Public relations makes product launches so last century

asks whether Microsoft’s public relations launch strategy for Vista was too 20th century – with the focus on maximising attention prior to the launch of the product.

Her thoughts fit with a conversation I had earlier today regarding car launches.  For me, the practice of taking hundreds of journalists to a luxury hotel somewhere overseas for a group ride and drive of a new model is pure 1970s package holiday.  This approach has been tweaked and refined over the past 50 or so years, but is it still relevant today?

The PR efforts are all geared towards pre-launch coverage – largely driven by the desire for features in major glossy motor magazines which traditionally had long lead times.  Then the hundreds of other motoring hacks are accommodated on a mass market, economies of scale basis.  All the PR resource and focus is on one event – episodic and focused entirely on new models.  So by the time the car is actually available to buy, the PR folk have moved onto the next launch – with little attention spent on the existing product range, let alone engaging with the wider remit of public relations beyond marketing activities.

This approach reinforces PR in a silo – first the media coverage, then the adverts, then the cars in the dealerships – and finally, available for customers.  Is this really the best way to move the metal today?

PR practitioners involved in product launches have never been busier – as   observes when looking at Anheuser-Busch which has launched dozens of products targeting niche consumers. In 1997, the company offered 26 brands today it has 80. 

I know the philosophy in the car world is that new models generate media coverage, which in turn stimulates sales.  But the investment in bringing a new model to market and the need to respond to competitors’ new products often by short-term sales promotions, makes this an unsustainable strategy.

So the launches and need to get attention leads what  has termed “a tsunami of unanticipated, impersonal and irrelevant spam that fills our lives”.  More and more products, requiring more and more hype, involving more and more noise targeting more and more media and other influencers.  But maybe more is less.

With all the effort put on a mass strategy of maximising coverage, have we lost sight of what we are trying to achieve?  Isn’t there too much attention on push communications, a hyperactive frenzy, rather than focusing on understanding and communicating with the people who will actually buy our products if they were put at the front of the food chain?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.