FEATURE: PR leads the way

Many marketing campaigns benefit by being led by PR.

Many marketing campaigns benefit by being led by PR.

Many PR people, particularly in the consumer world, labor under a myth of martyrdom where integrated campaigns are concerned. The myth casts advertising people as control seekers who, as they spend lots of money, get to call the shots in integrated campaigns. It continues that PR people only take the lead on public education or public affairs campaigAns. Or when a company lacks the time or money to launch a full-fledged ad or direct-marketing effort. Or when a celebrity spokesperson garners so much free exposure that paid media isn't necessary. Or when the client is a young, technology b-to-b company that lives and dies on third-party endorsements. Or when the message is too complicated to explain in a 30-second TV spot. PR professionals can find plenty of opportunities to take the reins of integrated campaigns in such situations, but recent examples prove that PR's leadership potential can move beyond traditional applications. All it takes is a really great idea. "Sometimes PR does have the great idea," says Douglas Spong, managing partner of Minneapolis' Carmichael Lynch Spong. Case in point: Holiday Inn's "Towel Amnesty Day." The PR team at parent company InterContinental Hotels Group came up with the idea while planning for Holiday Inn's 50th anniversary, but put it on hold for a year or so to keep from upstaging other birthday festivities. Hospitality industry veteran Mark Snyder became Holiday Inn's new brand management SVP early last year and launched an "everyday hero" ad campaign that drew on the chain's brand legacy while looking to the future. Towel Amnesty Day fit nicely into that overall strategy, but had legs strong enough to run on its own. The idea was to grant tongue-in-cheek absolution to anyone who ever permanently "borrowed" one of Holiday Inn's famous green-on-white towels. Instead of using PR just to condition the market for advertising, the brand team began placing ads and courting reporters leading up to the media event just before Labor Day weekend last year. Oceanside hotels gave away 60,000 beach towels that day. "PR came up with the great idea. PR created the groundswell. PR got the word of mouth," says Francie Schulwolf, corporate communications VP for InterContinental. The story went international. More than 2,500 people contributed their own towel acquisition stories to a special website set up for the campaign. General Mills also gives its PR staff the chance to contribute innovative concepts, says Tara Johnson, a PR specialist promoting Big G Cereals and Betty Crocker products. Brand marketing teams develop missions for each product line, then PR, advertising, and interactive staff all bring forward their best ideas on how to achieve those goals. "It may just be who's got the best idea and what's going to float to the top, and PR is right there in the mix," Johnson says. PR is now leading a marketing campaign around NASCAR truck driver Bill Lester, whose photo appears on boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios. Gaining equal status The challenge within some organizations might be getting the opportunity to pitch the big idea on equal footing with advertising counterparts. "We are only as integrated as our clients are," says Richard Mintz, public affairs practice chairman for Burson-Marsteller in Washington, DC. "The biggest obstacle now is clients still buying communication services in traditional silos." When advertising and PR departments within companies operate on separate budgets and don't work closely together, campaigns are apt to be created by one discipline and not well integrated with others. That separation often extends from internal staffs to the external PR and ad agencies that the company employs. Despite distinct progress toward marketing integration within many companies, PR veterans still describe as rare clients like InterContinental and General Mills that decide what they want to achieve and then brainstorm with staff from all marketing disciplines to come up with the best mix to meet their goals. Government entities generally are ahead of the game, which is one reason Washington stands as a bastion of PR-led integrated initiatives. Government agencies often embrace research and define specific goals - such as, say, boosting participation in the census - then give marketing firms the leeway to pitch campaigns that combine all disciplines in the most effective manner, says Mintz, who calls government "the perfect client." Cost and complexity often make PR the logical choice to lead such public education campaigns. "I think more and more clients, particularly the more sophisticated clients, take more of a discipline-neutral view on how the problem is going to be solved," adds Spong. "While we're trying to jump in the driver's seat and assert ourselves, I don't think the decision has been made about whether it's a truck, a car, or a boat." Organizations that put the leaders of the various marketing disciplines on equal footing achieve the most seamless integration and provide PR staff more opportunities to break through with a big idea, says Martin Nott, PR services director of Buck & Pulleyn, an integrated shop in Pittsford, NY. "That assures that all the thinking gets onto the table," he says. To gain equality, PR pros must earn the respect of executives, clients, and ad staff, and shed their press-release-factory image. Being well versed in other marketing disciplines helps. "As long as everyone gets what everyone else is doing, I think it works pretty well," says Lisa Balcerak, an account supervisor with Bader Rutter & Associates in Brookfield, WI. Her agency works on an ongoing, PR-led, integrated campaign promoting institutional-size, natural gas-powered electric generators for Caterpillar. "If you've designed the message and can understand how to integrate all the spokes of the wheel, you sit at the head of the table," says Edelman vice chairman Leslie Dach, who manages the firm's ad and research companies. Schulwolf says she "grew up" on the advertising side of the company. "I think one of the biggest faults of the company was to bring young [PR] people in and expect them to just push out press releases," Schulwolf says. She moved into corporate communications to bring more strategic thinking to the PR operation, and having ad experience gives her clout with the other side of the marketing house. Likewise John Eckel, SVP and leader of Hill & Knowlton's worldwide sports and automotive group, worked as an ad copywriter before getting into PR. "You have to be respected by the folks over in advertising. They have to know that you have something creative to offer," says Eckel, who also serves as chief creative officer for BrandStruck, a joint venture between H&K and sister ad agency J. Walter Thompson. Working together Other marketing disciplines value research and ROI, and PR professionals gain clout when they can embrace those topics, as well. "One of the biggest obstacles to working with other disciplines is that we do not share a common ROI measurement vehicle," laments Mintz, adding that marketing in general needs to develop a better system of measuring the relative value and results of each of its disciplines. Integration also works best when the participants leave their egos at the door. Practitioners of advertising, PR, direct marketing, and other disciplines should strive to collaboratively meet business goals without engaging each other in turf wars, experts say. "Don't be so darned insecure," Spong advises PR people. "I don't care who comes up with the best idea. PR people ought to be secure enough with themselves that they can embrace that idea." When PR pros used to supporting advertising finally get the chance to lead integrated campaigns, they should resist the urge to behave like a political party that just gained control of a state legislature after years of minority status. "We can't fall into the same trap that our advertising and direct folks fall into, which is making them into the stepchildren," Mintz says. "We may have been in that position for a long time, but you've got to treat everyone equally." As is true with any other type of relationship, keeping advertising counterparts engaged and informed goes a long way toward smoothing any potentially ruffled feathers. "Never let anyone say they were surprised at what you're doing," Nott advises. "If you have kept them informed and told them what you were working on and invited them in, then it's sort of impossible for anyone to complain credibly later on." PR professionals might sometimes feel left out of ad-driven planning sessions, but when they take the lead on a campaign, including all marketing disciplines from the beginning can pay off monetarily, Eckel notes. When all participants work together, they tend to think in terms of overall marketing budgets as opposed to allocations assigned to specific disciplines. If the advertising practitioners like a collaboratively developed PR idea, they are likely to find the money to pay for it. "At the end of the day, they will look much smarter," Eckel says. "This is going to make the ad campaign that much more effective." Another way to bring advertising into the fold is to acknowledge what PR staff can learn from advertisers experienced at running integrated campaigns, notes Johnson. "Obviously, they have a ton of knowledge," she says. And sometimes they come up with those great ideas.

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