Anatomy Of A PR Campaign

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The message is determined by analyzing the brand being marketed, and doing

so with clear vision and self-knowledge. Too many marketing executives rely

on their own concept of the brand’s identity, and never bother to discover what

attributes the public has assigned to a product. Just because you’ve decided

that you want to project a certain image doesn’t mean that’s the image you’re

projecting. Extremely high-profile marketing campaigns have failed because

not enough market research and communication with the consuming public

were done.

For example:

When AT&T Wireless decided to consolidate its wireless phone, pager, and

Internet technology into something called mlife, it gave the public examples of

what the company meant. Unfortunately, the public still doesn’t understand,

and has no idea what the m stands for (it is messaging).

United Airlines has long invited the public to “fly the friendly skies of United.”

The public has noticed that the experience on the plane is not terribly friendly,

and is now distrustful of all airlines’ claims.

The criteria for effective public relations messages should be: (1) is it true? (2)

Is it unusual? (3) Is it interesting?

On the other hand, if a company already exists in the marketplace, a new

message will have to be identified. For retail companies, the addition of a new

product category or a price reduction are always effective messages.

Sales promotions, particularly very public or extremely unusual ones, make

good messages. Anything out of the ordinary being done by the company in

the name of public service or community aid is a legitimate message.

In order for the message to be even rudimentarily effective, it absolutely must

be true. Remember, the message is being disseminated by the legitimate news

media; a false message will be discovered and exposed, and win immediately

brand the company negatively. It will do more damage than having no message

at all, and such situations must be avoided at all costs.

Unique messages are going to be more noticeable and more attractive to the

gatekeepers who determine which stories are told and which are not. So an

unusual message–something a company is doing that no one else has

considered or been creative enough to conceive-will be considerably more

successful than one that seems tired or old simply because it has been seen


It goes without saying that the message must be interesting. If it is unique,

unusual, and true, but without any interest to the general public, the message

being delivered will most likely never find the light of day. If it does, it will

undoubtedly be ignored, or worse, ridiculed. Many companies make the

mistake of assuming that if a message seems unusual and interesting to them,

it will be those things for the general consuming public. People in business

tend to find their business fascinating; it is the thing they spend most of their

time thinking about, so they are more knowledgeable about and concerned

with their business than any casual observer or consumer would be. That is

only natural and proper. But it is far too easy to make the miscalculation that a

message that might be fascinating to an industry insider-for example, “Ours is

the only paper bag made with 100 percent maple fibers”-will also be of interest

to a casual user of the product. In almost every case, that assumption will be

proven untrue.

So, commununication with the consuming public is an essential component to

any successful Branding venture. Discovering from the public what its true

feelings are about the brand identity being contemplated, as well as any

changes being discussed concerning an existing brand identity, can help a wise

marketer avoid miscalculations that can prove disastrously costly and possibly

fatal to the brand, the product, or the company.

This is not to imply that the public must be allowed to dictate all Branding

decisions, however. What’s more important is for anyone involved in Branding

to have a clear-eyed view of their brand identity. Wal-Mart remains a wildly

successful brand by not trying to be Tiffany’s. McDonald’s, although it has

slipped precipitously as a trusted brand in recent years, still has the good

sense not to hire Wolfgang Puck to rethink its hamburger recipe.

When a Branding professional loses sight of the original mission-that is, the

brand identity-and tries to be all things to all people, the results are almost

always calamitous. The archetypal example of New Coke works as a warning

about so many different Branding errors that it seems clichéd to mention it, but

consider: The fundamental miscalculation being made was the level of loyalty

the average Coca-Cola drinker had for what was, and remains, unquestionably

the most well-known, best-loved brand identity on this planet. To think it was

a good idea to remove this beloved product-in favor of a formula that

emulated the competition and was bound to alienate Coca-Cola loyalists who

had stuck with the brand, in some cases, for decades-is astonishing.


Public relations can operate effectively only when a clear, realistic brand

identity has been conceived. Certainly, PR, professionals can be part of the

team that establishes that identity, but it must be, above all else, a true

identity. That means it must have specific attributes, specific philosophical

tenets, and, most important, a few basic promises made to the consumer that

will never, ever be broken.

These promises, which should be written down in the simplest language

possible and distributed on a regular basis to every employee of the company,

are a covenant made with the public. They define the brand identity; they

provide reasons to patronize the brand; and they offer, at the most basic level,

differentiation from all competing brands. They are never to be taken lightly by

any employee, and under no circumstances are they ever to be broken for any


If your business is a store that sells items that cost $1 apiece, you must never

charge $1.05 for anything. If your restaurant prides itself on cleanliness, the

rest rooms have to be absolutely spotless anytime anyone walks in. If your

promise is that every customer will be served within 30 seconds of entering,

you’d better have a stopwatch on every employee’s wrist and be sure it’s

operating accurately.

The promises your business makes are the central core of that business. If

you’ve promised to provide the longest hot dogs in town, and you provide

them, no reasonable person is going to complain that you don’t have the best

crêpes suzettes as well-unless you’ve promised that too.

It’s extremely important that the promises you make flow from your brand

identity. Understand what you are to the public and what is expected of you,

and you can make bold but realistic promises. Try to provide every solution to

every problem, and you win end up providing nothing that is the least bit


Consider, for example, the Disney brand. Here is a company whose name and

logo are recognized in every country on the planet, whose message is received

and understood everywhere from Beverly Hills to Beirut. It was once estimated

that Mickey Mouse was the most recognized figure anywhere on Earth, more

than the president of the United States, more than Tom Cruise, actually more

than Santa Claus (who is famous in only about one-third of the world’s


On the surface, Disney might appear to offer all things to all people. Besides

its movies and television programs under the Walt Disney name, it also

produces entertainment under the Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures

banners. Disney has a network television show on a network it owns (ABC), and

also provides programming on cable TV via the Disney Channel and ABC

Family. The company owns theme parks in California, Florida, Japan, and

France. It also owns ESPN, publishing companies, video distribution companies,

real estate, and retail stores. Disney logos appear on merchandise ranging

from souvenir Mickey Mouse ears to fashions created by respected designers,

electronics, calendars, furniture, musical instruments, sound recordings, and

timepieces. Disney produces Broadway shows. It even owns a town in Florida.

But no matter how widely it casts its net, Disney always promises its

customers the same things: high quality, fanatical customer service, and a

dedication to the family. It might produce some R-rated movies under its

Touchstone, Miramax, or Hollywood Pictures umbrella, but never with the

Disney name. It will provide scary thrill rides in its theme parks, but you’d

better believe the streets in that park will be clean and the “cast members” who

work there will find a way to solve virtually any problem a guest might have

during the stay. Guests at Walt Disney World are never told, “We can’t do that”;

they are always given at least an alternative solution. Maybe the ABC network

will broadcast NYPD Blue, which offers controversial language and partial

nudity, but the Disney Channel won’t ever consider such a thing. If Disney

produces a show on Broadway, you can rest assured that children will be

admitted and the content will not offend their parents.

Disney has become the tremendous conglomerate it is today by making

promises to its consumers and keeping them consistently since the company’s

inception. Anything that bears the Disney name has a special trust, a covenant

with the consumer, and Disney lives up to that covenant every single time.

It’s easy to ridicule the seemingly fanatical insistence Disney has on referring

to its employees as cast members, in considering the consequences of every

word spoken on every program its networks air, in not allowing its male

employees to grow beards, or in its sanitized image that seems unrealistic in

modern society. But it would be foolish to attack the surface of the Disney

brand and overlook the unprecedented success it has enjoyed for a number of

decades. The company continues to grow, but never for a moment does it take

its covenant,the promises it makes to its audience for granted.

Go to the Disney Web site at and you’ll see the company’s

dedication to its core philosophy at work with every click. Want to discuss a

vacation at Walt Disney World in Florida? You can book your vacation, including

airfare, car rental, hotel, and theme park tickets, through Disney online. If you

need personal assistance, phone numbers are always available. News about

upcoming movies from the Disney studios can be found, including coming

attractions trailers. Games are available for children and adults. Want to buy

some Disney merchandise? The Disney Store has an online catalog. There is

always the option of speaking to a Disney representative with any question or

concern you might have. And the Disney Web site is careful not to provide links

to ABC, Touchstone, or Miramax, because those companies deal in material

that, although affiliated with the parent company, does not conform to the

Disney brand. They are separate brands and are treated separately. They have

their own Web sites.

While the philosophy is not directly presented to the consumer in words, it is

not in the least difficult to discern or understand. Disney will provide you with

high-quality, attentive customer service and a dedication to family. It’s there

on the Web site, in the theme parks, and in the entertainment provided by the

company under its own name. Under no circumstances does the Disney

Company ever renege on those promises, and it holds firm to them in every

aspect of its branded business.

On those occasions when there is even the suggestion of a break with the

covenant, Disney works swiftly to correct the situation. When some video

copies of its animated film The Little Mermaid were rumored to have an off-

color visual joke in three frames (1/8 of a second), the company made sure the

rumors were dispelled, and the offending three frames, although they really

didn’t contain what the rumors said they did, were cut from subsequent copies.

Disney takes its covenant very seriously.


Everything impacts on Branding–the smell of the bathroom, the signs in the

window, the product being sold in the store, the things people say. One of the

most powerful things that impacts all people’s perceptions is what they read,

see, or hear about in the media, because it carries with it the imprimatur of the

media outlet.

To illustrate: If a garage band pays to produce its own CD and sends out fliers

to every record store in the country saying the album is a breakthrough

collection, it won’t carry a fraction of the impact that same CD win have if

someone on MTV uses the exact same words, because now the brand of the

garage band has been enhanced with the brand MTV.

The old saying, “There is no such thing as bad publicity” is absolutely

incorrect, however. Having a brand’s name mentioned in the media is a very

strong influencer, and it can cut both ways. Should a media outlet say

something negative about a brand-even if the information is proven to be

totally inaccurate-the negative repercussions on the brand identity can be

devastating. It can take a lot of damage control, in the form of advertisement,

retractions from media outlets, and strong statements from the brand itself, to

undo one misplaced comment from a credible media outlet. Sometimes the

damage can’t be controlled or undone.

When public relations is done properly, an item of information is disseminated

to media gatekeepers, who then decide to report the information either directly

or indirectly. Reportage is done, research is accumulated, interviews are

performed. Eventually the information item becomes a media report, and it is

at that moment that the public relations professional can no longer control it

entirely. Media outlets-particularly the most desirable, most credible ones-

operate autonomously, reporting the information they deem necessary or

interesting and excluding all else. Time constraints, space limitations, and the

realities of economics play as prominent a role in the decision-making process

as the newsworthiness of the information being considered.

If a company is launching a new brand, the temptation will exist to try to

saturate the market with information on that brand. Often, when my company

is contacted about the creation of a new brand or a new product, the request

will be, “Get us as much exposure as you can.” That is absolutely the wrong

thing to request at that time, because it is not a strategic position.

Such a company should be requesting a strategic plan that is consistent with

their short-, middle-, and long-term goals. (Short-term is defined as 6

months, mid-term as 18 months, and long-term as 36 months.) It’s very

important to define those goals before seeking media exposure, because the

lack of a goal is the lack of a plan, and that will obliterate any hope of Branding

before it ever has the opportunity to begin.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there is a marvelous

moment in which Alice, trying to find her way through the maze that is

Wonderland, asks the Cheshire Cat for direction. The cat asks, quite logically,

where Alice’s destination might be, and she replies that she doesn’t care where

she ends up, but needs to know which road to take. Told that Alice doesn’t

care where she’s going, the Cat replies, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you


Companies that want to create brands but don’t know what their specific goals

are for the next 6, 18, or 36 months can’t possibly be expected to define their

brand identity or the proper kind of media coverage they need to best exploit

their brand’s possibilities.

A good percentage of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive; there’s no

accounting for what people might think. But the reality is that a Branding

campaign, fueled by public relations efforts, will fail miserably if it doesn’t have

specific, well-defined goals in place for various points in the future before it


How do the elite Branding experts determine their goals ahead of time and

pass that information on to public relations professionals? It helps to be first in

your field. Those companies that came to the marketplace before anyone else –

Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Kleenex, Coca-Cola, Disney, McDonald’s-had an

advantage before they generated their first media placement. Nobody was

ahead of them, and they knew precisely what they intended to do.

Keep in mind that most of those brands established themselves very early with

very little (in many cases, close to no) advertising budget to work with. They

managed to create an impression in the minds of consumers without spending

millions in magazines and newspapers or on radio or television (in those cases

when radio and television existed at the brand’s inception).

They did it almost exclusively with public relations. These companies had a

plan, a course of action, long before they had a brand name or a brand

identity. They projected the possible sales for their products and services and

had realistic goals for the coming six months, the coming year, the coming

three years. In many cases, those goals were far exceeded, due in large part to

the brilliant public relations campaigns that had been launched and executed

to establish and support the brand. Without those plans, goals, and

projections, there would have been no road map-and, as the Cheshire Cat

would say, there would be no point in choosing one road over another, since it

wouldn’t matter where you ended up anyway.

It is extremely important, then, to set realistic goals. In order to do that, the

smart Branding practitioner needs to have a clear-eyed view of his or her own

product and company. Only with that can a true brand identity be created, one

that will capture the imagination of the targeted consumer and differentiate the

new brand from whatever competition currently exists or will exist in the

future. Keep in mind that even those who were first ended up dealing with

competition. Kleenex may be the most famous brand of tissue available today,

but it is far from the only one on the market.

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