Is it OK to recycle old PR ideas?

The good thing about a brilliant PR idea is that it can run and run. And then run again in a slightly different way should it begin to get tired. Here, PR chiefs discuss the pros and cons of reusing past strategies whilst offering tips for repurposing great ideas. They also give examples of campaigns and approaches that are still fresh today, even if the concepts behind them have come from the past.

Learn from them, don’t copy them

Stuart Skinner, group managing director at PR agency, The PHA Group: “Generally speaking, recycling old campaign ideas isn’t a recommended approach to PR. There's no creative challenge involved and they tend to lose currency over time.

“It’s also unlikely to engage clients and target audiences - especially if they recall the original campaign. If that’s the case you could be setting yourself up for a fall, particularly if the rehashed campaign doesn’t live up to or improve upon the original version. This can in fact damage relationships between a brand and its target audience and as a result impact on client relationships too.

“However, analysing past, successful campaigns can provide useful learnings for future ones. Taking elements the campaigns that helped to achieve results and incorporating them in unique ways to your own strategy can be an effective approach.

“The challenge is to improve upon tried and tested ideas with a fresh perspective. This will include factoring in audience profiles and adapting to changing consumer behaviours and expectations which are constantly evolving.”

Do your research first

Tim Gibbon, founder of communications consultancy Elemental: “Analyse the data, bringing in a personal perspective and objectivity. Do thorough brand research, especially around the sentiment. Layer this with social media intelligence and listening and align this with focus groups. Dare I say add a dose of common sense and use your gut instinct? It would help if you had a good understanding of what may work; delve deep and back this up with the data and research. Insight has never been so powerful.”

Make sure there is a newsworthy hook

Judith Ingleton-Beer, CEO of PR agency IBA International: “To successfully recycle winning campaigns, marketers need to hunt for up-to-date information, analyse whether there’s a timely news hook - a bit of newsjacking or better still trend jacking - which provides a perfect springboard to re-launch a successful campaign to new audiences. It can also help to improve your brand recognition, and if you use social effectively, you’ll drive new people to your website. You’ve just found a different peg to hang the campaign on - same idea, only the words have changed!”

Will Hobson, PR and London director at search and content marketing agency Rise at Seven: “PR campaigns require extensive preparation and execution time, and in an over-saturated market, huge success can be hard to come by. So when it comes to seeing great results, there is no harm in repurposing and reusing content down the line in order to get as much out of a concept for your client. If you are between campaigns or need to pick up press coverage and links for a client, repushing old campaigns can be a great way to get noticed, but make sure there’s a PR hook that feels relevant and newsworthy right now.

"When it comes to seeing great results, there is no harm in repurposing and reusing content down the line in order to get as much out of a concept for your client."

“One of our biggest successes with offering a new spin on an existing campaign is The GAME Christmas Tinner. This campaign already existed way back in 2013, yet we were tasked with creating a new hook to drive SEO value and decided to offer veggie and vegan twist of the Christmas Tinner. With 3.5 million vegans in the UK, plant-based diets were already trending online so we knew this alternative angle could help us reach new audiences that likely missed out on the first campaign. We also knew this angle would be slightly controversial and get people talking about this campaign - ultimately driving top-tier links from high-authority publications, traffic, and SEO value to GAME."

Tie in with dates in the calendar

Kristen Van Aken, senior digital PR specialist at PR agency Semetrical  “I think good examples of classic campaigns are ones based around holidays and awareness days. Every year it’s still going to be important to shed light on important issues and significant days, but the way in which you reveal that data, whether it’s based on the latest gender pay gap figures or the holiday season, should be done in an original and exciting way.”

Add a new twist

Leszek Dudkiewicz, head of marketing at Passport Photo Online: “There is a difference between recycling and sticking with something. By recycling, I understand giving something a new life, upgrading it in a way that it is interesting and useable again. And yes, doing it with previous marketing ideas can lead to great results, but simply holding on to the exact same idea is not gonna work. Marketing is all about making impressions and being memorable. Bringing back memories created by an old campaign but with a little twist can be great, but clinging to ideas that were good in the past probably won't work. People get bored quickly, and exposing them to the same campaign repeatedly can evoke negative emotions and create a bad image of the company.” 

Think evolution not revolution…

Sarah Woodhouse, director, of agency AMBITIOUS PR www.ambitiouspr.co.uk: “Repetition works remarkably well in PR and marketing; as humans we take comfort in the familiar and the goal for every brand is to be recognised or known for something as it makes them easier to recall than a competitor. 

“When a campaign is a success, we’re always looking for a way to evolve it, but this often takes a lot of skill and effort. You should be asking yourself the question ‘how can we top it this time around?’ Just because it’s worked once, doesn’t mean that it will work every time. It's about taking it to the next level to suit new conversations, trends and the current zeitgeist as well as new channels.”

… But don’t change a winning formula

Harriet Scott, CEO of agency GingerComms: “As a news generation agency, I’m not ashamed to say we often recycle old ideas to get media cut through.

“News desks are prescriptive in terms of the content they want to receive, so to some extent PRs need to remember that the job is to provide content which fits a publication’s demographic and narrative.

“Of course, thinking outside the box is essential in any creative industry, but taking ideas too far away from the content that platforms publish won’t lead to campaign success. It’s important to remember that national newspapers and onlines still deal in very broad brushstrokes. And often the best coverage we achieve for clients comes from either the exact same idea we’ve used before, or the same general formulas we have been using for decades.

“It is not our job to reinvent the wheel, we must just keep delivering content that we know works.”

View through the lens of today

Corinna Field, joint managing director of PR agency Red Lion: “If you are going to take inspiration from the past, it’s crucial to view it through the lens of today. The media landscape moves so rapidly, campaigns from only a few short years ago can look and feel dated. We deal in news, so finding the new hook is always essential. Ideas with longevity tend to be the ones that provoke an emotion as well as tapping into the topics that resonate.

“We particularly love the ongoing Airbnb ‘Night At’ series for this reason. From giving punters a chance to stay anywhere from the Catacombs to Coronation Street, it continues to find new ways to surprise and build ‘brand love’ which in turn, always racks up the column inches.”

Find new channels

Natalia Brzezinska, marketing and outreach manager at passport picture site PhotoAid.: “You need to offer a different point of view using diverse strategies. A successful strategy is to maximise your content through a multi-channel approach. If you initially used mainly emails, then utilise new channels to add value to your content and reach not only a wider audience, but a different one. Moreover, give your content a different shape. For example, turn your written text into infographics, eye-catching, and more easily digestible content.”

Branded research is always relevant

Amberly Dressler, director of brand and content at talent agency isolved: “There’s nothing wrong with classics, as long as there is innovation happening too. One example of a classic campaign that remains just as relevant today is branded research. Every industry can benefit from running non-promotional research to learn about the plans and pain points of the leaders in their fields and/or the challenges their end-consumer/customer faces too. At isolved, we run an HR leaders report and then a voice of the employee one too with Tier 1 coverage as a result. Not only can this branded research fuel extensive coverage, but it can fuel multi-quarter content plans too. In addition to the branded research whitepaper, the data points can be used for blogs, infographics, emails, ads, webinars, presentations - you name it. Branded research is a classic, but there are innovative ways to extend its reach.”

We interview Tom Winterton, director of communications agency Manifest, about reusing old ideas

How do you feel about PR agencies using an idea a previous agency came up with?

Depends on the context, but as long as there is full transparency and everyone gets paid - fairly - there’s no issue.

Are some ideas such classics they can run and run?

For sure, that’s what we should all be trying to generate; ideas stretchy enough that they can run across multiple channels, in multiple markets, for years. 

Is recycling old, successful campaigns a sure way to get noticed? And how do you do this and still be interesting?

A famous campaign is as much a part of culture as a song we all recognise or a movie scene we can all quote. As long as you’re building on the original, adding something new and interesting, it can work. 

What do you think are good examples of classic campaign ideas that are still relevant today?

Look what KFC did with Finger Lickin’ Good over the pandemic. Dropping the famous line then bringing it back with some amazing work from Mother. Or how about those Specsavers billboards we were all sharing in March? Classic campaigns, made super-relevant.

Is it annoying when a client insists you stay with an old idea?

If it’s a good idea, not at all. I’d view it as a privilege to try my hand at building on an iconic campaign. 

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