Teaching an old brand new tricks

For every product launch that gets buzz, there are well-known brands that don't have a hard news hook going for them. David Ward finds ways to liven up these PR efforts

For every product launch that gets buzz, there are well-known brands that don't have a hard news hook going for them. David Ward finds ways to liven up these PR efforts

Having a client roster filled with market-leading brands will not win you many sympathy points from fellow PR pros.

Still, representing well-established brands does have its own set of challenges, especially if those products do not change much from year to year.

"We always tell clients that the first three letters of news are n-e-w," says Julie Hall, consumer group VP at Schneider & Associates. "We realize they want PR support for their existing products, but they should try to put most of their money toward new products because that's what tends to get reporters excited."

That said, Hall and others still note the built-in media relations advantages well-known brands and products have.

"When you call a reporter and you're representing a venerable brand, there's a credibility that comes with that," says Patti Temple Rocks, EVP and consumer brands group director for GolinHarris in Chicago. "Sometimes that makes it easier than when you represent a brand new company. But you must respect the journalist and know they can't run with just anything - they do need a news angle."

Michael Olguin, president of Formula PR, whose clients include Newcastle Brown Ale, says that well-established brands often have history that can be leveraged into a pitch.

"Sometimes you can go back to basics, talk about the heritage, note all the firsts that have come from a company, and build that into a bigger story," he says.

"It's important to remember that every year is an anniversary," adds Stacey Bender, president and creative director of the Bender-Hammerling Group. "[Each year] becomes a chance to remind consumers that classic brands never go out of style."

Bender recently worked with the French's food brand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the green bean casserole, a traditional American recipe that includes both Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup and French's French Fried Onions.

"We held a press event at a Manhattan restaurant and got TV crews from ABC and The Food Channel to attend," she says. "We also got coverage in USA Today and other papers."

It's also occasionally possible to create a PR campaign that gets both the media and the public to look at a well-established brand in a completely new light.

With another client, leading kosher-food maker Manischewitz, Bender designed a campaign to tout Jewish food as an option for more than just holidays.

"We encouraged reporters to look at Jewish food as another interesting cuisine and to make readers aware that when you're thinking of making an ethnic dish, you can just as easily choose kosher food as you would Japanese or Mexican," Bender says, adding the pitch has already generated interest from numerous publications including Cooking Light and Gourmet.

Temple Rocks says a key to generating new takes on an old brand is having a lot of give and take between a PR firm and the company with a leading brand.

"The client's research departments are often just a minefield of opportunities for PR people because they have done some research that they may or may not be acting on," she says.

One example of that was the Florida Department of Citrus, which promotes Florida orange juice and had done research that found women were more interested in saving time in the morning as opposed to late at night.

"That gave us a chance to talk about orange juice and the time-saving benefits of grabbing a glass on your way out in the morning," Temple Rocks says.

Even though a market leader may never want to tinker with a winning formula, Temple Rocks notes that companies and products often find themselves in the public eye for other reasons.

"Your PR instincts may tell you something isn't big news," she says, "but then it gets picked up. Sometimes that has to do with other things, such as a huge company turnaround or leadership issues. In any event, that makes everything the company does relevant to the media."

There are also opportunities to reach out to the media if a client's competitor is making noise. "Especially if you're an established brand, it usually is appropriate to have the leader weigh in on any major moves in their category," Temple Rocks explains.

Golin represents McDonald's, and Temple Rocks says the firm seized the opportunity when fast-food rival Subway began promoting a nutritional platform.

"That was like getting a slow pitch that we could knock out of the park," she recalls. "McDonald's had so many things we could talk about, such as the salad line and the fact that some of our sandwiches have a lower fat content than [Subway's] meals."

Nicholas Scibetta, SVP and director of Ketchum's communications and media strategy division, adds that as with most PR, having good relationships with key journalists will get them to go the extra mile to work with you in finding the right story angle.

"Reporters may assume that people are familiar with the product because it's the category leader," he says. "But if you have that relationship, you can then bring in a new expert that adds a layer of credibility and gets them to take a different view of it."

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Technique tips

Do look to milestones and other key dates that can remind the press and public of why a brand is an established market leader

Do work with a client's research department, which often has tons of data relevant to a well-known brand that can be leveraged into a survey or study

Do look for other angles beyond the consumer product, such as a charismatic new executive or spokesperson, that will prompt reporters to take a fresh look at a well-established brand

Don't stay quiet when a client's competitor makes news. That's often a good opportunity to reach out to reporters and reinforce a position as a category leader

Don't endanger a client's credibility with the media by trying to force news hooks that aren't there. Major brands aren't going anywhere, so there will always be opportunities down the road

Don't ignore breaking hard news. You may be able to position your client as part of a solution to an emerging problem

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