2015 was a good year for big brands coming to Northern Ireland and in 2016, these popular arrivals look set to continue. Danielle Hibbert from Belfast PR agency Clearbox Communications explains why it's important for big brands to adopt a 'local and vocal' approach to communications when launching in new markets.
With renowned brands such as popular lingerie chain Boux Avenue, Scandinavian retailer Tiger and burger joint Five Guys choosing to come to Belfast in 2015, and with more Greggs bakeries and homeware and fashion retailer Oliver Bonas arriving in 2016, it is clear that Northern Ireland is fast becoming an attractive destination for UK and international brands.
When entering regional markets it is crucial for big brands to recognise that every region, be it Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England or further afield, all embody varying cultures, characteristics and ideals. No two places are the same.
Developing a regional public relations campaign for a national or international brand is a must. Communicating the overall brand message but tailoring it towards the hearts and minds of regional and local consumers is key to its success. A regional twist to a national story can help a localised audience identify closely with a brand, leading to brand engagement and in time, potential brand loyalty.
Regional and local media can have a strong influence towards creating community identities. The public always wants to hear a thought-provoking and interesting story, but the more relevant the story is to them then the more it is accepted. A PR strategy should ensure that the story is both appealing and relevant to the brand's target market. A target market in one region may have varying characteristics than a sub-segment of this target market in another.
Like the consumer, the press and digital influencers in different regions and the towns within them will have varying restraints, requirements and beliefs. Good relationships with journalists and social channels and knowledge of local publications is crucial to the success of a PR campaign. Ask any journalist and they will relay pointless phone calls from some national agencies trying to sell in a story to a publication they have no understanding of and to a journalist with whom they have no relationship.
In today's economic environment, journalists and social channels are under immense pressure to produce news stories and features due to staffing and timing constraints. They rely more than ever on good, PR-generated stories with relevance in today's society. Too often, stories have appeared in regional media from Press Association or other press agencies, which have no relevance to the readers. On some occasions in Northern Ireland, fashion pages have featured products from John Lewis when the department store isn't (sadly) even represented in this region.
The journalist, blogger or social influencer needs to trust the story is coming from someone reliable and someone who won't waste their time. A PR agency in Northern Ireland will have this trust above and beyond a PR professional calling from, say, an office in London – they will get results. Regional PR professionals deal with their local media on an almost weekly basis and in turn are more in tune with their needs, likes and of course what really makes them tick. These journalists will read their press releases, take their phone calls and most importantly, go back to the PR professional for news, views and feature ideas.
Employing a local PR agency adds great value and can be crucial to the success of a national or indeed global brand campaign. A national brand PR campaign, although perhaps relevant to all UK consumers, needs to be rolled out beyond the national press and into the regional and local media.
The potential to be opportunistic is so much greater when the relationships with media are tightest and proximity to the consumer is closest.
In conclusion, national and global brands – and indeed larger, capital city-based agencies - need to embrace regional PR agencies and recognise that what works in Bristol won't necessarily work in Belfast. Regional support for a brand will provide invaluable insight into both consumer and media behaviours which in turn can increase brand engagement and loyalty. And that is what it is all about, really!