Consumer Media Relations: The waiting game

For long-term campaigns, the payoff can be doubly rewarding.

For long-term campaigns, the payoff can be doubly rewarding.

In 1996, when Burson-Marsteller won an RFP to work with the American Battle Monuments Commission on the future World War II memorial, one of the agency's main objectives was that it would be able to see the project through to completion. Taking advantage of the long timeline, Burson's first order of business was to clarify some misconceptions about the memorial to get the fundraising effort under way. "We had to battle the public and media issues while also trying to raise money," says Libby Schnee, a director in Burson's public affairs practice.

One of the key messages was that 1,100 members of the WWII generation were dying each day, without a memorial to call their own. The agency also used Tom Hanks as a spokesperson and capitalized on the success of Saving Private Ryan to draw attention to the effort. In fact, during his acceptance speech at the 1999 Golden Globe Awards, Hanks gave out the 800 number for the memorial, resulting in more than 30,000 phone calls. "That was a turning point for awareness building," Schnee says. Ultimately, the committee raised $195 million, far more than the original goal of $100 million.

Burson's initial contract was for three years with an option for another two. But at the end of that time, the project was still not completed, so Burson had to re-bid for the work, which it won. When the memorial was finally dedicated on Memorial Day Weekend in 2004, it garnered a huge amount of media coverage and drew thousands of veterans and others to Washington, DC. Schnee says it also brought a huge amount of satisfaction to the team that had worked on the project for so long.

"On a program like this, it gets to be part of why you come to work every day," she says. "It's great that you get to see something from start to finish."

Waiting for the payoff

Indeed, for every PR campaign that is planned, executed, and evaluated in a matter of weeks or months, there are those that take much longer to produce a desirable outcome. Sometimes the long length of that campaign is determined from the onset, while other efforts take unpredictable turns before providing the big payoff.

When San Francisco-based Fineman PR began working with French wine-closure manufacturer Sabat? (now called Oeneo) in 2001, the company was in the throes of a crisis. Because it was the creator of Altec, a popular cork-based closure, the company was the prime target in a campaign to eliminate the use of wine-bottle corks. Many wine writers charged that Sabat?'s product was a source of a chemical called TCA, which can have an adverse effect on wine's taste and aroma. The outreach effort, therefore, called for repairing the 60-year old company's reputation among wine connoisseurs and journalists. Fineman PR worked for more than three years to get the results that were acceptable to both the client and firm.

Michael Fineman, president of the agency, says that PR should always be a long-term effort. "Certainly there are short-term projects and tasks," he notes. "But overall, a company has to demonstrate that it is doing what is right for the market over the long term."

Going into its work with Sabat?, Fineman says the number-one goal was to gain trust within the marketplace. "None of us really knew what this would take," he says. The first step was to get the company's viewpoint out to the media, beginning with a letter to the editor in Wine Spectator. From there, the campaign involved a mix of media relations and customer outreach. Making both parties aware of Sabat?'s developments on a new closure was also a big concern. The payoff came in 2004, when the company's new closure, Diam, received rave reviews along with the Vinitech Gold Award.

"We've got a product that is being lauded internationally and a client that is being lauded for developing a product that addressed the concerns of winemakers for the weaknesses of cork closures," Fineman says. "Right now we're in pleasure mode."

Preparing for a celebration

While some long-term campaigns are the result of crises, others are developed specifically to capitalize on a celebration that is years in the making. In 1995, five years before the mother of all New Year's celebrations, Edelman began working on an integrated marketing campaign for its client, Korbel.

"The millennium was such an incredible opportunity for a champagne maker that the client felt that we should form a special team in advance," says Jennifer Petterson, at the time an SVP in Edelman's consumer practice. Brown-Foreman, Korbel's parent company, assembled a "synergy" team consisting of representatives from different agencies, including promotions, advertising, consumer PR, and trade media relations. Petterson says the goal was to develop a master plan with core key messages that could be communicated through different disciplines.

"We came up with this idea that we would own the millennium in the US," she says. To help further this concept, the PR team sought to form a partnership with an association that had a credible link to New Year's in the US. Korbel chose the Times Square Business Improvement District, the group responsible for the annual celebration.

"We were first to call them," she says. "We took advantage of the time because our planning process took lots of curves in the road." With a partnership set, Korbel established itself as "The Champagne of the Millennium," even trademarking the name. By announcing the partnership three years before the millennium celebration, Korbel became part of the Times Square celebrations leading up to the big one.

Another tactic was creating the world's largest champagne bottle, have it certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, and take it on a 42-city tour in 1999.

Petterson stresses that the campaign was a truly integrated effort, eventually resulting in a 22% increase in sales and Korbel producing to capacity and selling out that year.

Impact on sales

A sales increase is the ultimate goal of an ongoing integrated marketing campaign by Porter Novelli for the Pro-pane Education & Research Council (PERC). In 1999, the firm was hired to develop an integrated consumer education program to promote the use of propane as an energy source.

From the start, the program was designed as a 5-year effort, but Debra Proud Abell, partner at PN, says that timeframe does provide challenges. At first the contract was worth less than $1 million, but as time went on it grew to tens of millions of dollars.

"That becomes a very attractive account to other firms," Abell says. "When you have a long-term client, you must win it by keeping it."

Another challenge for this campaign was that the propane industry had never really engaged in a widespread marketing initiative before. That's why, Abell says, it was key to get the propane companies involved on a grassroots level. PN helped develop a partnership program with the state propane gas associations where states can access matching dollars to develop education programs at the state level.

"Participation is huge and growing each year,"she says. The agency also made materials, including photos and brochures, available online so that industry members could personally modify them. Sales figures from 2003 show consumer propane use is on the rise.

Keeping the end in sight

Long-term PR campaigns have some characteristics all their own. A major challenge is keeping staff motivated and interested in the task at hand.

Debra Proud Abell, partner at Porter Novelli, advises bringing in new staffers every year of a multi-year project and to change members' roles within the team. While most clients don't like to see change, it can be beneficial. "When you bring in someone with new ideas, it raises the bar and makes everyone step up," she says.

Sometimes the staff's motivation is directly linked to the campaign itself. Giles Morgan, Hill & Knowlton's MD of sports marketing and sponsorship in London, has worked on some of the agency's Olympic city bids, including London's recent winning bid for the 2012 Summer Games.

"When you're working on something like an Olympic bid, it's more finite than virtually any other project that you could ever work on - there's going to be a yes or a no," he notes. "You've either got it or you don't. It's quite easy to motivate people when you absolutely know the D-day."

Ultimately, however, the most important factor in a long-term campaign is the client and its willingness to keep the PR agency in the loop.

"If you're a PR pro who is just left to react to a client's decisions, then you're in a weak position," says Michael Fineman, president of Fineman PR. "It's critical for a company's PR counsel to be in on some top-level decisions."

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