10th anniversary: consumer roundtable

Cooperative online initiatives and word-of-mouth tactics have transformed how PR pros engage target audiences

Marie-Laure Salvado, director external relations, global home care, family care and P&G professionals

Ellen Ryan Mardiks, chief client officer, worldwide director, marketing and brand strategy practice, GolinHarris

Maureen Lippe, president, Lippe Taylor

Bryan Harris, COO & managing partner Taylor

Nicole Zerillo (PRWeek): Why do you think PR has become a more integrated part of the consumer marketing mix over the past ten years?

Marie-Laure Salvado (P&G): First, consumers have changed. They are more in charge, and want some control.

Ellen Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Three primary reasons: clients are seeing marketing more holistically; better and bigger ideas are coming from public relations that other disciplines can build on; and the explosion of social media as a core communications element. That last part is very real and very exciting, and it's our game, if we claim it.

Maureen Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Yes, they want a dialogue more than anything. PR is being recognized as the core discipline focused on igniting dialogue. In today's marketplace, where brands are being shaped by consumer WOM, the need to create engaging conversations with the target consumer is critical to building ongoing relationships.

Salvado (P&G): Second, the media environment has evolved, [with] more fragmentation and more consumer scrutiny on traditional media.

Bryan Harris (Taylor): Globalization and the growth of digital and emerging media have challenged and even enabled brands to build stronger bonds with the consumer. PR has proven, in many cases, to be the most effective, most nimble discipline to leverage the closer and more authentic relationships that brands must now share with consumers.

Salvado (P&G): I agree, Bryan. And PR has proven to be very cost effective.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Yes, the fact that the consumer is not only absorbing, but participating in the news process, is a real driver here. And, again, owned by PR.

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Absolutely, ongoing, interactive communications allows the consumer to be an active participant in what they want to know and receive from brands.

Zerillo (PRWeek): How do you successfully balance these new media initiatives with traditional events, in order to create this ongoing dialogue?

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): It depends--on the consumer, on the brand, on the task to be done. It would be a mistake to have a "one size fits all" mentality here. I can't think if an example where new media isn't an important part of the mix, but we can't pre-ordain it as the lead discipline either.

Salvado (P&G): It is not that much a question of balance, but rather bringing relevance for the consumer.

Zerillo (PRWeek): Over the past few years, have you noticed an increase in PR budgets?

Salvado (P&G): At P&G, I would say yes.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): PR budgets are healthy and growing, for the most part.

Salvado (P&G): For all the reasons all of us mentioned above.

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Yes, more and more marketers turn to PR because of the speed of creating and implementing strategic plans that deliver solid ROI. I expect [that] in this economic climate PR will flourish as brand marketers seek ways of maximizing spend[ing].

Zerillo (PRWeek): How so?

Harris (Taylor): I have seen PR budgets increase as the value of PR has been more fully embraced by marketers. But with larger budgets comes a greater need to demonstrate ROI.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Exactly. ROI is key, but so is the power of the idea. As those game-changing ideas have come from the PR side of the house, the budgets have increased.

Salvado (P&G): Yes, thus the imperative to measure PR in business language. In tough economic times, PR is even more valued.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): And P&G has led the way to doing just that. The challenge is that not all clients choose to devote adequate resources to measurement. I've always said that PR is as measurable as any other discipline, and has the same challenges isolating its impact. But it absolutely can be done.

Salvado (P&G): By business language, I mean ROI, and incremental sales (volume and value). This is what matters to the business.

Zerillo (PRWeek): How have consumer companies become more strategic about their messaging?

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Brand marketers understand the need for consistent, relevant and holistic communications that resonate with their target audience. Most importantly, the medium is the message and user generated content is re-shaping how brands grow and thrive and survive.

Salvado (P&G): By strategic, we mean here holistic. We want to surround the consumer with a coherent message, articulated throughout various media vehicles.

Harris (Taylor): The media landscape has become so fragmented. Consumers are more savvy and discerning. Messaging must be more targeted, more focused -- grounded in consumer insight and analysis. Quality of message trumps quantity of message.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Consumer companies have always been strategic about messaging, especially on the advertising side. PR has gained ground by being much more research based, by demonstrating and acting on a knowledge of the consumer. We are doing a better job of zeroing in on the right consumer with a message that motivates.

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Totally agree, brands are truly "listening" to their audiences and entering in meaningful exchanges.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Maureen makes an excellent point about consumer generated content. While we're gaining ground in strategic targeting and messaging, we have to remain flexible and adaptable given consumer generated content. The messengers have changed.

Zerillo (PRWeek): And with the ability to zero in on specific demos, are there different expectations in terms of measurement?

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): I think so. Brands want to know that they are reaching the right consumer. As Bryan said, it is not about the quantity anymore. It's about quality.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Yes, and in a good way. Our clients are expecting us to do more than generate impressions. They want us to change perspective. And, research can easily tell us if we're doing that or not. Again, the challenge is in getting adequate investment to do that assessment.

Salvado (P&G): In measurement, we should not see any difference. However, different demos call for different tactics.

Harris (Taylor): Definitely. Measurement has become increasingly critical. It is imperative to establish clearly defined metrics for success at the onset of a program and provide air-tight measurement and evaluation against those metrics.

Zerillo (PRWeek): Has the planning process changed for PR, with these new metrics?

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): The planning process is smarter and more directed.

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): The planning process is always growing and changing as new ways to reach and interact with the consumer change and develop.

Salvado (P&G): Yes, it is more integrated, earlier on. PR used to be 'the cherry ON the cake,' we are now 'the cherry IN the cake.'

Harris (Taylor): The planning process is more intensive and more collaborative. It requires a greater level of integration across all marketing disciplines.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Or the cake!

Salvado (P&G): Yes, indeed :)

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Yes, we're in the room together more than before, but it isn't always the case. Nor do I think it should be. The main thing is the planning process is now expected to determine big, holistic ideas, wherever they come from.

Zerillo (PRWeek): So, PR comes to the table at the same ideas as marketing now?

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Absolutely. PR can now be the lead strategy where in the past it was typically advertising.

Salvado (P&G): Indeed, we need to be choiceful where we play or not.

Zerillo (PRWeek): Where have you noticed overlap?

Salvado (P&G): I would not call it overlap, but collaboration, and 'rotating lead.'

Salvado (P&G): We have several examples of this at P&G.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): There is a great deal of overlap in idea-generation, especially in social media. But social media can and should be the realm of PR people. And we need to keep coming up with big ideas that can be played across all disciplines.

Salvado (P&G): Social media, as a new media is the area that required more collaboration.

Harris (Taylor): The development of branded content, as well.

Zerillo (PRWeek): What do you think the primary tactics will be to reach consumers in the next 5 years?

Lippe (Lippe Taylor): Peer media - social networks, blogs and mobile marketing - will become the most influential and important ways to engage and retain consumer loyalty.

Salvado (P&G): More direct. On-line. Consumers will be more empowered, and we will need to become comfortable to 'let go!'

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): I expect the fastest growing area will be word of mouth.

Harris (Taylor): Branded content, mobile, one-to-one marketing.

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): A lot of exciting things we weren't even doing when PR Week made its debut!

Harris (Taylor): Hopefully there will also be a few things that we have yet to ponder. That keeps things interesting.

Zerillo (PRWeek): These are tools you're currently utilizing. Anything just on the cusp of coming into mainstream use?

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Twitter is almost mainstream, yes?

Zerillo (PRWeek): Is there much Twitter to support brands?

Salvado (P&G): Yes, Twitter may be one of the new venues. And the landscape is changing SO rapidly, it is difficult to predict!

Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): Yes, there is some, but I think we are still figuring out the best ways and situations to use it.

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