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PR Essays: Focus PR - Come out of your shell

'Caterpillar brands' are those special entities that, with a passionate personality behind them and the ability to answer consumer needs better than any rival, can evolve into something beautiful.

What does the word caterpillar conjure up? Something long, hairy, wiggly and green? Or something young, with promise? Let's say that a caterpillar brand - a term coined some years ago by Camilla Honey, founder of business development training specialist jfdi - is one that has the potential to go places.

There's something beautiful inside, waiting to fly.

So how do you spot a caterpillar brand? And what factors can reduce the risk or elevate the chances of its success? Have you got a caterpillar brand? It may be a revolutionary concept or a hitherto neglected brand, languishing mothballed in your portfolio.

Focus PR represents brands that are ranked within the top five in their category, whether that be food and drink, luxury and lifestyle or beauty and health. And almost every week of the year, prospects present us with NPDs or concepts that may (or may not) be caterpillars.

We have picked out three companies we see as caterpillar brands - products to breathe life into and nurture.

Luxury and lifestyle

s[edition] is a truly unique concept. The digital art service allows art lovers to own limited-edition, contemporary art for inconsequential sums, complete with a certificate of authenticity. The concept has no competitors, and leading lights from Tracey Emin to Damien Hirst are creating pieces of work specifically for s[edition].

Set up by former Saatchi Online chief executive Robert Norton and Harry Blain, art dealer and founder of gallery Haunch of Venison, s[edition] is a forum through which consumers can purchase from a range of affordable digital art by well-known artists and download it instantly to their smartphone, tablet or desktop. Digital art could define the future of the art market and how it evolves - we'll just have to wait and see. Remember, there was a time, pre-Caxton, when prints did not exist ...

Food and drink

One caterpillar that has already made it to butterfly is New Covent Garden Soup Company. I worked with founder Caroline Jeremy, in the early years when she had left Marks & Spencer to launch the brand: a simple, clever idea born of co-founder Andrew Palmer's genius notion that a microbiological flag in fresh soup would ensure the carton burst before it could harm a consumer. As a result, a whole new category has blossomed over the past two decades.

One of its many great components was the Soup of the Month offering. From a PR perspective, we had a new flavour every four weeks or so, and the seasonality gave the products topicality for editorial features, such as asparagus to hail early summer. These ongoing news hooks were illustrated by appetising lifestyle photography to conjure up balmy summer evenings or snug winter nights by the fire to lend context to 'liquid food in a box'.

Health and beauty

SIX3NINE is a personal-training practice like no other, based in London's Covent Garden. We've just launched this studio and already it is showing signs of flying.

The company offers one-on-one training in a premium, beautifully designed environment by passionate, fully qualified staff, led by founder James Conci-Mitchell. The team focuses on understanding members' goals and finding ways to attain them.

Butterfly effect

So what are the je ne sais quoi factors? How do you know whether the caterpillar will become a butterfly or a moth?

Generally, a caterpillar brand seems to have been conceived by a passionate and professional personality, with the charisma and drive to play the long game. The proposition will be different from or better than anything else available in its sector, and it will be answering a consumer need (whether or not it has been identified by consumers).

Message to marketing directors: is there a sleeping beauty of a caterpillar brand lost in the sample cupboard or on the balance sheet that is crying out because its time has come - or come again? Maybe this train of thought will make you review your investment decisions, to see whether you have a butterfly worthy of marketing monies.

Message to entrepreneurs/caterpillar brand owners: reflect on how you may be offering an agency a great opportunity to grab attention through being genuinely innovative and market-changing. But, equally, you may represent a resource-sapping challenge, because it takes time, patience and cash to win over consumers and opinion-formers to new ideas and products.

Message to agencies: when caterpillar brand owners or entrepreneurs pitch their dream to you, think very hard - butterfly or moth?

Caterpillar-to-butterfly brands can make wonderful, inspiring clients when client and agency trust each other and work closely to achieve the dream.

From Marketing's PR essay supplement, October 2012

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