Public Relations: The wonderbra effect - The PR industry, ironically, suffers a bad image among ad agencies. But some say taking advantage of press coverage is part of every agency’s duty to a client Harriet Green investigates.

Everyone needs someone to look down on. Ad folk are no exception.

Everyone needs someone to look down on. Ad folk are no


Fed up with jokes about adland, they’ve always enjoyed a jibe or two at

the expense of an industry deemed to be even flakier - public


It’s just silly stunts, they say, why bother whipping up a pointless


But serious players in advertising have started to realise the value of

working side-by-side with the much-maligned PRs. Think of the noisy ads

which have picked up additional attention through clever spin:

Wonderbra’s ’hello boys’, Walkers’ Gary Lineker spots, Peugeot 406’s

’search for the hero’, Ikea’s ’chuck out your chintz’, Renault Clio’s

Nicole and Papa campaign - and most recently French Connection’s


These are the ads that ordinary punters on the street can recite as if

imprinted on their brains. Not just because they’re good, but because

they crossed the divide. They ceased to be merely advertising and became

part of the media’s editorial.

Take Wonderbra - a campaign that seemed to come from nowhere. Three

poster executions - starring a scantily clad, but unknown, model called

Eva Herzigovna - launched on St Valentine’s Day in 1995 with a budget of

just pounds 130,000. In less than a year, TBWA’s ads had lifted sales by

41 per cent. In that first year, the campaign generated more than 400

stories on television, radio and the press - national and local,

upmarket and down. Coverage ranged from the titillating to the serious.

Even The Sunday Times could not resist a jokey headline: ’Abreast Of The


The ’hello boys’ poster made it into an exhibition, at the Victoria &

Albert Museum no less, of the century’s most memorable posters.

Small wonder that the campaign has become a case-book for the entire

marketing industry - from bold planning and spunky creative work, to

relentless PR efforts by Jackie Cooper. Wonderbra showcased promotional

integration at its best.

There are other excellent examples. Perhaps the most impressive single

PR campaign of recent years was Nicole’s wedding for the Renault Clio

last year. Guest appearances by Vic and Bob, a mystery fiance, a glitzy

launch and plenty of photo opportunities made an attractive dish to the

media. The campaign produced 23 advertising stories according to

Propeller Communications, which conducts a quarterly survey of ’ads that

make the news’.

Walkers Crisps has used Gary Lineker to potent effect, particularly with

its Mirror exclusives detailing each new execution.

Levi’s, despite falling on hard times, continues to generate column

inches with its advertising - although the positive spin has disappeared

lately following the outcry over the ’Kevin the Hamster’ execution.

And yet four years after Wonderbra, advertising and PR still don’t work

closely together in most cases. Martin Loat, the managing director of

Propeller Communications believes that too many clients run the two

disciplines separately. ’They only call in their PR teams to get

coverage for their ads at the last minute. Sadly, the PR people often

find that the ad hasn’t got what it takes to make a story.’

Christopher Broadbent, the chairman of Barclay Stratton, agrees: ’It’s

all about joint planning between PR and advertising. But the campaigns

that do work are rare. The head is willing but the flesh is weak. I

blame the client community and client inexperience. Clients needs to be

in charge of both functions and force agencies to work together.’

The need for a co-ordinated approach is why senior figures in the PR

industry insist on being involved right at the beginning of a


’The creative has to be PR-able,’ Jackie Cooper, founding manager of

Jackie Cooper PR, says. ’No self-respecting journalist would write about

an ad for the sake of it. It has to have a depth to it.

’It’s very important for the PR to be involved right at the


Otherwise you can miss an opportunity. You might have a model who is

starring in an ad, but she might have a heritage, a background and can

be turned into a personality. That’s too late when the ad is about to go

on air.’

In this spirit, Freud Communications took part in Pizza Hut’s Pamela

Anderson ad from day one. Gaby Zein, the managing director of Freuds,

says his company, rather than the agency, AMV, was behind signing


’If an ad’s led by a celebrity face, that’s more motivating for the

media,’ Zein explains. ’If you can get momentum on a campaign that’s

great. You have this theatre when the next ad comes out, with the media

asking if they can have the exclusive.’

Forward planning is essential, as Broadbent explains: ’You could run a

competition with a national paper looking for someone to play in your

ad. The PR impact of that could be huge.’

The current master of PR in the advertising business is Trevor Beattie,

TBWA’s executive creative director. He’s the man behind Wonderbra,

Pretty Polly and most recently French Connection’s ’fcuk’ task -

low-budget campaigns which generated substantial editorial coverage.

Beattie is scathing about the scorn with which much of the industry

approaches PR: ’Clients want their money to go further, so if I can do

something for my clients that’ll flog stuff, I’ll do it.’ And yet, he

says, he gets ’battered’ for that. ’People say it’s bringing advertising

into disrepute.

That’s like saying you’re bringing prostitution into disrepute. People

in our business find it vulgar. Customers don’t find it vulgar; they

find it fascinating.’

Beattie sees no line between above-the-line advertising and PR. For

example, he takes care to write the slogan on French Connection T-shirts

which he regards as mobile hoardings. ’There are 400,000 people walking

around in T-shirts,’ he claims, ’and only ten people have complained

about the ads. There is no difference between the shop windows, bags or

T-shirts and the ads outside. It’s ridiculously old-fashioned to say the

ads are over here and the PR is over there.’

Mark Wnek, the executive creative director at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper,

which produced the Peugeot 406 ’search for the hero’ campaign, agrees:

’Agencies wrongly turn up their noses at PR. I don’t see myself as an

adman, but rather as a communications consultant. If you want to help,

you have to use every string to your bow.’

Three principal ingredients can ensure ads hit the headlines. Loat lists

them: ’Sex, celebrities and controversy.’ Wonderbra had them all, but

what hope for more mundane products?

Luck also plays a part. The Peugeot 406 campaign generated much of its

publicity on an erroneous story about a ’gay’ kiss (actually, it was the

kiss of life). Even Wonderbra owed a lot to good fortune. ’Wonderbra was

a major shock to everyone,’ Brian Duffy, Pretty Polly’s managing

director, says. ’We can now say it was a major strategy, but only with

the benefit of hindsight. We were very lucky with our timing and our

product category, and with Trevor, who is a great spokesperson.’

But the PR roadshow can be scary. ’Finding yourself in the eye of the

storm is terrifying,’ says Duffy, who found himself talking to the New

York Times just hours after the first Wonderbra poster went up. ’You

find yourself saying something that may be interpreted completely


Juliet Soskice, the head of marketing at St Luke’s, which has achieved a

high editorial presence with its Ikea campaign, agrees: ’Being

fascinating means being brave, which may mean moments of anxiety when

you wonder if you’ve gone too far. But with a high level of strategic

planning you avoid panic with a damage control strategy that should

cover ninety-nine per cent of eventualities.’

But countless ad campaigns have been burned by negative PR. Brave

clients carry on regardless, but some are less confident. Guinness got

into a flap over its ’gay kiss’ ad. The press went wild, so Guinness

denied the ad even existed.

Heineken, by tradition hungry for publicity, chickened out at the first

sign of controversy over its jokey twist on the Nativity: ’It’s a girl!’

said the poster, which never saw the light of day.

So how do you measure how much coverage you’ve got, good or bad?

Advertising based on ratecard is relatively easy to monitor. PR is not.

Wnek claims his ’pure genius’ line, which he wrote while at Ogilvy and

Mather, accumulated as much as pounds 22 million in free publicity for


However, Broadbent says PR can’t be measured this way. ’How do you

assess a picture on page three of The Mirror,’ he asks, ’or a negative

story on page five? If a client asked me what the value was in media

spend, I wouldn’t answer.’

Beattie believes many in the industry are still not taking advantage of

free publicity. He points a finger at the Levi’s Sta-Prest ad starring

Angel and Flat Eric which is rapidly acquiring cult status: ’You’ve got

to tap into that zeitgeist. If I had been the creative director on

Sta-Prest, I’d have had the bear on a chat show by now, or had it

interviewed on the front page of The Sun.’

Despite Beattie’s doubts, many feel that the ad business is rapidly

wising up to the benefits of PR. Rupert Howell, the managing partner of

HHCL & Partners, says: ’We’re all about adding value to our clients’

brands, and contributing to the value of their businesses. Not taking

advantage of free publicity is an abdication of responsibility.’

And that’s not something Beattie’s likely to do when Pretty Polly

launches its new range of bras in May. The campaign reunites the old

Wonderbra team - not just Beattie, but Duffy and Cooper too. So watch

out for the stunts, and the hoo-ha.

Client/Campaign                      Estimated       Average annual

                                     value of        adspend over

                                     PR coverage     past three years

Ikea ’chuck out your chintz’         pounds 0.7m     pounds 5.04m

Guinness ’pure genius’               pounds 22m      pounds 10.75m

Renault Clio ’Nicole’s wedding’      pounds 16m      pounds 11.93m

Wonderbra ’hello boys’               pounds 24m      pounds 0.58m

French Connection ’fcuk’             pounds 4m       pounds 0.42m

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus