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Doing more for more

Sara Balme, Focus PR
Sara Balme, Focus PR

PR is proving attractive to a growing number of brands seeking to engage specific target groups with tailored messages while retaining the ability to respond quickly to market developments, writes Focus PR's Sara Balme

In these straitened times, ‘doing more for less’ has become something of a mantra among marketers. Finance directors are scrutinising every penny and campaigns are being measured to within an inch of their lives for ROI; shareholders are fully focused on value; and, ultimately, the buck stops with the agency, which has to deliver outstandingly effective and cost-effective work.

How feasible is it to reach as many (or even more) consumers with a reduced level of spending? How far can you cut your cloth before you are actually commit­ting indecent exposure?

Evidence abounds of brand-owners reducing advertising spend over the past two years, but, while it hasn’t all been plain sailing in the PR world, we have seen a significant proportion of our clients – particularly the bigger brands – increase their PR spend during the recession.

Yet there are more factors at play in this decision than solely budget restrictions; just because some­thing costs less, that doesn’t make it better value.

I am prompted to think back to the late 90s, when we read in Campaign that a big US wine company was to relaunch one of its brands in the UK market with a print advertising campaign.

Our view, based then on nearly a decade of experience in the wine sector, was that a well-executed, creative PR campaign could prove to be more effective and better value for money in this market than an ad campaign, and challenged the company to set aside 10% of the advertising budget and brief us.

We finally agreed on 8% and devised a PR plan, which included helping the sales team secure listings in the major grocers and an editorial drive to secure coverage in a broad range of consumer media, including titles that had never written about wine but had readers that were an important target audience.

Just to make things a little more challenging, the European sales manager (to whom we reported) was a self-confessed PR cynic.

Such was the success of the PR (unfortunately, the advertising bombed) that less than a year later the product was listed in major supermarkets and had become the UK’s fastest-growing wine brand, with its re-entry to the market hailed as one of the launches of the year in the drinks trade. For years two and three, the entire advertis­ing budget was switched to PR.

The client? He commented: ‘We started with a sceptical attitude toward PR companies and what they could provide. However, the success that Focus PR achieved in this field has radically altered our position.’

The commercial success of the brand speaks for itself. As well as generating sales, the PR was able to do so much more than a print advertising campaign. It brought the brand to life, made it relevant to consumers’ lives, created a talking point, communicated multiple messages and put the product directly into consumers’ hands. It reached more people in more ways than the advertising possibly could, and delivered much better value as a result.

A decade on, as the media landscape fragments and the influence of the internet, social networking and mobile technol­ogy grows, there are even more ways to connect genuinely with consumers and identify the right clusters of people to engage.

Complexity brings challenge, but also opportunity, and PR is better placed than other discip­lines to take on the mantle, thanks to its ability to enter into and sustain meaningful dialogue, tailoring messages and reacting quickly to developments.

It’s no coincidence that ad agencies are frantically buying PR consultancies or setting up PR divisions.

Rather than doing ‘more for less’ we find ourselves doing ‘more for more’, taking on expanded briefs and bigger budgets as clients see the growing potential of PR and put greater investment into it. This recession may yet prove to be the dawning of a golden age of PR.

Sara Balme, director, Focus PR

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