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Integrated communications will increase brand loyalty, says the Economist’s Charles Barber

When I first started out, PR was still associated with endless champagne parties and luxury goodie bags. Today what’s got the industry bubbling is collaboration and amplification – in other words, it’s all about strengthening and augmenting the work your partner departments are doing through an integrated approach.

If a campaign’s end goal is somebody doing something – such as buying a subscription or supporting a cause – the first step is creating an awareness of the product, then encouraging a positive opinion about it. PR’s job is to help shape that opinion so that when a potential customer is presented with the product, he or she has a positive association. That’s why, for example, you find face creams in women’s magazines – “I know that brand, and I can try it. I like that. I am going to buy it!”

You’ve probably heard of love brands, such as Apple and Prada, which eschew celebrity endorsements, but somehow become synonymous with an aspirational lifestyle and values. Brand loyalty today is hard enough to achieve because of all the competition and choices consumers have. Love brands are a rare exception.

These five key points will help a campaign reach for brand loyalty and even love-brand status by using the perfect amplification through public relations:

1.     Work as part of a team.

PR doesn’t exist in isolation. Today, a good PR programme needs to deliver stronger business objectives and demonstrate that there is a value outside crisis management and damage limitation. PR has had a huge impact in terms of how our marketing spend is distributed across channels. Much more of it is moving online through initiatives such as our award-winning brand response campaign which has generated thousands of new subscribers and millions of registered users onto our database.

2.     Know your audience.

That means knowing not only who they are, but also where they are and what they want. Then giving it to them. As a point of principle, we avoid providing comment to media outlets that don’t align with The Economist’s brand. We have a good idea of where our readers go to consume their content, so we might consider a closer relationship with those news outlets.

3.     Give journalists interesting and valuable content that allows them to do a good job.

When you create a physical embodiment of a brand in an experience, it has to be interesting. The days of banging out inane press releases and sending pointless freebies to journalists are over. Most helpful is delivering relevant, timely and interesting information. The Economist has done this through its programme of experiential marketing activity; insect ice-cream, insect crepes, VR experiences and bio-diesel coffee which has attracted tens of thousands to try new things and sign up to The Economist.

4.     Don’t underestimate the influence of the right platform.

If you want to convey a message nationally or internationally, local media is unlikely to deliver your objectives. But if you are executing a campaign that affects a smaller geographic area, then local media is best. When The Economist used insect-flavoured ice-cream trikes to promote its content, for example, we placed coverage in national media, but because the experience went out on the street, we also created locally targeted brand awareness and positive association, announcing our presence on Facebook and Twitter. More people got to the trikes because of it.

Likewise, when you rate quality over quantity of the platform, it results in the right people talking about you. Millennials are keen to be seen as innovative and cutting edge, and they are always looking for the Next Best Thing – often on social media platforms such as sponsored YouTube channels and Instagram accounts, where numerous young people have become high-net-worth individuals for amassing audiences. PR can be used to amplify traditional media campaigns by becoming a social media brand ambassador to those audiences. When a brand is validated through social media, it will achieve higher value.

5.     Prove your worth with KPIs.

These could include anything from an increase in social chatter around key dates to an uptick in subscriptions to whether people talk well, or badly, of you. A challenge today is quantifying PR’s impact cost-effectively without using all the old redundant metrics. It can be done, but it often requires large sums of money, and the results are never wholly accurate. More concrete metrics to look at include share of voice, increases in visitors from websites that have covered your story, increases in social media followers and engagement and if possible, increases in the sales, or inquiries, of your product or service.

Ten years ago, success might have been measured in column inches, but today the good PR amplifier doesn’t value coverage for coverage’s sake; it’s much more targeted. The measure of success relies on more commercial goals.

When you see an advert on a billboard, you know you are being sold to, and there is an associated cynicism. Much more valuable, if you’re not a love brand, is to use your PR alongside your marketing campaigns to remind people of your product and that they like it. It’s cheaper to retain a customer than to recruit a new one, and eventually you’ll create a kind of loyalty that, ideally... well, turns to love.

Written by Charles Barber, vice president, PR and thought leadership, at

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