UNDERSTANDING: Activities must be tied to a brand’s properties and
characteristics -- and the bottom line
PLANNING: It’s time to stop guessing and start researching the most
effective media for the product
CASE STUDY: How a gin campaign’s selective brand building managed to
capture the spirit of aristocracy
Ad agencies are the traditional guardians of the brand, but client
marketers are starting to recognise the power of PR. Lexie Goddard
It’s a familiar scenario. The brand manager of an international drinks
empire sits around a table with her advertising agency discussing the
brand properties of the company’s new vodka label. Once the strategy is
agreed she may decide to enlist the help of a PR agency to ‘maximise
media coverage’ using a fraction of the marketing budget.
The signs are that this situation is changing - research from last
year’s Marketing Forum showed that PR’s slice of the marketing cake
doubled from 5.4 percent to 10.2 per cent in 1995 - but there is no
doubt that the advertising agency is still perceived as the guardian of
The all-too-common opinion among client marketers is that public
relations practitioners can provide imaginative ideas but understand
little about the bottom line - that is, shifting its vodka brand X off
National Dairy Council marketing manager and secretary of the IPR’s
marketing communications group Peter Crowe believes PR’s relative
failure to stamp its authority on a brand’s development is the fault of
both agencies and clients who need to view PR as ‘less outcome and more
According to Crowe, speaking at yesterday’s IPR conference on marketing
communications, PR firms spend too much time trying to impress the
client with ‘big bang coverage’ and not enough asking the question ‘will
this sell the product?’.
‘Public relations is still judged by media coverage,’ he says. ‘Clients
need to look at the contribution PR makes to brand equity and sales.’
Steve Gebbett, managing director of Charles Barker, believes PRs already
have a clear understanding of the bottom line. ‘Take, for example,
editorial promotions or the creation of advance media interest around
conferences to help sell tickets,’ he says. ‘PR has a demonstrative
track record in achieving sales.’
Brands PR manager for Bass Brewers, Jane Sabini, proves the point with
two successful brand launches.
Public relations at Bass, in contrast with our fictional round-table
scenario, has had a permanent place on the marketing menu since last
year and is incorporated into all brand planning.
Sabini, who helped to launch Hooch, the UK’s first alcoholic lemonade,
using just her in-house PR resources, says consumers are ‘sceptical of
‘People used to drink whatever the marketers gave them but now they want
to experiment and make their own decisions.’ According to Sabini, PR
was the ideal marketing tool to position Hooch among its target youth
The company’s plan was to ‘seed’ the product using a subtle PR programme
designed to make consumers feel they had discovered’ the brand for
Only when Bass felt the market was hooked, and the drinks trade was
turned onto the product through trade press initiatives, did the company
launch a press advertising campaign.
Negative news stories fuelled by the attacks of alcohol watchdog groups
who claimed Hooch’s sweet taste encouraged under age drinking only
seemed to increase the market’s appetite. Hooch has sold in excess of
2.5million cans and bottles every week in the last three months.
Bass used similar tactics to promote its Irish stout Caffrey’s, launched
last year, and the upmarket version of its best-selling beer Carling
Black Label - Carling Premier. Despite Bass’s success stories with PR,
Sabini is quick to point out that advertising’s role is far from over,
especially with mass market brands.
Manufacturers realise that from the trade perspective, shop keepers are
still more likely to stock a brand which has the kind of high profile
that only big bucks advertising can provide.
But the increasing expense of television ad campaigns means some former
big advertising spenders such as Heinz are experimenting with below-the-
The reason for this, according to the research-based business
consultancy The Henley Centre, is the difficulty in reaching target
customers in today’s fragmented society.
Marketers now have to contend with single parent families, unmarried
couples and households of flatmates instead of the outdated advertising
model of the nuclear family. The centre also notes that consumers are
becoming more advertising-literate and prefer to discover information
for themselves via a wide range of information channels, rather than
passively waiting for sales messages.
This increased level of sophistication means that clients are demanding
more selective marketing tools.
‘You could argue whether advertising does move products off shelves.
Some are single-minded at doing this but not all,’ says Crowe.
He argues that instead of creating a contest between advertising and
public relations, the ideal solution is for all marketing disciplines,
including sales promotion and direct marketing, to sit down and discuss
brand strategy under the orchestration of the client.
‘You can only build brand equity through the whole marketing mix,’ he
says. ‘The idea that ad agencies have the monopoly on brands wisdom is
However, for PR to gain a seat round the marketing table it has to step
up its evaluation techniques and borrow a tried and tested advertising
industry tool - planning.
‘PR agencies need to invest in greater use of planning to develop a
clear understanding of client business and what the consumer is looking
for,’ says Crowe. He believes PR agencies should take the inside track
to maintaining a brand’s image by becoming the ‘brand protectors.’
MaryLee Sachs, marketing communications director for Hill and Knowlton
has noted an increase in the number of clients who invite the agency to
sit down with the ad company and assume a ‘safeguarding’ role over the
communications campaign. ‘Advertising agencies don’t have a 100 per
cent claim on brand work,’ says Sachs. ‘They are not as precious as they
used to be and most are prepared to take ideas on board.’
Sachs believes the upgrade of public relations in the marketing pecking
order is partly due to the growing importance of PR’s role in dealing
with media relations in consumer affairs - to fight off negative press
coverage in a world where journalists are always looking for the next
Hoover scandal story.
Burson-Marsteller chief executive Alison Canning says she has also seen
a trend in the last six months of agencies becoming involved earlier in
brand management and being hired by more senior personnel.
‘Whoever owns the brand strategy drives the proposition,’ says Canning.
‘It was traditionally the ad agency but we are now being hired on a
senior level for consultation and strategic work. It is not unusual to
find yourself sitting around a table with five or six people from
different marketing disciplines.’
Canning believes that PR can not only assume a ‘safeguarding’ role but
be proactive in ensuring that the core marketing idea does not just
appeal to the consumer but is newsworthy in its own right.
According to Crowe, the future is bright for public relations but the
industry will have to become more focused in its understanding of brand
properties or lose out to other below-the-line disciplines.
‘There is a major opportunity for PR in the next five or ten years but
also a real danger that someone will get there first and have the
resources and nous to convince clients that they should have the
Planning: Aiming to score hits on target markets
Planning -the mainstay of the advertising industry - could provide
public relations with the perfect weapon to counter criticism that it is
the most hit and miss of the marketing disciplines.
Consolidated Communications, Jackie Cooper PR and Countrywide
Communications have all invested in full-time planning facilities.
But hasn’t the procedure of deciphering your target market and their
media always been the core of every PR campaign?
Andrew Jones, former brand planner at Courage and Bates Dorland and
planning director at Countrywide Communications believes PR still has a
lot to learn about research and strategy from its sister industry.
According to Jones, more time spent identifying and understanding target
markets at the crucial first stage of a campaign could cancel out brand
managers’ doubts over PR’s effect on sales and ensure a greater share of
‘We as an industry have a low stature within the marketing department as
we are not sufficiently focused and strategic,’ he says.
In Jones’s view, the only way to capture this market is to discover what
motivates the buyers, aside from the fact that illustrating an
understanding of their audience means journalists - trade or consumer -
will be more receptive to what you are offering.
Although Jones admits planning is not ‘a pure science’, he believes
capturing a market requires more precise methods than the broad brush C2
female 30-45 approach and a mile high pile of press cuttings.
‘Imagine a PR company in Holland Park is responding to a brief for a
product targeting downmarket Scottish housewives. What do middle class
graduates sitting in their office really know about the lives and
opinions of these people?’
Alastair Gornall, managing director of Consolidated Communications, who
recently secured a deal with independent planners Manning Gottlieb Media
to supply his agency with planning expertise, agrees.
‘All too often there is a danger with PR companies ringing up a paper
and persuading it to run a story because they know someone there,’ he
says. ‘Our objective is to ensure we spend time on the media which has
the greatest chance of influencing our target market instead of just
reaching the right ball park.’
Consolidated spent three months looking at the feasibility of getting
its client Virgin Direct into the financial services market. The
planning format involved conducting detailed lifestyle analysis of the
target market and assessing the ability of each publication to reach
the audience in the hope of building a tight profile of potential PEP
‘Clients love it,’ says Gornall who sums up planning as ’adding science
to gut feel’. He cites planning as his agency’s USP - although admits
it may not be unique for long. ‘In the future any serious agency will
Jones too remains ‘mystified’ that more PR firms don’t have planners.
‘There is a lot of guessing going on and until we can grow up and invest
in research and staff who understand the planning process we will always
get the fag end of the client’s budget.’
Case study: Giving gin a new twist
The Earl of Lichfield’s entry into the crowded gin market with Lichfield
Gin last summer required the kind of subtle positioning that can only be
achieved by a public relations campaign.
Distillers William Grant & Sons drafted in Focus PR with a challenging
brief to capture drinkers of ‘premium’ gin, such as brand leader
Gordon’s, without diluting the exclusivity of Lichfield Gin. The result
was an exercise in highly-selective brand building.
The agency placed an advertorial in society magazine Tatler explaining
how Lichfield developed the gin which is available only to selected
branches of Waitrose and top London restaurants.
Focus PR helped produce a restaurant guide in conjunction with American
Express in ES Magazine. It also placed an advertorial in Country Life
magazine with a reader offer which stated that on buying a bottle of
Lichfield Gin and a copy of Country Life at Waitrose, a tree would be
planted on a site run by The Woodland Trust overlooking Lichfield
According to Focus PR managing director Hilary Meacham, the public
relations task was to sell the glamour attached to the Earl, the brand’s
‘Everything we do has to be right in terms of positioning and imagery,’
says Meacham. ‘We are targeting people who want to be part of the world
Patrick Lichfield lives in.’
William Grant & Sons PR manager Karen Hill denies that this creates a
potential risk for the company, which also launched Virgin Vodka for
Richard Branson, that consumers may not like the brand’s ambassador.
‘We are trying to convey Lichfield’s adherence to quality rather than
him as a personality,’ says Hill.
She states that public relations was the right discipline to handle the
desired‘softly softly’ approach.
‘The advantage of PR is subtlety,’ she says. We could have spent a lot
of money telling people about Lichfield Gin on advertising but it
doesn’t have the same credibility.’
The distillers plan to extend the promotion across the south of England,
the UK’s heaviest gin drinking area, over the next few years to slowly
establish credibility with its target market using PR and direct mail.
Case study: Timberland’s successful rise
Jenny Andersson, managing director of PR company Andersson Whitehill can
boast of having worked longer for her client Timberland than any of its
employees, outliving numerous marketing managers and ad agencies.
The consultancy, which also handles brand publicity for Wrangler and
Champion, began working for Timberland in 1987 when the company
consisted of four people in a basement in Notting Hill.
Eight years on, Timberland has expanded its range from the production of
its famous Timberland boot to the supply of a large range of footwear,
clothing and accessories - netting an annual UK sales turnover of pounds
The agency still handles Timberland’s marketing communications;
concentrating on the properties of durability, authenticity and outdoor
adventure it helped develop for the company at the start of its
According to Andersson, the agency spent the first year getting
Timberland ‘on the feet of people who matter’, taking journalists on
press trips up mountains in the Lake District.
In the absence of a Timberland marketing department for the first three
years, the consultancy’s aim was to ‘get under the skin of the brand’,
organising study focus groups with the company’s target audience.
As well as dealing with product placement, the agency now advises
Timberland on sponsorship and promotions - including Team Timberland, a
sponsorship initiative for explorers and sportsmen - never straying far
from the original brand properties.
Andersson feels PR agencies are as well, if not better, suited to
handling the marketing of a brand as ad companies. ‘Brand equity can
legitimately come from PR consultancies,’ she says.
‘Ad agencies have to produce ads to a timetable and with deadlines do
not have the time to spend on brand equities. It’s important to become
involved or risk getting left behind or considered as the final stop in
the marketing process.’
Timberland head of sales and marketing Michael Lynskey emphasises that
PR is just one part of a wider communications effort but finds
Andersson’s services are crucial to publicise new products in his
mission to dispel the popular image of Timberland as ‘the yellow boot
‘We have to appeal to everyone from sailors and climbers to the man on
the street,’ says Lynskey. ‘The agency is our interface with the mass of
media from quality newspapers to the outdoor specialist vertical