ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
July 30, 2012

PR’s Influence in the New Era of Values-Driven Brand Marketing


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What do the brands Chipotle, Chrysler and Nike have in common?

If you answered that these three brands are seeing strong growth in their sales, and consistently maintain top spots on the lists of the world’s most admired brands, you would be correct.

However, even more interesting to me as a marketer and a public relations professional, is the fact that each of these brands has recently won a top national or international award in an advertising competition for a campaign that was not led by advertising, but rather driven by a public relations insight and powered by traditional public relations techniques.

Yup, it’s true. As several bloggers in the communications industry have already noted, these brands, and dozens of others, are winning advertising campaign awards by embracing public relations practices and using our principles to drive deeper levels of engagement and connect more completely with consumers. An examination of some of these award-winning programs clearly shows that public relations ideas are serving as the foundation for best-in-class, 360-degree marketing campaigns.

What’s happening here? It’s simple really. These brands have evolved into a new era of marketing by adopting a values-driven approach. Simply put, values-driven marketing is based on the premise that brands can spark the emotional connection that leads to engagement by focusing on the values shared by both the brand and consumer.  

In his book, Marketing 3.0: From Products to Consumers to the Human Spirit (John Wiley, 2010), Philip Kotler predicted that traditional consumer-centered marketing efforts used heavily from the 1990s until 2010, which focused simply on satisfying consumer needs, would lose effectiveness as marketing budgets decreased and companies demanded that marketers do more with less. That came true in 2011 and 2012 as post-recession consumers emerged from this crisis carrying with them a new set of values such as compassion, integrity and friendliness, and began seeking out brands that connected with them as a “whole human,” touching their mind, heart and spirit.

The emergence of values-driven marketing is providing a great opportunity for the practice of public relations to showcase its strength, relevance and effectiveness in driving brand marketing. Public relations professionals have always been keen to understand the consumer mindset and demonstrate shared values through authentic, transparent means and valuable third-party endorsements. Public relations programs by design generate rich content and stories, and develop meaningful partnerships to engage with consumers and drive two-way conversations. In short, public relations has always been the discipline that helps brands “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

And now, with more and more brands embracing the principles of values-driven marketing, public relations ideas and practices are being used across marketing programs to a greater degree and with resounding effects.

Chipotle won the Grand Prix Award at the prestigious Cannes Lions Awards Competition in the category of Branded Content and Entertainment with its “Cultivate” campaign. The idea behind the campaign was to celebrate the people who were changing food culture and invite others with similar values to join the journey. The centerpiece was a short film that told the story of the state of the food industry through a farmer’s disappointment at selling out to the mass food production engine. After realizing his error, the farmer makes radical changes to go back to basics and provide for a more sustainable future for his family and his farm. At launch, there was no advertising or paid media behind this film. Instead, it was promoted through Chipolte’s social media channels and by driving earned media — read public relations here. Not only was the idea behind this campaign inspired by public relations theory, but the direct-to-consumer delivery was authentic and transparent — all hallmarks of a classic public relations approach.

Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” campaign won the advertising industry’s Grand Effie in 2012 because, according to one judge, this campaign gave “the brand its soul back” by showcasing a “depth of effectiveness.” That depth resulted from the Chrysler marketing team finding the sweet spot between its consumer’s values and the brand’s values — “the Will to Win” — and sparking an emotional connection that drove engagement and sales. The centerpiece of the campaign was a two-minute commercial made for the Super Bowl featuring Eminem driving through the streets of Detroit in a new Chrysler 200 and suggesting that Chrysler would bring its “Will to Win” back to Detroit and get back on top. The spot drove a “PR extravaganza” and Chrysler’s search and sales skyrocketed.

Similarly, Nike used classic public relations and a cause-related marketing approach to engage their consumers in the fight against Parkinson’s disease and encourage sales of the Nike Air Mag Sneaker. The campaign, which won a 2012 Special Judges Award in the American Advertising Federation’s Addy Awards program, was driven by a teaser video released on social outlets and supported by a media relations campaign. Almost no traditional advertising tactics were employed throughout this campaign, yet the program won a major honor in one of the nation’s largest advertising competitions.

As the new “post-recession” consumers continue to flex their muscles, and Kotler’s predictions about the constraints on marketing continue to come true, the need for public relations practitioners to express their values-driven ideas and support programs with public relations approaches will be required more than ever before. The values concept has always been at the core of what we do, but there is a consistent need for us to help our marketing team partners understand how to think like public relations people and drive that vital engagement between brands and consumers.

As we do so, we will ensure that when those advertising awards are handed out next year, public relations’ influence and contribution will be recognized by more than just a few industry bloggers.

Grace Leong, APR, is the managing partner of Hunter Public Relations, a leading marketing communications firm based in New York City. She has 23 years of experience creating and implementing award-winning marketing communication plans that engage consumers, deliver sales results and drive brand equity. Her clients include Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Johnson & Johnson, and Hasbro.

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