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PR Essays

PR roundtable
PR roundtable

How should PR play a role in brands' marketing strategies? Marketing brought together top players in the PR industry to hammer out what PR should be delivering for brands. Read what the experts had to say and see what happened when we brought them together for a roundtable debate


Richard Brett, director, Shine

Matty Tong, strategic planning director for EMEA, Weber Shandwick

Tony Langham, chief executive, Lansons Communications

Sara Balme, director, Focus PR

Andrew McCormick, deputy editor, Marketing

Anne Kendall, managing director, Cirkle

Jamie Kaye, associate director, Frank PR

Neil Bayley, corporate practice leader, Porter Novelli


Anne Kendall, Cirkle

Sara Balme, Focus PR

Graham Goodkind, Frank PR

Tony Langham, Lansons Communications

Neil Bayley, Porter Novelli

Richard Brett, Shine

Rachel Friend, Weber Shandwick


Roundtable discussion: The importance of strong relationships

By Andrew McCormick

Marketers have a lot to keep on top of. From NPD to the latest advances in technology, the range of skills required is constantly expanding. One area that is increasingly dominating their time is PR.

The discipline has matured in recent years and its importance to brands’ strategies is now being recognised by the creation of roles and departments that include PR in the marketing function.

It is imperative, therefore, that marketing bosses receive expert support necessary to generate success from PR.

How central is PR to brands’ marketing strategies?

Matty Tong Quite often in our corporate prac-tice, we’re getting the lead-agency relationship and what we’ve been doing is pitching for the big idea.

Richard Brett There’s pressure on marketers to be more integrated, which is a huge opportunity for us. We have to respond to that as a discipline, but we’re in a place to come up with the lead ideas and strategies.

Tony Langham Integration is the name of the game at the moment. We’ve pitched against all types of agencies, the latest being a customer publishing agency. A certain type of marketing director still wants to lead on TV, but now you’re getting marketing managers who want to engage in many ways.

Why should PR be high on marketers’ agendas?

RB Some brands only use PR and no advertising. Google is a good example. The TV spot is not as effective as it used to be and mark-eters need to look at other comms channels. One obvious one is PR.

Sara Balme It used to be that people would accept ad messages, whereas now they are active, engaged and cyn-ical. One person can have a big impact very quickly, so if you’re not having a dialogue through PR, potentially, you’re stuffed. It has to be genuine, or you’ll be found out.

MT We understand how to tell an interesting story and make it live.

Jamie Kaye Companies are in newspapers every day, on websites. They need PR experts to handle that.

NB In meetings with clients, some have said that the advertising guys don’t get it. They say PR people know a lot more because they have to immerse themselves in the brand to make it into stories.

How is the role of PR in marketing changing?

TL Ultimately, you’ll have to have communications, marketing and customer service in one place, a customer engagement department – not simply the marketing or PR department we have now.

NB That’s really important, because the customer doesn’t see the PR or the advertising: they see the company talking.

MT PR is used to talking to a var-ied audience. If you look at Marks & Spencer’s ‘Plan A’, that’s a fantas-tic example of where PR has taken the message to business people, politic-ians and consumers. That demands PR expertise at the top.

What examples are there of brands that have achieved success by having PR at the centre of their strategy?

RB [Motorcycle brand] Ducati is one we’ve worked on. It’s sponsor-ing racing and showcasing the care that goes into building its bikes. As a result, people are will-ing to pay premium prices. One of the main focuses is PR.

SB One sector that’s using PR in interesting ways is the drinks ind-ustry. Companies are working under severe advertising regula-tions, so they have to be more creative about getting their mess-age across. We’ve been doing all sorts of things from experiential to social media work around this.

TL When we launched Metro Bank in July, it was only one branch. We developed a story about it being the first new high-street bank to open in 100 years. The awareness was huge. BBC Breakfast held its entire show from there and it trended on Twitter.

NB I like the ‘Boris bikes’ in London, sponsored by Barclays. It’s only in London, but it became a national media story. It’s created a community of liberated commut-ers and the advocacy they create is great. Everyone who rides a ‘Boris bike’ is telling their friends and colleagues.

What about crisis manage-ment? There have been some high-profile examples recently where brands could have used more robust PR.

TL BP didn’t make it clear that it was incredibly sorry early enough. If you look at the company from a structural point of view, it actually does put its PR people high up the corporate structure; but they were all working on raising the share price.

NB Sometimes the chief executive has to recognise that they’re not necessarily the best person to lead the PR.

RB The iPhone 4 is an example. Someone picked up on an error in the iPhone 4 and suddenly it became a news story. PR needs to be there to deal with it, for the company’s image and the product’s image.

One criticism marketers sometimes make of the PR industry is that it isn’t easy to measure. Has PR got a way to go to prove how it drives results?

TL I got frustrated about four or five years ago and raised enough money to start a research comp-any. In our latest campaign for Metro Bank, we measured its effectiveness. We launched the bank, got huge coverage on TV and 61% of Londoners said they knew about the branch’s launch.

RB Digital is a huge opportunity for us to measure in an effective way. It’s just about proving the link back to the PR.

Anne Kendall We’ve done a few things where we’ve set up a sample audience and asked them questions every quarter on specific campaigns. It’s about putting research into the outcomes.

MT It’s important that tracking is considered from the start when talking about a campaign. Brands measure how well their ads per-form. It’s just as important to meas-ure the effectiveness of comms.

SB It’s important to avoid having woolly goals and help the brand answer: what do you want PR to do for you? You have to set out objectives and PR agencies have to be able to talk business to set them.

Marketers are looking to have tighter control of their brand image in the digital area. Can PR help brands transfer across media?

AK Digital has become a really big part of what we do but it has to fit within the strategy. It’s not just about ticking boxes and saying you do digital. It’s important to ask what are we doing this for and what we want to achieve. It’s not a specialist area any more.

SB As with anything else, it’s about identifying the right channel for the audience.

RB We see it as another channel and it depends entirely on the client. I think all PR agencies think they’re pretty adept at social media – at what level, varies.

SB It’s a great tool. So much goes on around Twitter now. You can generate stories and pitch ideas and connect with journalists.

TL The marketer of the future won’t make it unless they have a broad skillset. This includes PR and digital.

What else can PR bring to the top table?

TL I don’t think we should lose
the ability to create magic. In a moment, creative advertising can be magic – but we create magic
as well.

RB Ask a consumer to name famous ad campaigns, they could name 10. Ask them to name a famous PR campaign and they couldn’t name any.

MT But for most famous ad campaigns, there has also been a lot of PR around them. One thing that’s helping is PR being recognised in awards. The [fact that there is now a] Cannes Lions [award for PR] is a great way of recognising its contribution.


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