At Think Shift, we advocate for starting any strategic marketing campaign with the right people around the table. In 2020, the case is clear for saving a permanent seat for public relations.
Many people may hesitate to invite PR out of a (relatively justifiable) worry that putting too much focus on the company’s image may jeopardize the creation of a truly compelling campaign. However, the truth is:
Early alignment between your marketing and PR teams can help avoid unforeseen hiccups and will ultimately lead to a stronger campaign overall.
In strategic development, the marketing team is often focused on a revenue-related goal, and for good reason: if you’re not hitting your numbers, you won’t be in marketing for long. Marketing is a highly public, visual industry. That’s the whole point. Consumers today are bombarded by advertisements and have a short attention span, so standing out isn’t just an option — it’s a requirement. In order to resonate, you need to make an impact, but a group focused solely on financials and impact can develop blinds spots. These blind spots are not always fatal, but in an era of instantaneous communication, they can be. And once the damage is done, the battle is over. It takes years to collectively regain trust with your customers, and still, there is no guarantee of them ever returning.
In public relations, image and public sentiment reign supreme. While the outcome is more difficult to measure than sales-based targets, in times of crisis, it becomes crystal clear just how much public equity a company has. PR is responsible for understanding the perspectives of all audiences who may encounter a campaign – whether they are in the target market or not. As a result, the PR team can default to what is safest in the name of protecting the company’s image — which is not always the best strategic decision to achieve marketing goals. A big watch-out is to make sure that PR is not watering down your marketing. The solution? Bring them in at the beginning.
To bring it home to ag, let’s look at Bud Light’s 2019 Superbowl ad. This commercial took a shot at Bud Light’s competitors for their use of high fructose corn syrup in the beer-making process. It was creative, humorous…and immediately drew the ire of U.S. corn growers, who went so far as to post videos of themselves pouring Bud Light down the drain.
While the intended audience of the campaign was likely “health-conscious” light beer drinkers (not a typo), farmers have been a core audience for Budweiser for decades. Was PR around the table when the decision was made to criticize corn syrup (and indirectly, the farmers who grow it) during the most highly televised annual event in the U.S.? While I can’t say for sure, I would be surprised; their knowledge of the farmer demographic would have flagged this ad as a risk right from ideation. One thing I can say with certainty is that PR was around the table during the clean-up.
In addition to helping your brand recover in times of crisis, your PR team provides perspective and insight into demographics not always top of mind among the marketing team. By making them part of strategy development from the get-go, you mitigate the chances of having a creative campaign watered down in the name of protecting the company’s image, and, more importantly, you decrease your risk of attracting unwanted, negative attention from a poorly thought-through campaign, as was the case for Bud Light.
It will always be easier to critique than to create, but a good PR team will not simply identify issues – they will come to the table with solutions that can help marketing meet its goals while protecting the company’s reputation.