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Improving PR's performance in integrated campaigns

Many integrated campaigns employ PR but some do not use its full potential because of a lack of sensitivity to its peculiarities and the way the media should be handled, writes Nick Porter, a director of Iris PR.

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Integrated marketing is the buzz of the industry again, having emerged from its recent guises as "through-the-line" and "media neutral".

However, it seems that the old name coming back has brought the old problems of mass misinterpretation back as well -- namely that true integration isn't slapping the same creative on a lamppost, a piece of direct mail and a cereal packet. It's also not about involving PR just as a campaign is about to launch, then wheeling out a fits-all strategy to generate a few column inches.

True integration is about taking a strong central theme and deftly threading it through the most appropriate media for the maximum return on investment.

This means looking beyond the physical space you can buy to carry your messages and considering the way they are incorporated into the mighty force of what others feel compelled to say about you.

Smart marketers are well aware that public relations is pivotal to campaign success, so how do you ensure it is informed by and enhances the other channels?

Clearly, there are degrees of transferability across the marketing mix, with some ideas lending themselves better to cross-discipline activity than others. So it is crucial for your PR team to be involved from the outset, so that they advise on the strategic and creative direction that has the most potential for PR. This also avoids the pitfall that sees agencies left to deliver what non-PR specialists think is a PR-able campaign.

And it's not just about bringing PR in at the right time, it's about bringing it in properly. A PR team needs to sit at the same table as the rest of the mix so that all sides are fully involved in all aspects of the aims and positioning for each campaign.

All marketers and agencies should be able to input equally and we're increasingly finding the "advertising first" rule no longer applies. With some clients we are a lead agency who can shape the strategy, which is then fed back into the other disciplines. If you want your press coverage and public identity to say the same things as your marketing collateral, then why wouldn't you keep the team up to speed in the same way?

However, expecting clients to adopt this strategy immediately can be a tall ask when they are settled into a routine where PR is the icing on the marketing cake. Integrated agencies have huge potential to help educate clients as to the flexibility of ideas. We have a duty to challenge client's briefs to understand what their real objectives are and provide them with solutions that will deliver.

When Wonderbra first approached iris to market its new range, the brief was fairly straightforward -- they wanted to look at customer events. Iris delivered a response that integrated experiential, digital and PR. When clients don't ask for a rich mix of disciplines, it doesn't mean they don't want them.

Having said this, there are of course challenges. The beauty and the strength of PR is that it is independent. The power of an unbiased opinion leader endorsing your brand is immeasurable, but of course, the risk that accompanies it is the lack of copy control. The power of generating third party approval from journalists or broadcasters means we sign up to be represented through their eyes. For clients used to buying exposure via advertising this can take some getting used to.

Network Rail, which we work with on the "Don't run the risk" level crossing awareness campaign, knows only too well the constraints of media relations and were brave when approaching the PR element of the campaign, despite the gravity of the subject matter.

From the start, the client was keen to appear on 'Top Gear' and our concept of staging a high speed train crash stunt to show the effects of misbehaviour on level crossings did not faze them, neither did the presenter's typically light-hearted approach to the feature.

Network Rail understood the power of the piece lay both in its placement (a high-profile programme for UK drivers) and the impact of the crash. The key driver behind the campaign, to illustrate the dangers of misusing level crossings, was illustrated perfectly within the piece.

In essence, PR shouldn't be seen as an accompaniment to a great campaign, it should be seen as a key cog in the marketing machinery The most effective campaigns are based on understanding the mix of disciplines and media needed to make a great idea deliver on a brief's objectives. That simply can't happen if one of the disciplines isn't invited to the table.

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