Protect your brand and campaign with validation (part one)

There’s no doubt about it, it’s been a challenging time for everyone in the past few months.

Yet, despite these unprecedented (I wish there were a better word for this because I’m sure you too are sick of it, but honestly there isn’t) times, I’ve witnessed some incredible work from the industry. But there’s also been some work that’s made me put my head in my hands – and this is what I want to talk about throughout this two-part series.

Remember what’s important to your brand

The final straw for me was coming across a digital PR campaign that completely lacked brand relevance, was absent of a robust dataset or methodology and piggybacked on an unrelated brand that’s thriving in the current climate. The campaign has built links, so, on that front, perhaps some do see it as a success. But, from my point of view, I think it’s this kind of campaign that gives digital PR a bad rep.

To me, this kind of campaign screams “panic” and that the people behind it wanted to get something, anything, out to press as quickly as possible. This reactive approach is understandable – particularly so for those brands struggling at the moment. But is it worth throwing aside your brand identify just to get something out of the door, when in reality it’s saying nothing (good) about your business?

What about idea validation?

James Brockbank recently reminded the digital PR community of a critical point – ideation is an incredibly important, if not the most important, part of digital PR.

While I think every step of digital PR is as crucial as each other, I do believe ideation – and, specifically, the validation of ideas – is more important than ever right now.

Over the last few months, my team has invested a lot of time ensuring our ideation process continues to deliver solid ideas despite not being in a room together. And while our ideation process has evolved to become remote for the time being, what has not changed is how robustly we validate our ideas. We continue to check every idea we intend to pitch to a client against a clear validation framework. If the idea doesn’t tick enough boxes, it won’t make the cut – simple.

It’s easy to get carried away

I’m not going to share our validation matrix in this blog post (look out for part two), but will instead focus on a very important point that should be the main consideration when brainstorming ideas: brand fit.

This sounds really obvious, but when you’re under pressure to quickly create content – especially during a global pandemic – it’s really easy to get carried away and forget about relevance to brand if you’ve already got a loose topic area.

For us, all ideas are underpinned by a strategy project, which uncovers the topic areas we should look into for the brand in question. As part of this project, we place the onus on our client’s brand values, tone of voice and style, USPs, historic content performance and target audience, which Abbi talks about here. Armed with these findings, we’re able to ensure whatever we present to a brand aligns perfectly with how they want the world to see them, whether that be for the present day, or in the future.

So, how do you make sure your ideas are relevant? Get to know the brand you’re working for.

Four essential to understanding a brand

1. Set-up client immersion sessions

Client immersion sessions are often underrated, but they’re an incredibly valuable use of time, especially if it’s a new client. Get you and your team in a (virtual) room with all the relevant client stakeholders and start firing out questions. I tend to treat this session as a no holds barred chance to understand things like, but not limited to:

Team structureDigital PR roadmapsLegacy work
Publication wish listsNo-go areasSign-off process
Technical capabilitiesPartnershipsIn-house stakeholders

And, finally, you absolutely must ask how the brand would describe themselves in their own words. No-one knows a brand better than those working for it every day, so why not get that intel from the proverbial horse’s mouth if you can?

Typically, we find immersion sessions require at least half a day, depending on the number of stakeholders included. As these sessions are designed to ensure a smooth process and prevent roadblocks, we find this is well worth the time.

2. Product run through

This runs hot off the heels of point one, but, if you can, ask the brand for a tour around their offices, bricks and mortar stores, and warehouses to fully understand the brand and its product offering.

We were fortunate enough to have a tour (pre-lockdown) around Lovehoney’s warehouse during the client kick-off sessions, which sparked several campaign ideas as a direct result of viewing the products in real life.

In a similar vein, strive to speak with customer-facing teams such as shop staff and customer service advisors in call centres. Your objective here is finding everything there is to know about the products. Therefore, speaking to the very people who know them inside and out can be unbelievably valuable.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

3. Client brand documentation and key data

Before you start brainstorming campaign ideas, make sure you’ve got your hands on all the relevant brand documentation for you and your team to read or gain access to.

Typical documents or data permissions include:

If brand guideline documents aren’t available, ask the brand to share an area of its site (or selection of pages) that best represent their brand voice that can act as a guide. Failing that, ask your client to share examples of other brands they like to gain an understanding of the types of values and attitudes your client invests in.

4. Industry and media landscape

By this stage, you should have a solid understanding of the brand you’re working alongside. But what is its industry saying and how are the media talking about it?

This, again, is something we do as part of our campaign strategy project. However, the main point here is to make sure that, at the very least, you have a high-level understanding of key industry chatter and media perception to protect idea relevance and brand reputation.

For example, earlier in the year, the Housing Secretary announced plans to remove restrictions on having pets in rentals from the government’s model tenancy contract. Naturally, the media began heavily discussing the topic of renting with pets and reducing the number of people having to give up their pets as a result of restrictive tenancy agreements. By keeping on top of these key industry developments, and appreciating the demand for pet-friendly rentals, we produced a piece catering to the in-demand topic. The outcome was a piece ranking the UK’s most pet-friendly rental cities, earning over 100 links from nationals, regionals, property and lifestyle publications.

If in doubt, you could mum test it!

As an optional step, if you’re still not sure about an idea and if it’s the right brand fit, why don’t you ask your mum/neighbour/long-lost relative if the idea makes sense to them? If they don’t see the brand connection or understand the point, then it’s probably not fit for purpose.

I challenge you all to go through your campaign archives and put your mum goggles on – I’ve certainly worked on a few weaker campaigns from way back when, but you live and learn!

Make it a must instead of a should

It really is within everyone’s reach (and best interest for the brand) to collect that all-important information before pushing ahead with an idea to ensure brand fit.

As an industry, we should strive to do better and make campaigns that bear little brand relevance a thing of the past.

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