PUBLIC RELATIONS: PR in the driving seat - PR is often at the forefront of a consumer product launch. This requires careful integration with other elements of the mix to deliver the results Robert Gray reports.

Conventional wisdom used to be that the way to launch new products to consumers was with advertising. If the marketing communications budget was big enough, there could be little doubt advertising would do the business in creating awareness.

Conventional wisdom used to be that the way to launch new products

to consumers was with advertising. If the marketing communications

budget was big enough, there could be little doubt advertising would do

the business in creating awareness.

Yet, increasingly, PR is playing an enhanced role in consumer


In some instances, clients are even using PR instead of advertising

because they see it as more cost-effective, given that media space can

be prohibitively expensive.

But what is being seen more frequently is PR being used alongside

advertising as a complementary discipline. More clients have begun to

appreciate that product awareness is not necessarily the be-all and

end-all of successful marketing.

Consumers are often sceptical about advertising claims and, while it can

achieve publicity, the key advantage of PR is that it can also produce

priceless third-party endorsement.

PR can engender a sense of validity and even desirability by engineering

the discussion or analysis of a new product in print or on the broadcast


More than that, however, there are advantages in bringing PR

professionals in at an early stage in the marketing launch cycle. PR can

be used to maximise the other elements of the marketing mix, for

example, by drawing attention to interesting advertising executions or

highlighting live events.

It can be the glue that binds the disparate elements of a launch

campaign together. But it can also take on a strategic role.

In recent years, there has been a distinct trend in the PR agency sector

away from merely responding to client briefs and implementing


Many consultants have acquired a wealth of experience advising not just

brand managers and marketing directors but chief executives on all

manner of communications issues.

Strategic expertise of this kind can be extremely valuable in a consumer

launch situation.

’Clients have realised that the best PR people have a planning mentality

and at least as profound an understanding of marketing mechanisms as,

say, advertising and direct experts,’ says Adrian Wheeler, chairman of

the Public Relations Consultants Association.

’Today, when organised consumer action is a force to be reckoned with,

PR people have an incalculably important role to play in new product


’The PRCA is not banging the drum for PR to call the shots, although

this happens increasingly often. We urge clients to get the best talent

involved from day one. This means creating a strategy team regardless of

discipline or specialisation.’

Media monitors

He adds: ’PR people offer a further, unique contribution. They know how

the media react. More than any other advisers, PR people can apply the

litmus test of likely media response at the very earliest stage of a

campaign’s existence. The world has been saved from a million hopeless

campaigns because PR people said ’Don’t!’’

On some occasions, new products are brought to market with only limited

distribution. In such circumstances, a full-blown advertising drive

would hardly be merited. PR might be used to create brand momentum and

encourage sampling until distribution reaches a level at which

advertising becomes viable.

Fraser Butters, Harvard PR associate director, launched Nintendo’s Game

Boy Camera this year. He concedes that it would be ’difficult always to

lead with PR’, as each part of the marketing mix has its place. But he

stresses that there are times when such an approach can really pay off

for a client.

Jane Howard, managing director of Jane Howard PR, argues that PR

techniques can be used creatively to link together the other marketing

disciplines in a campaign to create ’a whole greater than the sum of the


Clubbing together

By way of example, she gives the relaunch of Diamond White cider in new

cobalt and blue packaging. This was supported by outdoor advertising and

sales promotion activity that ran in clubs offering consumers the chance

to win a weekend in European clubbing hotspot Ibiza.

’The PR activity pulled all of this together by involving a celebrity,

soap-star Tina Hobley, who was body-painted in cobalt and blue and then

featured in the national press - primarily The Sun and The Star - to

talk about the new product and promote the Ibiza weekend,’ says


Gaby Jesson, Ketchum Life associate director, thinks that product

messages can be amplified if PR and advertising work together from the

outset of a launch campaign.

She cites the launch of Puma trainer The Cell as a case where PR

activity succeeded in making a lot of noise to promote and position a


Ketchum Life secured coverage of The Cell in leading style magazines

such as Touch and Mixmag.

Although these titles have comparatively low circulations, they carry

considerable influence, with other media looking to them for an insight

into new style trends. More mainstream magazines saw the coverage given

to the product and the youth interest it gained and picked up on it


’Advertising can create a high level of awareness, but the next stage

for consumers is to get an independent view of how good a product is,’

says Alastair Gornall, Consolidated Communications managing


’PR is the whole business of communicating with the public. I believe

advertising is a tool of PR.’

Movie reviews

Among Consolidated’s clients is Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Clearly,

the launch of movie videos is an area where PR is vital as a huge number

of consumers make decisions on the films they wish to rent or buy on the

basis of reviews they have seen.

Countrywide Porter Novelli also has a client in that sector in the shape

of CIC. In October this year, Countrywide was behind the video release

of movie classic The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, to

mark its 25th anniversary.

Around 200 journalists were sent teaser mailings: exclusive silver bees

in little jewellery boxes bearing the legend ’You could still get stung

after 25 years’. This was followed up with press material including a

’sting’ of CPN’s own - ten false facts about the film.

As one of The Sting’s seven Oscars was for costume design, British

fashion designer Ben de Lisi was invited to design a dress inspired by

the movie.

This formed the focal point of a 20-minute slot on ITV’s This Morning,

which included clips from the movie, video release date and price

details, a 1930s fashion show and an interview with de Lisi.

As well as straight editorial, the campaign featured competitions

offering prizes of videos and music CDs of the film’s Scott

Joplin/Marvin Hamlisch ragtime soundtrack. ’If you’ve got a hot enough

property for the newspapers they will often contribute some TV time as

well,’ says Countrywide director Nick Hindle.

Countrywide was also recently involved in the launch of Carling Rock, a

premium bottled lager from Bass. Whereas The Sting was purely a

PR-driven campaign, the promotion of Carling Rock used the sort of TV

advertising one would expect for the debut of a new drinks brand.

Countrywide backed the advertising by taking models dressed in leather

trousers, as they appeared in one of the ad executions, on a media tour

of key contacts at men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines and national


Joining the jet set

A sponsored promotion was negotiated to run in the Chris Evans Breakfast

Show on Virgin Radio, offering the prize of a private jet for the

weekend to take the winner and four friends clubbing in Amsterdam on

Friday, drinking beer in Munich on Saturday and eating lunch in Paris on


The competition was consistently referred to on air as being to

’celebrate the launch of Carling Rock Filtered Beer’. There were over

15,000 calls entering the competition.

A PR approach also paid off for Reebok when it launched the new home and

away football shirts for Liverpool FC. Reebok asked its agency, Cohn &

Wolfe, to try to achieve coverage outside the traditional sports pages

to reach the widest audience possible.

Cohn & Wolfe approached arguably Liverpool’s most famous female fan,

Sporty Spice of the Spice Girls. She agreed to wear the shirt free of

charge because, it has to be said, of her love for the football club

rather than any affinity for Reebok.

Sporty wore the strip on stage around the world, taking the product into

the teenage-girl market. At subsequent concerts, teenage girls were seen

wearing the strip.

Various lifestyle shots of Sporty Spice in the kit were distributed to

the press and appeared in all the leading daily tabloids. There was even

a piece in The Sun’s Bizarre column, meeting the campaign objective of

obtaining coverage outside the sports pages.

In addition, a four-page advertorial was commissioned in lifestyle

magazine Dazed and Confused focusing on the street credibility of the

retro 1970s look of the new shirts. This approach was supported with

more conventional football strip launch activity, such as arranging

interviews with several Reebok-sponsored Liverpool team players.

PR also played a leading role in GCI Group’s work for client Barclays

Life on the 2020 Vision Report - which projects what daily life will be

like two decades into the new millennium.

Yvonne Ridley, Barclays Life marketing communications manager, describes

the success of the launch as absolutely ’unprecedented’ for the Barclays


Meanwhile, in very different markets Charles Barker BSMG was behind the

creation of the world’s biggest chocolate bar to mark the relaunch of

Cadbury’s 93-year-old stalwart Dairy Milk, using Men Behaving Badly star

Leslie Ash to maximise press coverage.

On another project, Brook Wilkinson sister company, SAW Associates,

brought the new Oblivion ride at Alton Towers to the attention of a

youth audience before advertising kicked in.

Sporting chances

Finally, Elida Faberge deodorant brand Sure turned to Freud

Communications to promote its new Sure Sport for Men product at a time

when the focus of its above-the-line activity was on the broader range

of Sure products aimed at males.

Freud organised a competition in the media offering 120 consumers the

chance to win a weekend in southern Spain playing sport with four famous


The competition was given plenty of exposure on the sports pages of the

nationals and in sports magazines, which would probably have been the

extent of its success, were it not for the fact that one of the

celebrity sportsmen was Will Carling, whose personal life was front-page

news at the time of the event.

The media descended en masse, but as Carling wasn’t an official brand

ambassador, the client was more than pleased with the unforeseen extra


PR, it is fair to say, can play a role in almost any consumer


The only question for marketers to address is how far do they want to

take it?


One of this year’s most talked about and original movies was Peter

Weir’s The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank.

Truman’s life in small-town America is a sham contrived by the

programme’s creator. But viewers are hooked on the show, which follows

his every movement around the clock so that nothing about his life can

be missed. As there are no ad breaks the show is funded by product


The ’actors’ - whom Truman regards as his genuine family and friends -

shamelessly plug products to the hidden cameras. A state of affairs to

which Truman is initially oblivious.

Ironically, Weir’s movie actually provides an example of real product

placement; in this case ’serendipity’ placement - industry jargon for

when a brand owner has the good fortune to be approached by the

movie-maker. The beneficiary was National Magazine Company’s women’s

monthly She, which Truman pores over on screen.

While serendipity placement happens fairly often, it is hit and


Therefore, a substantial industry has grown up on the back of supplying

clients’ branded products as props.

A few PR agencies are involved in product placement, but it tends to be

the preserve of specialists. One product placement agency head says,

sniffily: ’All PR companies do is send boxes of products to programmes

with a note saying ’Dear Mr Bloggs, I hope you can use these’. Most of

the time the production staff just take them home.’

There are only about ten product placement agencies in the UK, six of

which are members of industry body the Entertainment Marketing


New Media Group and Propaganda are perhaps the two best known.

Both the BBC and the ITC enforce strict rules on ’undue prominence’.

’The top agencies always operate within the guidelines,’ says John

Barnard, EMA president and New Media Group chairman.

New Media Group clients include the Automobile Association, Cadbury,

Procter & Gamble and Whitbread Beer Company. It is understood to be

behind the repeated appearance of Stella Artois lager in the hit BBC

comedy series Men Behaving Badly.

Propaganda has offices in London, Geneva and Hollywood. Its work has

included placing a Perrier lorry into which James Bond smashes a truck

in Goldeneye and the Nokia 9000 gadget in The Saint. In big budget

movies such as these the trend is for clients to agree to promote the

pictures as a part of their own marketing for the product placed.

Aurelia PR, which with Krug champagne and Versace, has arguably the most

upmarket client list of any PR agency, sends products to celebrities so

that they can be seen using or wearing them. ’What it comes down to is

the power of celebrity in today’s world,’ says Aurelia Cecil, managing



’More than any other country I’ve worked with, Australia recognises that

it has a brand and that it needs to concentrate on its brand values,’

says Bronwyn Gold Blyth, managing director of travel PR specialist BGB &


The Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) has been a BGB client for 11

years. But in 1998, more than ever before, BGB has used PR and marketing

techniques more usually associated with consumer brands to promote the

land Down Under.

In part, this has been to position Australia more clearly as interest

grows in the country ahead of Sydney hosting the Olympic Games in 2000.

Key messages PR has sought to convey are that Australia is ’affordable,

achievable and accessible’, as well as being vibrant, exciting and


Broadcast and print journalists have been briefed on what Australia has

to offer in style, fashion, culture, lifestyle, sports and cuisine. This

resulted in two Australia-themed national supplements this year - the

Mail on Sunday’s Night & Day (renamed Night & G’Day for the occasion)

and the Life section of The Observer. There was also a Sunday Times

supplement, Australia.

Next year, BBC1’s Holiday programme and BBC2’s Travel Show will transmit

Australia specials. ATC advertorials have been placed in Conde Nast

Traveller magazine.

But BGB has gone beyond traditional PR techniques for ATC. It approached

sales promotion house ZGC to set up Australia-linked promotions for its

clients Cherry Coke and Kodak, which are official Olympic sponsors. More

activity involving official Games sponsors will be undertaken in the

coming months.

’We will work closely with Olympic sponsors to develop long-term joint

marketing and promotional campaigns,’ says Gold Blyth.


Vinopolis is the sort of idea that many people will wish they had had

themselves. In essence it is a theme park devoted to wine, currently

under construction beneath railway arches on the south bank of the

Thames in central London.

Wineworld, the company behind the scheme, intends to make full use of

the marketing communications spectrum as the opening approaches next


However, for its pre-launch activity it has relied heavily on PR,

through agency Peretti Communications.

Peretti has targeted consumers both as potential investors in the scheme

and as prospective visitors once Vinopolis opens its doors. Shrewdly it

has facilitated coverage in both the financial pages and the food and

drink sections of newspapers. The financial section of the Mail on

Sunday, for example, ran a piece on the fundraising drive under the

headline ’Wine city has grape expectations’ while The Economist chose

’Bacchus comes to Britain’ as its title.

In the food and drink section of The Daily Telegraph Weekend, writer

Nick Foulkes enthused about the scale model of Vinopolis - built by

Steven Spielberg’s model-maker - as being the kind of which

’Michelangelo would have been proud’. London’s Evening Standard,

meanwhile, opted to put its coverage under the heading ’Satisfying a

thirst for knowledge’.

Coverage of this order shows that the campaign has been very effective

at reaching an audience of both backers and future visitors. Their

interest in Vinopolis will have been stimulated by explanations in print

about what is being developed in the vaults: a multimedia tour of the

world’s wines, tasting halls, stores selling wines (managed by wine

retailer Majestic) and food and drink-related gift items, restaurants

and corporate hospitality space.

’For Vinopolis, Peretti Communications has demonstrated a very precise

understanding of the leadership role PR has to play at this stage of the

integrated marketing programme,’ says Tony Hodges, Wineworld managing

director. ’The role they are playing cannot be over-estimated.’

Hodges is a former ad man who worked at Benton & Bowles for 13 years

before setting up his own marketing services agency. While PR is taking

the lead at present, Hodges says that he expects it to work harmoniously

with other disciplines.

’In the new era of integrated communications there really has to be a

less defensive segmentation of roles between, in particular,

advertising, direct marketing, design and PR. They can all sit at the

top table.’


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