News analysis: E-cigarette sector sparks consumer PR bonanza

An attractive woman commands viewers to "get it out" and "put it in my mouth" in a deliberately provocative ad for VIP e-cigarettes, aired on TV on Monday.

Skycig: in-house PR manager Lyndsey Wilson regards PR as key
Skycig: in-house PR manager Lyndsey Wilson regards PR as key
In a market set to be worth £250m next year, according to e-cigarette manufacturer Vapestick, companies are desperately scrabbling for market share.

VIP’s post-watershed ad does not break Advertising Standards Authority rules, unlike previous efforts from other brands such as Skycig, E-lites, 5 Colours and Ten Motives – largely for not making it clear that their products contained nicotine.

While crude ads might create a stir, many argue that the complexity of the messages the industry needs to convey requires a PR-focused approach to marketing.

E-cigarette companies face two challenges: first, they have to establish the category and educate consumers about its benefits, and second, they have to position themselves as the brand of choice over their competitors.

Umer Sheikh, the co-founder of e-cigarette company Gamucci, argues that PR is crucial to getting across the unique selling points of his product and his business story.

"PR has a massive role in telling people about the products," Sheikh says.

Gamucci is working with PR and public affairs agency JBP on a future consumer PR drive as well as corporate PR.

"If you look at the e-cigarette sector, even though the growth rate is huge, there are a lot of consumers out there who don’t know what e-cigarettes are and their benefits over combustible tobacco products," Sheikh says.

The media have picked up on the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, according to the PR man who handles media relations for another brand, E-lites. Jonathan Horsman, managing director of PR and public affairs agency Centaurus Communications, said: "As the product has become popular with consumers the newspapers have got involved and started covering the story. We’ve been helping them to manage that."

Skycig has an in-house PR manager, Lyndsey Wilson, as well as an in-house social media co-ordinator and an agency, PHA Media.

"PR and social media are key for us in terms of supporting key marketing campaigns and reaching the widest possible audience," Wilson said.

"PR enables us to adapt our key messages and target a variety of different audiences who otherwise may not have been keenly aware of either the product or the brand."

For Wilson the challenge of building brand awareness is becoming increasingly important as the market grows.

Sheikh concurs, observing: "Eighteen months ago people would go into a shop asking for an e-cigarette, because it was a new product, but now they’re increasingly looking for particular brands. And the different brands vary significantly."

With advertising and PR activity certain to increase as the industry continues its rapid growth, how these challenges develop, and the way companies will choose to tackle them, remains to be seen.

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