PR on the Net can provide a cost-effective means of promoting a new product without huge investment, writes Harriot Lane Fox

PR on the Net can provide a cost-effective means of promoting a new

product without huge investment, writes Harriot Lane Fox

If people go, ‘Er, what?’ when they hear about your product, if you

can’t sum up its USP in 15 words or less, if advertising to all

potential markets would cost a packet, you’ve got a problem. But not an

insoluble one. The world and his wife may salivate over loadsamoney TV

campaigns but many brands get by on good old PR hustle. Forget the

Kennedy question - it’s ‘Where were you when Haagen-Dazs launched?’

The US brand debuted over here with little cash to back it - the media

spend was only pounds 300,000. Premium ice cream was virtually unheard

of in the home of plastic-tubbed vanilla, especially at Haagen-Dazs’

super-elevated price. PR created demand. In fact, it brought cult status

to Cookies and Cream.

Cult is a word much bandied about by cash-strapped brand-owners entering

untried markets, particularly food and drink. Posh snack pioneer Phileas

Fogg and more recently the new alcoholic soft drinks have all run launch

campaigns based round PR, with a little below-the-line activity, to

generate a street chic and must-buy bow wave for their products.

Where consumer goods lead others follow and the classic case is

information technology, the ultimate creator of new products for unknown

and unknowing markets. Motorola, Hitachi and Digital Equipment Company

are three major players that are treading the PR route.

When News International launched The Times and Sunday Times on-line this

month by offering readers co-branded sets of the Internet Solution it

marked the climax of an eight-month PR campaign by manufacturer


The Internet Solution is just that: everything you need to get on to the

Net in a simple pack. Motorola put it together to boost sales of modems

at the cheaper end of the market, where brand awareness was poor, though

it is one of the biggest manufacturers.

‘Budget constrained’ is how Simon Boyle, marketing director for Europe,

the Middle East and Africa, describes Information Systems Group, his

division of Motorola.

‘We were entering the retail marketplace for the first time: we’d always

been a business-to-business supplier,’ Boyle explains. ‘PR worked best

on reaching our end-user.’

Launched in June last year, the Internet Solution was a new product

(there was nothing even like it at the time), in a new market segment

for Motorola and sold through new distribution channels.

Boyle looked for a consultancy - and got Harvard Public Relations - that

could handle both the consumer audience and the trade. Part of the cost

came out of the regular PR fee, part was additional for the project. It

came in at only a fraction of even a modest ad campaign.

The target market was 20- to 35-year-olds, predominantly men and with

income to spend, Computer-owners but not necessarily ‘techno-nerds’. The

message was ‘All you have to do is buy the box’.

As Harvard’s PR director Simon Jones says: ‘It’s just making sure Chris

Tarrant is aware of it.’ The nationals, both broadsheet and tabloid, and

the consumer computer press certainly were. But so were magazines Maxim

and Wired, Radio 5 Live and ten local stations. The Times innovations

editor Chris Lloyd was one of the journalists who attended the launch.

‘If PR is going to be successful it’s going to give you a head start,’

says Jones. ‘When a company doesn’t have market share it sets out to

steal it. But we created a new market.’

Quantifying the effect of a PR campaign needn’t be any more contentious

than if you launch a product with advertising. Unfortunately, though,

most consultancies can’t afford tracking studies (part of their

comparative cost benefit). But when Pepsi Foods International launched

snack brand Loony Tunes in 1993, the TV campaign got put back and Hill &

Knowlton bridged the gap with PR. The ad agency’s tracking study showed

a leap from 0% to 24% brand awareness in just two weeks. In Motorola’s

case, not only does it claim to have exceeded sales targets but as Boyle

says ‘success breeds success’: the number of resellers stocking the

Internet Solution has multiplied six-fold and there’s another

distributor on-board.

‘PR does work well with more complex products,’ he agrees. ‘The issue is

getting people to understand. They are naturally suspicious of

advertising but pretty much believe editorial. Advertising works best

for me when it is a call to action not when its educative.’

Like Motorola, Hitachi had an awareness deficit to overcome. It had

tried once with notable lack of success to launch a software product

called Object IQ. It turned to Arrow Public relations for remedial


‘Part of the trouble was that Hitachi did not have credibility as a

software player,’ says Arrow divisional director Ken Deeks. ‘Arrow

concentrated on building its integrity within this market by initiating

a programme of issues tracking whereby Hitachi was positioned as an

industry guru.’

The second time out of the stalls Object IQ met with a much more

receptive welcome.

DEC got over 250 ‘high quality’ - ie potential client - enquiries for

its white paper about security on the Internet after the PR-led forum on

the subject. Shandwick put the event together to promote DEC’s Firewall

which stops hackers from breaking into corporate computer systems.

National, business and IT journalists, government and technology

analysts all attended the round table discussion at the Institute of


Shandwick claims the resultant coverage was worth pounds 100,000 in

media spend terms. An independent survey about the number of British

companies indulging in unprotected Internet use helped. Motorola too had

a neat news hook, albeit unmanufactured. One of its first stockists was

Toys-R-Us - good instant surprise factor though less so if you look at

PC usage.

The only thing to beware of amid all this happy-clappydom is whether can

you fulfil the demand generated. Motorola is having a bit of problem

getting enough stock through from the US. That’ll all be ironed out when

its new UK modem manufacturing plant opens. And it hasn’t put Boyle off


‘Hey we’ve found something that works.’




Publication                Award                     Product

Mac World                  Highest overall rating    modem

The Mac                    Best buy                  modem

What Personal Computer     Best buy                  modem

LAN Magazine               Best performance          modem

Mac User                   Best buy                  modem

.net                       87% (highest rating)      Internet Solution

What Personal Computer     Highest overall rating    Internet Solution

These are benchmark reviews-they do not include stand-alone product




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