FOCUS: INTEGRATED MARKETING - Time to grab the baton and run/The balance of communications power is a delicate one and no longer automatically weighted in favour of advertising. Ed Shelton examines how responsibilities are being redistributed

Having been considered the poor relation to advertising for years, there are now signs that PR may be coming into its own and attaining equal, if not senior, status as clients adopt more broadly-based communication strategies.

Having been considered the poor relation to advertising for years,

there are now signs that PR may be coming into its own and attaining

equal, if not senior, status as clients adopt more broadly-based

communication strategies.



Emblematic of this exciting possibility is Shell’s decision earlier this

year to put a PR agency in the lead role in its first global

communications campaign. Instead of choosing an ad agency to run the

campaign, Shell handed the task to Fishburn Hedges with advertising

support from JWT.



The strategic rethink and the PR-led outcome was the result of an

eight-month long review of the company’s position following the twin

disasters in 1995 relating to the disposal of the Brent Spar oil

platform and the company’s activities in Nigeria.



Tom Henderson, manager of reputation support at Shell International,

says: ’The objective was to develop a corporate reputation campaign to

strengthen Shell’s standing. We found there was a knowledge gap about

the values and perceptions of Shell so we went down the road of looking

at reputation management.



’We needed a holistic campaign which engaged a variety of stakeholders

in different ways. It became obvious that the campaign had to be led by

PR because it was driven by the different stakeholder requirements -

they couldn’t be satisfied by simple advertising,’ he added.



When the Shell decision was announced it was unclear whether it was an

aberration or whether it heralded a new dawn for PR. Those who played

down the importance of Shell’s decision pointed to PR’s obvious

suitability to the task in hand.



Christy Stewart-Smith, for example, the JWT board director working on

the account, counsels against reading too much into the decision. It

attracted a lot of attention, he says, because the two agencies were

from different media groups (JWT from WPP, Fishburn Hedges from

AMV).



He believes its importance should be considered in the light of the kind

of job that the company wanted to do.’It was not about selling petrol on

the forecourt. They wanted to repair their corporate reputation,’ he

says.



But although the task may have been one that particularly suited PR, the

optimists point out that it is also one that clients are increasingly

wanting to address. John Williams, who, as managing director of Fishburn

Hedges, runs the Shell account, believes the arrangement heralds a new

impetus for PR because of the increasing tendency for other companies to

look at their business in the same way that Shell does.



’I think generally you will see PR playing a more central role,’ he

says.’It is a recognition that communication needs are getting more

complicated.



PR is good at managing a variety of messages through a variety of media

- the best advertising work often relates a single message to a single

audience. This advertising approach is not always right for companies

that now recognise many different stakeholders.’



The recent tendency for cutting edge companies to think of the audience

for their commercial communications more broadly is something that plays

straight into PR’s hands, Williams says. A company’s entire population

of stakeholders - every group which is impacted by its activities, from

customers, through suppliers right through to the media and pressure

groups - is being recognised as the target for commercial communications

following the example of progressive companies like The Body Shop.



The Shell arrangement has attracted a great deal of interest not just

from the press, but from other companies. Williams has presented to a

number of large corporates who have been curious to learn what they can

of the rationale and mechanics of the relationship between PR agency, ad

agency, and client.



The idea chimes with the increasing sophistication of consumers and the

demands they are making of the companies from whom they purchase goods

and services.



Diane VandenBurg, director of marketing at Countrywide Porter Novelli,

says the growth of this ’social marketing’ concept is very helpful for

PR. ’The whole essence of social marketing is how you communicate with

stakeholders who, in PR, are the first port of call rather than the

last. It is giving us a more equal relationship with advertising

agencies, without the assumption that they should lead.’



Michael Murphy, chief executive of Shandwick Europe, agrees: ’Consumers

are more savvy - they want to know what’s behind the product and about

the company’s ethical and environmental record. Reputation management is

now seen as more important as CEOs recognise it as a tangible asset. PR

is taking its rightful place in the boardroom and taking the strategic

lead in many situations.’



As an example, his agency cites the collaboration behind the global

Siemens mobile phone campaign, called Be Inspired. There is no lead

agency on the campaign which is the product of all the agencies involved

sitting down together.



Murphy believes the change is due in part to the growing expertise

within PR agencies and also the increased evaluation that PR is able to

offer.



’More and more business leaders are recognising that we have been

improving our product and become more sophisticated in what we offer.

And we can demonstrate the real value of what we offer because we can

now evaluate it in the way that only advertising professionals have been

able to in the past.’



VandenBurg believes the shift also reflects the improved planning

function in PR. ’Now there is a greater use of strategic planning in top

end PR consultancies the whole PR process is starting to be seen as more

thoughtful and is becoming more central,’ she says.



According to Williams, the change is creating a situation where, between

communication agencies, the role of lead agency is up for grabs.

’Advertising has traditionally taken it because it has the bulk of the

budget and the planning power, but now there are a lot of good planners

in PR too. Clients can pick the lead agency as appropriate. It is not

about PR taking over, it is just that we are capable of taking over,’ he

says.



Stewart-Smith accepts that there is likely to be more competition

between ad agencies and PR agencies, but says that, in today’s

communications landscape, drawing a distinction is increasingly futile

anyway.



’Everyone is dealing with ideas now, it is a media-neutral environment.

As channels proliferate and ways of communicating with people become

more diverse, you have to be more flexible; it does not matter whether

you come from a traditional advertising or PR background,’ he says.



It could be a sign that there is a new degree of parity between

advertising and PR that companies are being set up like EurO&M - a new

venture launched by Ogilvy PR this summer - which will operate as a

strategic consultancy in the public sector between clients and their

communications agencies.



’We see things from a client’s perspective rather than from an

advertising or a PR agency’s perspective,’ says Nicholas Lunt at EurO&M

in Brussels.



’We believe public sector clients want the strategic leadership from an

agency that understands how to put the mix together.’



The PR industry is gearing up to take more of a partnership role with

advertising, or even to take the lead role in integrated marketing

campaigns, in a reflection of its increasing expertise in strategic

areas. Whether advertising agencies will be prepared to relinquish some

of the power they have traditionally held in these campaigns remains to

be seen, but as clients become more aware of the implications of not

communicating effectively with all stakeholders, they may not have much

choice.



ONE PRODUCT LAUNCH OFFERS A MULTITUDE OF PR OPPORTUNITIES



Evidence of the improved position of PR can be found in recent big brand

launches.



When Apple Computer launched its new desktop computer last year, the

i-Mac, PR was central. The product was given a PR launch last May, with

shipping starting in September and the ad campaign not starting until

October. The PR campaign between May and October was judged to have

created 75 million positive press opportunities to see.



PR was chosen as the launch medium because it was judged to be the best

way to get across the three key ideas of speed, style and

simplicity.



Another reason Apple gave PR such a high priority was that the launch

was itself performing a crucial PR role for the company which prior, to

the arrival of the new product had been going through rough times.



’We used PR to educate the press about the key benefits and to remarket

Apple itself so that Apple customers felt proud to be customers again,’

said David Millar, PR and corporate affairs manager at the company.



When VAG launched its new Volkswagen Beetle design, PR was given a free

run before advertising. Like the i-Mac, the Beetle is being asked to do

a specific job for the company - in this case put a little fun into a

brand which is generally seen as rather grey, but strong on concepts

like reliability.



The launch of the Gillette Mach-3 razor was another example of a PR-led

campaign. It involved a successful sponsored attempt on the motorbike

land speed record. The idea was the parallel between the barriers of

speed being broken and the increased performance of a three-blade

razor.



The advertising broke seven weeks after the PR around the record attempt

had been fully exploited, by which time the PR had generated 38 per cent

product awareness within the target group. In this case, according to

Hill and Knowlton director John Rivett, the idea was to use PR to give

the product credibility and generate excitement in advance of the sales

message.



SHELL SUITS A COLLABORATIVE COMMUNICATIONS APPROACH



The Shell campaign was reported as being worth pounds 15.6 million, with

pounds 10 million of that being spent on press work. It started at the

end of March, led by a series of PR activities.



The company wanted to encourage dialogue, so the web site was revamped

and plenty of emphasis placed on it. Then there was press advertising,

which ran until August when the campaign took a break. An illustration

of the collaborative effort on the campaign was that the ads carried no

strap line, the idea from the PR side being that the audience should

form its own opinions based on the ads.



John Williams, managing director of Fishburn Hedges, says: ’With Shell

we are putting the advertising in context. JWT has come up with great

work, but it is a component rather than something that is an end in

itself.’ This month the next phase of the campaign starts when the PR

activity resumes, including relationship marketing, direct marketing and

stakeholder forums. Then the above-the-line advertising starts

again.



Hard evidence as to the success of the campaign in terms of changing

attitudes about the company will not be available until December. In the

meantime, the signs are good. Web site traffic doubled to nine million

hits a month and the idea of stakeholder forums has been taken up by

divisions of the company all over the world.



In practice the relationship works with the agencies and client meeting

round the table every week. Everybody works together but the client is

in charge. ’We are very happy for JWT to have a view on our work and

vice versa,’ says Williams. ’The healthiest thing is that advertising

agencies and PR agencies are getting to know better how each other works

and that has got to be good for PR.’



JWT’s board director on the account, Christy Stewart-Smith, says the

project exemplifies co-operation between the disciplines. ’The triumph

of the project is that two agencies from separate media groups have been

able to work together with seamless integration and none of the politics

than can accompany these things. The whole process is collaborative.’



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