PUBLIC RELATIONS: PR agencies take on broader remit - Media relations is no longer the be-all and end-all of the PR sector

The days of the roster are numbered. Clients previously had no

choice but to turn to specialists for their advertising, media

relations, direct mail, event management, media buying, design, research

or sponsorship needs. But they are now slimming their rosters, and PR

agencies are grabbing a fair share of the work.



'Viewing PR through the narrow filter of media relations does not serve

clients' best interests. The 'influencer' audience is critical, yet

agencies typically equate 'influencer' with 'journalist' and leave it at

that,' says Rebecca George, head of August. One Connect UK.



'Key influencers such as analysts, government, industry groups,

academics and even employees are better reached through specific

communications aimed directly at them.'



And PR companies, it seems, are well-placed to offer such a broader

service.



GBC board director Neil Vose says: 'Progressive PR companies should

always be looking to develop bespoke solutions for clients. People

shouldn't be surprised that PR agencies offer marketing services - they

always have done - it's just that there has been a lack of appreciation

of it.'



The internet has had a major influence on the growing perception of PR

as a medium that can reach target audiences directly and often

subtly.



'The dotcoms are up for anything, which means we have been able to

explore new channels away from media relations. It's all up for grabs,

provided you are clear about what you are offering,' says Band & Brown

chief executive Nick Band.



The speed with which new media companies are born and sold has also been

a factor in the new ways PR agencies are being used.



Adapting to client needs



'Diversification has been driven by the need to support clients through

shorter product or service lifecycles, from the initial idea to IPO or

trade sale,' says Jonathan Simnett, vice-chairman of technology

specialist Brodeur Worldwide.



'In the fast-moving technology sector, PR agencies can offer a range of

services that deliver consistent messages to target audiences - whatever

the marketing instrument used.'



Viral marketing, which can involve spreading news online via chat rooms,

or e-mails being forwarded to friends, is a strategy being embraced by

many PR companies. Charlton Communications is one agency that has made

the most of the internet by creating a new division, called 1000

Heads.



This provides an uber-focus group of 1000 people across the country, all

with internet access, who undertake viral marketing campaigns, acting as

mouthpieces to spread the word about a company in chat rooms, online

forums and newsgroups.



The client area most suited to viral marketing is, naturally, online

brands. Marketing portal Hitsnclicks.com uses Charlton for media

relations, but also used 1000 Heads in its pre-testing stage. On the day

of its launch, it had nearly 51,000 hits as a result.



'Using viral marketing has been more effective than pure media

relations, as it gave us feedback from people from different regions and

backgrounds before we launched,' says Hitsnclicks chief executive Fraser

Hay.



Learning new techniques



Band & Brown is also a big user of viral, guerrilla and ambient

marketing techniques for clients. It has branded eggs, apples, ATMs and

manhole covers in Camden for Uprush, a street culture web site.



It also created a campaign for BT Payphones to find the country's top

football mastermind through games consoles in phone boxes, linked to web

chats with Alan Hansen, the football commentator, and a viral e-mail

campaign.



Away from the new media, other PR agencies are becoming specialists in

older marketing areas such as field marketing. Elizabeth Hindmarch PR,

for example, carries out sampling campaigns for clients including

Hawaiian Tropic.



The agency invented a 'heat squad' comprised of lads and girls who

gate-crashed beaches, pop concerts and festivals. As well as handing out

the product, the agency put together a 'Beach Cred Bible' packed with

information about tanning, sun and holidays.



Many PR agencies now also have some design capability. One, CIT

Productions, produces and prints a pseudo-independent trade publication

for the high-tech data storage sector on behalf of Adaptive.



PR shops are also in a position to offer consultancy on areas such as

corporate branding and positioning, crisis management and change

management, which might once have been the preserve of an advertising

agency or management consultants.



'Advertising used to be at the heart of clients' business and was

critical in shaping strategic marketing and communications,' says

Edelman chief executive Tari Hibbett.



'Somewhere along the line the industry dropped its guard and the PR

agencies got in there. I can't imagine any communications area other

than advertising creative that we wouldn't cover - from sponsorships to

research.'



Frank PR was set up six months ago to offer a broad portfolio of

marketing services. The tools it has introduced include 'Executive

Profile', which manages the media profile of businesspeople, and

Frankviews, which takes focus groups a step further, by gaining the

thoughts of a panel of hard-to-reach opinion-formers on new products and

services.



One-stop benefits



Frank PR joint managing director Andrew Bloch says: 'It is ever more

difficult to draw a line at which PR finishes, and clients are often

looking for a one-stop shop.'



Having a number of marketing functions under one roof does not

necessarily mean cost benefits for the client. But that is rarely the

point. They may even start spending more on PR when they start to see

what it can achieve and how broad its scope can be.



Integrating communications channels under one roof can also make it

easier for the agency concerned to be involved at an early stage, and

have useful input into shaping strategy and creativity.



When Frank PR worked on Ams-trad's 'Get Britain E-mailing' brand

platform, it was involved from the product development stage. As well as

media relations, the campaign included installing Amstrad 'e-mailers' in

unusual locations, such as pubs and fish and chip shops.



Clients are often more than happy for a PR agency to come up with ideas

for and handle work that might not be considered as core PR.



Hair product manufacturer Wella, for example, was delighted when

Elizabeth Hindmarch PR came up with the idea of producing snappy 'The

Next Big Thing' trend guides to the hairstyles used by fashion designers

at the seasonal catwalk shows. The agency also secured Wella the title

of overall sponsor of the Elle Style Awards.



'It helped position us as part of the fashion industry,' says corporate

communications manager Kevin Arkell.



'No one had ever taken an overarching view of our corporate messages

before to ensure the positioning of the brand was consistent.'



PR consultancies are sometimes taken on to deliver a traditional PR

campaign, but have their remit expanded once the client discovers it has

other skills.



Target Public Relations is part of the Target group of marketing

companies. Some clients use the company purely for consumer or corporate

PR; others may also need media planning and buying, or web design, which

Target offers through its sister companies.



CCA Stationery, one of the UK's biggest suppliers of wedding stationery

and personalised Christmas cards, hired Target Public Relations six

months ago to carry out its PR, then found it could use its sister

companies to work on its press ads and design brochures.



'We were originally looking to bring in specialists in each area, but

Target showed it was able to be a specialist on both sides. The approach

gives the campaign synergy, and I expect it will come up with something

greater than two separate agencies,' says CCA Stationery's marketing

manager, Carolyn Stanley.



Wider experience



Target Public Relations director Sheena Brand says: 'If they just want

PR, great, but internally, even if clients don't officially buy into

those services, we can still use that expertise. We do make clients

aware of the skills we have, and it's great if we can work on an

integrated campaign.'



Even though she presides over the biggest independent consultancy in the

UK, Edelman's Hibbitt stresses that an agency doesn't have to be part of

a huge global network, or even be big in its own right, to offer a broad

marketing service.



'Smaller companies can still offer broader services if they get into

partnerships with other suppliers. You might not have design or online

expertise, but you can work with others to offer a strategic approach,'

she says.



PR agencies are not all about to turn into multidisciplinary marketing

agencies, since they, and their clients, still recognise the value of

having specialist agencies in some areas, but many now offer a much

broader range of services than might be thought of 'traditional'

shops.



ROBOT WARS TOY PROMOTION



Last year, the BBC handed the licence to sell a toy range based on its

Robot Wars programme to Logistix Kids Retail, a brand marketing

consultancy that expanded into retailing in 1996.



The show, in which remote-control robots fight each other, is aimed at

nine- to 15-year-olds, but also enjoys a cult adult following.



Logistix was briefed to raise awareness of the toys from March.



PR agency Charlton Communications was handed a limited budget to promote

the products to the media, but mainly to the core target audience.



The agency ran a viral marketing campaign using teaser tactics with the

media and fans, who it reached through the BBC's Robot Wars web site and

the official fan club.



Tactics included posting online and in the club magazine grainy

black-and-white shots of an apparently secret Robot Wars factory being

infiltrated.



Rumours were started in relevant chat rooms about the construction of

the robots.



'We couldn't afford an ad campaign, but we needed to market the product

effectively. We didn't want press releases being sent out - straight

media relations wouldn't have done the job. Charlton used the internet

very cleverly to great effect,' says Victoria Myers, head of retail at

Logistix.



Demand - despite a Christmas period that saw stores sell out of the toys

after shifting pounds 2.5m worth - remains strong, and there was a

positive knock-on effect for Logistix, too.



'The campaign helped us to get noticed - we can now go to licensing

agencies and show them they don't have to go to the biggest toy

companies to have a product marketed well,' says Myers.



Charlton will produce more work for the brand this year.



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