PUBLIC RELATIONS: Strategic planning gives a whole new dimension to PR - Former advertising planners with key strategic skills are bringing vital knowledge to the consumer PR sector. Robert Gray reports

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.

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

the client.

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

narrows down.’

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

in sales.

’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.


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



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).


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