Matty Tong, Weber Shandwick - Mining the brand back story

PR must show it has the experience and creativity to exploit the explosion in brand engagement.

It is nice to know we're officially post-recession, but as yet there is not much sign of a return to the large PR budgets of yesteryear.

Now more than ever our clients need to see a serious bang for their buck. Marketing programmes need to be efficient, which means agencies working more closely together than ever. We are being briefed at the same time as advertising, direct marketing, digital, etc. Final presentations are written jointly; it's becoming unacceptable for a more or less finished deck to be sent to the PR agency to simply add their slides to. We are increasingly central to the marketing process, which has implications for how we work and create.

Traditionally, advertising agencies have claimed the role of brand custodian. Contrary to popular lore, ad agencies aren't only good at making 30-second films or building awareness. They are skilled at telling stories, brand stories, which inspire and excite audiences. However, many clients seem to assume that this naturally translates into engagement expertise, an ability to connect directly and effectively with the target. But does it? Adland has a lot to learn from PR in this area. In contrast, digital agencies are great at conceiving and building miraculously whizzy platforms and apps. But this doesn't mean they alone hold the reins to that fabled beast, social media.

As someone who spent many years as a planner in advertising and in recent years attended many cross-agency briefings, I've seen how the more future-facing clients are no longer relying on their advertising agency alone to come up with a 'big idea'. My best experiences in advertising came from working as part of cross-agency teams with everyone actually working together - not just receiving a brief jointly. It works particularly well when planners and creatives from different disciplines can spend time together, exploring and building ideas. Working this way can throw up a number of fresh, different stories that all have the brand at the heart. It's possible to create news without always having to rely on external opportunities. More stories and ideas should come directly from the heart of a product or service. Forget the big expensive surveys and celebrity ambassadors. What's the back-story? What will surprise and delight? In fact, you might say this is simply PR going back to its roots.

PR needs to demonstrate it has the experience, skills and creativity to exploit the explosion in brand engagement opportunities for clients. After all, it's what we have been doing for them for years. There are simply new channels and new lingo added into the mix.

All this means that stand-out strategies and ideas have never been more important. There can be no more jumping straight from client brief to brainstorm; we have to acquire a new rigour in developing our campaigns. We must insist on clear and achievable objectives. We must get our hands on brand and communications tracking and sales data - you can be sure the ad agency will. We must delve deeper into the target consumers'

attitudes and needs as well as clearly defining the marketplace that this product or service inhabits. It's crucial to get to grips with the brand hierarchy, be it house, temple or onion, and identify which channels will be most influential for reaching the audience.

Creativity needs focus to succeed. A clear brief really is liberating - it's a lot easier to think laterally when you know exactly who you're targeting, what you're trying to communicate and what channels are most appropriate for engaging them. If you get stuck, always go back to the brand.

- Matty Tong is European strategic planning director at Weber Shandwick

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- What is the best coverage your agency has attracted for a story based on a survey?

Our research for Microsoft showed that by 2012, 5.5 million workers would be working outside of the office. A ten-minute segment on Channel 4 News was presented from the tree-office we built in London as part of the campaign.

- Which consumer brand most successfully capitalised on the election campaign season?

Twitter enabled people to follow the political agenda in real time, helping create what some regard as our first truly digital general election.

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