Everyone loves a heartwarming tale of brands spinning potentially negative news into a huge PR win.

We saw it earlier this year when TrekAmerica jumped on the hashtag #GiveGregAHoliday and scored a huge amount of press coverage for zero investment.

And now this week Waterstones and Airbnb have given us all a lesson in agile marketing after seeing an opportunity for PR gold when a Texan man got locked inside one of the former’s London bookshops.

Read on to find out what happened, or for more on this topic read our post on 23 nimble examples of agile marketing from ecommerce brands.

And to hear more from Airbnb come along to Econsultancy’s Festival of Marketing in November. It’s a two-day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including Airbnb, LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.

How it went down

This is the initial tweet that garnered so much attention. It’s easy to see why:

How or why he got locked in isn’t that important for us, what’s more interesting is the response.

Waterstones initially missed all the commotion as its Twitter account is only active during office hours of 9am to 5.30pm.

Nothing wrong with this especially, but it’s still strange that it failed to notice several thousand retweets, loads of @mentions and a dedicated Waterstones hashtag.

As with the #GiveGregAHoliday incident, brands were quick to spy an opportunity, with Airbnb being first to the punch by suggesting that the store become an Airbnb host.

Hosting a sleepover to reward customers isn’t a new idea, as IKEA previously hosted one at its Essex store in response to a Facebook fan group called ‘I wanna have a sleepover in Ikea’.

But it remains an excellent PR stunt and is a great fit in this context.

The public reaction to the Texan getting locked in was almost universally positive and most people felt he was lucky to get to spend some quality time with the books.

Waterstones could easily have let it lie, but the sleepover is a brilliant mix of experiential and agile marketing that won even more PR exposure.

The Airbnb page

The execution was obviously important as the sleepover needed to be arranged as quickly as possible to ride the wave of interest.

But it’s also important to ensure that the event doesn’t feel hastily or shoddily put together.

Waterstones and Airbnb created a dedicated a page for the Waterstones Piccadilly store where 10 people could win a pair of tickets to the sleepover, which takes place tonight (Friday 24 October).

To enter people had to contact the host and tell them in one sentence what book you would read if you were to spend the night in a bookshop and why. 

The winners have obviously been notified already, which results in even more Twitter exposure as the excitement build up to the event.

Other brands in on the act

Obviously a lot of other brands wanted to get in on the act and offers of free food and entertainment weren’t hard to come by.

This can be a bit risky as there’s a very fine line between contextual newsjacking and horribly cynical attempts to cash in on a fun news story.

We saw this before with #GiveGregTheHoliday…

This time around Weetabix, Graze and Teapigs have got involved to provide snacks and refreshments.

The latter two are a perfect fit as they’re both trendy startups with similar brand values to Airbnb, but I’m sure there were also a few offers from less-than-relevant companies.

In conclusion…

Thanks to its ability to respond quickly to events as they unfolded Waterstones has garnered a huge amount of positive press coverage for relatively little investment.

However much of the credit should really go to Airbnb, which came up with the original idea and also had the ability to action the idea.

Waterstones might not have been in a position to organise the sleepover at such short notice without using Airbnb’s platform.

Both companies have scored a big PR win that they couldn’t have achieved alone, yet the real impetus for the sleepover came from Airbnb which also has an agile culture that makes these type of events possible.