PR professionals and marketers know that getting their message out is only half the battle in successfully executing a communications campaign. The other half is ensuring that the messages are seen and heard by the right people, at the right times, and perhaps most importantly, in the right places.
Modern PR professionals largely focus on publishing their messages via digital marketing following the rise of social media platforms in the early 2000s; however, research suggests that attitudes toward social media are changing. Pew Research found that about two-thirds of Americans (64%) believe social media has had a mostly negative effect on the United States.
Social media has also been cited as a key driver of rising digital fatigue, which has caused one of its traditionally highest-usage groups, Gen-Z, to be the only demographic to decline in social media use since 2019 according to data from Pew.
With negative impacts of digital marketing rising and younger generations migrating away from social, ignoring how communication campaigns are translated into the physical realm can be a costly mistake.
The Last Mile
Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrase “the medium is the message,” suggesting that the medium in which a message is communicated is just as important as the message itself.
This basic communication theory underscores the importance of the last mile of marketing – or the physical spaces and places where public relations and marketing messaging are actually deployed and seen by their target audience.
This ‘last mile’ can include everything from signage, to an advertisement, to the overall atmosphere and space in which messaging is deployed. Ensuring that your PR campaign’s messaging and branding are carried through the last mile of marketing is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspects of public relations today.
To make sure your PR and marketing dollars pay off and carry through from online to in person, here are some aspects of the last mile of marketing that increase campaign effectiveness:
Grabbing Attention in Physical Space
When messaging is deployed in a well-executed physical environment, it offers a level of tangibility that digital ads, email campaigns or PR-driven online content can't match. According to a 2022 marketing recall survey, 77% of consumers say they notice their physical surroundings more now than they did before the pandemic. Additionally, 70% of these survey respondents claimed that they are noticing out of home ads, such as billboards, more following the pandemic due to increased digital fatigue.
Now more than ever, the physical realm can capture the attention of audiences and create a lasting impression. Unlike digital experiences, physical experiences are a tangible presence in the environment, making them difficult to ignore.
By using physical spaces to deploy your messages, you can create a more emotional connection with your target audience, which can help to enhance the overall impact of your campaign and increase engagement with your brand.
As PR pros plan their campaigns, particularly local campaigns, they should also consider where physical placements of messaging can be deployed to help gain attention and traction in ways that traditional PR cannot.
Going Beyond Traditional Engagement
One of the biggest advantages of physical over digital advertising or branding is the ability to think outside the box, and create immersive visuals that are otherwise not possible with digital formats.
Physical branding experiences can take many forms, including wall murals, installations, vehicle wraps, signage for special events and more. By thinking creatively about how a physical space can enhance your brand’s message or better engage an audience, you can create unique and memorable experiences for your audience.
Cohesive visual and sensory experiences can reinforce a PR campaign's key messages and enhance brand recall. For example, if you are deploying a campaign that aims to promote sustainability, incorporating eco-friendly materials and elements into the physical space can reinforce that brand message more effectively than if it were only a digital marketing campaign.
When a campaign’s messaging is deployed through physical advertisements and branding, those placements can be particularly effective at resonating with audiences, especially when they have a local spin.
Campaigns become real when an audience understands that the campaign was made specifically for them, rather than thinking the company is just spraying their marketing messaging far and wide.
Tailoring messaging to be specific to a state, city, or even a local neighborhood will help distinguish your brand as one that took the time to care about an individual community.
PR pros can tailor campaigns locally by considering where their target audience currently exists, outside of just the social channels and digital communities they normally target.
Perhaps your goal is to engage citizens for a local awareness campaign and you need to drive sign-ups for a petition. Well-placed signage with local references in a densely populated or well-trafficked area illustrates to your audience that you are where they are, and that you understand the area as they do, which can help drive participation and advocacy from that audience.
Establishing an Identity Through Brand Awareness
Deploying physical branding elements in high visibility areas of a community can not only help increase brand awareness, but also increase the likelihood that your target audience will recognize and recall your messaging. Well-executed campaigns with high-resolution visuals will likely be captured with photos and shared on social media. Or, if a communications campaign promotes a new product, having tangible product samples or prototypes can act as extensions of the campaign. This allows individuals to connect with your brand on a deeper level, further increasing brand exposure and awareness – part of why the last mile of marketing brings the work of PR and digital marketing full circle.
Ultimately, public relations professionals must learn to understand that the success of a communications campaign is determined not only by the messaging and tactics, but also by the execution of the campaign where it is deployed. Physical placements offer a range of benefits over digitally communicated messaging.
Consider how you can use your physical space within campaigns to create an impactful connection with your audience. By deploying messaging in the right locations, thinking creatively about how to engage your audience, establishing local credibility and increasing brand awareness, brands can bring their PR campaigns to life through more memorable experiences that drive brand loyalty and advocacy.
Paul Brewster is CEO of SpeedPro.