Consumer Roundtable: Creative connections

Consumer communications pros joined Rose Gordon in Chicago for this Edelman-sponsored roundtable to discuss how they ensure teams come up with the big idea that engages and excites stakeholders.

Consumer communications pros joined Rose Gordon in Chicago for this Edelman-sponsored roundtable to discuss how they ensure teams come up with the big idea that engages and excites stakeholders.

Jory Des Jardins, cofounder, BlogHer
Susan Henderson, SVP and CCO, Rite Aid           
Farley Kern, VP, corp. comms, Hyatt Hotels Corp.                 
Jennifer Love, MD, consumer practice, Edelman 
Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, SVP, public affairs and government relations, Nielsen Co.
Doug Spong, CEO, Carmichael Lynch Spong      
Renee Zahery, senior director, corporate affairs North America, Kraft Foods

Creative injection
Rose Gordon (PRWeek): How are you pushing your teams and partners, be they agencies or otherwise, to inject more creativity into your PR programs? How are you ensuring you're coming up with the big ideas?

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil (Nielsen): I encourage my team to go outside of its comfort zone and do something that they don't necessarily feel comfortable with, understand what that experience is like, and then figure out how to transfer that into what we're doing via any of the projects we're working on.

A lot of what my department does deals with event management and outreach directly to multicultural consumers. I encourage them to go to the circus and tell me an experience they had there that they could kind of extract something from and bring it to the floor when we're actually engaging with consumers. Whatever is working at the circus to entertain consumers would probably, even if you tweak it a little bit, work in what we're doing.

Jennifer Love (Edelman): In the agency world it's very, very fast. If people are just heads down, you miss the world as it's surrounding you.

We've instilled a new program, Think Time, and it's starting to work. It's billable time, so you're billing it to me, and I want you to spend at least two hours a week doing nothing but surfing, looking at different experiences, check out that webinar. What is it that competitors are up to in all different segments and categories? That's going to spur some unique ideas, but it's not enough just to surf. You have to share it.

We've created what we call the Gallery of Inspiration. We're in a world with lots of brainstorms. Sometimes we get stuck and need things to help us get unstuck. The requirement is that I absolutely want you to think for two hours and bill it to me, but you have to actually log it and categorize it so that others can learn from you. When we're in brainstorms, we can pull up these fascinating ideas that take your brain outside the box.

Susan Henderson (Rite Aid):
Throughout the years, I've asked my teams to think of themselves as reporters and to be curious. If you're curious, it kind of goes to getting yourself out of the comfort zone. Be curious and always think outside of your own industry because there are learnings you can get from everywhere.

Renee Zahery (Kraft): This was actually a challenge for our agency partners to really push themselves to think outside the box and to bring us fresh ideas. We kept hearing from our brands, “We want scrappy, we want cool, we want something different.” If you come to us with different ideas, we'll fund it.

I often feel that PR firms come up with some of the best ideas, but they're afraid to [share them with us]. Don't worry about bringing us ideas and don't wait for when it's planning time. If you see something, come to us and say, “Jump on it.”

This actually paid dividends when the ad agency came to us earlier this year for Macaroni and Cheese. We were going to do new commercials with Ted Williams, the homeless man that used to be the voice-over talent in Columbus, OH. [Kraft hired Williams as a voiceover talent last year.] Our PR firm, which is Hunter PR, jumped all over that. We got great press and we did it for the right reasons. Those are the kinds of things that resonate.

Jory Des Jardins (BlogHer): It lends itself to the question about how a large organization can actually motivate or activate on something that happens out of the blue. How were you able to activate your budgets?

Zahery (Kraft): The brand loved the idea. They said go get it done and we did. It was done literally overnight. We will jump on those kinds of things when they are appropriate. Good ideas will always get funding.

Farley Kern (Hyatt): That's exactly right. In addition to the consumer insight there's the integration. It's not really the collision between functions, but it's that intersection where creativity comes from, especially in the social space where the traditional lines have completely blurred. It's not even that they're blurring, it's nobody can tell anymore who is responsible for what. The ideas can come from any place, and because success in social depends so much on engagement, a lot of times it's the PR discipline that is the most fertile ground for coming up with those ideas.

Gordon (PRWeek): Could you identify any other breakout ideas or campaigns?

Doug Spong (Carmichael Lynch Spong): Recently, we capitalized on this craze of food trucks in major urban markets for Jennie-O Turkey Store. We took over the largest food truck in New York for one week, Bistro Truck. We swapped out the hamburgers they would traditionally serve.

Every day we had a different location, so we'd be in Union Square and it might be the Union Square turkey burger that had a certain topping and flavor. It wasn't just the experience of having 90,000 people wait in line over a few days to get their turkey burger, which is traditional sampling, but the beauty was how you activated the crowd in terms of Facebook and Twitter. After five days, they had 28,000 Facebook friends on a site that we had just put up that previous Monday.

The real beauty was the tweets that came out of that. We had 450,000 tweets by the end of the week. People were anticipating where the trucks were going to be and what they were going to serve. They'd go online to see what the turkey burger was for that day. So we had very hard measurable metrics that you could look at. You can measure all that very quickly.

Henderson (Rite Aid): We just did a cool thing called Shield Yourself New York. It's the flu season and immunization is very important. We wanted to do something creative, but also have it be cause-related and provide a meaningful experience to New Yorkers.

We set up this huge flu clinic in Grand Central. New Yorkers are well behind on their flu immunizations. They have one the highest percentage of people who die from the flu. We had our pharmacists there, we gave out coupons, tied into the Tuesday's Children's program [which supports families of 9/11 victims and first responders], and gave $3 for every flu shot administered or coupons that went back to the fund.

The point is the idea of taking something like getting poked with a flu shot and moving that into a transportation area where it makes sense. People would intuitively think, “You know, I am using public transportation and I should be getting my flu shot.” I thought it was a very clever thing. It was well received and we immunized a lot of people.

Love (Edelman): It's fascinating that creativity comes from so many different places. We just have to tap into where people are. Huggies is a recent example. On its Facebook page for Halloween we were asking lifestyle questions, but we had them post their Halloween outfits for their children. People love to share how cute their kids are.

Kern (Hyatt): We have our own private Facebook-like community with about 500 or 600 people who are Hyatt loyalists and passionate about travel. It's not quite half divided between male and female and people that are traveling for leisure or business, but the level of engagement is really high and it's a fabulous source of insight for us – even feedback on amenities, on enhancements to the Gold Passport loyalty program, and just constant conversation. It's relatively new for us, but it's become so much a part of how we think and how we do things.

Different audiences
Gordon (PRWeek): Are your teams considering how to reach out to Millennials, as opposed to boomers and other generations? How are you grappling with this?

Kern (Hyatt): We do think about age groups and demographics, but for us it's much more about psychographics and mindset. We spend a huge amount of time doing research to know who are target consumer is. We have what we like to think of as a relatively purposeful portfolio of brands that you might think are designed to serve people in different segments, but really it's different stay occasions. Somebody could use the whole portfolio of brands based on what it is they're doing. If you're a consultant during the week, you might be staying at Hyatt Place, but that weekend it's your anniversary and you're taking your wife to Park Hyatt or a Grand Hyatt.

Really the age is just one of the overlays. One of our newest brands is Andaz, which is Hyatt's version of a boutique hotel and is relatively new in key gateway cities. The target for Andaz is a professional bohemian – somebody relatively well-heeled, certainly professional, but not necessarily somebody that's artistic. It could be a banker who has a creative approach to his job. It could be somebody in digital who has a different way of looking at things and putting things together. So in search of a really authentic experience, a less formal experience than one you'd get at a traditional luxury hotel, and a very customizable experience, but from an age perspective, that could just as easily be a 25-year-old dot-com millionaire as it is a 55-year-old CEO.

Love (Edelman): If you look at Millennials – those born from 1980 to 1995 – those in 1980 are now becoming parents. What's interesting is although the mindset may be a little different, there are a lot of traits they share with Boomers in terms of parenthood. How they raise their kids might be different.

We try to figure out what makes them tick. What will drive that purchasing decision and drive them to the action that you want? It's rarely about the product. It's more about the value they want when they experience that product, so it's an experiential value you can tap into that then drives the action.

Kern (Hyatt): That's critical for us because we're selling experiences. It's really different than a product. To sell or help people engage with an experience appropriately, you have to understand what's important to them. It becomes much more centered on the consumer as opposed to the brand.

Spong (CLS): That is so true. If you look at a consumer durable like Harley-Davidson, it sold an experience. That was all a mindset. It was about freedom. It was about sticking it to the big man at work. The fact is you're selling an experience with Harley-Davidson. That's what that brand is all about.

Henderson (Rite Aid): It comes down to what is the business strategy and how are you trying to drive your business. For Rite Aid, wellness is a huge strategy. Women view themselves as the guardians of their own health and that of their families. So for us, understanding not only the Millennials and different age groups, but the appreciation and the needs of various women is critical.

We have designed a Wellness Plus loyalty program, which is wildly successful. This program started 14 months ago. It has over 44 million people enrolled. We're also converting our stores to a wellness store format. We have engaged people called wellness ambassadors. We'll have over 300 of those stores completed by the end of the year.

Our shoppers want to build a relationship and they want to have a trusting relationship, particularly in something such as health. I would argue that would hold true with a Harley-Davidson. People want to trust that brand. If you're going to have a motorcycle, you want to know that is a high-quality machine.

Gordon (PRWeek): What are some of the ways you're identifying and influencing these important target audiences?

Pearson-McNeil (Nielsen): Of the $18 trillion spent globally, $12 trillion is controlled by women. Here in the US, 80% of all purchasing decisions are influenced by women. So even if you start to extract some of the other age demographics, usually there's a woman involved in that final decision-making process. That's been very eye-opening for some of our clients.

Zahery (Kraft): It comes down to listening to what consumers are saying. We had an interesting experience on our Philadelphia brand of cream cheese, which has been around forever. We sought to set up a community in Philadelphia, so we started a program called Real Women of Philadelphia. They shared recipes and became friends. But as they shared the recipes, what came up was they're using Philadelphia to cook with in different ways. They're making sauces and all these different things. So we just launched Philadelphia cooking cream a while ago. We've also done a cooking program with Paula Deen as the spokesperson. It's bumped our numbers. Philadelphia is doing really well.

Love (Edelman): Obviously the mom has been the chief purchasing officer of a family, but we've just done some recent research on what we call the Modern Family. Yes, mom is absolutely in charge, but actually there's kind of a democracy. Dads, they're demanding equal time. They are as influential.

Spong (CLS): We're not sitting idly by anymore.

Love (Edelman): It takes a village. It takes all of us to get done what we need to.

Spong (CLS): A team sport.

Love (Edelman): It is. When you have a team sport like that, what we're realizing is it's moms-plus. It could be moms plus grandma; it could be generational families; it could be same-sex marriages. Families are very different, how they communicate is very different. What we see as a mindset throughout all of that, though, is they're connected to technology. You watch them in the grocery store and they're comparing on their phone, they're checking their e-mail, they're doing it all from their handset. The family is changing and we need to think about what's next in that.

Spong (CLS): The fact is consumers trust other consumers like them more than anything else.

Des Jardins (BlogHer): That was born out in our research with Nielsen. We had brands that work with us and wanted to have an “expert” provide content or provide the recommendation. We said, well, actually if you get a few mom bloggers recommending that product, it's going to have more of a dramatic effect. We realized we needed to back that up, so we did a study. We asked bloggers and women who were not as active in social media who they trusted for a beauty recommendation. Magazine editors did not rate as highly as just some blogger that they read, regardless of category, because they trusted them.

Economic considerations
Gordon (PRWeek): Let's talk about the economy. Unemployment is high. People are still struggling. How is this mindset influencing your communications teams' activities? Are we going back to a value-message platform?

Spong (CLS): We've seen what we call a “frugal fatigue.” Consumers are a little weary. The constant savings, sacrifice. While value is always part of the equation in purchase decision and loyalty for any particular brand, we're seeing more differentiating for a brand today is – because everybody today has a value in some way – how is that experience that the brand provided. If I stay at a Hyatt, I know I can expect this in my experience. If I buy a Harley-Davidson, I know exactly the experience I'm expecting to get out of that. The best brands deliver spot on whatever that expectation is in terms of experience.

Pearson-McNeil (Nielsen): Even in this economy, 95% of respondents in our Women of Tomorrow global study said it was quality over price. Even in these really tough times, they still want to know they can count on a product's quality. If they can count on that, they're willing to spend a little extra. That quality can also be a store brand as opposed to a name brand, but quality is still the ruler when it comes to women spending.

Des Jardins (BlogHer): In 2008, we always said to provide the value message. When we were doing giveaways of all kinds of things in 2008 and women could get $1,000 here or free electronics, the most popular campaign was actually one from Kraft with a $100 gift card to provide an easy, cheap recipe. Women were all over it just to get that gift card to go shopping. We've had to shift that message because you can only give coupons to so many bloggers to get them to try things. There's been a shift toward providing a differentiating value. We've been seeing more brands offering value through content. It's giving bloggers something they can use and they'll propagate that content. In addition, we've just partnered with Starbucks, which did a very smart thing with its Create Jobs for USA program. You can buy a bracelet, and make donations to an organization that will help stimulate small business. The message there is that it's not just about giving away free stuff anymore. It's about taking this to a deeper level. Messaging has to be more creative, more organic, and less about freebies.

Henderson (Rite Aid): We're finding that consumers are redefining what value is. In our space, we call it wellness empowerment. It's value, it's convenience, and it's a drive to help empower people to be become well. In our Wellness Plus card and the Wellness Plus loyalty program, we give anybody who joins access to 24/7 online and chat-room pharmacists. They are also getting rewarded as they spend more.

We're different from the other pharmacies because we give rewards not only for the front end, but for your pharmacy where it's legal in the state. For every script, you get a certain number of points. That can get to the whole idea of compliance with your prescriptions and helping incentivize that. As they get more points, they get rewards. We're even evolving that program so they get more rewards for health screenings and things of that nature. So, how are you rewarding good behavior? It's much more complex than just giving away coupons. It has to be.

Evolution of cause marketing
Gordon (PRWeek): How is cause marketing tying into your consumer marketing and consumer communications programs? How has this evolved?

Zahery (Kraft): In the last few years, consumers have [displayed] an expectation of companies to do good – corporately, socially. We do that on many levels. We have great sustainability efforts underway. We have tie-ins with key partners such as the Rainforest Alliance, and there are expectations in your communities. We have two focus areas: hunger and health and wellness. We realized several years ago the food desert situation that happens in urban centers. We are now in our third year of providing mobile pantries. We've put 30 of them around the country on the road. We've been longtime partners with Feeding America. What we try to do is not just “here's money.” We try to do things that really have an impact in the community and really address the issues.

Ten years ago, food banks didn't have refrigeration so they couldn't accept meat. We gave grants to put refrigeration into the various food banks. We really try to go at it in a different way and that is an expectation that society has of companies and we try to deliver. Triscuit is doing urban farming. We've got Kool-Aid building playgrounds with [nonprofit] KaBoom. We've got Maxwell House doing Drops of Good in Canada and the US. We really tried to tap into where it makes sense for the brand. You also have to be very careful in how you go to market with those. Just trying to tie into the cause of the day, that's not what we recommend. We really try to work directly with our brands. What makes sense for you from a brand essence, from a brand heritage, where are you getting tie-ins?

Pearson-McNeil (Nielsen): That's really important. If companies are just willy-nilly, giving money away and it doesn't have a direct impact to their bottom line, it's not going to be successful for them.

Des Jardins (BlogHer): It can actually reflect badly if it's not done right. When brands first started to approach bloggers, all things being equal, we would always gravitate toward the brand that was doing good or had a donation attached to it. That's still important, but bloggers have evolved as well. We've become more sophisticated about marketing messages. KFC had that wonderful breast cancer campaign [Buckets for the Cure with Susan G. Komen]. There were bloggers who just felt like this was pink washing. It actually kind of turned on KFC in the blogosphere, so you want to make sure it is endemic to your products or don't do it.

Kern (Hyatt): Our core mission is to provide authentic hospitality. That authenticity is something we try to pull through everything we do, whether it's how we reach out to bloggers, how we think through our corporate responsibility campaigns, how we do our media relations. It's a lens we apply to all of it.

One front on which we feel like we're in constant competition is for employees because we have a lot of growth plans all over the world. We're engaged in a talent war. Our competitors are growing in all the same markets we are. If you want to be the preferred employer, you absolutely must be a company that is doing good while doing well. It's entry stakes, but that also ties to your business strategy. It might not generate top-line, but attracting the best talent is a huge key focus for us.

Love (Edelman): For many companies, the strategy first and foremost is active citizenship. In a weak economy where the government can't fund what it used to, companies can. Those that do and give back in their communities are going to have brand-loyal followers all along the way.

Looking ahead
Gordon (PRWeek): What are the priorities for you in the new year? What trends are you watching?

Pearson-McNeil (Nielsen): We're asking how do we innovatively and creatively engage with the consumers with whom we're trying to build levels of trust. We're asking how do we have an experience with them that's positive, so all of our strategies have been based around developing experiences.

Love (Edelman): I come from both sides of the fence – an agency and a client perspective. You have an uncommon creativity, but it actually needs to have an ROI and to drive business goals. It's not enough to have a big idea. It must be a big idea that you can activate and actually pays off your strategies. That's what we're looking for.

Zahery (Kraft): This year is going to be an important one for Kraft Foods. We'll be creating two new companies, so we need to do two things really well. We must continue to keep our momentum on our base business. That's what we will be working on with our brands. We also need to make sure as we do become two new companies, both will be set up for success. Communication in all its different forms, internal and external, obviously plays a very key role in that.

Des Jardins (BlogHer): For us it's about addressing the needs of bloggers and brands who want to connect with the bloggers. As I mentioned earlier, mobile is going to be the dominating contact-consumption device. It's not only about getting all of our content on mobile devices and creating products that are in mobile. It's also helping bloggers get into mobile.

Additionally, there's something in the realm of social commerce. While we don't know what's going to happen to Groupon or LivingSocial, the consumer is trained to think in terms of deals and sharing opportunities with their communities. So, how do we create that across bloggers who are clearly the most trusted? How can that play out in a commerce realm? How do we scale it? Bloggers can offer up deals, but how do you do just the right deals or just the right opportunities? That's something we're really delving into.

Spong (CLS): It used to be that we'd wait until the end of a campaign period and we'd go measure. Now you can optimize every day with what you do, as the metrics are there because of digital. For us, it's really about how we can optimize a program quickly.

Henderson (Rite Aid): We're looking at how to drive the business strategies for our people to understand what our story is and figuring out how to tell that story. For us, that means health and wellness, the Wellness Stores. There are a handful of very key things we need to do very well.

Kern (Hyatt): Hyatt is an organization that has a really long-term perspective, so our priorities for 2012 are the same ones we had last year and the same I expect to have in 2013. For us, it comes down to preference. How can my team help our brand team and our operations team make Hyatt the preferred brand? How can we make each Hyatt brand the preferred one among the segment that it serves?

We're focused on understanding the insights we get from analytics. We've invested a lot of money in analytics and research over the last couple of years and it is really changing how we approach the marketing space, communication space, and integration.

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