OP-ED: Building up a brand today requires expanding upon the PR of the past

Our agency's 25th anniversary this summer has given us the opportunity to look back over and assess the ideas and trends that have fostered the evolution not just of DeVries, but of consumer marketing PR in general.

Our agency's 25th anniversary this summer has given us the opportunity to look back over and assess the ideas and trends that have fostered the evolution not just of DeVries, but of consumer marketing PR in general.

And when we take the time to look back thoughtfully, we find an exciting pattern that clearly points to an even more promising future for the PR people who are willing and able to advance PR and marketing communications in general to take advantage of the ongoing trends that have positively impacted our business for the past 25 years. It remains surprising to me that sophisticated marketers were so slow to see the potential of PR to enrich the marketing mix. However, the runaway expense of advertising, the fragmentation and explosive expansion of American media, and the emergence of an increasingly complex, entertainment-driven popular culture have combined to push marketing PR nearer center stage. Today, the best marketers know that PR can and must take on sophisticated and substantial responsibilities if a brand is to live fully on the vast mediascape that is so central in the consumer's daily life. Traditionally, the role of PR has been to bring credibility to messages and claims. This is still an essential differentiator for the discipline, but perhaps even more important is the increasingly clear ability of good PR to deliver credibility - and influence behaviors. Your hairdresser mentions a new beauty product, and you try it; your gardener friend drops the name of the fertilizer she uses, and you make a note of it; a finalist on American Idol says she gets her clothes from Old Navy, and off you go. These influencers are everywhere: the media, experts, enthusiasts, advocacy groups, retailers and, of course, celebrities. For every brand there is a list of people who can be ambassadors. The smarter you are at identifying these opportunities, the more thoughtfully you find the keys to enlisting them. And the bigger the investment you make, the greater your brand's ubiquity. So what does it take to make a brand really hot? An intensification of everything we've done before, and then more. Where previously we may have targeted specific media outlets based on brand needs and reader profiles, now we reach out to the broadest range of outlets possible. We used to focus on a few key messages (aligned with the themes driving the advertising); now we develop additional messages that complement those themes and are customized to our many audiences. Where we previously selected a single spokesperson, we now choose a variety of influencers that reflects the range of interests of any given consumer target. The list goes on. Instead of planning local events, we now create a consistent presence in, and commitment to, communities far beyond the community relations programs of the 1980s. Instead of creating programmatic alliances with organizations, we create long-term relationships. And every day, we strive to broaden the scope of our marketing vision to take into account the overlap of traditionally separate categories - healthcare and beauty, home and technology, food and design. And, finally, we embrace the rapidly changing and utterly unpredictable world of pop culture with flexibility carefully built into our annual plans. As I look back, I realize that there's one key ingredient to making all this possible: a new kind of client relationship. Of course our clients now know PR better, recognize its potential more, and incorporate it earlier in the planning process. But more importantly, their attitude toward it is more confident and relaxed, and they trust and value the counsel we give them in a way that wasn't possible before. The beneficial trends that have influenced consumer marketing PR will continue and intensify. Which is wonderful, because the opportunity has never been greater for PR to contribute not only to building reputations for living brands that freely flow into pop culture, but to drive sales. So many media now cater to so many specific interests; so many groups are looking for help in furthering their causes; so many experts are being elevated to celebrity status. The scene is set for an unprecedented exchange of information and influence.
  • Madeline DeVries is CEO of DeVries Public Relations.

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