Mum’s the word

With an increasing number of mothers using search engines to plan activities, family centric PR strategies are using a wide range of multimedia tools – such as social networks and online films – to reach tech-savvy parents. Jonathan Bacon reports.

Ambrosia teamed up with Mumsnet to promote the idea of a ‘lunchtime friendly’ product

September is the back-to-school month, when brands target mothers with messages about everything from sharp pencils to shiny shoes. While these messages remain fairly consistent each year, the channels that brands are using to reach mums and families are changing rapidly.

According to recent research by Yahoo! and Starcom MediaVest Group, 69 per cent of mums worldwide now turn to search engines when conducting research on family activities. The study, which looks at mums’ behaviour across nine countries including the UK, USA, China and Russia, also finds that 71 per cent of mums now believe their family engages with technology together at least once a day.

To make the most of this move online, brands have tailored their back-to-school campaigns to a number of new platforms. This includes Premier Foods’ snack brand Ambrosia, which launched an advertising campaign to promote a new range of rice pots at the beginning of September.

Ambrosia and Mumsnet

As part of its PR strategy for the campaign, Ambrosia partnered with Mumsnet, the social networking site for UK parents. The brand has enlisted 100 tasters from the site to blog about the products and provide feedback online, which Ambrosia hopes will raise awareness about the new range.

Lucy Turner, marketing controller for Ambrosia, says: “Mums who write on Mumsnet are opinion-formers, so we’re looking to build a connection with these mums and use them as advocates in the future. This is a really important step for us in starting to build that relationship.”

The campaign promotes the idea that the new Ambrosia range is ‘lunchbox-friendly’ and suitable for the entire family. Turner says it aims to develop this idea by having an interactive relationship with its contacts on Mumsnet.

“We have to think differently as brands when it comes to targeting mums because there are so many different touchpoints nowadays – we can’t just rely on TV anymore,” she says. “I think it’s also important to understand how we can start conversations with mums and have more of a two-way dialogue to really improve our brands and products.”

Britvic and Netmums

Britvic’s drinks brand, Robinsons Fruit Shoot, recently tried a similar strategy to announce its return to the shelves following a product recall after a cap got stuck in a child’s throat. For its ‘We’re Back’ campaign, launched last month, the company formed a partnership with Netmums, one of the main rivals to Mumsnet, to generate conversations with concerned mothers. Britvic nutritionist Victoria Epstein answered questions from parents on Netmums and advised them on when the product would be back on the shelves.

Recent research is encouraging for food and drinks brands as it says they are regarded with particular affection by families. The study by YouGov and advertising agency Isobel finds that UK consumers see food and drink as the third most family friendly brand category, behind only fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and retailers. The study involved asking asample of over 1,500 adults to rate the top 100 or so brands in each category on a number of attributes that reflect family values, such as ‘socially responsible’ and ‘caring’.

Robinsons Fruit Shoot partnered with Netmums for its We’re Back campaign

But food and drinks brands are under constant pressure to maintain this reputation. Rising concerns about childhood obesity and poor diets have forced brands to improve their healthy credentials, culminating last year in the Department of Health’s ‘responsibility deal’ with a number of major brands, including Mars and McDonald’s.

Turner at Ambrosia says the healthy message is central to the brand’s new campaign. “Our rice pots are creamy but they’re also naturally low in fat,” she says. “It’s always been like that but it’s a little-known snippet of information which is actually really important for our products. We’re trying to use the right channels to get the message across.”

Robinsons Fruit Shoot, meanwhile, has tried to strengthen its responsible image by running a PR campaign aimed at improving the condition of children’s playgrounds. Last year, the brand developed a partnership with Play England through which it offered bursaries to improve playgrounds, with parents invited to vote for the most deserving. It has continued the initiative this year by being part of the Transform your Patch renovation campaign.

While food and drink as a brand category has obvious ties with the family, other categories such as automotive, telecoms and financial services find it harder to appeal to mums and families. The YouGov and Isobel survey, for example, shows that banks are ninth in the family friendly rankings – perhaps down to the clinical nature of financial transactions and the poor image the industry hasat the moment.

Halifax’s Cost of Children review

Such brands have had to play to their strengths and think carefully about family needs when planning PR strategies aimed at mothers. Halifax did this by publishing research at the beginning of the month that looked at the annual average cost of raising children in Britain. The bank’s Cost of Children review received coverage on major news websites like the Telegraph and Mail Online as it warned that the cost of schooling is rising ahead of inflation.

Lauren Jones, media relations manager at Halifax, says the report is one of a number of “economic-led releases” that the bank has produced to focus specifically on topics that are relevant to families and parents. “The release was timed to coincide with the start of the new school year when, for many parents, the costs of the summer holidays and those associated with returning to school would be front of mind,” she adds. “Our focus is to ensure we raise and maintain awareness of our offering and expertise through both product placement and thought leadership.”

P&G’s Thank You Mum

This focus on timing was also central to Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) huge Thank You Mum campaign for the London 2012 Olympics, which praised the role of the athletes’ mothers. Ahead of the Games, the household brands manufacturer rolled out content to coincide with relevant periods including Mother’s Day, the pre-Games trials and the opening ceremony.

The company also established a P&G family home in London as “a home away from home” for the parents of its sponsored athletes during the Games, and recorded reaction films of the mums watching their children win. Speaking to Marketing Week, Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global brand building officer, says that such activities helped to create a huge amount of real-time content for use in the press, social media and TV.

“For example with [US gymnast] Gabby Douglas, we shot a film called Raising an Olympian, which told the story of Gabby through her mother’s eyes,” he explains. “Then she won her gold medal. We put that film online and it had a million and a half views in about three hours. It created this amazing rocket of awareness.”

The recent study by Yahoo! and SMG also points to the importance of ‘special moments’ with mothers and their children. For example, it finds that 84% of mums globally believe planning family activities are worth their efforts as long as a special moment is involved. Linking this back to a technology perspective, the report also finds that over half of mums are already using digital to help plan special occasions like holidays and birthdays.

Butlins and special moments

Butlins has drawn heavily on this idea of special moments for its recent campaign for a new hotel. To promote the launch of the Wave Hotel at Butlins Bognor Regis, the holiday operator used PR to reach mums across a range of channels (see case study, below).

Jae Hopkins, head of communications at Butlins, says a key aim of the strategy was to reassure mothers about the quality of the holiday experience. “Mums are natural researchers because they want to be sure about decisions, particularly with a short break,” she notes. “It’s an investment in their time, in their annual leave, in their money and in their precious family time – so they’re really keen to make sure they get it right.”

To help provide this reassurance, the company hired actress Angela Griffin to front the PR campaign. Hopkins says Griffin brought down-to-earth normality, as well as a touch of glamour, to the hotel launch. “Angela was a good person for mums to relate to because she is someone who also has times when she’s mad busy and doesn’t have time to spend with her girls,” she explains. “That means she really values the time they get to spend together.”

This focus on the value of family time helped to generate coverage for the hotel launch – particularly as it coincided with the start of the summer holidays. Hopkins calculates that the PR strategy generated over 370 pieces of coverage, from radio interviews with Griffin to a web TV show that was streamed on different female-targeted websites. She explains that there was a conscious effort to hit as many touchpoints as possible in order to reach mums across different channels.

“Something I will take away from this campaign is the importance of finding inventive ways of reaching mums rather than just standard media routes,” says Hopkins. “The typical mum is everywhere now – she’s a real consumer of media.”

Case study


Butlins rolled out its biggest ever PR strategy for a single campaign when it opened the Wave Hotel at its Bognor Regis resort at the beginning of July. The hotel operator used digital technology, radio broadcasts and traditional print channels to promote the £25m hotel.

Actress Angela Griffin stayed at Butlins with her two daughters

The PR campaign targeted mothers with a message about the importance of spending quality time with the family. Jae Hopkins, head of communications at Butlins, says: “We believe mums influence around 90% of purchase decisions so they are without doubt our key target.”

The company hired actress and mother Angela Griffin to front the campaign, which involved her staying at the hotel with her two young daughters. It then rolled out a range of different content around her stay including a web TV chat show that was filmed in the foyer of the hotel and streamed live on Facebook.

The show featured Griffin discussing the importance of family time with other mothers staying at the hotel, as well as holiday tips on topics like packing and entertaining children. The show was picked up by Hello! Online, Mirror Online, FemaleFirst and various parenting websites.

The timing of the hotel’s opening in July also helped generate coverage as media outlets looked for stories to coincide with the start of the school summer holidays. Griffin took part in 12 radio interviews which were syndicated to more than 150 stations, while Butlins also enlisted ‘mummy bloggers’ and consumer journalists to write about their experiences.

The company sent out non-time specific press invites so that journalists could come for a stay with their families whenever they wanted. “This means journalists can write up their reviews at a time when they know not everyone else will be writing about the same thing,” she says.

“Because of this, they tend to get a bit more space in their publications. It also means the coverage is still rolling – for example, there are couple of journalists booked in with their families for the October half-term. So the hope is that the impetus of the initial launch will continue to roll with these press trip write-ups.”

Hopkins says the PR campaign has generated over 370 pieces of coverage so far at a return on investment of over 15 to one. The hotel, meanwhile, has already sold over £3m of breaks and is fully booked for Christmas.

Sponsor viewpoint

amber steventon azaria


Amber Steventon
Managing director

When developing a PR strategy aimed at families, the key thing is understanding the different members of the family and their pulse points. With mums, the question is what kind of mum is it aimed at? Is it a working mum or a stay-at-home mum? Has she got young children, teenagers or is she pregnant? It’s all about understanding who you’re targeting because until you understand that person, you can’t get into their psyche and find out what makes them tick.

We poll thousands of parents each year to keep up to date with what mums are interested in. This forms our Family Report which looks at how mum interacts with the rest of the family. We also hold focus groups with all family members to get even more insight. Knowledge is definitely power.

There’s a lot of information aimed at mums these days and this area has really boomed in recent years, especially with things like mummy bloggers who have become influential. They are now effectively treated like journalists and their reviews are widely read to the extent that they are seen by many as the voice of the mum.

So, when it comes to targeting mums, there are now lots of possible routes rather than just the traditional parenting magazine titles. It’s also seasonal, so strategies can revolve around the school calendar and family specific times of year such as Christmas and Easter. As always, brands need to make sure they personalise their message and offer targeted information. We have heard of cases of pregnant bloggers being offered liposuction, for example.

A good example of an Azaria strategy aimed at mums would be our work for The Baby Show. Our aim was to make it a must-go-to event for pregnant mums and ultimately increase ticket sales. We tapped into the pulse points that reach the pregnant mum; this included securing the midwives from the Channel 4 TV show One Born Every Minute as guest speakers and high-profile celebrity attendees to create excitement. Tickets sales measurably increased.

When it comes to measuring the impact of such campaigns, it always comes back to sales and the end result for the brand or product. But these days you can also work back from that through activities such as social media to get insights and statistics that we can learn from. A few years ago the focus was on AVEs [advertising value equivalency] rates but now greater importance is being attached to measuring how far a campaign has reached, who has seen it and the interaction levels it achieved. So you can see which post on Facebook worked particularly well, or what tweet got a good level of response and from that you can refine and improve your engagement with the audience.



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