PR PLAYING LARGER ROLE IN CREATING, COMMUNICATING A COMPANY’S BRAND


PR and marketing professionals should be heartened by a recent finding that PR efforts are likely to influence a consumer four times longer than promotions such as coupons, sweepstakes and refunds. The recognition of PR tactics as one of the most important ways of brand-building, is one of the major conclusions of "Your Brand Is Your Future," a publication released late last month by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), New York. Building brand loyalty through PR tactics often requires deviating from generic, non-stop pitches to taking on one-of-a-kind campaigns to catch the media's attention and raise consumer awareness. The AAAA publication pointed to Procter & Gamble [PG] as exemplary in brand-building activities through public relations and other efforts --some of which also require PR expertise -- including trade show participation, demonstrations, product literature and advertising. The book also points out that non -brand-building activities, such as price promotions and coupons, influence sales less than one year. In contrast, PR brand-building activities: Influence sales for about four years;Enhance the effect of non-brand-building activities; and Produce higher profits if the investment is greater than 50 percent of total funds. One of the ways PR firms and corporations help secure a stronghold for brands is by developing campaigns that hype brand logos, mascots and images which have worked their way into American homes and consumer psyches. Examples of such imagery include the RCA [5611Z] dogs --old-timer Nipper and newcomer Skipper; as well as longtime images like the Pillsbury [5841A] Doughboy and Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. Partnering With Clients PR firms are taking proactive roles and becoming partners with clients, as well as with advertising nd marketing representatives, to find ways to get customers attached to a product. For instance, during a two-week period in January, passengers who fly USAir's [U] Washington and Boston shuttles to Manhattan will not only be privy to, but players in, a new marketing campaign to build brand loyalty for a new alcoholic beverage. USAir's fliers, interestingly, probably won't realize the part they'll have in the launch of the new drink, the B&B Manhattan. However, The Alden Group, the public relations firm in New York that's handling the Bacardi Martini B&B Manhattan promotions, is keenly aware of how this audience will play into its business plan. Passengers will be served the drink while the song, "I'll Take Manhattan," which has been licensed for the PR campaign, plays in the background. Also, a contest for a free trip to Paris is being hosted during the two-week PR blitz. "There's no waste here --we're targeting a specific demographic --business travelers en route between 3 and 7 p.m.," said Laura Baddish, an Alden Group partner. "If we tried a bar promotion, there would be a lot of [product] waste." But the Alden Group's tactics don't just speak for knowing the demographic a product is designed for. They speak about how important it is for a company to find a consumer niche to help ensure a product's longevity. And because of this, The Alden Group's PR practitioners know the importance of building a clan of customers who have an affinity for certain products. In another brand leveraging move, the public relations firm launched a quarterly newsletter six months ago which is sent to the media, food service professionals and those in the culinary industry. The newsletter is full of recipes that call for ingredients that bear the Martini & Rossi label and was developed as a PR route that's meant to lure customers and keep them devoted to Martini & Rossi. The promotional piece, which will cost about $40,000 to distribute in 1997, is one of the more inexpensive ways a PR firm can strengthen a brand's identity, according to Baddish. "What makes a campaign work is when it turns full circle; when you're able to get the sales force behind it, the retailers to support it and the media to endorse it," explained Baddish. "You can't put together a brand marketing campaign without knowing all the doors that are open and all the doors that are closed --from the history of the product to the demographics, from the pricing and trends to where it's sold and what shelf position it will have." Taking advantage of the popularity of a brand is something Agnew, Carter, McCarthy Inc., a PR firm in Boston, is quick to act on. For instance, during the summer of 1997, the business is heading a "Save the Waves" PR campaign for the Ocean Spray brand to capitalize on today's care-for-the-environment trends. The campaign, meant to draw on the product's wave logo, is a strategy the firm is using to make consumers feel like they are part of a family. It is what the AAAA book refers to as "owning," not renting, loyal buyers. "To build brand loyalty you have to tap the concerns and issues of the day, build a relationship with your customer and build the belief that this will be a company they'll want to be associated with," advises Agnews' Philip Gloudemans. "That's what Nike [NKE] has done so well --they've made the consumer feel like they're part of a team." Gloudemans also noted that brands are experiencing a kind of market resurgence, one he attributes to a shift away from the late '80s and early '90s during the nation's economic slump. At that time, many customers were more concerned with prices than staying true to a brand, he said. Terri Houtman, manager of corporate image/brand public relations for Chrysler Corp. [C], Auburn Hills Mich., agreed with Gloudemans' assessment. She said the past decade has led to a brand revival. Because of that, Chrysler has concentrated on building personalities for its brands within the past five years. "We are always using product launches to strengthen our brand equity," Houtman explained. "One of the first cars we did that with was the Viper which was promoted as an image vehicle and we got the response we were looking for. People, who had always associated Dodge with the K Car, said, `I can't believe that's a Dodge.' (AAAA, 212/850-0722; Alden Group, Laura Baddish, 212/867-6400; Agnew, Carter, McCarthy Inc., Philip Gloudemans, 617/437-7722; Chrysler, Terri Houtman, 313/956-5741)

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