CompaniesNov 26 2015

Looking back at great PR

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Danny Rogers is a seasoned commentator on media and marketing, and this is a commendable, user-friendly guide to nine of the best campaigns in our lifetimes.

The protagonists – including Margaret Thatcher, Bono, and Barack Obama – are familiar. But what strikes the reader is the way these campaigns influenced not just marketing technique but a whole generation’s world view.

Political campaigns, says Mr Rogers, are talent magnets, but the best examples here are non-political. Operation Beckham turned a footballer into a global celebrity whose influence now ranks alongside the Dalai Lama and Professor Stephen Hawking. Celebrity was monetised early: even in 2003 David Beckham had a US$160m (£105m) sponsorship deal with Adidas.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones were already superannuated rockers when their PRs changed the game with massive well-hyped stadium tours. Record sales became secondary to the shows themselves – Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle made US$98m in box-office takings and $60m from Budweiser sponsorship.

Mr Rogers chooses equally outstanding commercial campaigns. Bono’s (RED) was a game-changer for cause-related marketing – a bridge between Sir Bob Geldof’s Live Aid and Bill Gates’ global philanthropy. It used emotion to make money and consumption not just respectable but worthy. Today, this view attracts some scepticism, but it was brilliantly orchestrated by Matthew Freud.

Mr Freud and the other creators of these campaigns evolve through the book. “Labour isn’t Working” now looks like a brilliant reprise of advertising’s “Mad Men”. The Tony Blair team’s spin, instant rebuttals and grids, is tarnished today but was cutting-edge in its time: it is well-illustrated by the reproduction of a highly clinical campaign diagram. Growing use of social media (for example, the London 2012 Olympics campaign) is now standard stuff – but it was not then.

The chapter on Dove soap is the best in the book. The idea that beauty is not elitist but democratic, illustrated by ‘real women’ and media-agnostic in its deployment, was genuinely revolutionary. In an age where self-esteem is under daily threat through social media, it also sold a lot of soap for Unilever. Has the “Campaign for Real Beauty” worked? See what its inventor Silvia Lagnado says about her now grown-up daughter’s desire for a nose-job.

Has any of it worked? The Royal Family (another featured campaign) looks pretty safe now. Celebrity is here to stay, business can do good, politics should be engaging, bands can be ageless. We take as given many of the things these PRs campaigned for – this book explains how that happened.

Published by Kogan Page

John Godfrey is corporate affairs director of L&G