PRWEEK.COM Q&A: Al Ries, Ries & Ries Consulting

Al Ries is an accomplished author, prolific consultant, and well-regarded brand marketer. He has 11 books - some with daughter Laura - under his belt and a diverse client list that includes Carvel, Intel, Schering-Plough, Southwest Airlines, and Tony Robbins. Al and Laura's newest book The Origin of Brands will be published in May by HarperCollins. Their previous book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR was recently released in paperback.

Al Ries is an accomplished author, prolific consultant, and well-regarded brand marketer. He has 11 books - some with daughter Laura - under his belt and a diverse client list that includes Carvel, Intel, Schering-Plough, Southwest Airlines, and Tony Robbins. Al and Laura's newest book The Origin of Brands will be published in May by HarperCollins. Their previous book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR was recently released in paperback.

Q. First, talk a little about your newest book and what readers can expect from it. - A. It's the most conceptual book that we have ever written. It's a summation of everything that both Laura and I have ever known about marketing, but put into context with a singular idea borrowed from Charles Darwin. His book is called Origin of Species and our book is called Origin of Brands. The opportunity to create a brand is constantly being created by the tendency of categories to diverge and become two or more categories. We have never produced a book that is so opposite to what conventional wisdom is. Here is why I think this is important. Most companies think it's the opposite. Most companies feel that, as times goes on, the opportunity stems from bringing categories together. Classic example of a company in deep trouble today is Kodak. Kodak thought that film photography and digital photography would combine. They called it Infoimaging and placed it in one big overall imaging category that they thought they could dominate because they were the leader in film photography. Wrong. The category has divided. Now we're going to have two categories: film and digital. Just because they're leaders in one category does not give them any credentials in the emerging new category digital photography. One of the chapters in the book is called Launching the Brand. We talk about how to launch a brand with PR. The conventional wisdom is to launch a brand with advertising. I've fought this battle for fifty years. Invariably companies that launch their brand with advertising are led right down the wrong path. Ninety-five percent of all consumer brands fail in the marketplace. Q. Is the corporate mindset one where advertising creates all growth? If so, how good a job has PR done to change that and what can be done going forward? - A. Marketing and advertising are for the most part synonymous. When you say marketing, people ask what the size of the advertising budget is. PR is the sidecar. If we have some money left over, we'll spend it on PR. Launch a new brand? Call the advertising agency. The minute you decide to launch a new brand based on advertising, you have two strikes against you. If you use advertising to launch a brand, you have waited too long. Why? Because the market has to be big enough to justify the advertising budget. Red Bull was launched in Austria in 1987. Coca-Cola waited 14 years to introduce KMX. Now there was a large market for energy drinks and they could afford to launch an energy drink with an advertising budget because of that big market. Did they overtake Red Bull? No. Will they have a chance to overtake Red Bull? No. Will KMX ever be a successful brand? No. The first problem of launching a brand with advertising that the market is too small that you cannot justify an advertising budget of any size. Q. So public relation campaigns can be launched with a smaller budget? - A. I'm not in favor of small budgets for PR; I like big budgets. But you can launch a PR campaign with a very small budget. The biggest problem with advertising is spending too few dollars. You have to get above the noise level enough to make an impression. Even simple PR is effective. There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there who have launched a brand with almost no money. With advertising, the more money you spend, the most effective the advertising is per dollar. With PR, the more money you spend, the less effective the average dollar is. If the ad is for a company that you've never heard of, why would you read the ad? I talked to Proctor & Gamble and asked them why they launched White Strips as a line extension of the Crest brand. They said, "We did research and found that consumers wouldn't buy a product if it had a new name to it. They had much more confidence in the Crest name." Advertising launches usually use line extensions, which tend to be disasters in the long run. When you launch a brand with a large advertising budget, it usually involves broad distribution. Unfortunately most new brands start out slowly. By having the brand everywhere, no one individual distribution outlet sells very well and they get discouraged and pull the brand. By launching a brand with PR, you start with narrow distribution. You try to place the product in a specific chain and give them an exclusive. The largest selling wine brand in America two years ago was Two Buck Chuck, which was sold in one state in one distribution channel. When you give an exclusive like that, it becomes attractive to the chain. People drove to Trader Joe's for miles to buy cases of Two Buck Chuck (officially known as Charles Shaw wine). If were initially available everywhere, no one chain would find it advantageous to promote it and merchandise it. Newman's Own is a great story. Your traditional advertising agency said to Paul Newman, "You have to spend $4 million on advertising and you have to make presentations to all of these supermarkets across America and you need to conduct $400,000 of research." He took it to (the grocery store) Stew Leonard and sold 10,000 bottles in the first week. Why? They had a good display at the checkout counter. You get that help from the retailer because you give them the exclusive. Interestingly enough, Paul Newman didn't even have to approach the supermarkets after that because they heard about Stew Leonard's deal. Q. Given the recent corporate scandals of late, does it behoove a company to use different names for their brands than their companies in order to hedge bets? Or is that too pessimistic? A. In theory, that's probably true. But in anything that is a sizeable scandal, the media is going to track it back to the owner no matter what name they put on a product. They'll expose you. We live in an era of scoops and all of the media try to scoop everyone. Usually that's negative news. They like to find out stories of corporate crime. You can't distance yourself by having a different name. Q. How can a brand image be enhanced through its web site? Any peculiarities compared to other channels for brand enhancement? - JP, Marquette, KY A. Websites and the millions of people on the Internet everyday are very attuned to news exclusives and ideas that no one knows about. The Internet is a very good place to start a PR campaign. Q. How do you manage brands consistently on a global basis, yet appeal to unique needs of regional markets? - CL, Auburn Hills, MI A. The interesting thing about the global market today is that any product or service that may initially have local appeal can be built into a global brand. I'm thinking of Mexican food as an example. I can remember years ago when there wasn't a single Mexican restaurant in America. Now Mexican is the most popular food in America and the margarita is the most popular mixed drink and the fastest growing liquor is Tequila. Just because a brand or a concept today has regional appeal, doesn't necessarily mean that it won't eventually have global appeal. This weekend I was in Tel Aviv and I deleted Smirnoff Ice from my presentation because I figured they have never heard of it. Afterwards, I went driving down the street and saw big billboards for Smirnoff Ice in Tel Aviv. Q. What brand measurement or brand valuation methodologies have you come across that provide sound - or at least reasonable - data for tracking the progress of corporate brand management programs? - PD, Woodcliff Lake, NJ A. Many times I wish I had more documentation about the value of a brand. Obviously everyone knows gives the brand values of the 100 leading brands in the world. I've used this list a lot trying to convince people. For example, Israel has some of the smartest people in the world. It's a country of 6 million people, but it does not have one global brand. Finland has Nokia; Sweden has Ikea and Volvo. There are global brands from Korea, Japan and many other countries. But there are none from Israel. I'm trying to tell people to wake up and see that the future belongs to global brands. If you don't take your brand global, then someone else from another country will take their global brand and move into your country. Q. And what are the best practices in the development of brand campaigns that work inside and out a corporation? - JB, Evanston, IL A. In launching a brand, the primary driver should be PR. In maintaining a brand, the primary driver should be advertising. However, in both cases, there are roles and functions for both advertising and PR. The biggest mistake people make when launching as brand with PR is that they don't launch it early enough. Starting a campaign one year in advance of a brand launch is not too long a time. The media like to talk about what's going to happen more than they like talking about what is already happening. What already happened is in yesterday's news. I told audiences that you can't treat PR like advertising. You can't call up the media and say, "I want to launch my brand with a big bang and I want everyone to run the story on Monday." You give exclusives. My favorite example is television. The TV news shows do nothing but read the newspapers. I've been on NBC, CBS and quite a number of shows. I have never been on television unless there was a story about what we did in a paper. How do you get on TV? Get in The New York Times. How do you get in The New York Times? Get in Advertising Age. How do you get into Advertising Age? Get in a newsletter. One thing leads to another. Q. PR is an afterthought to some brand managers, either because they have not had experience with PR at their previous jobs or find it easier to simply buy advertising. How can PR pros break through that mindset internally? - RK, Lexington, KY A. People said to me, "Al, you wrote a book last year and PR revenues went down." I said, "Wait a minute guys. It's going to take time." It's not even going to start inside the companies. Virtually all of a company's marketing people are either advertising people, studied advertising in school or are advertising-orientated. The role of PR will really start in colleges and universities. They are so advertising-orientated, they have no idea what PR can do. Many PR people said to me, "I have used those ideas [from Ries' book] with my clients and they still spend all of their money on advertising. I said, "Haven't your heard of PR?" It's the third-party effect. The minute you tell your clients about PR, that's an advertising direction. That's what advertising people do. PR fundamentally says "get someone else to delivery the message to the boardroom." It's self-serving for a PR person gets into a boardroom and says to the chief executive, "Let me tell you about what PR does." That's the wrong approach. Procter & Gamble have invited us [Al and Laura] to make presentations about the role and function of PR to marketing people. People like the book and we've had a lot of positive comments from PR people about the book. I thought that many PR directors would say, "Hey, this is an opportunity for us to bring outsider in to tell my management about PR. But they, for the most part, feel that they have already told them this. They don't see the advantage of the outsider. Q. Nonprofits often get lumped together in people's minds partly because the names are similar (American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, etc.) and partly because the missions are similar (i.e. raising money for research and helping people). What counsel would you give to nonprofits on the best way to differentiate their brand, raise awareness and build affinity in an extremely cluttered marketplace where the competition is all doing great and important work too? - BB, Oakland A. Every nonprofit that I know of suffers from every disease and that disease is everything-itis. They're into too many different things. You will never build a brand unless you stand for something. Volvo means safety. BMW means driving. What does Chevrolet mean? It's a large, small, cheap, expensive car. Every nonprofit I know of has that problem. They strive to be everything to everybody. You have to figure out a way to focus. American Heart Association provides lists for five signs of a stroke and five rules for a healthy heart. But what does it stand for? What's their focus? No one knows. Their focus should be on obesity. The heart is a pump. If you overstress your pump, you get a heart attack. If you have palpitations of the heart, you can't do anything but go to the doctor. But you can certainly control your weight and I think that should be the core ideal of the AHA. Q. Have you at all tempered your predictions for PR? - MC, New York A. In the long run, public relations will be the driving force inside the marketing department of all companies in the world. But this will take decades, not months. We came out with positioning with 1969, you wouldn't believe what people called us. Today positioning is accepted and everyone talks about the positioning of a brand. I expect every advertising agency uses the word when they present the program to the clients. Positioning is motherhood today, but it took thirty years. Changing a mind takes time. Just because you told someone something, doesn't mean they're going to change their minds.

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