by Isabelle Abdou
There has rarely been a more publicised demise than of the high street in recent years – it’s time to turn this negative press around and get people excited to talk about your brand.
Retailers are recovering from the worst Christmas trading season since the recession of 2008, with multiple high profile businesses issuing profit warnings and over 1,200 closures recorded by the end of 2018. Consumers have been lured away by the convenience of online shopping, and agile tech disruptors such as Boohoo, Amazon and Deliveroo are now eating into high street market share. In response, brick-and-mortar establishments need to leverage clever PR campaigns and offer an immersive in-store experience to create a buzz around their brand.
Data collected by the insolvency firm Begbies Traynor warned of uncertain times ahead in 2019 as retailers continue to slash prices and hand out vouchers in an attempt to bolster sales at the expense of profits. A partner at the firm predicts the more environmentally friendly and ethically conscious brands will thrive, epitomised by the attitudes of socially responsible millennials. It is apparent that only savvy stores that understand and engage with their customer base’s ethos will survive.
However, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom on the high street – there have been a number of brands bucking the downwards trend through the use of clever public relations:
Beauty giant Lush has historically recorded large profit margins – its business model allows rigid control over sourcing and product development and its 100% vegetarian and ethical sourcing attracts and maintains a loyal customer base. Consumers nowadays are more concerned than ever about the ethical production of goods; Lush has certainly capitalised on this and created a market niche for itself. Examples of its ethical campaigns to raise awareness and money for charities are vast, ranging from transgender rights to environmental awareness.
Lush also hosts an annual summit, in which it invites its loyal fan base to sit in on a hotbed of discussion, debate, activism and action, from campaigners and grassroots voices across the globe. It is a digital event which means anyone can join the thousands of other like-minded individuals and learn more about the most impactful charities and organisation in 2019.
Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics says "the core values of the company resonate with their consumers.” He continues, “They are authentic by staying true to those core values and offering a product not available elsewhere. That is the magic sauce.” A lot of retailers talk about WACD, or "what Amazon can't do". Lush is WACD.
Greggs has had a remarkably successful 2018 in such a tough climate, recording a 9% increase in sales in the tricky 8 weeks up until the end of November. This can be attributed to the meticulous attention and planning put into its bespoke Christmas range, and in particular the vegan sausage roll campaign which grabbed headlines and consumer attention nationwide to become one of the hottest food trends this year.
The company humorously made the most of the vegan trend by sending out samples in mock iPhone cases, and as a result of this meticulous planning the vegan sausage roll became its fastest selling new line in 6 years. The campaign was described by industry magazine PR Week as “a masterclass in public relations,” and Greggs is now facing the enviable problem of struggling to keep up with demand.
The popular pasty maker also released a campaign earlier in the year inviting couples to dine in for a romantic meal for two to celebrate Valentine’s day, showing the company’s light hearted side. This went viral on social media, being shared thousands of times to become a novelty event and astutely avoiding becoming a gimmick.
Waterstones is staying put on our high street for many years to come due to ensuring products are catered to local areas, therefore reducing the need for returns and promoting higher-margin goods. Keeping a track of what consumers are buying in each area enables the creation of tailored campaigns which engage locals and attract more customers in-store.
Waterstones also famously turned an incident in which a customer was accidentally locked-in overnight to their Piccadilly store into the one of the greatest PR opportunities of all time. Waterstones partnered with Airbnb to create a dedicated page for the Waterstones Piccadilly store where 10 people could win a pair of tickets to the sleepover. This agile response to a potential disaster was brilliant and has since inspired a spate of “sleepover” experiences across high street stores such as John Lewis. Harnessing the power of Twitter is crucial to maintaining public image – the opportunity it provides to engage directly with your customer base as well as reach the wider population is unrivalled.
Glimmer of hope
These brands exemplify that good PR will make your brand stand out and translate into real business outcomes – offering a glimmer of hope to the struggling high street. Spending enough time creating brand-appropriate public relations campaigns has never been so crucial in the fight for survival. If consumers feel invested in your brand, they’ll keep coming back in-store; it’s up to you to give people a good reason to feel part of your brand.