When 350 dancers surprised commuters at London Liverpool Street station by breaking into a choreographed routine in January 2009, T-Mobile certainly achieved its aim of generating masses of PR in an original way.
Viral videos of the flashmob dance far outlived the three-minute TV slot T-Mobile created from the event, achieving coverage in daily newspapers and on TV news.
The mobile brand has continued to generate media coverage for what is essentially a series of advertising campaigns. Its Life’s For Sharing message has been communicated via a variety of PR stunts, from a mass singalong at Trafalgar Square to its latest incarnation where 500 singers greeted returning travellers at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 late last year.
T-Mobile advertising and channel manager Kelly Engstrom claims it’s a brave strategy for the brand. “Telling your director that you are putting a lot of budget into a stunt is a scary thing.”
But if the stunt is done well then it can be picked up as a legitimate news story by mainstream media.
Kleenex, for example, wanted to move its PR activity on from the usual press releases around the cold and flu season and wanted its Ultra Soft sub-brand to be seen in a new light by an upmarket female audience (see Q&A, below). The idea to construct a wedding dress out of tissues turned the heads of the glossy magazine editors Kleenex was targeting.
Meanwhile, Aviva’s You Are The Big Picture campaign, which ran in October last year, was essentially a series of local advertising campaigns in London, Warsaw, Paris, Singapore and Delhi. But its use of customer images blown up and projected onto iconic buildings garnered it coverage in publications such as The Metro, Daily Mail and Time Out magazine, as well as many websites. It was also a platform for Aviva to promote its involvement with the Save the Children charity’s Streets to School campaign.
Aviva global brand director Jan Gooding says putting PR at the heart of the insurance brand’s advertising campaign helped the business “bring to life” its positioning. “This was a dramatic way to really put our customers at the heart of what we do, and PR enabled us to make the whole thing feel much bigger than just being single events in selected cities,” she says.
In the same way that brands can use PR to stretch the shelf life of a particular campaign, it can also extend its value. This can be particularly useful for brands on a tight budget, such as start-ups and charities.
Bluebeards Revenge, a newcomer to the men’s grooming market, devised a competition with Polygon PR to find Britain’s “manliest man” and secured an exclusive coverage agreement with the Daily Express newspaper. Championship rugby player Sacha Harding, who won the competition after a public vote, will also now appear in branded viral videos.
“The idea was to create a brand asset that we could use in our marketing,” says Bluebeards Revenge head of digital marketing Nick Gibbens.
We spend most of our resources on PR projects to create more talking points around our brand – but it does have to be supplemented with paid-for advertising to maximise the reach.”
Meanwhile, skin cancer charity Skcin used a hoax tactic, created by McCann Erickson and promoted by Limelight PR, to spread awareness of the disease to a wider audience. Computertan.com and an accompanying viral “infomercial” aimed to convince people that they could convert their computer screen into a tanning machine. The video then ended with a serious message from Skcin.
Collaboration with bloggers and key journalists resulted in reaching an audience of 18- to 24-year-olds, achieving coverage in The Sun, The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Independent and BBC News among others.
Skcin marketing and development director Charlotte Fionda says/ “It was taking a risk, but our target audience is hard to reach because when it comes to skin cancer there tends to be an ’it will never happen to me’ attitude.”
Communicating a difficult message can be done much more effectively online, which is why McDonald’s distributed an online video of the real lives and aspirations of its employees in a bid to crush the term “McJob”, which has become a common insult for a dead-end job.
Its Meet Our People campaign, which launched in autumn last year, also marked the launch of a branded prospectus showcasing the educational qualifications the company offers. McDonald’s also wanted to highlight that its apprenticeship programme had been rated “good” by education standards body Ofsted.
McDonald’s ran a targeted advertising campaign in the education pages of major newspapers, but relied on PR to facilitate a more robust dialogue in the mainstream media.
Jez Langhorn, head of talent and education for McDonald’s in the UK, explains: “The story ran because it was quite disruptive, but also challenged preconceptions about people that work here.”
This ever-evolving world of social media means the lines between PR and marketing are “becoming almost invisible”, claims Toyota GB brand development manager Lisa Fielden.
Toyota, for example, generated PR with agency W Communications by staging a public film shoot last summer using projection mapping special effect technology, to make a real car look like it was a 3D animation. The shoot took onlookers by surprise, but its effect was amplified by the YouTube video produced.
“In an age of austerity, the harder advertising can work for our brand the better,” she states. “Campaigns don’t have to be developed specifically for PR, but by just having PR as a consideration at briefing stage, it helps focus on the fundamental requirement for any campaign – to capture attention.
“Providing a campaign includes a genuinely PR-able idea, then PR can deliver excellent returns, boosting positive awareness, and ultimately increasing sales.”
brand in the spotlight
Kleenex UK and Ireland marketing director Marc Zander, on generating PR for the relaunch of the Kleenex Ultra Soft sub-brand by photographing model Lisa Snowdon wearing a wedding dress created by designer Ben De Lisi that was made of the new tissue.
Marketing Week (MW)/ Why did you create a PR piece around Ultra Soft?
Marc Zander (MZ): This new product was a real step change in quality and technology, so just going with a standard ad saying “Kleenex is now really soft” wouldn’t have been enough.
Our challenge was how to communicate this message. One solution was to get the product into people’s hands, and the other was to position this in such a different way that it would create stand-out and really get noticed. We have used PR a lot before, especially around cold and flu time, but this time we asked our PR agency MHP to help us come up with some different ideas.
MW: How did the idea to have Lisa Snowdon modelling a wedding dress made of Kleenex Ultra Soft tissues come to life?
MZ: The slogan we came up with for the whole campaign was Feel Me, I’m Gorgeous to show it’s an everyday luxury product. It was aimed at women aged 30 to 45, and we thought they would be reading magazines such as Marie Claire, Elle, Hello! and Vogue.
We ran some sessions with MHP and thought of what interests the women reading these magazines have. We thought of fashion and celebrity, and MHP asked whether we could make a dress out of this tissue?
MW: How did you arrive at the choice of Lisa Snowdon and Ben De Lisi?
MZ: We looked at a variety of designers and came up with Ben De Lisi, who had made dresses for Kate Winslet and had a range in Debenhams. He said that he would love to do it because the exercise would also raise his public profile.
Then we went through a list of the kind of model that would appeal to our target audience. It was never going to be a Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss as it had to be more of an everyday woman – like Lisa Snowdon.
MW: What media coverage did you achieve and how can you quantify these results in terms of value to the business?
MZ: We ran a two-page paid-for advertorial with Marie Claire but we also organically ended up in the likes of Elle, OK! and Vogue where ads for Kleenex tissues wouldn’t normally feature.
The problem with PR is that you never know what you’re going to get – if World War Three breaks out then all the best plans can go awry. We knew that the paid-for piece was the minimum we would get, but then it just exploded.
Our target was to increase sales of the Ultra Soft variant by 10% and our sales figures show that we grew by 30%. The PR piece was a key element of that alongside a big sampling campaign.
Jez Langhorn, head of talent and education at McDonald’s
In 2006 we tried to reclaim the term McJob with a campaign called Not Bad For A McJob. We launched some pretty disruptive ads with some facts about McDonald’s people and jobs, which we put on posters in our restaurants and on our Piccadilly Circus advertising hoarding to generate interest. It gave us an opportunity to do something that was slightly tongue-in-cheek in order to challenge people’s preconceptions about McDonald’s and people that work here.
This evolved into the My McJob campaign that involved our staff talking about what they like about their jobs. That followed a similar route of PR along with marketing support such as posters.
The latest evolution is the Meet Our People campaign to showcase the real people behind the uniforms. We found a blended approach was the most interesting to the press, so we talked about our foundation degree with Manchester Metropolitan University, for which we have launched a prospectus.
The ads are more disruptive and harder hitting to target people who don’t come into our restaurants, to make them reappraise McDonald’s.
Because they aren’t coming in and seeing our re-imaged stores, they aren’t seeing our crew in designer uniforms or our revamped menu – they are holding on to preconceptions that date back many years.
The BBC and The Times ran stories [following the launch of the Meet Our People campaign]. It’s never an easy sell but I think people were genuinely interested in what we had to say. And the day we launched was the day after the first student protests in London so it was very topical to be talking about degrees. As we were doing press briefings students were literally marching past the studio so it was well timed, although a complete coincidence.
We also used YouTube for the first time for this sort of campaign. It has been a big departure for us, and linking it to Facebook is also a first.
We are encouraged by people’s generally pragmatic reactions to this and it will encourage us to do more things like this in the future.
We haven’t finished the analysis yet but there is no doubt that the mix of paid-for marketing and PR amplifies the campaign. In the future we plan to continue this campaign both in store and in the media.