Why PR invigorates brands

Rather than cutting their PR budget, brands should be using it as a key weapon in their armoury against the credit crunch. Consumers need to be convinced that spending a bit more is worth it.

Marketing departments the world over are currently meeting to review next year’s budgets in the light of the financial meltdown.

The temptation for many will be to slash back to the bare minimum, reserving the bulk of budgets to fall back on what they’re most familiar with: traditional advertising and promotions – easy to account for, and simple to benchmark results against spend.

There’s no doubt traditional advertising and marketing can be highly effective at getting your key brand messages across to hundreds of thousands, possibly millions,
of consumers at a time. But influencing them in the long term will be an increasingly subtle affair.

It’s no secret that media is fragmented. To advertise, brands must choose between hundreds
of television and radio channels, magazines, websites and online communities. What’s more, consumers expect brands to speak their language and to understand their lives and needs.
Research from trends, brands and futures consultancy The Future Laboratory has found that 60% of us now turn to friends and family for advice and insights on everything from relationships to product recommendations.

This ‘friendpertise’ extends to the most powerful media and websites, with journalists and bloggers a vital source of trusted advice for millions of consumers. Good PR can turn them into ambassadors extolling the virtues of your brand – what price would you put on that?
The credit crunch is also throwing up new challenges. Brands are being squeezed between the rock of rising commodity prices and the hard place of retailers unashamedly telling shoppers that own-label is cheaper.

Tesco declared itself ‘Britain’s biggest discounter’ with a raft of cheap tertiary lines. Sainsbury’s is encouraging shoppers to ‘switch and save’ from brands to own-label by highlighting the savings to be made by shunning household names.

This isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last, time that brands have come under threat from wannabe own-labels and deep promotions. The 90s brought the arrival of foreign discount chains such as Aldi and Lidl. At around the same time, the supermarkets tried to cash in on the brand equity of household names by producing copycat own labels. Consumer trust and brand loyalty ultimately won through – built not only on a history of strong advertising campaigns,
but also skilful and engaging PR.

In these new dark days, boardrooms should not forget that PR, in conjunction with advertising and marketing, helps remind consumers why they love and trust brands. It leverages key messages, and builds and maintains brands in a way that a double-page spread of advertising and a BOGOF promotion alone never could.

The retail environment is ever- more important as brands seek to influence their shoppers at point of purchase, rather than relying on a scatter-gun approach through traditional media channels.

Cirkle helps its clients take a holistic approach to its relationship with business customers. For instance, we handle the business PR for GSK’s soft-drinks category strategy. This means we don’t sell the virtues of the Lucozade and Ribena brands themselves, but rather advise retailers on how to maximise their soft-drinks offering.

These subtle, but vital, messages of range, merchandising and how to maximise promotions can be woven time and again, via PR, into editorial features. This gives them a gravitas and longevity that an ad campaign on its own cannot.

PR works at its very best when you work closely with your agency from the start, setting challenging, but achievable KPIs and asking how the PR plan will deliver against your business objectives.

Of course, tight financial times mean costs must be challenged, but short-term budget slashing could have long-term repercussions on your business reputation.

Caroline Kinsey is founding director of Cirkle

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