A couple of years ago, a full page article in the Mail on Sunday created
a huge stir in the skincare market. Thousands of pots of anti-wrinkle
cream marched off the shelves, in fact, sold out all over the country.
Brand share points were gained overnight, never to be lost. One famous
high street retailer still refers to this ‘piece of PR’ as an example of
excellence in its immediate and lasting impact on sales and the status
of the brand.
So, would we claim that PR can change the fortunes of a brand, not just
in the long term, but overnight? And, if so, what are the ingredients
that make this possible?
One of the most esteemed chief executives of one of the most powerful ad
agencies in London is convinced that the role of PR in brand marketing
is in the ascendancy. He understands that blasting your sales pitch to
millions of people via expensive television advertising is beyond the
financial reach of most brands.
Small spenders urge their creative teams to mirror Haagen-Dazs or
Wonderbra to achieve column inches and the valuable third party
endorsement that only PR can bring.
For so many years now lip service has been paid to the benefits of
integrated communications. And yet, has it really progressed beyond the
expensive, time-consuming and now familiar ‘away day’ scenario? Client,
ad agency, PR and sales promotion teams - meet to chew over brand plans
with flip charts full of neat little diagrams to explode clients’
marketing strategies. Thought provoking they may be - and informative
too - but integrated? Not often.
To look for some answers we could turn to one of the most powerful
international industries - the car market. As cheeky newcomers from
countries of origin as diverse as the Czech Republic and Korea challenge
the mighty brand values of established favourites, they are stirring up
more than just car sales figures. At the moment the story behind
‘alternative marketing’ (that is the alternative to big bucks spent on
TV campaigns) in the car market seems to hold as much fascination for
Miss London and Company magazine as it does for Business Breakfast and
the Money Programme.
The starting point for an approach to alternative marketing is to ‘think
more and spend less’. And in my experience, that means much greater
rigour applied to the planning process. This, coupled with the
determination of brand managers and their agencies to test new theories
and challenge established communications practices, is increasingly
supported by an inalienable conviction - integrated communications are
not an optional extra.
Brands under pressure, no matter whether they have a more modest
marketing spend than major rivals - or because they are facing other
pressure like the growth in retail strength, can build and drive home
their points of difference through innovative communications.
It is in this environment that public relations really flourishes. At
last we can truly support the premise that PR can challenge and change
consumers’ views of companies and their brands as an equal partner with
advertising, direct marketing and promotions. This turnaround can
certainly succeed in the short-term, if not overnight, so long as the
client is bold enough to not just to believe in the power of public
relations but to invest in it properly too.
So where in all of this is our pot of anti-wrinkle cream? Well thanks to
strong brand values, and a real understanding of the power of editorial
to shape peoples’ views, the brand in question is becoming younger and
more contemporary as the years go by.
Diane VandenBurg is deputy managing director of Countrywide