"It was almost a launch after the fact because we found ourselves being drawn into this sector," says Bob Angus, president of A&R Edelman.
Some agencies that begin with a specialization seemingly removed from the consumer realm may eventually find themselves adding consumer work or an entire practice to their roster. Doing so requires more than just finding the clients. Firms must adapt in order to communicate in a new way.
For A&R Edelman, the key was adding a consumer practice closely related to work it was familiar with, adds Angus. Still, it had to gain the communications expertise necessary.
"We always look at adjacency," he says. "In this case, it was a logical bridge. We can speak the language to the companies, we just had to understand the markets they wanted to penetrate. Not only are we trying to reach consumers with new products, but in new ways."
A&R Edelman hired new staffers for the practice area and conducted training sessions to teach existing staff about consumer communications.
"Just understanding what the audience is thinking about is different for the new sector," he says.
In the case of The Castle Group (TCG), a firm with roots in PR for the financial, healthcare, and professional service areas, consumer work fell into its lap. The firm met the folks from snack brand Stacy's Pita Chips at an event and was hired with only minimal consumer experience. Today, consumer work totals one-third of the PR services the firm provides.
"When we first talked to Stacy's, we had someone with food experience, so they worked on it," says Sandy Lish, TCG principal and co-founder. "As we've grown, we've hired more people with consumer experience."
Lish also suggests turning to outside consultants and freelancers to offer the expertise the firm lacks.
"Reaching the consumer is different from b-to-b," says Lish. "You get the opportunity to stretch your creative muscles, so make sure you have a creative team."
Even those with consumer practices need to operate smartly when opening a division targeted to a specific niche.
Ketchum launched its Women 25to54 specialty in December 2005 after hearing anecdotal evidence from clients and increased media chatter about this market's spending power. The firm decided to do what it calls "multi-minding."
"Women are multi-tasking, but also mentally juggling more things than in the past, so it's harder to reach them," says Kelley Skoloda, partner and director of Ketchum's global brand marketing practice. "We defined what we thought an approach should be, shared that with clients, and use it to fill in the gaps with things our clients [do]."
Research is ongoing, so the staff must be kept abreast of findings. Still, the specialty is based in much of what the firm previously knew.
"You have to find the intersection of where you think there's an upcoming business need and where you and the agency have a passion for working," says Skoloda.
- Venture into a consumer area that's aligned with work the firm already does
- Seek outside help at first if consumer expertise isn't already on-staff, but be prepared to hire experienced team members
- Give the firm and the practice area time to acclimate, build expertise, and create value for clients