Recently, a former colleague told me that his company was launching a new product line, and it was in direct competition with our former brand. He wondered how much he should say about the things the former company had done to the brand to diminish it’s authenticity.
My counsel was that he should build his own brand, and leave the negative advertising to politicians. Why? When you launch a new brand, there’s a limited window of time and attention that you’ll get to tell your story. If you spend much of that time trashing competitors, then it doesn’t leave much opportunity to develop your own brand persona. If customers don’t know what your brand stands for, then why should they buy it?
The other complication in my colleague’s launch, was that part of the story was being handled by the retailer who had an exclusive on the brand for a period of time. I had to speak up and remind him that no one else is interested in protecting his brand image more than he and his company. He had to find a way to work with his retailer, but not turn over control of the story to anyone else.
Here are some tips for managing your brand communication during a launch when there are complicating factors:
1) This is your moment. You have to use all public relations, marketing, and communication tools to get out the messages you’ve crafted to your customers. Waiting until all other launch issues are handled means that you’ve missed the news cycle.
2) Take ownership of your own public relations and communications messages. If you have to get another party to approve what you say, then do it; but don’t hand over your brand story to anyone else.
3) Find out what your partner(s) in the launch will be saying about your brand when he/she is interviewed. Hold a meeting or conference call to review what each of you will be telling the public about the launch so that there is no question about who is saying what.
4) Don’t miss giving an exclusive. Whether it’s an established media outlet or a key online opportunity, you should always try and negotiate a national and a local exclusive. National news outlets really don’t like being scooped by a hometown paper, and definitely won’t give you coverage if the local reporter manages to get the story picked up by other news leaders.
5) Develop your key messages ahead of the brand launch and practice answering difficult questions. Trying to improvise answers when reporters call is not a reliable strategy.
6) Dissemminate the same key messages to your customer service department, the CEO of the company and anyone else who might get a phone call on the topic. You don’t want to have a reporter call your customer service line and get an extemporaneous view of the sensitive issues.
7) If you don’t have the expertise for planning and managing the commuication of the brand during your launch, hire an experienced, well-connected p.r. person who can. You’ll never regret hiring reinforcements–but probably will kick yourself later if you don’t.
And keep reminding yourself, if you can’t say anything nice about a competitor, say nice things about your own brand, and let the customer decide who’s best.