars. Additionally WaMu would be able to help promote the new $20 bill and bring focus to the company’s commitment to affordable housing.

In the planning process WaMu went through extensive planning to ensure that in each event, 200 of the new $20s would be available. To do this, the PR team made special cash orders and obtained clearance to pick up cash before hours at Federal Reserve offices, and in some instances, had money flown to their locations. Additionally, semiweekly conference calls were held with local PR partners. These and other measures helped to prevent security threats concerning the day of the event. Winners were given one new $20 bill and a voucher to pick up the rest of their cash at a nearby WaMu bank.

WaMu also took huge measures in securing media coverage for the event. Media advisories were sent to key media and submitted to wire services before the event. Many follow-up calls were made to key media, stressing that the event would be on of the only opportunities to see the new bill and AP photographers were also contacted about the event. A key element to their coverage was establishing Radio partnerships in each city who acted as event emcee in each city, generating an even larger crowd. Personally, this was spectacular judgment on broadcasting the message for the event.

Finally on Thursday, Sept. 24, 1998, the nationwide event took place. The entire event totaled approximately $235,000, including the $97,000 awarded to consumers.

In the end, WaMu exceeded all of their goals. The event goal to reach an audience of 45 million totaled 83 million, and a total of 3,500 attended the event. WaMu’s goal to increase name recognition by 50% reached 80% from 0%. That in it self is a mission accomplished. Additionally, media coverage equivalent to event cost surpassed and totaled $618,000. Of the $97,000 awarded to consumers, earmark grants for the equivalent were awarded to the regional non-profit organizations.

All in all, this was a great campaign for WaMu in more than one way and its execution was perfect.


Hendrix, Jerry A., Public Relations Cases, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA, 2004.