PR – the missing piece of the lockdown puzzle

From beer brands hosting a virtual graduation to whisky puzzles – PR is helping brands connect to consumers in new ways during the lockdown.

Wire helped devise a puzzle for malt whisky brand Glengoyne
Wire helped devise a puzzle for malt whisky brand Glengoyne

A few months ago, I don’t think the word jigsaw puzzle had featured in many of our brainstorming sessions. For that matter, neither had Zoom, House Party or everyone’s new favourite pastime – a virtual quiz.

Yet here we are. After weeks of pivoting more than Ross in an episode of Friends (you can tell how I’ve spent my lockdown weekends), brands are very much embracing the new normal in their marketing.

From a beer brand hosting a virtual graduation ceremony to fast-food chains creating maths challenges for school kids and even an animal sanctuary renting out its lamas for video calls, it’s fair to say that creative earned media ideas have played a starring role in the past few weeks.

At a time when people have been forced indoors, the need for good stories to cut through and offer lighter relief from harder COVID-19 news has never been greater. And with its unique ability to respond quickly to consumer behaviour trends, often in a matter of days and (particularly in the current climate) on smaller budgets, PR has been expertly placed to set a precedent in these unprecedented times.

As part of our daily insights reports for clients, we recently spotted that jigsaws were having a massive sales spike across the country. This was the missing piece in the puzzle we had for our revised Glengoyne whisky plan.

We sent an idea over to the client via WhatsApp (who has time for decks these days?) and with a thumbs-up emoji we were straight on the phone to a printing company.

A week later we’d created a beautiful limited-edition 500-piece puzzle, designed to be the perfect companion to great dram of Glengoyne – a brand famous for its unhurried approach to whisky-making. The story was extremely topical – ideal for those looking to unplug from too much technology and discover new ways to spend their spare time.

We turned our media releases into jigsaws too, and sent them with a dram to journalists and influencers. Within one day of the story going live, the brand had driven a 183 per cent increase in sales through the website. What’s more, £1 from every purchase has been going directly to support the work of drinks charities, The Drinks Trust and The Ben.

This is just one example of the way we – and our friends at other agencies – have been creating ideas based on real-time trend searches and delivering them from kitchen tables, makeshift offices and bedrooms around the country.

The marketing industry has taken a hit and it’s hard to say exactly what the future will look like. Uncertain times lie ahead, that’s for sure; but PR, with its ability to operate within shorter planning cycles, is proving to be a shining light, highlighting how brands can thrive, not just survive, in the coming months.

I’m off now to dress up for a virtual industry awards ceremony. May see some of you, virtually, soon.

Tom Hills is story and strategy director at WIRE

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