Short-termism vs Long-termism

In my capacity as Chairman of the PRCA’s Consumer Group, I was delighted to run a lively debate at Karmarama’s offices last week, which asked the question ‘Can consumer PR work as effectively as a short term tactic as it does a long term one?’

Our high profile panel comprised my Vice-Chairman Joan O’Connor (PR Director for Western Europe, Coca-Cola), Rowan Usher (Communications Manager, Pernod Ricard UK), Peter Firth (Insight Editor, The Future Laboratory), Jim Hawker (Founder, Threepipe) and Tammy Smoulders (MD, Havas LuxHub).

Attracting over 40 attendees from the PR industry, the event highlighted one of the biggest challenges that marketers face between balancing the need for short term sales impacts with long term brand success. Les Binet from Adam and Eve and Peter Field , the marketing consultant (ex AMV BBDO and ex-head of planning for Bates and Grey) have carried out extensive research in this area and have written the IPA paper ‘The Long and The Short of It’ (based on 700 brands, across 83 sectors). They found that campaigns that perform well when judged by longer term metrics such as profit and share growth, do not necessarily perform well at generating short term, direct responses. And the converse is also true: campaigns that drove short term direct response most strongly, tend to underperform on longer term metrics.

There is also research that shows there is a neuroscientific explanation for the importance of repetition when it comes to the human brain – neuroscientists estimate that hardwired associations take up to 6 months to create and a minimum of 2 years to erase – so a brand wanting to establish a fresh positioning has a difficult task.

The growth of new online channels has focused our attention on short term results and as Peter Firth pointed out – “we now live in ‘moments’ as technology has shortened our attention span. It’s a state of ‘continuous partial interruption’ – so brands need to ensure instant, yet long lasting connections with their consumers”. Short-termism in consumer PR is also increasingly in demand due to the need for instant accountability, and client desire for swift, easily measured responses coupled with business needs. There are some great examples of short term functional and rational tactics in recent industry award wins in the consumer PR categories e.g. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts ‘Double Hundred Dozen’ and Sky Fortitude’s ‘Polar Bear’ stunt. Many award winning campaigns consist of short term tactics e.g. stunts, surveys, real time marketing, picture stories and celebrity link ups etc. If we shift attention back to May’s Cannes Lions, many awards went to campaigns with social purpose and longevity at their heart e.g. Volvo’s ‘Life Paint’ and Kenco’s ‘Coffee vs. Gangs’. We also know that societal purpose drives consumer advocacy, loyalty and purchase and that consumers are seeking brands that think ahead as pointed out by The Future Laboratories’ Peter Field.

From my own experience, when I was client-side at Diageo, we focused a lot on driving FAME and emotional engagement for our brands and there was a common acknowledgement that fame could only be generated if we were to play a long game and not focus on short termism. There is a need for brands to have ‘stickiness’ and fame gives a campaign the chance to be an entity in its own right which in turn catches fire and becomes part of the zeitgeist. Andrew McGuinness, CEO Freud’s said at this year’s PRCA conference that campaigns are 2-3 times more effective if a brief has fame in it – delivering more sales, penetration and profit if fame is a stated goal.

The Future Laboratory also cited a movement away from short-termism as consumers favour brand legacy over heritage – particularly as the 140 year lifespan approaches, and that brands acting with social purpose that had long term benefits on health, climate change etc. would win.

Tammy Smulders, Havas LuxHub used Snapchat as the example of the ultimate in short-termism but outlined the need for luxury brands to take a longer term approach to futureproof their brand by engaging in relevant ways with their future (currently younger) audiences – she said it was “about consumers taking the long term view of a luxury brand to rationalise the purchase of it”. Meanwhile, Coca Cola’s Joan O’Connor banged the drum for brands to continually anticipate trends and consumer needs, mirroring these through real-time marketing, but balancing them with longer term strategies that continually engage with, and cement loyalty amongst, the target market.

Pernod Ricard UK’s, Rowan Usher commented that some of the best PR agencies are the ones that ask about long term brand objectives and that the multi brand owner was reflecting this in its briefs. She said that this was “particularly pertinent, given the context that PR is now more than ever firmly in the Boardroom” – a view reiterated by Joan O’Connor when she said that brands/clients owed their agencies the duty of being ‘transparent’ about their long term objectives & strategies.

Jim Hawker from Threepipe opted for the short-term view. He shared how data was shifting from ‘big data’ to ‘smart data’ and that the latter was being used to feed the short term approach. By harnessing ‘smart data’ to understanding what consumers were searching for , when and how, a brand could react appropriately and continue to grow its target audience through insight. Jim was adamant that short-termism was the consumer PR zeitgeist – “it’s all about immediate, quick (results and sales) wins – particularly with the relatively short shelf life that clients afford PR agencies, along with the need to prove ROI to procurement departments, when agencies are continually being judged on their price and resulting brand sales”.

The debate certainly left our panel and audience wanting to discuss the subject more – but what is clear to me is that a mix of high impact short term tactics that fed into the longer term vision and strategies is fundamental. Successful PR is about building long term brand reputation and having bright clients, like ours, who ‘get it’.

I’d like to thank our event sponsors Pernod Ricard (wine), Clean Feed Media (videographers) and Q&R (research partners).

Ruth Allchurch
Managing Director

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