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12/05/2010 Propagation Planning or PR Influencing?


Over the last year or so Griffin Farley, strategy director at BBH New York, has been working on what he calls “Propagation Planning.” To oversimplify his main thesis, he’s trying to get marketers to focus their attention on people who influence others, rather than end users or end consumers. By shifting the focus you open up the potential of influencing purchasing decisions through personal recommendations, rather than trying to drive home brand or rational benefits through your media.

Here’s a great presentation he gave at the Bolder Digital Works New York conference.

I’m starting to use Griffin’s propagation planning brief for my client strategies and it’s been a successful too to shift mindsets. It’s funny what happens when you get someone to focus their attentions in new areas; it opens the floodgates for great ideas.

One of the easiest examples to understand comes from the Great Shlep idea for the Obama campaign. When faced with the challenge of elderly Jewish, democratic voters who were skeptical of voting for Obama (and who had been on the receiving end of some anti-Obama propaganda emails), the Obama campaign decided to not solely rely on rational messaging.

Instead, they enlisted comedian Sarah Silverman to enlist young Jewish Obama enthusiast to convince their Floridian grandparents to vote for Obama. What an insight! If there’s a force no Jewish grandparent can resist, it’s their grandchildren (with their own children, not so much). 

One challenge I see in a number of examples of propagation planning is where does the new propagation planning start and the old, public relations influencer campaign end? The recycling campaign of the 70’s and 80’s in the U.S. that targeted school children to influence their parents (and completely shifted the recycling landscape here) was a beautifully executed PR influencer campaign. Or was it? Maybe it was propagation planning and we didn’t even know it!

An example that made the rounds recently is a campaign by L’Oreal to target hairdressers to influence their customers to get HIV tested. The campaign includes kits to hairdressers and in person events, along with some Web and social channels. It takes an ad copy line: “Only your hairdresser knows for sure” and puts a modern, helpful twist on it. You can read more about it here.

It’s a great idea. But it seems more like the recycling idea than the great shlep idea. It seems more like a classic PR influencer campaign than ad agency propagation campaign: Target your influencer, send them something, do something in real life, get press, create buzz and word of mouth and you get results.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here. But I see a difference, however subtle.

When a group is clearly defined (hairdressers, teachers, students) that feels more like a PR influencer campaign. When the group is much looser (Jewish grandchildren, women who want their men to smell better) that’s Propagation Planning (the latter is the propagation focus of Old Spice). While the intent may be the same, the way you get to both of those influencers or propagators requires different approaches and tactics.

Perhaps the difference is simply that creative groups and PR groups don’t collaborate as much as they should. So they end up calling the same things they do by different names. 

I think Propagation Planning is awesome. I love PR influencer campaigns. Great work includes both. But I don’t think they’re exactly the same thing.

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