The retail world is a breeding ground for joint PR and promotional efforts.
When successful, an integrated campaign drawing on the strengths of PR and promotions firms can create results greater than the sum of their parts. But too often turf wars, budget issues, and misunderstandings of why integration is important stand in the way of these campaigns. Nevertheless, the collaboration between PR and promotion is becoming increasingly common in the retail industry, where marketers are looking for new ways to get consumers to choose their product from a shelf of competing brands. "Everything is ultimately motivating purchase. Sometimes the final decision is made at the shelf," says Cliff Berman, SVP and MD at DeVries. At the same time, "PR can extend the promotion. It's going to generate more buzz." "If you look at the marketplace from the consumer's point of view, it really is cluttered," says Jim Zembruski, EVP and CMO at Alcone Marketing Group, which specializes in promotions. "If we can create a bigger, more powerful message, we have a greater chance of breaking through." Oftentimes, PR and promotion are so closely intertwined that it is difficult to determine where each leaves off. For the 25th anniversary of Hidden Valley Original Ranch salad dressing, for instance, the company built the world's largest salad bar in Central Park. Hidden Valley also partnered with the Produce for Better Health Foundation, which was launching a parallel tour through supermarkets across the country. "Is it PR, a promotion, or an event? Or all three?" asks Debbie Yount, CEO of Publicis Dialog, which handled the campaign for Hidden Valley. "It's more about taking that brand idea, understanding the consumer, and figuring out how to reach them." Publicis Dialog isn't just a PR firm; some of its offices are almost solely dedicated to direct marketing, and it recently created a retail connections group to handle promotions. "The in-store behavior is only one part" of a consumer's decision to purchase a product, she says. "You have to contact them first. You have to motivate them to get them into the store. Once they get into the store, you have to connect with them." With the Hidden Valley promotion, the company donated the extra produce to the homeless, a move that resonated with consumers and the media. "If the message isn't amazingly relevant," Yount says, "you're wasting your time and your client's money."
The impact of integrated campaigns
Products that are supported by integrated campaigns are more memorable than those that use advertising alone, according to a study of 2004 product launches conducted by marketing communications firm Schneider Associates and food trade publisher Stagnito Communications. Two of the most memorable product launches - for Glad Press 'N Seal and the Clorox ToiletWand - had significant PR and promotions elements, according to the study. Richard Goldblatt, SVP and director of the consumer products group at M. Booth & Associates, notes that an in-store promotion will create curiosity at the shelf, but PR can engage consumers, and create a halo effect around a brand. It's the combination of the "functional" message with the "emotional" one that draws consumers to a product, he says. Goldblatt points to a "Waking Up to the Best" campaign that M. Booth helped to create for Unilever's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. The in-store component involved a sweepstakes - prominently advertised with in-store signage - in which customers could win a wake-up call from Donny Osmond. The firm then launched a Mother's Day event in New York's Grand Central Station to add emotional resonance to the campaign. The agency set up 50 beds in which children could serve their mothers breakfast. "It was a neat promotion, but what we did was take it a step further," Goldblatt says. But in-store elements of a campaign must resonate with more than just the target audience for a product. To be effective, PR and promotions professionals must be familiar with both the retail environment as well as the consumer market. Yount notes that agencies are essentially considering the impact on two "clients," the manufacturer of the product and the store itself. Retailers are interested in promotions that drive customers into their stores, but the campaign must also fit with the store's message, she notes. "There has to be a reason why they want to do an in-store display," she says. "You're basically balancing the [product's] brand message with the store brand." The idea for an in-store promotion is as likely to come from the retailer as the manufacturer. But regardless of who makes the decision, agency representatives say that the client must take the lead in integrating the different marketing elements. "For integration to work, clients really need to drive the process, insisting that their firms work together from the same communications strategy," says Drew Neisser, president and CEO of the Renegade Marketing Group, which has a promotions and sweepstakes division. But he adds that many clients do not have an internal structure in place to implement a truly integrated campaign. "True idea integration requires a different process than the ones typically used to develop individual PR or ad campaigns," he says, adding that integrated campaigns require a "multi-disciplined team" working for a common objective. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of companies using integrated campaigns is growing. A few years ago, "there was not a lot of cross-pollination. We would do our planning in a vacuum," says Alcone's Zembruski. "[But] over the past two or three years, the majority of our clients adopted a more unified approach." Unilever, Zembruski notes, was one of the early adopters of a more integrated model. Allison Harmon, senior manager of marketing communications for Unilever home- and personal-care products, notes that the company develops its integrated campaigns from a single starting point, often the business objectives for a brand. And she stresses that the company is "channel-agnostic. "Integrated marketing communications is valuable. It doesn't matter where the idea comes from," she says. "Unilever has developed an environment of collaboration for our brands." She points to a Valentine's Day campaign for Axe body spray and deodorant, a new product Unilever brought to the US in 2002. Unilever wanted to take advantage of the growing interest in men's fashion and grooming, and position the product as part of the trend. The company sent its "Axe Angels" into Wal-Marts in 11 markets for product samplings. Edelman then pitched stories about grooming tips to prepare for the special day. "What we did was amplify how to get ready for Valentine's Day in several markets," Harmon says.
Avoiding turf wars
Since many elements of a campaign - particularly online and guerrilla marketing components - tend to overlap between PR and promotions, turf wars can sometimes occur. "The different stakeholders on the team tend to [look at a campaign] from their perspective," Zembruski notes. In order to make the collaboration more successful, he suggests that there must be "clear understanding and direction from the brand team." In addition, PR and promotions professionals "should leave their agency business cards at the door," he says, adding that team-building exercises or social activities can strengthen bonds outside planning meetings. At DeVries, Berman recalls that the launch of Crest's Vanilla Mint toothpaste was made more seamless through joint meetings with the promotions agency and ongoing communications between team members. Procter & Gamble launched the new Crest flavor on reality TV show The Apprentice and promoted the product placement with in-store displays. The agencies also created an online contest where people could describe how they would launch the product. "Throughout it all, we helped - and I want to underscore helped - develop the campaign and the creative," Berman says, adding that he can't even recall which agencies handled which responsibilities. "The effort was so integrated that it's hard to boil it down." Budgets, however, might tell another story. Goldblatt notes that budgets still tend to favor promotions over PR. "Brand managers should really be challenged to use PR," he says. "We have to make sure they know we can sit at the table. PR can take the lead."
Direct to the consumer Mary O'Connell, senior manager of PR for Clorox, parent company of Glad, notes that not every product launch requires the same level of integrated marketing support. But what made the Press 'N Seal wrap unique was that its durability and sticking power was something people - from the media to consumers - needed to experience for themselves. "All of the communications elements were driven by the product," says O'Connell. "It came down to the essential proof that this was a product you had to see to believe." Working with both Ketchum San Francisco for PR and Colangelo Synergy Marketing for promotions, Clorox sent samples of the products to stores, and also placed them in front of editors and influencers, such as cooking-group leaders. "It's an innovation within a product category that people were already familiar with," O'Connell explains. "It really was taking a category people don't think about and making them think about it. People who saw it, got it." She adds that people have found new uses for Press 'N Seal, such as transporting margaritas, protecting silverware, or waterproofing a cast. "Within a short time, this one product was bigger than all the rest of the wrap categories," notes O'Connell.