New campaign? Don’t let PR be the last one to the table.

Here’s a story that every PR practitioner working as part of an integrated team will be able to tell or have heard before.

A meeting is put in the diary. It’s a multi-agency loop team meeting, to talk about a new campaign. Everyone’s excited, something new to get our teeth stuck into, so much opportunity. But the meeting doesn’t go quite as planned. The client and the media agency have already met and agreed the channels, dividing up the budget, while the creative agency has had the brief for a few weeks and are already presenting back some initial concepts. Then come the dreaded words; “Can you PR that?”

Those are the words that no PR ever wants to hear. I mean don’t get me wrong – if it’s the John Lewis Christmas ad – then yes absolutely – that one sells itself. But if it’s a standard, tell them what you sell in a 30 second slot ad – the answer will most likely be no!

PR’s have fought against this ‘last one to the table’ role for as long as I can remember, and I guess as I build a new department in a new (old) agency, I’m asking ‘why does it have to be this way?’. Surely if you have an idea or a platform that a third party, whether that’s a journalist, an influencer or a stakeholder, finds interesting enough to talk about on your behalf (for free!) that’s got to be a better place to start with than simply with a line. However good that line is. And as the media landscape continues to change so rapidly with TV and print budgets ever decreasing, now’s the time to really start the ‘PR first’ revolution.

There have been some amazing campaigns over the years that can be used as inspiration, and to help marketeers, client side, understand the benefits of starting with a PR idea. One of my all-time favourites is still the Vaseline Prescribe The Nation Campaign from 2008. The campaign launched with a PR based social experiment on the Island of Kodiac in Alaska, where one resident was asked to trial the product and, if she liked it, prescribe it to anyone she felt would benefit from it. It then developed into a social, web, print, in-store, trade, sampling and TV campaign across the USA, mapping the prescriptions and resulting in the brand reclaiming its No.1 position in the category and a 38% increase in sales.

More recently, we can learn a lot from the brilliantly handled KFC chicken disaster (it was NOT a police issue). What started in February 2018 as a pure PR crisis comms event, was turned into a brilliant press ad filled with humility, humour and honesty. The ad, which appeared in just The Sun and The Metro on Friday 23 February, prompted more than 700 press articles and TV discussions, delivering a combined audience of 797 million around the world. A further 219 million social-media users were exposed to the branded “FCK” image, meaning that, within three months, the campaign had generated a total earned reach of more than one billion. All from a single press ad. But that press ad was grounded in PR thinking. It didn’t run in every publication. It wasn’t a full-scale media buy. It was a stunt. A PR stunt, pure and simple. Creatively and brilliantly executed, in an above the line space, but its success was born out of PR and word of mouth.

So, I guess when the team here at CreativeRace ask me what I believe in when it comes to PR, my answer is and always will be, get the PR’s in the room at the start of the campaign planning. Once you have the insight, apply PR thinking and work out from there. If your idea is good enough that someone will share it for you then it has to be a powerful place to start.

From now on…nobody puts PR in the corner!

About the author:

Rebecca Jones is the communications director at CreativeRace. She has 21 years of experience in communications; specialising in PR, social media and influencer relations, having worked on local and global campaigns for a wide range of brands from head and shoulders and Pantene to John West and Fiat 500.

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