How to make your advertising and promotional campaigns work harder

The ongoing disruption of traditional media continues to wreak havoc on the marketing industry.

The reach of traditional media has diminished in the wake of the ongoing explosion of online channels and with it, the emergence of literally millions of professional and amateur micro-publishers, thus splintering people’s attention into a thousand different directions.

At the same time, consumers have increasingly taken to avoiding advertising with gusto, employing digital ad blockers and/or recording TV shows and movies via PVR and skipping through the commercials.  Apparently we’re 475 times more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad!

I’m not going to sugarcoat things. If you’re in the communications business, it’s seriously tough out there!

That being the case, and if people are not seeing ads or being influenced by advertising like they once were, as communicators, what do we do? Well, we need to think smarterfor starters.

That’s when a strategic content-driven PR comes into play. Done well, it will do the communications ‘heavy lifting’ for your brand over the long term.

A savvy content-first program that integrates owned, earned and social media will work organically for your organisation day in and day out, all year round, keeping your brand top of mind with the people who matter most to the success of your business, cause or issue. Ongoing PR activity can fill the gaps in between intermittent paid-for advertising campaigns as well as build a solid base from which to make your advertising and promotional activities work harder.

While this is particularly true today as the PR footprint extends into owned and social media, in reality it has always been the case, going back decades to a time when public relations practitioners placed greater emphasis on generating ‘column inches’ than they do today.

Looked at from another angle, while traditional media publicity has always been a great way to expose a brand to new audiences, it also serves another purpose that most people don’t talk about, and that is to ‘massage’ the marketplace in advance of paid-for advertising. In other words, piquing people’s interest in, building genuine word-of-mouth discussion around, and enhancing credibility of a cause, issue, product or service.

CASE IN POINT: Volkswagen

One of the most famous campaigns in the history of advertising was Volkswagen’s Think Small, which was written and produced by the ad agency DDB back in 1959. This campaign was lauded by the industry as a massive success – and it was, by all reports – but it’s important to scratch a bit beneath the surface. As marketing authors Al Ries and Laura Ries note in their 2002 book The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR, Volkswagen arrived in the US in 1949 and over the next decade generated positive stories in the media.

By 1959 Volkswagen was already success, having sold 120,000+ vehicles representing 20 per cent of the US imported car market.

As powerful as DDB’s advertising was, Ries and Ries write, it still needed the exposure and credibility created by the editorial coverage. In other words, earned media can have a huge impact on a brand’s visibility, credibility and influence in the marketplace.

But here’s the kicker – we now don’t have to rely solely on generating editorial exposure in third-party media outlets to gain visibility. The ‘one-two punch’ of owned and social media can play a mighty role here, making earned media valuable ‘cream on the top’.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a government agency with a remit to change people’s behaviour around a particular issue, a nonprofit organisation that activates donation drives several times a year, or a B2B or consumer company looking to build their brand as well as sales  – if you’re relying just on interruptive advertising and promotional campaigns to do the job for you, there’s every chance you’re going to be underwhelmed with the results.

However, if you create what we at Digital Citizen call strategic omnipresence, then you’re more likely to build a positive ongoing connection with your audience and thus pave the way for your advertising down the track by ‘pre-exposing’ people to your brand story and message.

Think of strategic omnipresence as laying the foundations for your organisation’s marketing communications. It’s when you’re recognised and respected in the community for who you are, and what you do and stand for. This is mission critical from a reputational perspective.

If you’re not on the public’s radar in the first instance, if you’re not building a positive human connection with people ongoing, if you’re not serving your audience by showing up consistently and providing useful, interesting and relevant content, then you run the risk of lagging behind and we know that can make life pretty tough in a world where infinite choice beckons at the touch of a smartphone.

This is not a knock on clever advertising and promotional activity, by the way. It’s just reality.

In today’s noisy social age, marketers, communicators, business and community leaders need to employ smart and cost-effective ways to build their brands and their businesses.

We think the best way is to build strategic omnipresence in the marketplace or community in which you operate as it will make your advertising campaigns work harder. But be aware it needs to be built in advance of campaign activity, and it is a longer term proposition.

That said, strategic omnipresence will work for your organisation 24/7, 365 days of the year.

Now that’s what we call hard-working communications!

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