PROs face an increasingly tough job; fighting to achieve cut-through in a shrinking media landscape, whilst also solidifying their role within the ever-expanding agency mix, vying with social, digital, influencer and experiential outfits for buy-in and budget. This tussle often results in brands siloing their external expertise, pursuing disconnected campaigns that only deliver a fraction of their potential.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
Let’s take PR’s relationship with experiential – and there's a good reason to explore this particular dynamic. In September, both Hotel Chocolat and Ten Entertainment shared news of booming profits achieved through harnessing experiential strategies to attract customers hungry for ‘escapism’. As Hotel Chocolat’s chief executive and co-founder Angus Thirlwell said of the company’s boom, “We relentlessly innovate to make our spaces exciting, relevant, friendly and experiential.”
Earlier this year Tesla, (not known for its efforts in marketing and PR beyond Elon Musk’s well-publicised outbursts) announced it would focus on an experiential strategy supported by strategic partnerships and social media to lay down its footprint in China. Meanwhile River Island has seen profits slump as analysts warn it is lacking the strategy to ‘meet demand for experiential retail.’
Research by MESH, which uses technology to track and analyse consumer interactions showed that the most positive and persuasive brand experiences were through experiential events. And with 85% of consumers likely to purchase after participating in experiences, the power of experiential is hard to deny.
Experiential, often viewed as an ‘add-on’ is fast finding itself a strategic foundation for challenger brands, even being seen as the saviour of our high streets. As a result there is a movement towards brands owning a 'share of experience' over and above 'share of voice'.
Role of PR
With this shift gaining pace, what’s the place for PR in experiential? As a creative strategist immersed in experience I arguably have a vested interest in this debate! However, this interest is not in sidelining PR (or any other discipline).
Exploiting the power of experiential means marshalling combined experience and collaborating smartly. As Hotel Chocolat attests, its experiential strategy has worked in tandem with social. Experiential and social have become happy bedfellows, just as PR and social have for many brands.
However there is often a disconnect between PR and experience. Comfort’s recent pop up with Hearst provides a good example of a strong PR-message (sustainable fashion) working alongside engaging experience that goes beyond the event itself. This isn’t always the case.
I have the utmost sympathy with PR teams who find themselves asked to PR brand activations that just aren’t up to par – ie, the hype is bigger than the delivery and the overarching message lost in the focus on getting feet through the door. But what can’t be forgotten is that all good experiential should be designed in such a way as it’s easy to PR – if you can’t get a good headline out of it then it’s probably a terrible concept. As such PR is a litmus test for experiential strategy and makes PR integral to an activation.
Conversely, there is also an issue with clients expecting PR teams to create, build and manage an experiential activation. When you ask an expert to be a jack of all trades you devalue them. Asking a top-notch media relations team to manage an experiential campaign is unfair and shortsighted. Similarly, expecting an experiential agency to generate meaningful media engagement shows a lack of appreciation for the skills it takes to land powerful headlines. The sweet spot is engaging experts that revel in collaboration rather than rivalry.
Humans are driven by emotion. Putting experience at the heart of strategy provides emotive inspiration, content and context for all other channels, while always bringing the consumer back to an emotional connection. For PR, an emotive, experience-based strategy underpins strategic storytelling, enabling them to truly evidence brand values.
Where PR and experience work in harmony, great things happen. As we turn to 2020 planning, what can we do to ensure that collaboration runs along experience as a foundation of powerful strategy? It starts by making sure you have the right experts around the table hungry to work alongside experts as colleagues, not as rivals.
Written by Meredith O’Shaughnessy, creative strategist and founder of agency Meredith Collective
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