Consumer Roundtable: Points of purchase

A rise in integrated marketing and an increasingly savvy buying public are changing how consumer outreach is done.

A rise in integrated marketing and an increasingly savvy buying public are changing how consumer outreach is done. Alexandra Bruell and Erica Iacono were in Chicago for this Edelman-sponsored roundtable

The participants

Shannelle Armstrong, director of PR, Sears Holdings

Todd Hansen, cofounder, OíMalley Hansen 

Ashley La Croix, manager of communications, retail, bakery, and foodservice, Sara Lee

Josh Lohrius, creative director, Dig Communications

Scott Morris, senior manager of PR, comms, public affairs, and corporate responsibility, Best Buy

Rick Murray, president, Edelman Chicago

Adam Rogowin, director of PR, Chicago Blackhawks 

Jonathan Stern, director of marketing communications, MillerCoors

Collaborative efforts

Erica Iacono (PRWeek): How do you marry community relations with PR and marketing? Are you sitting at the same table with the other disciplines to ensure a consistent message?

Adam Rogowin (Chicago Blackhawks): Community relations comes to me with ideas and I bounce back ideas on how we get these elements out there. There are hockey fans and sports fans, but we're trying to grow our brand to the non-hockey and non-sports fans. Our franchise was essentially dormant for so many years. We lost at least two generations. Now we have this big task ahead of us to reach out to those folks. Communications is key. As we continue to grow, keeping everyone on the same page is huge.

Iacono (PRWeek): How do you work with the other marketing disciplines? How does your team's size compare to the others?

Shannelle Armstrong (Sears Holdings): At Sears, we are very matrixed. You have Kmart and Sears. They are two separate companies that don't share segments at all. Initially, there were conversations about how do we borrow some equity from Sears or borrow equity from Kmart on both sides. And throughout the growing pains of merging these two organizations and getting shared services, because we have a shared services pod meaning PR, media services, anything that deals with the overall promotion or protection of the brand that is housed in one area, our meetings are fully integrated.

Iacono (PRWeek): In a situation where you find out there has been a recall or customers are complaining, do you and the PR team find out right away?

Ashley La Croix (Sara Lee): Yes and thank God we do. There's a dotted line between our team and [the consumer affairs] team. PR and communications always has a seat at the table with the other marketing teams. We're fairly well integrated, especially when it comes to consumer affairs because it's critical that we know whatís happening.

Iacono (PRWeek): To who does PR report? Is it the CMO or CEO?

Armstrong (Sears Holdings): We have a hybrid to legal and the CMOs. 

La Croix (Sara Lee): We actually report to HR, but there is no doubt there are dotted lines in our function. 

Scott Morris (Best Buy):
The SVP of communications and public affairs reports directly to the CMO. 

Jonathan Stern (MillerCoors): We reported in to the CEO until just recently when Andy England, our CMO, got a promotion and he took on strategy and communications, as well as marketing. We are very wired in. 

When I was on the agency side, I didn't see that much with my clients. Maybe thatís an evolution, but it's paid large dividends in communicating our messages. But everything ties back to business results.

Todd Hansen (OíMalley Hansen): There's been a sea change in how successful companies share information. Companies are cognizant of the fact that you must be talking to each other all the time. Part of that is social media. But we talked about reporting relationships, and where PR reports to is not important. What is important are the relationships PR people have across the organizations. There has been a lot of effort to integrate and the necessity is here now, which creates this very fragmented, fast-changing environment.

Iacono (PRWeek): Has the recession driven some of that consumer integration?

Rick Murray (Edelman): I don't know if itís the recession so much as all the changes going on in society and the economy. In general, the dynamics of how people make decisions, buy products, and choose where they want to go have all driven the need for companies and departments to work more closely together. 

You can't just talk about a consumer and a brand message and say that's the way we're going to articulate things because everyone in the brandís supply and value chain has some kind of impact on whether or not people are willing to buy or support it. So customer service is very tightly connected to the rest of the organization.

Iacono (PRWeek): People say in the future it will be more melted and you won't have a PR or communications department; it will be more marcomms. What are you seeing?

Josh Lohrius (Dig Communications): Right now it varies. You go from client to client and itís different. There are cases where the digital agency is doing it and thatís it. Sometimes I think the ideas suffer. Some agencies say they will throw their hat in and participate, but it helps you sink your teeth into it when you can bring your agency to life. 

Social media has had a lot to do with it. Product recalls are a big deal, but P.F. Chang's is one of our clients. If they do a promotion and it slows up the restaurant, people go on Facebook, ask what the problem is, and we have to respond to it. That's something the CMO and CEO are suddenly seeing that they weren't 10 years ago.

Iacono (PRWeek): How do you decide who to respond to and when itís right to do so? Is it about scale or influence? And how does it merge?

Hansen (O'Malley Hansen): It's exactly as it used to be. That's one of the interesting things about why people have been confused by it a lot of issues seen as social media problems have really been communications problems. If there's anything that's being talked about in social media it was a threat to your organization before that. The best thing to do is to figure out your point of view on it and respond.

Effectively reaching your audience

Alexandra Bruell (PRWeek): Is segmenting and figuring out who you're trying to reach now more complicated?

Hansen (O'Malley Hansen): Segmentation is the complicated part. We're going to spend a ton of time next year trying to figure out what resources should go where and who's the most important audience for a client.

Murray (Edelman): Paying attention on a 24-7 basis is really the most important thing you can do. Yes, you have to be listening, but the reality is what's influential to one person, you might want to react to, as opposed to a Google alert that shows up in your CEO's mailbox that says someone is complaining about X, Y, or Z. 

Yes you can track size and scale and that kind of thing, but the reality is there are also conversational memes that can pop up really quickly, so someone who has no influence is then read by and picked up on by someone who does have it. It's about how quickly can you pick that up.

Morris (Best Buy): It starts with the customer experience, but we all know that is not always ideally filled, so then the question is how do you monitor these conversations? I work with a communications team that believes in complete transparency. Our CEO has a whiteboard with his travel schedule and our communications team monitors that. It's admirable; I really like it and my mindset is shifting. But when I joined Best Buy, I was really uncomfortable with this radical transparency.

Iacono (PRWeek): Look at companies such as BP and Toyota that had crises this year. If you do have a crisis, perhaps you've always done cause, but how do you break through and convince the skeptical consumer that you really are trying to do good and it's not just a ploy to get publicity?

Morris (Best Buy): The examples you gave were business crises that then became communications crises. It's hard internally to delineate and truncate that for our audiences when they come and say it's a PR crisis. We have to say it's a product recall; we can turn this into an opportunity with the right communications strategy.

Murray (Edelman): It is about the consistency of effort and having people fundamentally see you acting the right way on an ongoing basis and delivering a quality experience and/or supporting a cause and the two are connected. [This has played out,] especially in the cases of JetBlue and Toyota. Toyota's sales are back to pre-crisis levels.

Morris (Best Buy): The broader question is building long-term brand equity. Sometimes there really isn't a broader communications strategy because, again, it's a business crisis and it needs a business solution, which needs to be well managed. And maybe the communications strategy is just transparency.

Iacono (PRWeek): I heard Marc Pritchard [Procter & Gamble's global marketing and brand officer] speak at the Council of PR Firms event. He said PR should be winning the digital war and be a brand agency leader in their program. I asked him, when would PR attain that? He said, as soon as PR people learn branding.

Armstrong (Sears Holdings): When agency teams use words like, 'buzz,' I can't take that to my chairman. I don't know what that means. I need to move product. Say that at the end of this program, we have no more Jaclyn Smith sweaters. That's the challenge that will change our industry.

Murray (Edelman): I totally agree. In general, PR pros need to take a far greater interest in the client's business as opposed to the press or media they're trying to generate.

Iacono (PRWeek): Is there a move back toward generalist PR firms and practitioners?

Hansen (O'Malley Hansen): PR is so different now. You've got to start with what the brand does and the brand's business objectives. That's how you're developing the programs. Media impressions are a result of it, but not what you're shooting for.

Iacono (PRWeek): Adam, to have a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune, a Hispanic local paper, or whoever you're trying to reach, that's a get for you, right?

Rogowin (Blackhawks): Absolutely. A front cover story on a sports page is great because we're competing for space with the Bears, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox. If you look at today's paper, for example, there's an announcement about Ryne Sandberg not coming back to the Cubs. It essentially trumps our game from last night. Maybe if we win it's a little different, but I love stories in other sections. 

I brought out one of our players, Patrick Sharp, to the Tribune last year for a feature in the Live [radio] section, and that's getting us off the sports page. It's something we're trying to do differently here.

Morris (Best Buy): Moving through those adjacencies is important to us as well, looking at where we want our coverage to land. It's my colleagues at Edelman who tell me The New York Times has tweeted every four seconds.

Media relationships

Iacono (PRWeek): Who is the influential media?

Armstrong (Sears Holdings): It's both print and online. I'm not the average customer. I'm not the person who goes to the store, so I take myself out of that mind space and go into that hard-core segmentation to understand how they really are receiving messages and being influenced. And I let that drive my conversation. Just because you like your name in The New York Times does not mean you'll move your toys any faster. 

Let's say you're launching a product. There may be areas that are consumer facing, but new from a brand perspective. We need to target these publications and share with these reporters and bloggers. Then you get your retail reporters, and at the same time I'm on the phone with those very influential bloggers blogging about moms who do X, Y, and Z. Then I'm talking to broadcast and I make sure I talk to them only in areas with store penetration, local broadcast. It requires you to get very strategic, layered, and focused.

Rogowin (Blackhawks): When I started with the team three years ago, we were pitching major publications. Over the past three years, we've been able to get a cover of ESPN The Magazine. We got our captain Jonathan Toews in an issue of Men's Health. We have an interesting situation because some sports blogs get massive hits, and we'll want to pitch some of our local newspapers, their sites, or national sports publications or blogs, but it's a slippery slope for us.

Iacono (PRWeek): How do you work with the National Hockey League? 

Rogowin (Blackhawks): The NHL is dealing with 30 different teams and markets. It has been phenomenal in getting involved with social media. They were the first to authorize their videos being played on YouTube. 

Iacono (PRWeek): I wanted to touch on multicultural outreach. Is it more about culture or language?

Armstrong (Sears Holdings): It's different. The citizen journalist is so very critical to multicultural. I have bloggers who are very influential. If we talk about bloggers in social media it's because people go there frequently. Kid Fury is funny on Twitter. Will I ask Kid Fury to come up to Sears Holdings? Probably not. But will I invite him to an event we would do? Probably.

Lohrius (Dig): Earlier, we were talking about PR agencies and the challenge in making sure we understand the brand and the brand identity. So the first thing I say, to whomever I'm speaking with, is I understand the brand. Then you take that and can translate it, whether it be a multicultural, trade, or crisis situation.

Rogowin (Blackhawks): It's a two-way street because you need to be educated about yourself and PR. Hockey is probably the fourth sport in America right now in terms of general popularity and part of that is the education process. There are people who are intimidated by hockey. It's easier to understand baseball and basketball. There are communities all over America with children and that's what's important, the grassroots. There are children who just don't know hockey because it takes so much to play the sport. 

In community relations, we try to do things to educate. We have a program called Street Hawks via our community relations department where you don't need ice. We go to play street hockey and roller hockey to educate.

Reacting to the customer

Bruell (PRWeek): How has consumer behavior changed? How is that impacting your business and what you do?

La Croix (Sara Lee): It's all about convenience and health and wellness are playing a huge role. So for all the brands we own, it's about getting into that consumer mindset and figuring out their behaviors and understanding not only their shopping tendencies, but how they're consuming media and where they are most receptive to it. 

For all our brands, we look at a day in the life of the consumer. We really dive deep to get to know them so we can pull together a 360-degree marketing plan that touches them at the right places and times.

Morris (Best Buy): We partner with our customer insights unit, so it's important to understand the mindset and shift of the core customer, who you don't want to alienate, but then you still want to build programs for the emerging customer segments they could be cultural or demographic. 

With our holiday campaign, we didn't want to alienate our core customer, who is male and 45-plus. He happens to be experiential, but looking at spending power, it was the mothers and tweens who were influencing the household decisions.

Morris (Best Buy): We try to make a delicate balance and that means partnering with all of the marketing levers. We make sure we're calibrating and mapping everything back to what's going on. For us, as PR pros, the value we offer with our agency partners is that we know we can be most nimble. If someone has an ad buy six months out and there's a shift in the marketplace, we know we can adapt quickly.

Stern (MillerCoors): For us, the experiential marketing piece is more important than any clip or blog we can get. With beer, we have some guidelines and things of that nature because we're a regulated industry and have other obstacles. For us, we want to touch our consumer base to have them talk to the other guys in their pack. 

For instance, partnering with sports teams, cultural fairs, getting involved helping veterans, those are the ways we can differentiate ourselves. If you ask the key average beer drinker, a 25- to 35-year-old guy, they're not going to tell you they have a strong opinion about the difference between Miller Lite, Coors Light, or Bud Light, so it's really the experience that gets them to buy the product.

Murray (Edelman): Another trend in behavior, what the nimble brands are reacting to, is the notion of being a brand on demand because of the mobility of the work force, the changed media consumption habit. You have to create content thatís relevant for every platform and every moment people want to search for it or find you, which is really difficult to do. In many cases, it can't be done through pre-produced spots or media buys.

Armstrong (Sears Holdings): Even if you have that, the customer is still focused on value and attainability. You can have the greatest spot out there and talk to her, but if she doesn't have any money, it falls. When the economy shifted so radically, we shifted so radically with it and the message was about value and attainability. 

One of the things we've done is broaden our attainability platform, whether it's through layaway, installment loans, no-credit offers, buying online and picking up in-store, or through mobile.

Lohrius (Dig): One other change I've seen the most is the ability to smell or call bologna. That has an impact on an agency business. The hierarchy is gone. If we pitch 23-year-old's for Miller Lite, I don't want a 23-year-old telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. That's really important.

Iacono (PRWeek): Do you welcome that criticism?

Lohrius (Dig): Absolutely.


Prior to the roundtable, PRWeek and Edelman hosted a breakfast event at Edelmanís Chicago office. Caroline Dettman, MD and EVP in the US consumer marketing practice at Edelman, spoke about consumer segmentation in today's complex digital environment. This led into a Q&A with Alexandra Bruell, consumer reporter at PRWeek; Julian Green, media relations director at MillerCoors (pictured); and Scott Morris, senior manager of PR, communications, public affairs, and corporate responsibility at Best Buy. Morris and Green shared their views on promotional partnerships Morris on the retailer's partnerships with featured in-store brands, Green on unions with the brand's retailers. Both stressed the growing relevance of experiential marketing. Participants also discussed holiday efforts, the melding of PR and customer service, and PRís role as marketing teams divvy up the digital business among departments and agencies.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Explore further