It’s not so much a wave, more of a trickle. But an important
trickle, nonetheless, and one that reveals a great deal about the way
consumer PR is developing.
Strategically minded men and women, most of whom have honed their skills
in advertising, are moving into the PR consultancy sector to take on a
planning role. This is a role that hardly existed at all within the
industry a couple of years ago and is indicative of PR’s fight for a
seat at the top table; its struggle to be regarded by clients as a
discipline as reliable and effective as other forms of marketing
Over the past year or so an impassioned debate has raged over the best
ways to evaluate PR activity, one upshot of which has been to sharpen
the focus on the planning of campaigns. At the end of April this year,
trade bodies the Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations
Consultants Association, jointly launched the ’toolkit’, a five-step
standard for measuring the effectiveness of PR. While steps four and
five deal with fine-tuning campaigns and quantifying the outcome, the
first three steps cover planning issues: initial research to develop a
brief, setting measurable PR objectives related to clients’ business
aims, and building measurement into the PR strategy and plan.
The growing emphasis on planning and evaluation has even persuaded some
of the smaller agencies that having a specialist planner on board is a
sound investment. Lawson Dodd, a 16-strong consumer agency with clients
including Pentax, Lavazza and Fyffes, has recruited Mediapolis associate
media strategy director Peter Bennett as its first media director.
Bennett, who joins at the start of August, worked on accounts such as
Camelot while at the media agency.
Joanna Dodd, director of Lawson Dodd, says: ’We’re going the strategic
route because we really think it will add value for clients. It’s all to
do with understanding target markets, lifestyles and habits. Out of that
will come a clearer media strategy. It’s about spending our time and
therefore our clients’ money more effectively to achieve better
Cohn & Wolfe media planner, Sarah Hill, who joined the agency at the
start of 1999 from Young & Rubicam’s The Media Edge, agrees. ’What
someone like myself can really add is an improvement to the focus,’ she
’As media becomes more diverse, you can’t get everywhere. You have to
work out where and why and how.’
Time to feel the breadth
PR planning generally starts with a far broader outlook than a media
plan alone. The media targeting component follows on from the clear
identification of the target audience and the development of key
messages. In the case of the former, the process is far more complex
today than a few years ago.
’Consumers are no longer acting their age or sex or class,’ says Manning
Selvage & Lee (MS&L) planning director Claire Spencer. ’Many of the
traditional market segmentation tools that relied on demographics are
now defunct. If you are going to plan and implement effective campaigns
to target groups you have to get inside the head of the target
Spencer describes the way to do this as isolating an ’ah-ha factor’ on
which to base campaigns. In other words, working out what clusters of
consumers have in common and then, taking into consideration that
commonality, devising a means to get them interested in a brand.
Ketchum planning director Ruth Yearley holds similar views. ’It’s
absolutely making sure that creativity is grounded in understanding
brand need and consumer context. Knowledge and insight give you
strategy.’ The agency’s consumer division, Ketchum Life, which
represents clients such as Procter & Gamble, Gillette and Mars, also has
an in-house ’future trends unit’ called Future Life. It provides
research and predictive information which can be used to shape
A new initiative by top ten PR agency Countrywide Porter Novelli also
offers greater understanding of the consumer. Closer to the Consumer
(CttC), a research programme claimed to be the first of its kind, is
designed to provide insight into the minds of consumers, specifically
with regard to different PR techniques (see box, page 34). Information
about how the public react to varying PR strategies across a broad range
of sectors promise a more informed and scientific planning process for
At MS&L, a good example of Spencer’s planning work can be seen with
client Lego on the launch of its Mindstorms product. This toy brings
together the traditional Lego building bricks and technology to create
what can somewhat grandly be called a robotics invention system that
allows kids to build their own robotic creatures.
MS&L used research to help shape a dual targeting communications
strategy that unfolded in two phases. Youth TGI data helped MS&L define
the ’bull’s-eye’ for communications as 11-year-old boys - an age group
that has grown out of building bricks and spends time playing computer
and video games.
There was also evidence to suggest that children of that age were
finding some computer games boring, but that mastery of new technology
was seen as a way of gaining status among their peers. Given that this
age group is hard to reach by orthodox media routes - and to give the
product extra credibility by associating it with a more grown-up
audience - the planned strategy was to leverage ’big brother media to
rave about Lego Mindstorms as a cool, must-have product’, says Spencer.
To this end, product reviews were placed in magazines with a high male
youth readership such as T3, PC Format, Maxim and Stuff.
The second element of the planning was to target parents. This was very
important as the product had a fairly hefty price tag of pounds 160.
Qualitative research showed that there is a core group of parents who
believe that their children would benefit from learning more about
technology at home.
These parents also realised that the only products that could
successfully motivate their children to learn about technology outside
of school would need to be fun.
Such insights guided the PR approach. The educational value and robotic
potential of Mindstorms was endorsed by the professor of cybernetics at
the University of Reading, and samples were given to families to try
Coverage achieved ran to both fun and educational angles in media
ranging from the Daily Mail to The Big Breakfast. The product was
launched on PR alone and sold 20,000 units in the run-up to
However, despite evidence to support the power of planning, most
consumer PR agencies still do not have full-time planners. For some, the
reason is because they are too small or that they concentrate on the
implementation of PR activities rather than the strategic end of the
Segregation over integration
Yet there are several agencies, well-respected for their strategic
abilities, which shun full-time planners, arguing that strategy can be
developed by the account handlers, in conjunction with the client team
and other agencies working on the client’s business.
’Planning is an integral part of what we do,’ argues Robert Phillips,
managing director of Jackie Cooper PR. ’This goes back to the
integration debate. If you know how to work with other agencies, the
need for a planner is less acute as you share best practice.’
Katie Rowen, director of brand PR specialist 360 deg, echoes that view,
adding that PR agencies are increasingly being called in by clients at
an earlier stage in the marketing cycle. She cites client Coors as an
example, which brought in 360 deg to work on brand positioning together
with other agencies prior to the UK launch of a new beer product Coors
Light 4.5 ABV.
Nexus Choat managing director Keith Simpson thinks that this is because
PR consultancies are the best equipped of all marketing agencies to
offer strategic advice.
He says: ’I firmly believe that the quality PR agencies are better
positioned and have a better psyche to do it than advertising or sales
promotion agencies. Even the most enlightened ad agencies can be
hell-bent on producing a TV ad campaign, and suddenly the strategy
Simpson believes there is also a role for PR to play in areas such as
category management. His agency has helped its client Bramley Apples to
achieve a degree of in-store stand-out through the development of an
on-pack logo. A major category management initiative that ’recognises
how consumers shop’ in parts of the store relevant to Bramley is planned
for later this year.
He also points to the way Nexus Choat helped two of its clients work
together on distribution. One client, juice brand Tropicana, was having
difficulty securing shelf space in the independent grocery sector. While
another, Muller, had good penetration in that sector. Simpson suggested
that the two companies should work together, with the result that Muller
now distributes Tropicana to those stores, generating an extra pounds 5m
’PR has to become more scientific,’ concludes Simpson. ’It’s something
that will ultimately differentiate those better agencies that make a
real difference to clients from the rest who are providing basic
Planning is the science behind the art of PR. It should not stultify
As Fodor Wyllie director Grace Fodor points out, PR agencies should be
good at one-to-one communications. They should be able to tailor
messages for small groups and the only way to do that is through
rigorous campaign content and media planning.
The trickle of personnel with planning experience into the PR sector
will surely continue.
CASE STUDY: 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MINI
Planning played a vital part in the PR surrounding the 40th anniversary
of the Mini. Agency Ketchum Life was given plenty of leeway to develop
the direction and theme of the campaign, with the proviso that the PR
should not be at odds with the ads.
Ketchum Life director Tilly Sampson, herself a one-time planner at
Lintas in Paris, headed the Ketchum team. She says: ’We realised that
the Mini should not be positioned just as a car. Placing the Mini only
on the car pages does not do it justice. However, if you move the Mini
off the car pages and onto the style, features and fashion pages, it
wins hands down because it’s a bubbly mechanical mass of
Sampson and her colleagues - working with the in-house team at Mini -
set about positioning the Mini as a style classic that would appeal to
those seeking more from a car than functionality. They carefully steered
the communications away from old images and associations - such as Mary
Quant, Carnaby Street and perennial movie favourite The Italian Job -
choosing instead to go for a contemporary approach. To stress the
individualistic nature of the car, celebrities David Bowie, Kate Moss
and Paul Smith were asked to create designs to be painted onto Minis,
turning them into art cars. A competition was also run with The Times,
asking readers for their own designs, with the winning entry being
painted onto a car.
All this activity led to an exhibition at the Design Museum in London,
which has now gone on tour to other locations.
Good exposure was achieved in glossy magazines and there was plenty of
broadcast coverage too, including the ’And Finally’ slot on the dearly
departed News at Ten.
Mini brand manager Patrick Fleming says the amount of coverage surpassed
all expectations. He applauds the agency for ’taking a good hard look at
what we were trying to promote about the brand’ and coming up with a
strategy that was both effective and cost-effective.
’You’re missing a trick unless you have a planning director or some
element of planning,’ says Ketchum Life managing director Jane Boardman.
’The danger is that the ideas come first and then you post-rationalise
COUNTRYWIDE GETS CLOSER TO CONSUMERS
Marketers do not invest as high a proportion of their budgets in PR as
they might because there is not a huge amount of evidence to explain how
public relations influences consumer behaviour.
To address this problem, Countrywide Porter Novelli has set up a
research programme, Closer to the Consumer (CttC).
’We still do not believe that consumer PR has as much credibility as
sister services such as advertising,’ says Countrywide director Nick
’The thing that everyone has missed out on in PR is really understanding
the consumer, and that’s the critical first stage.’
With CttC, Countrywide is trying to lay foundations that will help in
future campaign planning and development for those clients that market
to the consumer. The initiative is centred on research among a
520-strong panel, created to be representative of the UK adult
population as a whole.
The results of the first tranche of research were unveiled in early
However, the intention is to carry out further research every six months
which will help explore new issues, track the effectiveness of PR
techniques and campaigns, and identify shifts in attitude or
According to Hindle: ’Each tranche of research will have inherent value.
But the real value will be over time.’ Among the findings of the first
wave of research were: 31% of people who saw an advertorial which ran in
women’s magazines (for Dove deodorant) reported a more positive view of
the product; only 3% felt more negative.
Also, 13% of people who saw a British Airways half-price voucher offer
run on the pages of a national newspaper felt more positive toward the
airline (and one in four people who saw the offer said they would try to
collect the vouchers).
Surprisingly, 10% of consumers felt more negatively toward the airline
having seen the promotion, either believing the airline must be
under-performing to offer such a good deal, or feeling resentment that
even with the discount they couldn’t afford to take part.
However, only 1% felt more negative about a cut-out coupon offer for
free pancakes at McDonald’s that appeared in local newspapers, while 29%
felt more positive.
Of those who saw media coverage on genetically-modified foods, 75% said
they intended to avoid them; 45% said they had a more negative view of
GM foods after the coverage.
In addition, 15% who saw coverage of the ’supermarket wars’ said they
intended to swap their supermarket.
Only 47% of the panel said they bought a newspaper every day, while one
in eight claimed ’never’ to buy a newspaper.
But 29% of the panel said they read their regional newspaper.
Only four magazines were read by one in ten of the panel or more: Bella,
Take a Break (11% each), Hello! and Sky TV Guide (10% each).