Major brands rely on comms doing more with less

Major companies such as Walmart, Toyota, and Home Depot are doing more with less to promote their initiatives, comms leaders said during a panel discussion at the National Black PR Society's annual conference.

ATLANTA: With shrinking promotional budgets, major companies such as Walmart, Toyota, and Home Depot said they are doing more with less to promote their initiatives during a panel discussion on Friday at the National Black PR Society's annual conference.

Walmart's strategy was all about timing when its electronics department asked the communications team for support for a smartphone trade-in program launched last month. The effort allowed customers to get a credit of up to $300 for a new device when they turned in an old one.

The retail giant knew it had an uphill battle in terms of messaging to ensure a successful launch.

“People don't think of Walmart when they want to buy an iPhone, they think of Apple, AT&T, or Best Buy, so we had to change consumer perception,” said Deisha Barnett, senior director of corporate communications at the company.

A secondary issue was having no paid marketing support to draw attention to the program, she added. It dawned on her team that Apple was planning to unveil a new phone last month, leading her to think, “How can we take advantage of that?” according to Barnett.

The answer was to target journalists that were working on iPhone stories and conduct a press briefing on September 9. It lifted an embargo on the program hours before Apple introduced the iPhone 5c and 5s models on September 10. Walmart's communications team expected a two-fold effect: a slew of stories about its program and mentions of its initiative in pieces about new iPhones.

The press took notice. The Wall Street Journal's Tom Gara praised it. A few weeks and about 2,000 stories later, Barnett said Walmart has seen its market share grow for its electronics department, though she did not provide specific data.

Meanwhile, Toyota wanted to find the best way to draw attention to its long-running Buckle Up for Life program, which recently launched in its 10th iteration. The goal of the effort is to raise awareness of the importance of children wearing seatbelts and the proper way to install car seats. Promotional funding was low for the initiative.

With the target audience largely comprised of African-American and Latino families, the company was able to find a surprising and effective outreach ally, according to Javier Moreno, manager of corporate communications at Toyota Motor North America.

“We found there is no more powerful way to get out the message to the community than through the church,” he said.

Moreno explained that these alliances work when they are conducted with trusted organizations with a reputable leader. To date, the program has worked with 54 churches around the country, and the use of restraints and child seats has increased from about 30% to more than 91% since the campaign launched.

As the panel wrapped, participants were asked if budgets would increase if the economy improves.

That does not appear to be the plan, according to Melissa Brown, manager of multicultural marketing at Home Depot. Her company is seeing results from the Retool Your School program, which launched on a shoestring budget in 2010, which provides historically black colleges and universities with campus-improvement grants.

The program's goal is to expand market share among African-Americans. A recent social media study conducted by the company found that after earnings, Retool Your School is the second-most-mentioned topic associated with home-improvement retailer.

“With the expansion of digital and the decrease of print, we are committed to decreasing our budgets but increasing [the worth] of our impressions by several million dollars over the next five years. So we are expected to do more with a lot less,” Brown said.

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