In a saturated media landscape, the face of PR is changing rapidly. It is not what it was five years ago, and in the next five years it will change again completely. As a result, agencies need to offer their brands more than just traditional bread- and-butter PR.
Integrated, strategic PR is vital when it comes to providing relevant, pervasive exposure across all disciplines. But while many agencies and brands talk about it, very few practise it in reality.
For too long, PR has been thought of as a bolt-on to a marketing strategy. Now the tables have turned and PR agencies are able to create integrated campaigns that go well beyond the remit of a coverage-focused press office.
Digital and social media have changed the landscape irrevocably; a story that breaks on Twitter will be old news by the time the morning papers come out. As PR practitioners, that’s something we’ve had to adapt to.
But it’s not just the media that’s changed – so has the way brands behave. One significant development is the increasingly direct relationship between brands and consumers.
We expect responses in minutes if we tweet a brand with a problem. We expect them to provide ‘Friday fodder’ animations to get the office laughing. Brands have become publishers, cutting out the middle man and interacting with consumers directly.
Experiential stunts mean that consumers get to experience the brand on a personal level while vicariously absorbing its values.
Once, PR’s focus was on achieving high-profile, positive press coverage. These days, a printed article about your client is desirable but by no means the final result.
Integration enables us to provide brands with exposure beyond print. It also means that PR is content-led and consumer-driven.
Practising integration is easier said than done, however. For one thing, it needs a clear, cohesive strategy that aligns with the lead creative concept. Only then can you begin to think about experiential, press office, social and marketing elements.
As PRs, we need to unearth key insights, explore brand values and ultimately think like the consumer. Brands now rely on us to create relationships with their consumers – to provide content that will fit into a number of communications channels. What does an integrated campaign look like?
It usually draws upon a variety of marketing disciplines, formulated through a key strategy. Experiential activity, marketing mechanics driving consumers online or in-store, a proactive press office and content creation to enrich the online offering are all elements to consider. Is there a suitable hashtag? Is there video content relevant for online news journalists, or for viral shareability? Will there be point of sale with a call to action? Working with different platforms forms the backbone of an integrated campaign.
PR has previously been brought in at the last moment to amplify the lead creative – but to really feel its benefits, it needs to be integrated from the start. We’re fortunate enough to work with Ikea, which is forward-thinking in its approach and frequently hosts all-agency brainstorms and presentations. This collaborative process results in a hugely creative forum for the agencies involved, and provides a distinct look at what success is to Ikea as a business.
A campaign is a success only if it answers the client’s brief. Integrating agencies will tighten the creative process while meeting the business’s objectives more productively.
The success of Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign has also been widely documented, with consumers flocking to Facebook and Twitter to upload images of their personalised Coke bottles. Traffic on the brand’s Facebook page alone increased by 870 per cent.
Media coverage has been positive, but is merely a by-product and commentary on the reaction by consumers. The true publisher here is Coca-Cola itself. The subsequent popularity of the brand’s viral videos has meant that the campaign has hit a number of disciplines and reinforced the strength of integration.
The integrated approach is at the heart of all the campaigns we plan and execute. To celebrate Ikea’s 25th anniversary in the UK, for instance, we created a high-impact experiential programme of activity.
A 25-day roadshow featured a ‘roaming room’ set on wheels that showcased the Swedish brand’s hero products, visiting all 18 UK stores and handing out customer incentive vouchers to passers-by.
In-store activity consisted of 25 days of celebration, including Abba tribute bands, customisation workshops and entertainers. Sales increased by 11 per cent over the campaign period and footfall rose by 18 per cent on average, with some stores showing an increase of 45 per cent year on year.
Similarly, an integrated beauty campaign for Intu (previously known as Capital Shopping Centres) in collaboration with Look magazine saw the majority of the centres take part within its portfolio. Using social media, PR and marketing mechanics, the in-store styling event saw hundreds of people flock to the centres. With a 61 per cent increase in footfall across all centres, the integrated campaign model has proven so successful for the company that it has been replicated for a third year running.
In order to stay relevant, marketers and PRs must continue to embrace digital media. When BWP Group was formed, the agency was made up of three separate divisions that effectively operated in silos. Almost 20 years on, the boundaries are blurred. Though the divisions are still there, most of our campaigns today draw on the expertise of all three.
Will PR ever usurp the advertising agency? Probably not – but those brands that embrace integration will take a proverbial slice of the pie from their competitors.
What’s certain is that integration will continue to change PR for the better. As campaigns deliver clear returns on investment, more and more brands are coming to recognise its strengths.