Various agencies define the bounds of PR in different ways, as many of us know. Some would say the remit of an agency depends on how ‘old fashioned’ they are.
We spoke to PR and Social Media Expert and Director of The Brand Whisperer, Siena Clarke, who told INTERLACED that in these times, it depends on their strengths: ‘PR is creating opportunities for the right consumer to encounter the brand, expert, treatment or product under your care. Full stop! So it could be Social Media, it could be an article online, in a magazine, on a blog, it could be by word of mouth, or through a competition. It’s all relevant to the overall PR effort.’
Since the start of lockdown in the UK, challenges for brands in the beauty space have taken a slightly different shape. Consumers are now asking ‘what are you doing for others?’ just as often as ‘what can you do for me?’. Brands have to show that they’re trying hard, and giving something back, most commonly to either key workers, or to the environment, which has been centre stage in the beauty industry for some time.
In this ‘new world’ where the Coronavirus is rife, sales of consumer products occur almost exclusively online, the challenge being, for most independent or smaller beauty brands, that they may not have a secondary presence [i.e. another platform on which their services/products are available]. Alongside the lack of store-presence, COVID-19 has also eliminated the possibility of press trips and in some instances press gifting, events (be that aimed at consumers or press), markets, and face-to-face networking. All of these, although small individually, build up to a huge weight upon a small brand’s shoulders.
Flexibility in this world is key – if you’re offering a beauty service, the need to be flexible during and after lockdown with order and appointment cancellations is paramount. Understanding and being gentle with your clients, regardless of whether they are press, bloggers or consumers, is something that will no doubt carry weight, and build a huge amount of trust going forward.
Screen time soaring
Since the start of ‘lockdown’ screen-time has hit an all-time high. As a nation, we are consuming record amounts of media on a day-to-day basis, with people working from home, we are spending on average 2 more hours in front of screens per day. While people are in front of screens, brands have a captive audience to sell to. Online beauty sales, in the 9 weeks leading up to this article being written, have [according to trade publication, Professional Beauty] risen over 111%. In the advent of this, the way PR works in the beauty industry has had to change.
What are the opportunities for brands?
Brands who have been agile, flexible and changed their packaging, products or pricing strategy in order to reflect their values or those of their consumer, have done really well in the recent months. We have seen all sorts of names, big and small, like The British Honey Company and Brewdog, or Five Dot Botanics, Meadow Skincare or Medik8 change their strategy in some way, doing some good for their customers, or giving away product for free to aid the national effort to beat Coronavirus.
As brands saw that the lockdown was going to last more than the initial 2 weeks, that was the start of their on-going opportunity to manoeuvre, change, tweak their language, actions and products in order to reflect the needs of the UK consumer.
One of The Brand Whisperer’s clients luxury body, skin and haircare brand HEINRICH BARTH, were faced with an issue at the start of ‘lockdown’. The basis of their brand was targeted towards travellers. ‘With travel being off the menu, we had to change their positioning – and fast! After thinking long and hard we came across the hashtag #armchairtravel, created by The Travel Magazine, one of their target titles, and leapt on the opportunity,’ says Clarke. ‘The brand re-positioned to provide travellers with a form of escapism, and all conversations since have been focused on the mental health benefits of escapism, transporting your mind each day, even if for a short time. This has worked splendidly, and lead to a number of blog features and online articles focused on the brand.’
Clarke says that brands who do not have the ability to be agile may make use of another opportunity to grow: online…
How does PR (especially in the digital realm) help brands be more relevant?
PR in this scree-time-heavy world is a slightly new terrain, where digital is king, and ‘small-time bloggers’ with micro, but highly engaged followings, have become more precious than ever to brands. Exposure provided by ‘micro-bloggers’ helps brands to create an aspirational feel, but also gives them an opportunity to be showcased next to bigger brands, as competition (and often come out rated on top).
This is where the real value can lie. The best PR approach when it comes to beauty, says Clarke, is one that hits the consumer and leaves them feeling they’ve missed out on something bigger. ‘The Next Best…’, ‘Why Everyone’s Buying…’, or ‘One To Watch’ style articles do so well online at the moment, as they’re what the Gen Z-ers are Googling and following on Social Media.
When it comes to being useful and relevant to consumers, this is where video content has really taken centre-stage. As new brands or products are launched, naturally consumers want to know the detail – what texture is the product, what does it smell like, how does it feel on the skin etc. all before making that first purchase. Video content can provide the answers to all these questions (if the person creating the video is well informed!), making customers feel more confident in spending and expanding their routine to include new brands/products. It also works wonders for engagement and reach on Instagram and IGTV, but that’s another talking point.
The new metrics brands should be looking at
Of course print press is still highly valued as an image builder, but it’s right to say that it’s rare anything is going to be seen in a print magazine first. Now that magazine sales, across the board, are increasing again (as the UK lockdown has eased) The Brand Whisperer’s Director tells us: ‘It’s still a big achievement to get a feature in a print magazine, but it’s certainly easier to focus on online engagements and what moves the needle in terms of sales for our clients when it comes to digital.’ Instead of ‘added value’ it is ‘earned media value’ or EMV – ‘What did this post get for us?’ that brands are asking.
While PRs used to measure their value by the number of ‘in-book product credits’ in print articles, they now go by more crunchable data and analytics. Clarke tells us that The Brand Whisperer shows clients monthly reports detailing ‘Unique Monthly User numbers, engagements and data from the back-end of their own websites, showing traffic flowing in from a certain online article, post or listicle.’ She goes on to say they create individual UTM codes, to be shared with journalists, bloggers, influencers, VIPs etc. as this is generally the easiest way for brands to track traffic online from their own analytics. This also leads brands to more data, like bounce rates and where a consumer gets to on their website before exiting, if no purchase is made.
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