Revolutionary Measures

Why PR is like an iceberg

It’s a well-known fact that 90% of an iceberg is below the water. PR is actually pretty similar. What is visible (often the results of tactics such as media relations) is simply the tip of a strategically planned and delivered campaign. However, what the wider world sees is the end result (or in the case of journalists the pitch or press release). I think this is one of the major reasons PR and media relations are continually confused, pigeonholing the profession.


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The latest example of this is on the BBC’s Media Show. A recent episode, entitled “The Art of Public Relations”, has drawn widespread condemnation from the PR industry for its focus on media relations and publicity, and describing PR people as bullies and liars. Clearly this is both an outdated view of the PR world, and – let’s face it – if all 70,000 of us were liars I think we’d have been closed down by now.

Media relations is a key skill for PRs, but it is one of many. And arguably it is becoming less important as PR becomes more strategic and involved in delivering corporate goals, and other communication channels such as social media give a direct route to target audiences, bypassing journalists. But it is human nature to focus on the shiny things rather than the hard work and brainpower behind them. The trouble is, this is less easy to explain in a soundbite. Perfectly valid complaints about how PR is perceived are seen as whingeing – as a profession we suffer from Cobbler’s Children syndrome, too busy working for others to do our own PR.

How can this be overcome? Here are some recommendations from my experience:

  • Keep demonstrating the value we create for companies, organisations, communities and individuals. They are the people that pay the bills, and simply wouldn’t be investing in PR if it was not important.
  • Don’t just show value to immediate contacts, but talk to senior management and build up their understanding of PR. Given most CEOs tend to come from a finance, sales or operations background they are unlikely to have learnt about PR properly on their way to the top.
  • Measure effectively what we do, and show that we are supporting corporate strategy inside and outside organisations.
  • Spend more time proactively on doing our own PR, whether that is educating people we meet (without boring them senseless!) or speaking to schools and business groups.
  • Show clients the strategy behind what we do for them, and lean more heavily on academic and business research to justify why a particular campaign is worthwhile.
  • Always be professional, and avoid the temptation to focus solely on the tactical or the Ab Fab stereotype. It won’t deliver a lasting career or client relationships.

PR does seem to be constantly striving to justify itself to the public and journalists – but over the last 20 years I have seen things change for the better. We just need to keep pushing. We’re all in it together, so do share your recommendations for how we can better get across what we do in the comments section below.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 ways that tech giants can turn their image around in 2019

Its fair to say that tech giants had a shocker PR-wise in 2018. Vilified for how they treat consumer data, spread malicious/fake news, fail to protect privacy, low tax payments and underhand PR methods (as in the case of Facebook hiring a firm to spread dirt on George Soros), they’ve so far come up with a poor defence. In fact, senior management has either ducked out of governmental hearings or spouted platitudes that placated no-one.

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And the early indications are that 2019 will be equally challenging for the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, as they are publicly attacked on multiple fronts. Countries such as the UK and France are proposing ‘tech taxes’ to claw back money, while competition authorities are taking a keen interest in the idea that these organisations have too much power and need to have their wings clipped. It seems a long time ago that they were hailed as innovators changing the world by connecting people in new ways and providing easy access to untold information and opportunities.

So, what should the tech giants New Year PR resolutions be? Here are four to start with:

1.Confess
One of the biggest issues facing Facebook et al is that they are taking an overly legalistic approach to dealing with their problems. Essentially, they are denying everything with the aim of protecting themselves from potentially eye-watering fines. As the growing number of legal cases show, this isn’t working as the public mood has very much turned against them. It isn’t an easy step, but they have to change their attitude, confess to past misdemeanours (even if inadvertent) and wipe the slate clean. Think Lance Armstrong on Oprah, but with Mark Zuckerberg replacing the drug-taking cyclist.

2.Match words with deeds
We’ve all seen the adverts from social networks telling us that they are committed to protecting our privacy and online lives. They need to go further, and change how they operate, such as making default privacy settings much tighter and being clearer on the code of conduct that they will follow, with proper independent oversight.

3.Be more open
Ironically for organisations that rely on people being free and open with their most personal data, Google, Facebook and Amazon are extremely secretive in many areas. Clearly, no one expects them to give away commercial advantage, but they need to show how they operate to satisfy regulators, consumers and current and potential employees. By demonstrating that openness they will show they’ve not got a secret agenda and that Mark Zuckerberg is not a lizard.

4.Invest
The rise of Google and Facebook has hoovered up huge amounts of advertising spend, particularly affecting local and regional newspapers. Alongside the reports of cats stuck up trees, these provide a powerful method of supporting local democracy, holding elected councils to account. Investigating vested interests costs money, and national newspapers have also seen budgets slashed, despite the importance of exposing malfeasance. At the same time, Amazon has led an ecommerce boom that has decimated the high street, again hitting communities across the UK. While there’s no legal obligation to pay for these problems, it is time for tech giants to dip into their pockets. Google already funds some media initiatives and Facebook invests in local journalism, but they all need to go further if this is to redress the balance. Paying a fair share of their tax bill would also help.

Clearly not every tech company is in the same position as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Uber, but the current ‘techlash’ threatens the entire industry. This isn’t just about perception or slowing user growth – share prices have fallen as nervous investors cash out, while many talented employees are looking elsewhere for their careers. 2019 promises to be a watershed year for tech’s public image – lucky that Facebook has got Nick Clegg on board to turn it all around……….

January 9, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why sales is the new opportunity for PR and communications

For many B2B industries the sales process used to be relatively straightforward. You made products customers wanted, and provided the price and quality were right, they bought them. Salespeople were involved across the process, giving ample opportunity for them to build relationships, explain benefits and overcome any doubts.

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This has now radically changed, with a much larger proportion of the process carried out by prospects themselves – without speaking to a salesperson. The combination of the internet and social media gives them access to a huge amount of information that they can use to refine their needs, and create a shortlist of potential products and vendors without the companies being involved at all.

Content, content, content
While this means that sales need to learn new skills, it also dramatically boosts the importance of content. If you don’t have the right content available, based on the keywords and topics that your potential customers are searching for, they won’t even find you. With the amount of competition out there, customers simply don’t have the time to check every potential supplier’s website to find out if they offer what they are looking for.

This applies to all sectors. For example, I’ve talked to lawyers who say clients have found them by searching for particular legal specialisms (e.g. “European rail infrastructure law”). So to get onto the shortlist, you need to be visible. And visibility isn’t just through company websites, it is in the media, on Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, emails and marketing collateral.

What does this mean? Essentially you have to build a brand for yourself and/or your product. This has to be built on the right content, in the right places, giving a consistent message to your target markets.

For me, this is a tremendous opportunity for communications/public relations professionals. We have the skills to understand an audience, create a strategy and messages to reach them, and then execute it through relevant, well-written content. We just need to think beyond the old confines of media relations and we can position ourselves at the heart of the sales process that drives modern businesses. This means breaking down the old barriers between earned and paid media by using whichever is best for the job in hand.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on whether we should switch from calling ourselves public relations professionals and rebrand ourselves as communications professionals. It became part of a wider debate, with some people agreeing and others feeling it lost the strategic element of what we do, pigeonholing us as messengers. Given the business opening that content provides now is the time to seize the opportunity and expand what you do – whatever you call yourself.

 

October 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brewdog, PR and smelling a rat

As the Oscar Wilde quote goes, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Plenty of brands and celebrities have adopted this mantra when it comes to communications, reasoning that people will remember their name, even when the story is forgotten. Bookmaker Paddy Power is one that comes to mind, with stunts ranging from sending a Mexican Mariachi band to welcome Donald Trump to Scotland to setting up an amnesty box for medals outside the Russian Embassy in London at the time of the state-sponsored doping revelations.

Brewdog is another brand that aims to cultivate an edgy image to great success. It has positioned the brewer at the front of the craft beer movement and attracted legions of fans. So last week’s PR debacle around its partnership with US brewer Scofflaw should be viewed through the lens of Oscar Wilde’s words.

photo of glass overflowing with beer

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The basic facts are that Brewdog has a partnership with Scofflaw, contract brewing its beers in the UK. To promote this it was running a series of events in its pubs. So far, so straightforward. Journalists then received an emailed press release from Scofflaw’s PR agency Frank, announcing the events and offering free beer to those that went along. But, it added: “But there is a hook…you have to be a Trump supporter.”

Cue Twitter meltdown and fast action from Brewdog, cancelling the events, promising to send the beer back and launching an alternative free beer promotion. Given its noted anti-Trump stance that wasn’t surprising, but gained it plenty of coverage (more than a free beer event would have done). The plot then thickens – Scofflaw denied signing off the press release, blaming Frank, who in turn apologised and blamed a ‘rogue element’ in its team. A staff member has been suspended, allegedly for sending out an unapproved release.

When I first read the story I’d assumed that the offending communication had gone out on social media, and was just a throw away line by someone that wasn’t thinking, and automatically conflated Scofflaw’s redneck roots with Trump support. But to find out that it was a press release, from a big agency such as Frank which must have clear processes in place to manage approvals makes me suspicious. In my mind that leaves three potential causes of the shenanigans:

  1. Frank doesn’t have any control over what its staff is doing. This seems unlikely given it has been operating since 2000, and has large corporate clients from Investec to Ribena (and, interestingly, Paddy Power).
  2. Scofflaw signed the release off and then retracted when it realised the issue it had created. Again, this seems unlikely as it has a close partnership with Brewdog and must have known the company’s views on Trump. It would also be an issue logistically – given it is in Atlanta the storm broke in the middle of the night US time, ensuring it was out of the loop to immediately respond.
  3. It was a stunt that benefits both Brewdog and Scofflaw. They get to show their liberal credentials and receive significantly more interest and publicity than they would otherwise do. The only company that seems to lose out is Frank (and the unfortunate staff member), as it gets a reputation as unprofessional. Though if that was the case I’m sure it will have had a quiet word with clients to calm any concerns and can chalk up the whole project as a success.

Time will tell whether this was a cock-up or a concocted PR stunt. What it does show for all agencies is the basic importance of having an audit trail around sign-off of materials. We’ve all been in the position where a client tells us over the phone “I’m sure that release/case study/campaign creative is fine, just send it out.” As the Scofflaw case shows, you need to get approval in writing – even if it scrawled on the back of a beer mat.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for PR to change its name?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain exactly what public relations is (and what it isn’t) to generally well-informed and otherwise clued-up friends, relatives and people at events. No, it isn’t just Absolutely Fabulous, Max Clifford-style celebrity scoops in the tabloids or undercover lobbying on behalf of big business. Instead it should be a core business function – a way of getting your messages out to the right audiences, through the right channels and at the right time, with the aim of engaging people, managing reputation and achieving business goals.

That’s why the CIPR’s new #PRPays campaign is a welcome step in the right direction. It aims to demonstrate the strategic value of PR to organisations through interviews with senior managers at some of the UK’s biggest companies. The first video, with John Holland-Kaye, the CEO of Heathrow Airport is great. It shows that he sees and understands what PR brings to his business in multiple areas, from communicating change to supporting expansion.

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However, there is a big ‘but’ coming. Holland-Kaye keeps talking about communications in its widest form, from talking to passengers and other stakeholders to getting key messages across to employees and politicians. This got me thinking – why are we even talking about PR at all? At best it is a loaded term (see examples in the first paragraph), and at worst it puts a barrier up between the industry and the people we are trying to talk to. Why don’t we simply replace Public Relations with Communications? I can see four good reasons why we should:

1          It is simpler
Everyone communicates – it is one of the key human characteristics. So, people understand what the term means and the skills that it involves. Yes, that could be said to remove mystique (and as the saying goes, where there is mystery, there is margin), but to be honest the barriers to entry in PR are low to non-existent anyway. All you need is a phone, a laptop and an internet connection, and despite the admirable efforts of the CIPR to professionalise PR, that is unlikely to change soon.

2          It is comprehensive
“No, I don’t do that – that’s internal communications/public affairs/social media (delete as applicable).” That’s been the response of many PRs when clients ask for something that it outside their skillset. But rebranding PR as communications gives us the legitimate right to extend what we do into these neighbouring fields, at both a strategic and tactical level. The basic idea of understanding a company’s aims, and then creating and communicating messages that will successfully deliver these objectives is common to many areas of business – as communicators we should be applying our skills to help organisations in all of them.

 3          It is clearer to business
John Holland-Kaye’s interchangeable use of PR and communications shows exactly the issue that the profession has. Even those that champion what we do are a bit vague about exactly what the borders of our work are. Therefore, if we want to be seen as a strategic imperative for businesses, it makes sense to be clear in our own messaging and language. Talk about communications, and business leaders will see the value, helping the profession to be seen as a key part of successful organisations and ultimately boosting status and budgets.

4          It gives us room to grow
The rise of the internet has clearly transformed communications and given rise to wholly new disciplines such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and social media. Agencies mushroomed to take advantage of the budgets that clients were looking to spend in these areas. Lots of PR companies missed out, either because they didn’t see the opportunity or didn’t understand the technology. Communicating is now more important than ever – and at the same time no-one knows what the future will bring. Will brands need to convince the likes of Amazon or Google to feature their stories on voice assistants? How will AI transform how organisations communicate with their publics? No-one really knows, but if PR acts now and widens its scope, it will at least have a fighting chance of being at the forefront of future changes, rather than looking back in 20 years time to find it has been marginalised.

As I said, I applaud the CIPR’s efforts to demonstrate the strategic value that public relations brings. But I think the whole profession needs to go further – we’re communicators, so let’s be upfront and adopt a name that reflects what we do and gives us room to expand in the future. From now on, I’m not a public relations consultant, I’m a communications consultant.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Taking a stand – and the risks to brand reputation

Brands today face significant challenges when it comes to marketing themselves. Competition is growing, particularly from smaller, nimbler and often cooler players. We also live in an increasingly polarised world, where consumers demand that the brands they engage with stand for something. That’s relatively easy for quirky startups – the trouble for established multinationals is that ‘something’ varies radically between different groups and cuts across their existing customer demographics.

The current debate over Nike’s latest marketing campaign demonstrates this perfectly. It has recruited American footballer Colin Kaepernick to narrate its new ad, which features athletes from a range of backgrounds who have overcome adversity to achieve success. The slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, sums up Kaepernick’s role as leader of the movement to kneel during the US national anthem to protest against police violence.

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Burning rubber
Predictably, the campaign has drawn ire from both sides. Photos and videos of people burning their Nike shoes and clothes went viral on social media, and the Nike stock price initially dropped. Donald Trump complained on Twitter. The body responsible for buying uniforms for the Mississippi police force announced that it would now longer purchase Nike products. At the same time, commentators have complained that Nike is simply hijacking a key issue to essentially sell more trainers. And given their previous poor record on issues such as ethical sourcing, child labour and more recently complaints of a culture of sexual harassment, people may well have a point.

Nevertheless, Nike clearly feels that its core buyers are going to respond positively to its position. In a similar vein, the CEO of Levi’s announced a partnership with gun violence prevention groups, causing the National Rifle Association to complain about “corporate virtue-signalling.” On this side of the Atlantic, Lush had to drop a campaign focused on undercover police who infiltrated activist groups to spy on their members.

So how can brands make sure that taking a stand doesn’t alienate the people they want to appeal to? Essentially it comes down to answering four key questions:

1.Does it fit with your brand values?
One of the reasons Lush received so many complaints was that its campaign didn’t fit with its brand values. Yes, it was seen as alternative and studenty, but being seen to attack the police was a step too far. Companies need to live their brand values – but not over-extend them in pursuit of cheap headlines, as it will damage their reputation.

2. Does it fit with your target audience?
For Nike, its core audience is overwhelming young, urban and involved. Therefore, while it might lose some sales (will Donald Trump switch to Yeezys?), they are clearly confident that the positive impact outweighs the negative. In the same way, UK stationery chain Paperchase pulled promotions from the Daily Mail after its customers complained about the difference between the paper’s editorial stance and their own views. So start with demographics and listening to your customers – after all, there’s a world of social media to help you hear their voice.

3. Are you seen as genuine?
For me, this is where Nike falls down, though it isn’t as bad as Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner advert. I simply can’t see them as genuinely believing in the issues raised – and their own record on worker’s rights undermines their case for promoting fairness. Obviously this is an issue for any major corporation as most have skeletons in their closet of some sort. However, in contrast, Levi’s campaign on gun control looks much more genuine as their CEO is an ex-US army captain who has spoken out on the issue before.

4. Is it cohesive?
If you take a stand, it has to run across your business. You can’t complain about police brutality and then treat your own employees poorly, for example. That’s one of the reasons that tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon are currently in trouble. They talk about an innovative future based on technology and openness, and then create labyrinthine corporate structures to minimise the tax they pay and (in the case of Amazon) face accusations of sweatshop conditions for their warehouse staff. In today’s world failing to live your brand will be quickly discovered and publicised.

We’re in a position where more and more brands are being forced to make a choice – Trump or Democrat, Leave or Remain

? To do this successfully is a balancing act – but starting from genuine brand values built on trust with your audience is a key starting point.

 

September 19, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why you need to add emotion to your marketing

As research by the likes of Daniel Kahneman shows, humans are generally not rational. That means they’ll respond and engage more strongly on an emotional level than to plain facts.

Consequently, when it comes to marketing, emotional campaigns have greater resonance and are more profitable. Of course, that’s when they work properly – the fiasco around Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad shows what happens when consumers feel you are hijacking their emotions.

So how can you ensure your campaigns are emotional, but not alienating? At this week’s Cambridge Marketing Meetup Sarah Reakes and Dr Matt Higgs from Kiss Communications gave some useful hints.

Maslow

A good start is to map emotions onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and use this to understand which emotions work best for your brand or market. Perhaps unsurprisingly research by Kiss found that the ads that have won awards at the Cannes Lions festival since the financial crisis began were predominantly rooted in emotions such as safety and sense of belonging. In times of uncertainty safety and social needs are clearly at the forefront of everyone’s emotional requirements.

As Kiss’ presentation showed, ensuring you channel emotion successfully in your campaigns is about following a process, and I’d argue general good marketing practice. Look at your product or service through a benefit ladder with four rungs. From the bottom these are:

  • Product features
  • Product benefits
  • Emotional benefits
  • Purpose

Marketers know that simply talking about features is not going to appeal to most buyers and that you need to go up the ladder. But what is key is to add those emotional benefits – how does using your product make people feel, what deeper needs does it fulfil? This applies to both B2B and B2C marketing. For example, does your software free up people’s time so they can go home at 6pm and spend more time with their family, rather than have to stay late to wait for the computer to finish processing transactions? If it does, get that across in your marketing campaigns.

The key is to then tap into the emotional purpose of your product or company the Why? you do what you do. You can get this by talking to customers or analysing their data for trends to move yourself up the benefits ladder. In more and more competitive markets, simply competing on features leaves you open to quickly being undercut – to differentiate you need to embrace emotion across your marketing.

July 26, 2018 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brand safety in the age of Trump

Marketers are all aware of the impact of social media on brand reputation. Issues can quickly go viral as consumers share complaints on Facebook and Twitter – and with the press continually monitoring for social stories, before you know it you are on the BBC News or the front page of a newspaper website.

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However, what has changed in the last twelve months or so has been the impact of celebrities, including Donald Trump, on brand safety. A tweet from the US President complaining about a company can damage reputation, and even survival. Take the case of Chinese telecoms equipment maker ZTE. Convicted of breaching US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, the company first looked doomed to go out of business when it was banned from buying US components, and was then resurrected through a supportive tweet from Trump.

All a bit Thameslink
It isn’t just Trump – a tweet from author Eric Van Lustbader about food poisoning at a branch of US restaurant chain Chipotle (already reeling from an e.coli outbreak), caused its stock to fall. And in the UK, rail company Thameslink was threatened with legal action from Poundland for comparing its poor service to ‘Poundland cooking chocolate’. The retailer added that it if it ever fell short on customer service, they’d describe themselves as ‘a bit Thameslink’.

What the Poundland experience shows is that brands are now fighting back against what they see as unfair attacks. Nowhere was this more visible than in the Roseanne Barr case, where the TV star blamed sleeping pill Ambien for her racist tweets. Cue its maker Sanofi to respond (brilliantly) “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Whereas in the past they may have ignored social media mentions or only responded weeks later, brands are now wising up to the protecting their online reputation. However, I think they need to balance speed with the following three factors:

1.Be polite and engaging
It would have been very easy for multibillion dollar drug company Sanofi to respond to Roseanne with a dry legal statement or to launch an attack of its own. Instead, it balanced politeness with cutting wit, simultaneously undermining her point and demonstrating its good corporate citizenship.

2.Don’t get personal
When a celebrity, particularly one with millions of followers, tweets about you it is easy for things to descend into a personal slanging match that actually further damages your brand. Try and take the moral high ground, state the facts and think before you tweet. After all, there are likely to be brand advocates who will defend you aggressively, letting you focus on your key messages.

3.Take a joke
Brand safety isn’t about jumping on every negative, throwaway mention of your company and overreacting/threatening legal action. Decide what is important, what can be handled by a simple denial, and where it makes more sense for your brand to play along and show that you have a sense of humour.

The past few weeks have shown that marketers are now taking positive steps to protect brand reputation online – they clearly have the monitoring systems in place to intervene early, but they need to make sure they don’t become too corporate if they are to actually enhance their reputations rather than adding to online damage through ill-thought out responses.

June 6, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Cup marketing – is it worth it?

 

With the domestic football season nearly finished (though, as an Ipswich Town fan, it has felt over for a long time), attention is turning to the World Cup. While the hosts Russia don’t kick off the first match against Saudi Arabia until 14th June, brands are already launching their campaigns and trying to grab a piece of the action.

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Yet, they face some significant marketing challenges:

1. Location
Relations between Russia and the west are at a post-Cold War low, and there will be no high profile attendees from the UK government or royal family following the Salisbury poisoning. And, given the reputation of Russian hooligans (as seen at the last European Championships) and the vast distances involved in attending matches, only the most dedicated fans are likely to spend their cash to follow England.

2. Local colour
As several marketing gurus have pointed out, what makes a major sporting event like a World Cup is the local colour. This meant sponsors spent a great deal of time and effort linking themselves to Brazil for the Olympics/World Cup, adopting local imagery and using that to market their brands. Think shots of brands in front of palm trees, beaches or the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Given Russia’s reputation this is going to be more difficult – photos of your brand outside the Kremlin don’t have the same positive connotations. Therefore, most brands are going to focus on the football itself, which leaves them open to the vagaries of how teams actually play.

3. Competition
There are bewildering number of ways to become a sponsor involved in the World Cup. At the top end there are official FIFA partners (the likes of Visa, Hyundai, Coca-Cola and Gazprom), then World Cup sponsors and Regional partners. Each team has its own sponsors, and individual players have their own endorsements. Add in those brands that then try and sneak on board with ambush marketing, and the field looks very crowded indeed.

4. Picking the right horse
Given the costs involved it might therefore seem cost-effective to base your marketing around a particular player. But you have to be prepared if things go wrong – what happens if he fails to hit form, gets injured and doesn’t even play or is sent off? The perfect example of this was when Ireland captain Roy Keane was sent home from the 2002 World Cup after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, before a ball was even kicked. Pity the Irish sponsors that had based their whole campaigns around Keane………

5. Social media makes everyone an expert
We’re all aware of media fragmentation and that the days of following a World Cup solely on TV and through daily newspapers are long gone. The internet and social media now means that everyone can share their views and comment on not just the matches, but your marketing campaigns. In our hypersensitive age, expect people to pick faults in your approach, or even to complain about any involvement in a tournament held in Putin’s Russia. All it takes is a slip of the mouse or an unfortunate turn of phrase and you’ll be facing a potential boycott – particularly if the on-field action isn’t that exciting.

After all this it would be easy to ask why sponsors bother. But the World Cup is one of the largest global sporting events, attracting millions, if not billions, of viewers. Get it right, and you’ll link yourself to sporting success, meaning you’ll be loved and admired by your audience – but remember that, as pundits frequently say, football is a funny old game………

May 16, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asbury’s or Sainsda? Will the Sainsburys/Asda merger work?

The proposed merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda promises to shake up the grocery market in multiple ways. It will create a new leader in terms of market share and, the companies hope, give them the scale to tackle the rise of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

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Looking at it through a marketing lens, there are three things that stand out:

1          Slick PR (to start with)
This is a deal that has been discussed for several years apparently, and it shows in the careful messaging behind the announcement. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has pledged that there will be no job cuts or store closures and that the combined entity will lower prices by 10%. Clearly this is disingenuous on a number of levels – the Competitions and Markets Authority is likely to force some stores to be sold, naturally reducing staff numbers, while any savings for consumers are likely to come from squeezing the combined supply chain of the new company. This will impact the profitability and potentially staff numbers at suppliers, who employ more people than Sainsbury’s/Asda itself. So there are likely to be job losses – just not at the company itself.

The main fly in the PR ointment has been a classic bit of spokesperson inattention. While waiting for a broadcast interview Mike Coupe was captured on camera singing “We’re in the Money”, from the musical 42nd Street. The overall impression (apart from that he should stick to the day job), was that the whole deal was about enriching management and shareholders, at the expense of customers and suppliers. Cue a hasty apology, but it has highlighted how there’s no such thing as off the record (or camera).

2          A complex brand balancing act
One of the attractions of the deal is that there isn’t that much crossover between the demographics of Sainsbury’s and Asda shoppers. That should mean that you won’t lose any customers, and if you can trim supplier costs you can generate large efficiencies. This is something highlighted by Sainsbury’s, which commissioned research that showed Asda customers value “fair prices” most and Sainsbury’s are attracted by “great fresh food.”

That’s all very well in theory, but achieving sufficient synergies while keeping things separate enough in practice could be more difficult. While other organisations (banking groups, airlines and consumer goods holding companies) manage multiple brands, somehow a supermarket feels different. People have a strong relationship with their supermarket of choice, probably because of the basic importance of food to their lives, so anything that is seen as weakening brand values is likely to upset consumers.

3          The competition won’t stand still
While Sainsbury’s wants the merger to happen quickly, something this large will need regulatory approval and will take time. And while both Sainsbury’s and Asda will no doubt stress that it is business as usual in the meantime, it will take up a lot of management time. Rival grocers will no doubt aim to take advantage of this, particularly as they know about the two marketing pillars (fair prices and fresh food) that the two brands will embrace going forward. Companies such as Lidl, Aldi and Tesco are already aiming to push both messages, now they’ve seen the potential Sainsbury’s strategy they’ll be redoubling their efforts to attract customers away from the merged organisation.

Due to its sheer scale in years to come the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger is likely to make it into marketing and business textbooks. The big question is whether it will be lauded as a well-executed and well-branded master stroke or listed with flops such as Bunnings takeover of Homebase? Initial marketing has been positive and pretty assured, but there’s a long way to go yet.

 

May 2, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment