ANALYSIS: Haircare brands vie for attention with use of PR

As ever more brands try to gain a foothold in the already crowded haircare market, companies are looking to PR to get their products noticed.

Beattie Communications will sit down with its new client, hair and beauty chain Saks, this week to hammer out a PR strategy around the client's aim of becoming 'a household name' among readers of Vogue through to Bella.

Saks head of marketing Laura Halford-MacLeod is confident that the company's range of beauty treatments, from teeth whitening to botox injections, will yield 'a new story every month'. But for those charged with making a name for their client in the notoriously crowded haircare market, the PR task is a daunting one.

Brands such as Procter & Gamble's Pantene Pro-V and L'Oreal's Elvive still dominate the market, but the growth of so-called 'designer' ranges from celebrity hairdressers such as Nicky Clarke means it has become tougher than ever to grab two minutes of a hair or beauty journalist's time.

'It's a very, very cluttered market,' says Helen Newey, director of Good Relations's consumer arm, which has handled PR for Pantene for six years.

'You have to create a point of difference,' she adds. For Good Relations, this means getting all those precious beauty hacks involved in the 'Oscars of the beauty industry' - the Pantene Pro-V Awards - or carrying out the Pantene Model Search to find a new star for the brand's TV advertising.

EHPR involves its client Wella in an awards ceremony via sponsorship of the Elle Style Awards. In addition, one of its major ploys to get the brand noticed by beauty writers is to help them spot hair trends through its Next Big Thing initiative. The agency selects a 'trends intelligence team', comprising photographers, models or designers, and flies them off to catwalk shows, where they report back on the latest hairstyles. The agency then recreates the styles - using Wella products - photographs the results and couriers the 'intelligence' straight to the desks of writers.

A mainstay of haircare PR is celebrity endorsement, especially in these celebrity-obsessed times. Timotei's PR agency, Cairns & Associates, has used personalities for specific projects, such as getting Tara Palmer-Tomkinson to cover herself in gold in Glamour magazine for a feature backed by Timotei's Golden Highlights shampoo and breast cancer charity The Lavender Trust.

However, the agency wouldn't consider signing up a celebrity full-time to be the face of the brand. 'In a market where you are fighting for space, not just with other hair products but also beauty brands, a celebrity can give you the edge,' agrees Cairns deputy MD Charlotte Clarke. 'But we'd only ever use them in a tactical way, because Timotei is not about unattainable beauty, but about giving women something real and achievable.

The best way to stand out is by connecting on an emotional level and enhancing people's confidence in themselves.'

Cairns aimed to do just this for Golden Highlights by inviting journalists to 'experience summer' in darkest January, courtesy of masseurs and sessions in front of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamps, which mimic natural daylight.

Interestingly, journalists in the firing line of all this PR activity agree that a celebrity backer won't always win them over. Veena Bhairo-Smith, beauty assistant at Company magazine and editor of its hair page is one example. 'I prefer a launch that is backed up by research as opposed to a celebrity, because you know that celebrities are being paid to say what they say,' says Bhairo-Smith. 'For journalists, it's better to have the facts and figures speak for themselves and prove that it's not just pretty packaging.'

Similarly, Hair magazine editor Zoe Richards would much prefer to see a famous industry name than, say, an actress from EastEnders in a press release. 'We'd look for a product to be endorsed by someone who is established in the industry, such as a hairdresser we know and trust and who demands respect,' explains Richards.

But even behind a famous hairdresser lurks a powerful PR machine. Charles Worthington's international communications manager Narelle Craig oversees not one but three UK PR agencies. Cohn & Wolfe blitzes the regional media, Luchford courts the beauty journalists while Exposure, which has just been brought on board, specialises in targeting the cutting-edge fashion press. 'An in-house team knows its brand inside out, but I also believe in the power of specialists who can offer fresh thinking,' explains Craig.

The one thing all these haircare brands have in common is a reliance on innovative PR tactics in a market where manufacturers are becoming increasingly desperate to stand out on shop shelves and in the minds of journalists. According to Craig, Charles Worthington's marketing success is 'all down to the power of PR'.

Halford-McLeod envisages a similar approach for Saks. 'We do advertise for general brand awareness, but trying to get the message across about everything we do in an ad is difficult, whereas there is huge scope for PR.'

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