'If you only market to Londoners you're delusional': Unilever and Golin urge industry to see past the M25

PR and brand marketing professionals were urged to look beyond London and stop ignoring people outside of the capital, at an event organised by Golin last night.

It follows the launch of a Golin report, which revealed that consumers care more about a brand's 'relevance' than its trustworthiness. It was officially launched at Golin's London office yesterday evening (23 May), and includes a UK-specific survey and qualitative research conducted in the city of Preston.

Golin said Preston was chosen because it was representative of an "everyman town" in the UK. Over 53 per cent of the city's residents voted for Brexit, pointed out Golin executive director Will Sturgeon, who was chairing a panel debate at the launch event. Here are some of the key insights.

1) Avoid 'delusional' marketing

Panellist Ian Maskell, global vice president for brand development at Unilever, said the research conducted in Preston was relevant to people marketing products on a global scale.

Read next: Ogilvy PR urgest staff to leave London - or risk remaining out of touch

Several of the 24 Preston residents surveyed said they felt "unheard" and "ignored" by big brands. Maskell said an effective marketing strategy was one that resonated "beyond what you can see out the office window".

"People who live in London and only market to Londoners are delusional. You have to market to people who live all over," he said.

2) PR pros are failing to understand what is relevant on a local level

When discussing findings from the Preston survey, Sturgeon said the PR industry often fails to understand what is relevant to local communities.

His colleague Golin London MD Bibi Hilton added that the PR industry needed to get better at "testing" its campaign ideas by talking to local people more frequently. 

Hilton said: "Other communications disciplines have been better at this, so it's time for the PR industry to learn and catch up."

3) Creatives are 'giving up' on the capital

When quizzed about the future of the creative industries, Hilton predicted that London would be faced with a "dearth" of creative talent. She said London was "decreasing in relevance" because people were becoming frustrated with having to work in the capital.

Martin Frizell, editor of ITV's This Morning programme and former Golin executive director, said he typically hires people from outside of London.

"Because of our broad UK audience we tend to pick presenters that connect with their local communities. It's a conscious decision," Frizell said.

4) Brands need to respond to negativity in an authentic way

Responding to a question about adopting human insights in marketing and PR campaigns, Maskell said fundamental concerns such as friends, family and health do not change around the world.

He said: "Brands have to start talking about what brings people together, rather than what divides."

He added that it should be considered "good news" if consumers were talking about your brand, "even if they are being negative".

"The skill is to deal with negativity in an authentic and genuine way. Some brands, including those within Unilever, do it better than others," he said.

5) Brands that don't engage on social channels risk being irrelevant

Closing the event, Hilton discussed the power of social media and its relevance for brands. She said: "If you are a brand and you're not engaging with consumers on social media, you will not be relevant."

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