As a PR agency we offer many services, from crisis management to brand reputation-building, but the one that excites clients the most is news generation: getting their brand talked about – positively, of course – in the news pages, on TV, on the radio, online, or preferably all of these. PRs and marketers alike love it.
But are we right to love it? There’s certainly plenty of proof of the value of positive product reviews in the media, or making news around how influencers and consumers prefer your brand to others. For example, after we publicised the fact that a £3.59 wine from the Aldi supermarket chain performed better in taste tests than more expensive brands, sales increased by 1,000 per cent year on year and shelves were emptied in just three days.
But what about all those more general brand news stories that don’t seem quite so product- specific and are sometimes quite lighthearted, even apparently ‘trivial’? What’s the point of those? Why be trying continually to get your brand talked about in the news?
One reason is that a brand making positive news is, to a certain extent, a trusted brand. According to market research by Nielsen, editorial content (in other words news, features, interviews and so on) is trusted by 69 per cent of consumers – an extremely high ranking for trust.
Research company Millward Brown adds that: “The bond between customer and brand is 50 per cent stronger among brands that consumers say they both trust and recommend. And a stronger bond leads to greater sales.” So, arguably, getting your brand talked about in the news can generate trust that in turn can lead to sales.
But I think there’s another, more compelling reason for news generation around brands. And that is, quite simply, celebrity status.
Jeremy Bullmore, former creative director and chairman of the ad agency J Walter Thompson, observes in his book Apples, Insight and Mad Inventors: “Celebrity is recognised by theatrical agents and promoters and publicists as having a necessary value for people. It has an equivalent value for brands.
“Being around, being well known, being salient, being contemporary – in any market – are vital preconditions for sustained competitive success. But these qualities, like suntan, fade over time. They need, constantly, to be refreshed.”
Bullmore is making the case for advertising but I think his comments apply equally, if not more, to PR – particularly news generation.
In many respects, a famous brand is just like a celebrity. Both are famous because the media talk about them. And everyone is attracted by fame. Like most people, I get a frisson of excitement when I see a celebrity in the street, in a restaurant or at an event, whether I like that celebrity or not.
OK, the excitement I get from seeing a famous brand is not on the same scale – but there’s a certain buzz nonetheless. At the start of her career, Posh Spice said she wanted to be more famous than Persil. Interesting she chose a product brand, not a celebrity.
It shows the attraction and kudos of famous brands. This fame can be very helpful for brands.
Consumers are overwhelmed by choice. There are so many brands to choose from and so much marketing noise. Celebrity status helps a brand stand out. With a split second to make a decision as you’re passing down the aisle, you choose the famous brand over the identical product with the shrinking-violet brand. You want the brand that has the verve and power and insight and pure creative energy to make the news in the midst of the thousands of newsworthy happenings going on every day around the world.
A brand that can make news positively has real power and currency. The PR agency creates or enhances the news hook for the brand and, if the story is good enough, it also generates talkability, spreads online and lives a lot longer than the fish-and-chip paper it was originally printed on. People talk about the brand by the water cooler, tweet about the story and remember it days and weeks – sometimes months – afterwards. At least, that’s the goal.
Celebrity status also conveys a strong personality. A brand needs to have a personality so that it can engage with the heart as well as the head. We talk about a brand’s personality when we’re creating or studying its ‘brand apple’ (or similar profiling diagram). But that personality can’t just sit in the apple on the page – it needs to go out into the world and shout and do exciting stuff, the same way that celebrities do. Get noticed, and keep getting noticed. It’s a repetitive thing – though you can’t do the same thing twice in a short space of time. You need to be inventive.
And let’s not worry about how many of our target audience have seen the news created around our brand. We can measure it, and do measure it.
But it’s not that important really. To be famous a brand needs to be known by those who don’t buy it as much as those who do. That’s what fame means. While it’s right for most marketing disciplines to specifically target only a brand’s consumers, that’s not necessarily the case for news generation. Celebrity status is bestowed upon a brand by everyone out there, not by the target audience acting alone.
According to Clarion Communications’ research, one out of every six national newspaper news stories features a brand (that is, a brand you can buy as a product or service, rather than a branded organisation). I think that’s about right – much more would not be conceivable with the amount of news in the world, much less would put us out of a job. So there’s plenty of opportunity for brands and their stories, but then there are hundreds of brands battling for attention.
There are some stories that make waves and others that disappear beneath the waves. How can we be sure our story will make the news pages and help our brand become a celebrity?
Well you wouldn’t expect Posh Spice or me to give away our secrets here, would you?