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Why PR agencies are more important today than ever

I started my career working on blue chip FMCG clients like Unilever, P&G, Cadbury’s etc.

They were (still are) highly respected marketers. Given that product innovation itself was rather limited lot of the time was spent on tweaks. Tweaking the packaging, tweaking the communication, tweaking the promotion etc.

The competitive set was also pretty well defined.

Any move by competition was met with aggressive tweaking. Usually of promotions, perhaps of packaging.

The point is less a comment on marketing than on the way it was done. It was like being in a ring and you knew your competitor.

Fast forward by about 15 years and look at a different industry. Computers.

Desktops were under threat by laptops and the battle between the two continued till suddenly smart phones and tablets arrived.

And now the competitive set is all muddled up, even TVs are competition.

This confusion is not limited just to the tech space.

Who’s Coke’s competitive set? It used to be just Pepsi. Now? There’s a host of drinks competing for the same throat.

Who’s CNN’s competitive set?

Certain categories of course continue to be fortunate and have few defined players operating in well defined spaces. But for the bulk of the players the competitive set is dynamic, ever changing and morphing.

But no matter what category you are in, a threat’s come in from a whole new angle.


Angry/irritated consumers with free access to media and limited moral/ethical governance feel free to lash out in public.

3 examples here :

Oprah and Hermes : Oprah went to the Hermes store in Paris after store closing hours. They declined her entry. She went ballistic in media and claimed it was because she was black! Details here.

Mike Daisey and Apple : Mike went to China met a few people and created a talk /stand up show claiming all sorts of negative practices on behalf of Apple which stirred up a huge storm in the media. Turns out he made up quite a bit of that stuff. Details here.

Gerber and Facebook : Less well known there was a Facebook viral status update claiming that Nestle was recalling all their products because there was glass found in one of the bottles, creating panic globally amongst young mothers. Turns out the problem was restricted to one small batch in France. Details here.

To this how many times have we seen tweets and Facebook status updates slamming brands based on ones own experience.

There are a few things going on here.

People have always been reluctant to pick up arguments or complain directly to the brand/outlet/company etc.

They are used to complaining to friends and neighbours.

Thanks to technology now their friends are all on-line so airing their complaints there reached more of their friends and if you are angry the wider you cast your anger the better you feel.

Brand responses cannot be tweaking any more. They need to do something.

Ignoring is not an option, because you don’t know whose tweet is going to become a headline tomorrow. Media is starved of news to report and the more dramatic the titbit they get the finer the garment they can stitch.

Consumer opinion and perception cannot be changed by running a campaign. That is a low credibility vehicle to deal with this kind of rage.

This needs a, seemingly, dispassionate approach to the problem. Hence the role of PR agencies.

They are the masters at ensuring emotions in the media can be defused, objectivity can be brought in and the right stories make their way.

In the past PR was synonymous with corporate PR. Talk about company achievements, ensure the CEO is shown in the best light etc.

Now that is not enough. Brand PR is a big opportunity and every brand manager should sign up an agency today, and not wait for a crisis to strike. That can be too late!!

  1. Ganapathy
    April 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Very relevant piece.

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