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Big Business PR for Small Biz Budgets

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In my 15-year career in corporate communications, I have come across an interesting variety of clients and have had the pleasure (as well as displeasure) of reporting to superiors of many different shades. I do not profess to be a guru in corporate communications, but I have worn the many hats of communication—as a client, as a service provider, and as a journalist. My experiences, I am told, do make for an interesting read every now and again. This particular write-up is about how our activities in public relations have worked to the advantage of our client, a leading international financial institution.

The agency had been servicing this financial institution for a few years now. Most, if not all, of the efforts at publicity were channeled into stories about the many consumer promotions mounted. It is to be noted at this point that at the same time PR was mobilized, client was also mounting above-the-line (ATL) as well as CRM activities. Let’s put these practices—Advertising, Customer Relations, and PR—in perspective, for purposes of this case study.

Advertising is used by This Client to Increase Awareness for its Many Promotions. And there were many promotions. In a 12-month period, there were at least 10 promotions mounted for its wide range of products. Prizes were given away to lucky online transactors, to existing and new-to-bank credit card holders, to new home loan applications and to wealth management customers, not to mention tie-up promos with merchants and partners. Their ads, typically in full or half-page sizes are always in full-color and could even be found in 2 to 3 different pages on the same day in the same daily.

On-ground client also mounted road shows at different malls and other locations with high incidence of pedestrian traffic. At the same time, mailers were sent out to existing customers detailing the mechanics of the promotions.

In Michael Levine’s A Branded World, he said, “If advertising is the juggernaut of public attention, public relations is the stealth bomber. PR generates publicity for the brand, helps solidify the public’s opinion of the brand, and defines the brand—all without being perceived by the public.”

Using PR to announce the launch of the promos, provide an update of the promos, and announce the winners of the promos did nothing for the brand that advertising wasn’t already doing. What the ads were saying were what the press releases were saying. The releases, in the off chance that the newspaper section editors did pick it up, would only give it as much space as a news brief would allow. And they were few and far between.

What did this mean to building the brand? Nothing. What did these press releases mean to editors? Nothing, except that it was getting too tiresome for them to keep seeing our press releases saying the same thing (this was revealed in a dipstick survey done among the editors).

Public relations is not advertising. Public Relations is not just press releases. We in PR must be able to find the news in the story, package it properly, and get the right editors to take notice and exploit the information. PR must find ways to get the information out through indirect channels—in the news, if you will, where the public perceives information sourced from here as credible.

As such, at the same time a promotion was ongoing it should’ve exploited the information that led to the promotion’s conception. Perhaps R&D revealed that consumer spending is on the rise and that is worth taking advantage of, or that consumers are more interested in certain types of prizes over others thus providing an insight into consumer behavior and psychographics, and so forth. This information, when fed to the media could’ve given rise to more substantial and attention-grabbing stories. Subtly, especially when the information is attributed to the product and its values as well as features, all these work to the advantage of the brand. These kinds of stories help customers, both new and existing, identify with the brand and ultimately lead to patronage of the product.

Source: BLine Vol. 3 No. 1 2005 Issue

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