A few years ago, my friends Al Ries and Laura Ries wrote a bestseller on the rise of public relations (PR) and how advertising wouldn’t cut it anymore. They argue that advertising lacks credibility and is no longer effective as a brand-building tactic.
The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR is packed with real-world examples and thought-provoking ideas. According to Al and Laura, business owners and their brand heads need to deploy a PR strategy and leverage the inherent newsworthiness of new products and services to be successful.
If you are not able to find news value in your new brand, you should either dig deeper or reconsider whether the customer needs the product.
Not here for art
Advertising has lost its functional value as a marketing tool and is now largely an art form. Just look at the TV commercials that aired during the just-concluded IPL season.
The quality, too, has come down. We had had some funny ads in the past when someone fished with glue instead of a hook. Remember that girl dancing with gay abandon on a cricket field for a chocolate brand? Great brand recall.
In industrial, or business-to-business (B2B), marketing, which most small and medium enterprises resort to, it is even worse.
You just cannot get away with a sleek TV ad featuring your industrial product. You need a strong selling proposition or customer-value proposition to make the sale.
Over the years, ad agencies have come to focus more on “creativity”, which entertains the audience, than the product. It is no longer about selling the client’s brand but about winning accolades.
This kind of advertising is referred to in the book as fishing without a hook: prospects pick up the bait but never get hooked on the brand.
PR, on the other hand, is more effective because it is "news", whereas advertising is generally regarded as propaganda. People are skeptical of ads and tend to tune them out
Big businesses, too, rely on PR to generate news and create a buzz that helps build their brand. Some have their media departments, while others hire PR agencies to keep the media informed.
The blurring of lines between news and PR has led to concerns about “paid news” or “paid information”.
Bang for buck
Al and Laura, however, are bang on target when they say spend your money where it matters.
When we see an ad, we think of it as nothing but tall claims and therefore, we take it with a pinch of salt. You cannot force your way into a customer’s mind. Advertising is intrusive and unwelcome. The more we bombard people, the more they resist unless it is FMCG.
By using PR first to build the brand and then shifting to media advertising as the brand matures, marketers can save a lot of money.
The traditional argument in favour of line extensions—it costs a lot to introduce a new brand—becomes moot.
Al and Laura also raise an interesting question—are PR people ready to accept the brand-building challenge?
Many PR professionals—and their associations—still see public relations as a discipline that focuses on issues, opinions and social trends. They see branding as something that the marketing department does.This, coupled with the fact that most ad agencies also have a PR outfit, is a reminder that advertising agencies are not going to concede their brand-image builder role easily.