There is one word that characterises consumer PR at the moment: ‘polarised’.
This polarisation has been driven by rapid and ongoing changes to the marketing landscape as a whole, with a continued convergence of disciplines. It has also been driven by markedly different responses to our evolving Brexit position and a fragile government.
We were told last year that the nation had shifted to the right, was more socially conservative and up for a hard Brexit. Now, it seems, it’s not that simple. Many people supportedJeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon’s rallying cries for an end to austerity. Regarding Brexit, it’s hard to say what people want, but we are hearing a more nuanced and layered debate than we have in some time. So what are brands doing in response?
Some are building empathy and trust with consumers and wider stakeholders by creating campaigns that are relevant and speak honestly to issues of the day. Increasingly, these have PR at their heart, but are supported by paid advertising and wider amplification. They also have a multichannel approach in terms of driving ink, feeds and creating live brand experiences. Other brands are being more cautious and playing a tactical PR game, content with generating publicity but not entirely sure what they are trying to achieve beyond notoriety or a brief flash of media attention. Sure, they might catch a news cycle, but beyond that they are quickly forgotten.
What we are seeing very clearly is that fortune favours the brave. Brands with the courage to stand for something, have a point of view and work hard to connect with consumers are winning – in terms of share of mind, favourability and trust. It’s about taking a longer view, understanding that campaigns require time and momentum to deliver results. It isn’t just about brand-building. It’s about having a coherent brand personality that people can relate to and is culturally relevant.
There are two kinds of consumer PR going on now: campaigns that connect with people and others that don’t. One interesting aspect of this broadening division between brands is that it isn’t simply the usual suspects. Brands of all shapes and sizes are adopting a progressive approach as they see opportunities to gain relevance and traction with consumers.
State Street’s "Fearless Girl" is a great example of progressive campaigning with a PR idea at its heart (even if it was dreamed up by an ad agency). It’s important to look at the insight that drove the thinking. It was built on facts and a strong commercial idea, namely that women-led start-ups are under-funded by VCs but consistently over-deliver on ROI. It set out to say something to the world and to engage in an important debate, but always from its own perspective and core competence.
It could have been a 30-second spot or a boring press briefing telling us how important this issue is for all of us. Instead, it was an entertaining, bold and engaging campaign that was layered, intelligent and wildly effective. That’s the future of consumer PR. Hell, that’s the future of marketing.
Nik Govier is co-founder of Unity