SA alcohol industry: Time to relook your PR approach?

Greg Forbes, Managing Director of niche communications agency, Lion's Wing Brand Communications, provides his view on what it takes to be a public relations and reputation management specialist in the South African alcohol industry, and what alcohol brands should be looking for when choosing an agency to represent their brand.
Greg Forbes
Greg Forbes
In late 2013, cabinet approved a draft bill banning the advertising of alcohol, and gazetted it for public comment. The bill seeks to restrict the advertisement of alcoholic beverages and sponsorships associated with alcoholic beverages; which Forbes explains would, essentially, mean the alcohol industry would need to turn to 'dark marketing' - much like the South African tobacco industry has had to do.

"Essentially," Forbes explains, "there is a strong need for brands to cement their unique positioning, as a cautionary act, should this legislation be put into effect. Since the draft bill was approved for public comment, all alcohol manufacturers and distributers have increased their marketing push - making alcohol one of the most marketed products in the country. As someone in this marketing space, I would say this is especially true for whisky, beer, vodka and champagne brands."

This strong push means that audiences are constantly bombarded with alcohol marketing and advertising campaigns, which can result in consumer fatigue if not handled correctly. "What is evident is that brands are now looking to educate their audience on the messages and personality of their brand, in the hope of building and cementing a positive reputation in the minds of the consumers, which will last long after the legislation has been passed (assuming that this will happen) - rather than just taking a spray and pray approach, through traditional advertising campaigns."

Perhaps the most vital element in building and maintaining this reputation, says Forbes, is a strong relationship between the brand and their chosen communications agency. It is imperative that client and agency share the same objectives and are able to work in unison to achieve these objectives.

"The agency needs to become a fully integrated part of the team, to the point where those people working on the account become brand specialists and ambassadors themselves. They need to be able to live the brand, so much so that, if need be, they can stand up and (convincingly) present the brand to a group of aficionados!"

Forbes highlights that only when those working on the account make up the target audience, act as ambassadors, and match and marry the personality of the brand, will you get the full potential out of the campaigns done around the brand.

"This is true for most consumer brands - not just those in the alcohol space. It is almost impossible to truly and convincingly represent a brand to others without living the brand yourself."

Forbes notes that he often sees clients choosing agencies for the wrong reasons. "This is often not the clients fault; they are lured in by other factors and forget that some agencies are specialists in that they not only understand the short-term, but also the long-term dynamics of the industry. The right agency will also have a broad knowledge of the industry, meaning that they are able to tell you what your competitors are doing, what their message is and how they are conveying it - and making sure your brand's positioning remains unique in a saturated market. "This is especially important in the alcohol space. Should the legislation be passed, the audience needs to already be captured, in order to keep your brand top of mind - this is what your agency should be aiming towards."

He explains that traditional public relations methods will not cut it. Rather, he highlights the need for elements such as social media, speaking opportunities, consumer engagement plans, events and competitions, as well as the full mix of marketing activities, all of which should be aligned to the brand objectives.

"Getting a product placed in a publication - while valuable - is only one small element in what it takes to truly represent a brand. It is less about getting your message out and more about getting consumers to engage with the brand, and turning decision makers (both in the media and outside of it) into brand ambassadors themselves."

19 Jan 2015 10:48