EDITORIAL: CEOs must allow PR to build their new brands

We hear increasing talk of corporate communicators and senior agency folk sidling into the C-suite, but there is still limited evidence - and certainly limited signing of checks - to suggest that CEOs and CMOs have understood the full potential of PR beyond getting media coverage or crisis planning.

We hear increasing talk of corporate communicators and senior agency folk sidling into the C-suite, but there is still limited evidence - and certainly limited signing of checks - to suggest that CEOs and CMOs have understood the full potential of PR beyond getting media coverage or crisis planning.

The lack of understanding of PR's role in bolstering or building brands is particularly frustrating. Take Procter & Gamble, which announced last week that it is spending $20 million on ads designed to sell more Pantene by showing talk-show host and actress Kelly Ripa explaining the stress that styling places on her hair, and how she trusts P&G's special Pro-V potion to protect her lustrous locks.

That money will produce what appears to be a third-party endorsement, but will convince few consumers as it will air in a commercial break.

The ad agency, Grey Worldwide, will say it's about brand awareness. But Pantene's marketing director says it's all about the power of "testimonials, something PR might have leveraged more effectively for less.

More stunning still was AT&T Wireless' recent mLife ad spendathon, which saw huge sums spent to tell people something - though no one knew quite what - about someone many assumed to be insurance giant Met Life. Diverting a few million dollars into PR could have established the product's nature, position, and credibility in consumers' (and investors') minds, and would likely have done a hell of a lot more for sales than the expensive ad campaign.

The strategy behind the campaign - namely to shift the wireless debate away from roaming charges, free phones and upgrades and towards the "warm and fuzzies - makes sense. But was an ad campaign really the best way to start this dialogue?

Al and Laura Ries, the father-daughter duo, are about to launch a new book that examines some of the failures of modern advertising in building new brands and the enormous success PR has had in this arena with such brands as Palm, Xbox, Botox, Red Bull, and Starbucks. The Fall Of Advertising & The Rise Of PR, is the perfect manifesto for convincing CMOs and CEOs that PR should be, at the very least, a key part of any launch marketing program.

It is simple and mildly repetitive - its mantra that PR builds brands and ads maintain them is certainly driven home - but it is also packed with facts and case studies. And, having been written by Al, a one-time ad man, and Laura, an ex-corporate marketer, who both consult with top US corporations, it's less likely to seem like the PR industry blowing its own horn than a text by, for example, an agency chief.

There is one problem, however. Despite Al Ries' self-promotion prowess, one wonders if any of the publications read by CEOs will review this book.

The newspapers and key business magazines do not seem well disposed toward books on PR. On behalf of PRWeek, Carma evaluated recent book coverage in The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, and Fortune. Books on advertising got lots of play, but there wasn't a PR book in there, even though a couple of tomes such as Larry Weber's The Provocateur are well worth a few hours on the couch.

Let's hope the slightly sensational title of the Ries' work catches the eye of a book reviewer on one of these esteemed publications because there are a few CEOs - P&G's Alan Lafley and AT&T's Mike Armstrong to name two - who would surely be interested in what it has to say.

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