Don’t get hung up on PR, get hung up on creating communities

We all know it’s a changing business world. The digitisation of business offers benefits and advantages we could hitherto have only dreamt about. Indeed one of the recurring themes of the Accelerate 2013 conference on business growth that we attended in Liverpool last week was that, big or small, companies need to ensure that they are ready for the changing business landscape and adapting to it. Ignoring it because you don’t understand it or can’t see how it can work for you will soon render your business as a dinosaur – and we all know what happened to them. Digital platforms must become an integral part of how your business engages with its markets and made to work for them – not be a crude bolt-on to them.

And along with that there needs to be a change in outlook to marketing. We are as guilty as everyone – we call ourselves a PR agency because it is a term people understand; but in doing so we focus solely on just one of the disciplines that we use (PR) and not what we are actually about, which is helping our clients engage with existing and potential customers and grow their businesses. How we do that, in a sense, is irrelevant.

People are fixated on the fact that online and mass media can help them reach the world. The reality, of course, is that most businesses don’t want or need to reach the world. They need to reach a carefully targeted community most likely to buy their products. You can still use online and PR to do this but it requires a mind shift from many clients to get it right. Don’t focus on the many, focus on the comparative few that can actually make a tangible difference to your bottom line. By adopting a surgical approach to social platforms, using data to target down to individual potential customers and ensuring that your media work is specific and relevant to these groups you will achieve far more than if you try and take on the world and simply get lost in the crowd.

We know it can work because we’ve done it for others. We think it’s an astute approach to marketing in 2013. Now, if we could only find a way of summing it up in a few words…


Dolce & Gabbana – will tax conviction affect the brand’s reputation?



The quips started coming almost as soon as the news broke that Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana had been sentenced to jail in Italy for one year and eight months each for tax evasion. Would their new collection feature blue and white stripes and people holding boards with numbers on?

More interestingly, perhaps, is whether the misdemeanours of Messrs D&G will have any material impact on their eponymous brand.

Conventional wisdom suggests that whilst bad publicity for young, new companies can provide a boost, this tends to be temporary and that for more established businesses the impact can be even more damaging. Brand equity can suffer long-term damage from sustained bad publicity but as the University of Pennsylvania reported there is a “sleeper effect” where consumers tend to retain an awareness of a product or company without necessarily retaining negative memories or attitudes once associated with it.

Herein also lies a possible benefit for D&G. Because the brand has always been bigger than the two individuals who created it, their personalities are far less invested in the brand than, say, Branson is to Virgin. A typical D&G customer is primarily concerned with the aspirational quality of the brand, the quality and design of the products and the exclusivity of ownership. Given that the crimes of the owners are financial and nothing more sordid than that, it is unlikely that any impact on the brand will be anything other than temporary.

However, for other businesses there is a lesson here to be learnt. Many businesses crave association with a celebrity and endorsement has become an ever-present part of brand marketing. But as with everything, brands need to be careful who they hook up with and put in place contingencies for a parting of the ways almost as soon as the relationship has begun.

Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture all ended their association with golfer Tiger Woods following his admission that he had been unfaithful to his wife. Coca-Cola ended its relationship with Wayne Rooney after his alleged infidelity and an incident where he swore into a television camera jarred with the company’s brand position.

The investment required to secure a face for your business demands careful thought and this means understanding your brand profile and finding a face that suites seamlessly with it. That’s why testing the market perception of celebrity options is sensible, not so much for asking why a celebrity may be suitable for the brand, but as importantly asking why not. Ask what the consumer’s perception of the celebrity is in the context of the product, but also what their general opinions of that person are. The rest, to an extent, is a game of chance and ensuring there is a swift get-out clause for the brand in the event of celebrity misdemeanour.

It’s impossible to accurately say whether there is any retrospective re-interpretation of a brand when its associated celebrity goes bad. However, it’s important from the start to highlight the risk areas and then to be in a position to take swift action in the event of a problem in order to guard against lasting collateral damage.