“Such events provided opportunities for pouring innovative Bombay Sapphire cocktails,” recalls Daddi, who adds that the brand has posted a 20 percent increase in case sales since 1997.
Other marketers in the spirits industry have embraced grass-roots programs to create a buzz for their brands. In recent years, Diageo PLC and Allied Domecq PLC have introduced super-premium products using events in taverns. An inspiration was the legendary success of Sidney Frank Importing Co. in the 1990s, which made the German liqueur Jagermeister a favorite of college students. Some of the reported stunts included young women visiting bars and using spray guns to shoot the liqueur into the mouths of young men.
Today, many marketing experts believe that momentum for PR is growing because of the times we live in. The sour economy and empowered consumers have combined to form a receptive environment to boost brands in creative new ways.
“PR takes on a whole new relevance in tough economic times likes these,” says Sally Hodge of Hodge Communications. “Obviously, it costs a fraction of the [total] cost to launch a PR campaign than it does to launch a major ad campaign.”
Information overload in the form of too many ad messages and entertainment options makes it difficult to capture consumer attention, according to Daddi of Magnet. Since PR can deliver brand messages primarily in editorial content, which consumers readily and willingly access, this form of brand building is considered to be effective and efficient.
“If a consumer chooses to access editorial, it is by definition relevant to them,” Daddi says. “Therefore, the brand message contained within that content will be relevant to them as well. It will also be viewed as having integrity because of the independent nature of the brand platform or promise.
“Consumers are looking to reaffirm their personal identity through the content they choose to access,” he goes on to say. “PR can effectively influence that content to deliver brand messages, and that is why PR will continue to benefit when it comes to building brands.”
Marketing executives agree that third-party endorsement is the most important component of a PR campaign. It’s what gives PR an edge over advertising.
“That’s why you believe the theater or restaurant reviews more than the ad by theater or the motion picture company,” says Jerry Schwartz, president of G.S. Schwartz & Company in New York.
“Today’s consumer is far more sophisticated and even more skeptical of advertising messages,” says Lonsdorf. “Smart branding pros have realized that many of the disciplines of PR can break through that wall of skepticism. PR builds third-party credibility and can ignite grass roots word-of-mouth endorsement -- always the best form of publicity, but even more effective in today’s Internet environment.”
Schwartz agrees. “PR uses third-party endorsements where other people are talking about you. In advertising, you’re talking about yourself.”
As much as they recognize that PR is now in the spotlight, its proponents are quick to acknowledge the contribution of advertising. While an increase in PR budgets may sometimes come at the expanse of ads, the latter remains key to branding.
“It’s not as simple as cutting ads to fund PR campaigns,” explains Landorf. “Advertising is still the quickest and most effective way to tell a brand story to a large audience. But it is just not enough. Sharp branding people are looking toward integrated branding messaging through a number of channels, segmenting audiences and delivering very targeted messages that speak to the very personal, individual needs of consumers. That is the kind of thinking we delivered on a large national scale for JVC consumer electronics products, and on a very narrow scale for Leica cameras -- a super premium brand.”
Regardless of the size of the PR budget, the future is bright. Part of the reason for optimism relies on the nature of the discipline itself. Part also hinges on advancing technology with its ability to connect with consumers one to one.
“I see PR being utilized more strategically and for more than just product publicity as marketers and their clients increasingly value PR’s ‘believability’ factor,” says Hodge.
Wreden, the author, puts stock in the emerging “opt-in-society” where email and Caller ID play more important roles. “How do you market in an opt-in world?” he asks.
“Marketing to date has been focused on acquisition. In an opt-in world, retention obviously becomes much more important. And PR is much more vital to retention than advertising.”
For Schwartz, the interactivity of the Internet combining TV and the PC on a wireless platform will change everything. “It will probably take another generation of consumers for the transition to take place,” he predicts.
High-tech PR will be ready when they are.