San Diego Business Journal Creative Campaigns Attract Attention

Advertisers, especially the dot-com companies, bet heavily on the Super Bowl this year. And lost, in my opinion.

With the average 30-second spot costing more than $2 million, you have to hope these companies weren't investing all of their marketing budgets in advertising to build awareness. Because there is a better solution.

From my perspective, as a 20-year marketing veteran and now the owner of my own public relations firm, it reminds me of the English actor who was asked if he worried about dying.

"Dying is easy," he said. "Comedy is hard." For me I think advertising is easy, what I call "marketing public relations" is difficult.

Marketing public relations is the creative use of newsworthy events, publications, social investments, community relations and other means to raise awareness, build traffic and otherwise distinguish a company and its products from its competitors.

To be newsworthy, a company and its products must identify with the needs, wants, concerns and interests of its customers. In other words, hard work.

- Marketers Focus On

Being Newsworthy

Marketing public relations doesn't replace advertising, but many savvy marketers are shifting increasing portions of their budgets to the art of being newsworthy.

In a front-page story, The Wall Street Journal commented on the cost advantage of public relations over advertising, noting that "a PR budget of $500,000 is considered huge, while an ad budget that size is considered tiny."

Companies can buy a full year's marketing public relations program for the cost of a single, 30-second, prime-time TV spot. These same economies hold true for local marketing campaigns.

Another reason for the shift is the increased attention potential customers, be they consumer or business-to-business, pay to coverage in the media. No less an advertising authority than noted author David Oglivy of Oglivy & Mather pointed out: "Roughly six times as many people read the average article as read the average advertisement. Very few advertisements are read by more than one reader in 20."

Another fact to consider is that some things in life are not for sale at any price. You can't buy the Mona Lisa. You can't buy the Grand Canyon. You can't buy an ad on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. But marketing public relations can get you there.

Creating awareness is what marketing public relations does best, but it has its drawbacks. You can't control the timing and the message like you can with advertising. But in the long run, nothing is more cost efficient at building awareness.

- Interest Among

Consumers, Media

Marketing public relations works best when there is high consumer interest and high media interest in a company's product category. Some of the product categories that particularly lend themselves to marketing public relations are books, entertainment, fashion, cars, travel and leisure, sports and fitness, and computers and E-commerce.

Here is a top 10 list of marketing public relations tactics that can make your company newsworthy.

o Awards , With awards, it is better to give than to receive. Awards have been used by sponsors to honor the worthwhile and the simply interesting. Ideally the award should be provocative or funny and tie naturally to the brand to make sense. For instance, Blistex annually names "the most beautiful lips."

o Books , Getting a legitimate book published can be newsworthy, depending on the topic of the book. Examples of this approach range from General Mills' "Betty Crocker Cookbook" to Harvey Mackay's "How to Swim the Sharks" (which certainly enhanced the marketing at his envelope company).

o Charitable and celebrity tie-ins , A proven tactic is to sponsor a cause and then hire celebrities to mention that sponsor and the cause.

Locally, for instance, the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon helps raise millions of dollars for the Leukemia Society of America. Celebrities such as the late Wilt Chamberlain and Alexandra Paul of "Baywatch" helped the marathon receive much-needed pre-inaugural event coverage.

- Contests May Bring

Fame To A Company

o Contests and competitions , For more than 50 years, the Pillsbury Bake-Off Cooking Contest has brought fame to the company and sold a lot of flour in the bargain. Other examples include the Gainesburgers Dog Frisbee Catch to the Bizzy Bees Pest Control Co. hunt for the Largest Roach in Texas (Wanted: Dead or Alive).

o Exhibits , These consist of the permanent variety, in high-traffic areas like museums or Disney World, to traveling exhibits at events, shopping malls and state fairs.

Locally both Dell and Microsoft have tied in with the Computer Museum of America, on the La Mesa campus of Coleman College. Dell sponsored a national contest looking for the oldest computer in use by a small business, with the winner getting a $15,000 Dell computer system and his old machine being donated to the museum for display.

Microsoft recently provided a $25,000 grant in cash and product to open a facility called The Learning Center, an area of the museum where schoolchildren without access to the Internet or computers at home can go to after school.

o Festivals , Today there are so many festivals that a directory of them is published to attract corporate sponsors. Some companies sponsor their own, like Hershey's Great American Chocolate Festival. Another strategy is to become the title sponsor. Several years ago, Carmel Mountain Ranch, the master-planned community off Interstate 15, sponsored Southern California's largest balloon festival to build awareness of the community and spark home sales.

o Hot lines , With the advent of 800, 888 and 900 telephone lines, more and more marketers are examining the merits of information hot lines. One of the best known is the Butterball Turkey Hotline, which answers 150,000 phone calls a year on how best to cook the bird.

- Creating A

Tourist Attraction

o Museums , The concept is to create a tourist attraction through the confluence of marketing, education and entertainment. Museums assembled by companies like Hershey, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch have been popular with tourists for years. Bata does this with a shoe museum in Toronto.

o Surveys , A proven way to generate news is to commission a survey that examines a provocative topic that relates to your organization. Three favorite themes are money, sex and health.

USA Today has included CPA research on where hotel growth will occur, a restaurant's report about steamy sex conversations over dinner and an American Association of Retired Persons study about preferred nursing home benefits.

o Vehicles , From hot-air balloons and sailing ships to planes, trains and automobiles, sponsored vehicles help companies gain awareness for its brands.

While the classic examples are the Goodyear Blimp and the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, there are many new traveling mobile marketing exhibits. San Diego soon will receive a visit from the semi-truck of Mega Warheads, the world's sourest candy, as they kick off a national Extreme Sour Photo Contest for kids.

DeVries is president of Henry DeVries/Communications and a marketing instructor with UCSD Extension.