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Prioritizing PR over advertising with Laura Ries | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Prioritizing PR efforts with guest Laura Ries and show host Jason Mudd episode graphicLearn why you should put your PR efforts before advertising when building your brand with our guest, Laura Ries.



Our episode guest is Laura Ries, president at Ries & Ries. Laura is a branding guru and the bestselling author of “The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR.”



The one with Laura Ries on how brands are built with PR and maintained with advertising.



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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. Why should I lead with PR before advertising when launching a campaign or brand?

  2. What is the importance of brand positioning?

  3. Why should companies try to go “all in” when launching a brand? 

  4. What are some brand hits and misses when it comes to brand positioning? 

  5. Why should only well-established brands spend money on advertising? 


  • “The best thing for news value are new categories because really people don’t care about brands. They care about categories, and that’s what the media covers.” — @lauraries

  • “Intentionally not doing advertising when you’re launching a brand is actually incredibly important.” — @lauraries

  • “One of the reasons brands take so long and why PR is so essential: it’s because it takes time to get in the mind.” — @lauraries

  • “Staying safe isn’t how you get in the mind of the consumer. It’s not how you engage with them. Being all in is the way to go.” — @lauraries

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On this episode of On Top of PR, we are joined by Laura Ries, Laura and I are talking about the fall of advertising and the rise of PR, as well as brand positioning and many other topics you might recognize her for writing and speaking and consulting on. Her and her father, Al Ries have several books that are considered some of the most thought provoking and most important writings of our time when it comes to marketing, advertising and public relations. This is gonna be a great episode, I'm glad you're here, you're really gonna enjoy it, thank you for tuning in.


- [Announcer] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd. Presented by ReviewMaxer.


- Hello and welcome to On Top of PR, I'm your host Jason Mudd and I'm joined today with Laura Ries, Laura, welcome to the show.


- Hey, great to be here, thanks so much.


- Well, we're glad to have you. I was just thinking about you guys have a great book called "The Fall of Advertising the Rise of PR"


- This one?


- That's the one. Yep, there it is. I'm glad you brought props. And so, the book came out as I recall in 2002 and I started my agency in 2003 and I remember the book just resonating with me as, if I were gonna write a book, this is exactly what I would want communicated and you all did the heavy work for me, so thank you and I'll returned the favor by buying several copies of the book and sharing it with our clients and our prospects, 'cause that really is my philosophy of why PR is the best place to put your dollars into and I'd love to just talk about that with you on this episode, as well as some of your other books and content that you guys are actively putting out there.


- Well great, it's such a pleasure to be here and believe me, after that book, we made a lot of fast friends in PR and it was a really exciting time and those friendships continue and, we continue to talk about PR and your story isn't that unusual, like I said, a lot of PR professionals, really gravitated to the book and pushed it to their friends and their clients and their prospects and one of the great things was, we weren't PR people right? And I came from the advertising background, so it was the point of an advertising centric people, writing this book, saying that the fall of advertising and the rise of PR and it wasn't that we were anti-advertising, that's kind of a misnomer 'cause the title had to be shocking, right? But it was the time and place, that to build brands, you really need the credibility and credentials, that PR brings you and that's why for your agency, the book brought to you those credentials, it wasn't you saying PR was great, of course a PR guy would say it right away, but it was advertising and brand building people and marketing, consultants saying that you need advertising, you need the power of word of mouth, of third party endorsement to build your brand. And, yeah we're so excited about the change that has happened and the brands that have really embraced this and the agencies like yours that have risen because of it, 'cause more companies are using PR for really what it's intention was and what it works best at, in terms of getting ideas into the mind of the consumer and starting with a PR focus not having it be an afterthought, which it used to be unfortunately.


- Yeah, you're absolutely right. First of all, the book title you mentioned earlier reminding me of my friend, Tim Ferriss, who wrote "The 4-Hour Workweek" and he says very clearly, look, it's kind of gimmicky, "4-Hour Workweek", it's probably not realistic, but it's what the publisher said this will sell more books, so this is what we're gonna go with and then good for him I guess, it's become a theme of "4-Hour Body" and 4-hour this and four hours of that, so, yeah, but I mean, yeah, you need a sexy title to be able to sell books and push them off the shelves and I think, yeah, the PR profession, visibility and credibility was raised through your writing and through your organization's influence as, writing some outstanding marketing books that are out there for sure.


- Well, it really was important to raise the profession in terms of making it more strategic and the idea being that, with PR things have to be different, you have to have news value, see the advertising was always focused on things like line extensions because that worked well with advertising, those brands people knew and was easy to get them on the shelf and then you had ads that people maybe recognized, but it was terribly detrimental for brands, of course, line extension weakens brands over time, you're watering down what your brand stands for, I mean, really Corona sells, so you gotta be kidding me, that's the most ridiculous idea, yet that's the kind of idea that advertising promotes, to extend the brand, put your brand on as many things as possible and we'll advertise all of them, right? With a big Superbowl ad, but that undermines brands in the long-term, instead, when you're thinking in terms of PR, it's how do I get people to talk about this? How is this going to be new and different? How are we gonna have news value about it? And the best thing for news value, are new brands, most specifically, new categories, 'cause really people don't care about brands, they care about categories and that's what the media covers, that's what drives word of mouth and specifically when you can narrow the focus, you take something like Zoom, which, everyone is on now or TikTok, these were new categories with new brands that have exploded when it comes to PR, 'cause there's definitely something to talk about.


- Yeah absolutely. I think every day, somebody at my agency is guiding a client on the whole concept of lead with PR and then advertise once you've exhausted all the PR opportunities. And so, it's so true and you both did an excellent job of pointing that out, how, if you go and pitch a story to an editor or a writer and there's already been advertisements appearing either in their news outlets or somebody else's news outlet, they're like, I already know about this, I know my audience already does, why in the world would we take a step backwards and start writing about it, as if it's new? And so, the key word is that, news has to be new, it can't be, we ran ad campaign last week now we want you to do a story about it.


- That used to be how it went, right? It was done and sometimes it still is. And really nothing kills the PR potential as much as an advertising campaign, right? As you say, from experience, you go to an editor or they don't want... I mean yeah, the ads are all over the buses, all over the city, we're not gonna to write about it, it's not new and different, everyone's seen it. And so, intentionally not doing advertising when you're launching a brand is actually incredibly important and many of the top brands spent decades on things like Starbucks, I mean, they had enormous buzz, but it wasn't created through advertising. Now listen, many young brands don't have money upfront, it's actually to their advantage. In the .com bubble, many brands threw everything into advertising and it was a disaster, because they needed the credibility that PR brain brings and that's what's so exciting about it.


- Yeah, as I'm thinking about it in your book, you're reminding me... I think the examples or I think Starbucks and Target and a couple other brands, didn't advertise at all or at least for much of their early years, they didn't even touch it and I happen to be a very proud Tesla owner, loyal Tesla owner and I'm in some Tesla Facebook groups and people are always like, I don't understand why doesn't Tesla advertise, they should be advertising and I'm just face palming, thinking to myself, the beauty is they don't have to advertise nor should they and I think I've even heard Elon say, "We're probably never gonna advertise" and you don't have to, I mean, he gets so much attention already-


- Oh my goodness.


- Yeah and-


- Well yeah, that is such a great example and Tesla, Red Bull, I mean there's so many brands that... And again, these are all as well in new categories, right? Tesla is the only brand and it's focused on the electric car only and of course they dominate the market, red bull, invented the energy drink and they dominate the market. And so, again, what's really interesting in all the cases though and it's so important as a part of PR, is having a celebrity CEO, somebody who can be the spokesperson because listen, you can't interview a car, I mean, you could put a car in an ad, you don't need a CEO or anybody, but when it comes to PR having a person who is going to devote a lot of time and be really good, at being a spokesperson and being on TV, is vital these days, whether you're Nvidia, whether you're Tesla, whatever company it is, having a CEO who can be that spokesperson is so, so important, I mean, of course with big news today with Apple doing... And Tim cook, what's he gonna say? Everybody wants to know because they're following the company and they're listening to that CEO because they're delivering the news about the company.


- Yeah, you're absolutely right, rockstar CEOs are within the age of social media, people are connecting with CEOs and in fact-


- Yeah, and I don't even have to be super rockstar, but they are... If bill Gates is still a nerd and many of them, but, they do have to speak to their brand and speak up for their brand and be that person who really is just the total evangelist for their brand and people love to hear from them and the media loves to talk to them. And that's what we see those companies... And that's the predicament too, over time, when the founder leaves, how do you get that next person? Tim cook has become a very good spokesperson, but it wasn't easy making the transition from Steve jobs, who was a master at it, to go to Tim cook, it's really hard and one other point to make too is, there does often come a time and place for advertising and it's what you briefly alluded to earlier, it's the maintenance of the brand. So you don't use advertising to tell somebody new to introduce somebody or to change their mind, one of the reasons brands take so long and why PR is so essential it's 'cause it takes time to get in the mind, can change someone's mind to think that a Red Bull tastes good or they wanna drink it, that wasn't an easy sell or to pay $4 for a Starbucks, that wasn't an easy sell either, but over time, the PR, the buzz, drove those brands and those categories into the mind. Now over time brands lose their buzz, I mean, red bull isn't new anymore, there's a Starbucks on every corner and that's when you want to use advertising to defend your position, it's not an aggressive move, it's a defensive tool to keep competitors at bay, if you will and to remind people, what it is you stand for.


- Yeah, that's good, that's good. The other thing, I think at least in my mind, falls under the umbrella PR is social media and going back to the example of a Elon Musk and Tesla, I was giving my friend Dwight a ride home from a business meeting we were both and he rode in my Tesla was asking me all kinds of questions and I told him, he said, what's some of the coolest things about having the Tesla? And I said, well the primary reason was autopilot, but the other cool thing about having a Tesla , is the overnight updates that you can get, I said well what's really cool, is when you see somebody on Twitter, engage with the CEO of the company, to throw out a suggestion, of an Over-the-Air update for the car and he replies back and goes, that's a great idea, we'll go to work on that right away and have it live in a week or two and literally there have been things that have happened in our car, that have made the user experience better from an overnight update in the car, software-wise, that came from a user-generated comment or suggestion through Twitter and I think that's the best customer feedback, right? 'Cause there's no more focus groups needed for Tesla, because on Twitter, they're getting feedback all the time because they know customers, users, know that they'll actually take that feedback and do something with it to improve the user experience. Imagine that bomb getting blown into the whole mix of marketing and customer experiences, right? The ability to use social media to interface directly with a CEO that... Normally what would you do? You'd write a letter and maybe they'll see it, right?


- Maybe is right, but it does come down to the brand standing for something, that those consumers and customers feeling passionate about, I mean, you feel so passionate and you know a lot about your Tesla, 'cause Tesla stands for something, they're pioneer in electric vehicles, I mean, they're the first brand in the mind, they dominate the mind, I mean, how is General Motors gonna have a Twitter account? I mean, they've got so many brands and their name on so many products, from expensive to cheap to trucks to sports cars, I mean, what's the point of view, what are they going to engage with and who are they gonna engage with, what's the position here? What's the discussion about? Is it for small cars? Or is it for big gas guzzlers? Is it for Hummers? Or is it for the Volt? It's very hard to have a position, to have a discussion, when you don't really have a focus and that's where I think social media can be for brands that do have a position, that that do have a strong following and that are pioneering and dominating in categories, that's where you can really have that kind of discussion. When you have a little bit of lots of businesses, what are you gonna talk about? That's the problem.


- You make a great point because going back to GM and other automakers, right? They're dabbling in the electric space and then they wonder why they're not selling, and so, if you're gonna take the risk of buying an electric car, I think you should buy one from somebody who's all in, absolutely focused, is what they do everyday, as opposed to, oh yeah, we've got in addition to like you said, a dozen lines of products, we also have this one thing over here that we're really starting to focus on. Well, I don't think they'll ever be successful in that space until they really just start walking away from what the rest of their businesses is doing and the risk is so high for them to do that, I don't see that happening. What do you think Laura?


- Well, absolutely, I mean, that's a really good way of phrasing it, all in and big companies don't ever wanna be all in, right? All they talk about is diversification, they wanna be a little bit of everywhere to stay safe, well staying safe isn't how you get in the mind of the consumer, it is not how you engage with them, being all in is the way to go. Now you can be a big company like Procter and Gamble and own multiple brands, or even Apple is very good, they don't have one name on everything, it is the iPhone, the iPad and the Macintosh and those are each individual brands, under the umbrella of course of the Apple computer company, but those individual brands on individual categories are really an important part of that success story, that is Apple. And again, with the car companies, it is such a tragedy 'cause there was, they just didn't wanna take the leap they have line extended all of their models into the regular Camry and got the electric Camry. I mean, very few have really gone all in, because right now the market is small, of course, potentially it's likely to dominate, but they don't see the long-term benefits of investing in a totally new brand now, even though that's the best strategy,


- Absolutely. Laura, we're gonna take a quick break and be right back on the other side, so hang with us,


- [ Announcer ] You're listening to On Top of PR with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He's the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.


- Alright we're back and we're with Laura Ries, Laura and we're so glad you're here. I wanted to talk to you about something else in your book and that is a great story that I love to tell, it's like a good cocktail or trivial conversation point, but, in the book you write about how, Budweiser sales were slipping and so they answer... Meanwhile, Bud Light sales are increasing and the wisdom of the marketing department or advertising department, they said, well, that means we have to grow our advertising spend for Budweiser and if we increase the advertising, that'll increase sales, when they increase the advertising, but sales didn't do very much as I recall, right? And it was the inability to shift the mindset that maybe the customer wants the light beer, right? And so while they had this product that they had for years, and it suddenly started seeing a decrease in consumption, they're like, oh, just throw more money at it, instead of listening to what the customers are saying and what the sales are showing.


- Yeah no, it was such a tragedy and it's such a great example because you really did see a major shift and this is often what you see, when you see categories divide, I mean, beer used to be beer, right? And Budweiser was the king of beer, but then along came something called light beer and Miller was the first and they gave it a terrible name, they gave it the generic L-I-T-E. But it gained traction, why? Because not really the branding so much as the category was a powerful idea, it was it tastes great, but it was less filling, and people like to consume a lot when they're at football games and with their friends and everything else, so, light beer did have a lot of advantages. Now, it wasn't a quick to take off in terms of it didn't dominate the market, it took over decades to do that, but, there was a future potential, much like we talked about in the previous segment about electric cars, right? They don't dominate the market today, but there's no doubt that's gonna be the future. And that was the case with light beer, but what do you do if your Budweiser or Miller or Coors and what did the big three do? Did they think and say, hey, this is gonna be such a big category, do we launch a brand for this new category? Or do we take this brand a Budweiser or a Coors or a Miller that people know, that people love and we line extend it? Well, we've got the advertising, we love our advertising, and so they just wanted everyone they thought loved the brand and so they wanted to offer them a wide variety, Bud in any flavor, right? Unfortunately, short-term that will have actually in some cases a boost in sales, as people will try it, they've tried Bud Light Seltzer and they'll try lots of stuff, but long-term, what is a Budweiser? Is it really the king of beers? Do people really think it's the most powerful brand? Not so it's a watered down version today, It doesn't stand for anything really because they've put their name on everything. It's funny one of the great stories is, in the seventies actually went out to Colorado and met with the people at Coors, now Coors was a legendary brand, I mean, this had enormous PR potential, was only in the West, I mean, presidents would fly it to the white house, It was really a coveted, cool, hip brand that only, the really, really in people knew about and drank and everything else. It had a great mystique, it was water from the Rocky Mountains, a great PR story. And again, they had a great potential, I'll talk to them and said, forget the regular beer, why don't you make Coors a light beer only? It actually was a bit lighter 'cause it was the high altitude, and in Denver, they did make it lighter on purpose, so it could have been, it was already a light beer, why not focus it and not have... The line extension name is a troubling thing, it's like diet for Coke or light for a beer, everyone sees it as not the real thing and Coors could have stood for light beer in that category and continue that brand mystique instead of what they eventually did was, go with the line extension route, and kind of a tragedy, a tragedy in the sense that actually the whole category has been damaged. 'cause there wasn't any real brand that stood for light beer, they all were line extensions. In long-term what did people do? They've gone to craft beer and then they've gone to Seltzer now and they've gone to different brands like Sam Adams and White Claw for example.


- Now is a good time to be in the beer or alcohol business anyway, just given COVID and everything else. But, you're right, the more craft and unique it is, the more people seem to be drawn into it, so for sure. So Laura, obviously we're living in the times of COVID and the pandemic, I'm sure that's impacted your business, 'cause I know you speak quite a bit and travel quite a bit. What's new for you and what have you been up to lately?


- Yeah, sure, our business is split between writing books and consulting with companies on marketing and positioning strategy and then giving speeches on these topics around the world actually been to over 60 countries. It's really exciting to see how the principles actually work for companies around the world. Obviously with COVID, I haven't traveled, I had a big world tour back in February, right before this hit, and have been hunkered down pretty much ever since. Luckily with the technology, I've been able to do interviews like this, do some virtual speaking that way and meeting with clients this way, technology has really been a great asset for us. but I do look forward to 2021 and getting back in the road in front of people as well, I think there's a great live experience of being at a big event with a lot of people. What's interesting is from the branding aspect, it's always two directions, it's the mushy middle that is the problem. Big exciting events that are really about entertainment and meeting people, I think will flourish when we get over this pandemic, but so will these kind of intimate things, using technology to easily connect from your office to people instantly around the world with video, which obviously I'm big proponent of visuals and I think that is a great way of getting together, getting the emotion that only video and images can portray.


- Yeah, I totally agree, I think that it will be... People are naturally desired to come together, especially extroverts like yourself, right? And so, they find fuel and energy in those environments and I know it'll come back, it might be different and it might take a while, but eventually I think just like everything else, we just got past memorializing 9/11 and the world was different after 9/11 for a while, but then things started loosening up a little bit and a little bit more return to normal, we'll see the same thing here as well so-


- Yeah and you really will see again what I said are the extremes of the situation or if you have big groups and you have very small technology things, I mean, much like with beer, right?


- You've got Sam Adams, a very, very heavy, full of flavor product and then you have Seltzer, which has basically no flavor.


- So you don't like seltzer, so I'm not getting you any seltzer for-


- Actually I love seltzer, I'm drinking some right now, but there's no-


- Not Budweiser or not Corona-


- No, no, no, no, no.


- Yeah, excellent and so tell me, are you working on a new book or what's happening there?


- Yeah, we've been... We actually released it first in China, if you believe that, we have a very successful office out of Shanghai with our partner Simon over there. And so we're talking about positioning in the 21st century, how the principles of positioning, many of them have remained the same, but some of them have changed and new ones have come about, particularly in the idea of visual hammer, which you see behind me, of the importance of having a visual to drive your idea, to own that position in the mind, being incredibly important, as well as the idea of category, like we talked about today in building brands it is the category, that really is the big idea and what people really care about and how you can define your own new category, build your brand and of course, use PR to get it in the mind.


- That's music to my ears. So of all the books you've done, what are your top two?


- Oh, goodness, it's like trying to choose your children, isn't it?


- I know right? And you're on the spot to do it.


- Well because we're here and actually because it came out the same year my first child was born, "The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR" is really a very special book because it changed a lot of minds in how people perceived PR and how they could better understand when advertising was appropriate, but really the importance of PR and word of mouth and then of course it took off as well with the internet, the ability to have those conversations. And then that book behind me, "Visual Hammers" also a personal favorite, talking about the powers of visuals to drive ... The emotional powers that visuals provide to drive ideas in the mind. So you talk about Corona beer, for example and you have that lime in the top of the bottle, which was a very powerful visual hammer to drive the idea that it was the authentic Mexican beer. And so that was of course remembering a time where that's the only thing that Corona came to mind, was that delicious beer from Mexico. But hopefully everyone is staying safe and we all get through this and go on to great things in the coming months.


- Yeah, absolutely. And Laura, if our audience wants to connect with you, what are some of the best ways for them to reach you?


- Oh absolutely, well, it's super simple, you just go to our website and that is a Ries, R-I-E-S.com and you can find all of our information and a list of our books and all of our social media connections and everything there you could ever want to know about Ries and that's of course, recent Ries, because I am partnered with and my co-author, of course, Al Ries, the father of positioning.


- The legend Al Ries himself for sure, yes absolutely-


- Yeah, he's doing terrific. He and I are both here in Atlanta and... Yeah, I mean, what better thing to work with your dad for over 25 years.


- Yeah, absolutely. And a great guy and an icon in the industry and just so grateful for everything that you and he are doing and, appreciative of you taking the time to be on this episode today and if there's ever anything I can do for you, please let me know.


- Absolutely, it was my pleasure, I loved the conversation thanks so much


- Thank you, Laura. Be well and take care.


- [Announcer] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer

Topics: On Top of PR

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