SUPPLEMENT: PUBLIC RELATIONS; Developing a sense of expectancy

The launch of a radically new contraceptive device depended on raising awareness and support among opinion formers in the medical science field, writes Robert Dwek

The launch of a radically new contraceptive device depended on raising

awareness and support among opinion formers in the medical science

field, writes Robert Dwek

Last month’s launch of Persona, the radically new contraceptive product,

was the climax of four years of highly integrated marketing activity in

which PR played a central role.

‘We were extremely conscious of the fact that we were entering a

completely new category in the contraception market,’ recalls Susannah

Day, senior brand development manager at Unipath, the Unilever

subsidiary behind Persona. ‘This meant that PR would have a crucial role

to play in educating consumers.’

Not only consumers, but also the trade and medical profession, which

would need much convincing about the merits of a contraceptive device

which worked simply by measuring a woman’s hormone levels through urine

tests and a monitor - no condoms, coils, sponges, pills or other

inconvenient accoutrements required.

‘PR took the lead because the key issue with such an original product is

credibility,’ says Pippa Sands, managing director of Sandpiper PR, which

co-ordinated the campaign. ‘Our aim was to generate a very positive wave

of editorial coverage on which the advertising could then ride.’

The PR offensive beagan in earnest in 1994, before Persona had a name,

when Sandpiper announced to the world that clinical trials were

beginning on a product which, if successful, might provide the ultimate

choice in contraception. The medical press was specifically targeted,

says Sands, ‘because it was critical that this community accepted the

principles on which Persona was based’.

A spot on Tomorrow’s World followed, and relationships were established

with key journalists, who were invited to monitor the clinical trials

through to the launch. ‘The early phase was about sensitising the

environment. We wanted the media community to have a sense of expectancy

about the product,’ she adds.

Throughout this period, Sandpiper held regular meetings with Sudler &

Hennessey, the trade advertising agency. ‘It was essential that GPs were

kept fully up to date with the product so that they weren’t left behind

when we rolled out the huge awareness campaign to the general public,’

explains Sands.

Sandpiper also kept in regular contact with consumer advertising agency

Ogilvy & Mather, sales promotion agency SMP and Ziggurat, the design

consultancy. There was, claims Sands, a ‘very pleasing degree to which

everyone accepted that the first point of communication would be PR’.

For example, Ziggurat’s design work was carried through from the early

opinion-former initiatives to the invitations to the final press

conference. ‘It’s not rocket science, but it does depend very heavily

on achieving integration and co-operation between agencies,’ says Sands.

Adrian Collins, managing director of Ziggurat, describes the project as

a particularly delicate piece of communication which had to hit a number

of audiences. ‘Being involved with Sandpiper from a very early stage

made us realise the complexity of the operation,’ he says.

Collins believes that this product launch provides a blueprint for

successful integration. ‘New product development specialists and PR

companies tend not to get briefed together,’ he explains. ‘Clients

generally don’t see the need for it, but they should look at what we’ve

achieved here to realise that it’s a missed opportunity. It’s important

to work together if you want to see the broader picture and operate on a

higher level.’

SMP, which has been working on the below-the-line campaign for Persona

for the past three years, agrees. ‘From day one, the communication

network between the client and all the agencies was set up with military

precision,’ enthuses SMP managing director Simon Mahoney.

A series of regular brainstorming meetings allowed each agency to put

forward specific proposals in an open and trusting environment. The

result was that ‘no handbags were thrown’. As Mahoney sums it up: ‘This

type of integration - where predefined skills are brought together - has

produced one of the most efficient and visible launches in recent


O&M claims to be unperturbed by the high priority given to PR in this

launch (its own advertising work didn’t break until a week after the

official launch). ‘We all worked as a team to ensure there would be a

consistent brand strategy,’ comments account director Nicola Ukiah.

‘But the initial focus, given the particularly newsworthy nature of the

launch, was always going to be the PR story. We were absolutely

delighted with the PR coverage and believe it gives us an excellent

platform for a fully-integrated advertising campaign.’

Such comments are warmly welcomed by Sands, who feels frustrated by the

snobbery which prevents many advertising people from working closely

with PRs. ‘There is often this snooty attitude in ad agencies that a PR

idea can’t be an advertising idea,’ she complains. ‘A willingness to

accept other peoples’ specialisms is crucial to integration, but it’s

depressing how many times it doesn’t happen. The client is the one who

loses out.’

Happily, the client is all smiles in this case. ‘We’re absolutely

delighted with the level of coverage and awareness we have gained

through PR,’ says Day. ‘We feel that the majority of our key messages

have been communicated very accurately. The cohesive strategy has

created a very strong brand identity.’

Proof of this can be found in the initial research figures - some 53% of

women in the target audience are aware of Persona purely through the PR

work, while awareness among all adults stands at 41%. That really does

give the advertising quite a head start.


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