Consumer practices must find value in messaging

The struggling US economy means consumer PR pros need to adjust their efforts to be sensitive to many individuals' current hesitation to spend.

The struggling US economy means consumer PR pros need to adjust their efforts to be sensitive to many individuals' current hesitation to spend.

“Though you can't predict exactly where the economy will go, I think we are going to be in store for quite some time with ‘how to do more with less,'” says Lisa Rosenberg, partner and MD of Porter Novelli's New York office.

Value is the key message these days for consumer practices looking to promote products across various price ranges. Maureen Lippe, president of Lippe Taylor, says her consumer practice looks for a value connection with every client and product it represents.

“As PR practitioners, we've got to look for that now more than ever,” she explains. “And we don't usually start out that way.”

And the value message doesn't just mean emphasizing low prices. Lippe points out that the message can be as simple as calling attention to the savings of time, money, and energy through online shopping.

“We are catering to those smart shoppers and reminding them to be smart shoppers,” she notes, adding that online retailers are now increasingly appealing to consumers.

“Who wants the inconvenience, who has the time, and who has money to be driving around these days?” Lippe says.

Andrea Morgan, MD and EVP of consumer brands at Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, says it is important to focus on value and quality, even during the winter holiday shopping season when consumer spending is usually more liberal.

“We understand it's not going to be like years past, where a family was spending $500 on gifts,” she says. “They are going to be cutting back.”

After the surge in popularity of ‘staycations' this summer, Morgan's consumer practice is now stressing the concept that reinventing the home through small purchases can be a cheap way for consumers to update their décor in a do-it-yourself fashion for the holiday season.

“The housing market is in a tight situation, gas prices are high, and the airlines are not cheap,” she explains. “So what are the things they can do in their own homes to feel like they are doing something special for themselves?”

Many clients increasingly want to assess the impact of their messaging on consumers during the economic downturn. For example, CarryOn has started to put more emphasis on brand development work.

“Clients are asking for more formal research to back up their positions and counsel to determine best next steps,” says Jamie Douglas, SVP of brand development at CarryOn.

Porter Novelli's consumer unit uses in-depth surveys of various focus groups to understand how target audiences think and behave.

“Understanding your target and really honing in on what makes them tick is that much more important when you have an economy like [this] because there is less room for error,” says Rosenberg.

Key points

  • PR efforts must be mindful that consumers are more hesitant to spend money, even during designated shopping seasons
  • Emphasizing value is an effective way to reach consumers during the economic downturn
  • Thorough audience research is key for developing insights on branding and messaging

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