How brands can adapt a successful food and drink PR strategy in the wake of the Government’s latest healthy eating push

Food and drink brands, particularly those aimed at children, are in the spotlight for what they put in their products and how they market them to the public. With the government raising awareness of health issues related to food high in sugar and fat, comms experts agree that food brands have to evolve their messaging and PR campaigns in line with the current political and consumer climate.

Earlier this week (January 4 2016), The Campaign4life ‘sugar smart’ campaign launched as the latest of many government initiatives to inform the public to make healthier food choices. The core focus, sugar, is firmly on the agenda and it has caused many brands concern when it comes to creating campaigns for an audience that is becoming increasingly health conscious. Many brands, particularly those aimed at children, are starting to rethink the volume and type of ingredients they use.

Here are three ways brands can get the right message out to consumer in this environment:

1. Monitor and adapt – move with the news agenda

Liam Keogh, the director of Palm PR which specialises in the food, drink and hospitality sector and has worked with juice brands Presscription and Juice Club as well as tea brand Bubbleology, said: “We have to be flexible, dynamic and changing all of the time. Government policy is just one of the things we respond to on a daily basis.

“We spend an awful lot of time monitoring the situation and looking at government guidelines and policy and public mood. The zeitgeist at the moment is the commentary around sugar intake and its potential negative effect, so obviously this has to have a bearing on food and drink brands and the worst thing you could do is ignore the context in your media campaign. A successful media campaign will take this into account.”

Sam Holl, client service director at Kindred – the agency behind the Fern Britton-fronted ‘Just Add Mushrooms’ campaign, adds that the stakes cannot be higher with public health campaigns: “When the issues can quite literally affect life and death, you can’t get it wrong. So we always spend time talking with, listening to and learning from our audiences before creating strategies or tactics.

“Once activity is agreed, the next step is to formulate a tailored approach that works through the line. So in the case of social media, for example, content needs to be tailored specifically for Instagram, Twitter or Facebook whilst supporting a traditional editorial campaign.”

Elinor Tyler, head of consumer at Storm Communications – an agency that has worked with Yeo Valley, Burts Chips and Nakd bars, urges caution. “On the back of a government health campaign like Campaign4Life, you’ll inevitably see more news articles and features on the subject and lots of brands will look to jump on board a trending topic like this. Brands and organisations really should only be commenting if they have something worthwhile and relevant to add to the debate.”

2. Develop the detail through your comms and campaigns

Detail is particularly important in this context, Holl added: “Once an issue is out in the open it’s then about developing an extra level of detail in communications over time and reviewing the broader landscape and then adapting comms not just on a macro, but also a micro level.”

This detail helps PRs fill in the gaps in government policies and how they are explained. Keogh thinks this creates opportunities: “Sometimes policies are not always as nuanced as should be and it can be a bit black and white. They don’t differentiate between things like refined and non-refined sugar or with fat between a burger and an avocado for example.

“This is a huge opportunity for PR pros to educate consumers on the nuances. Saying that the [government] campaign is also in its infancy and we will see how it progresses,” he adds.

3. Focus on the positive

Research is important and can give PRs the information to help them accentuate the positive aspects of a brand. “Comms professionals should not always see these things as a negative, what they can do is reveal something that is positive about the product, maybe an ingredient, so you can really benefit from the attention. Just make sure you do the research around the topic,” said Keogh.

Holl added: “The key is to approach any products that could be scrutinised with caution and, ideally, test tactics and messaging with your audience. We are lucky enough to have the Kindred100 at our disposal, a nationally representative sample of consumers from across the UK. This is an invaluable way to understand if our messages are likely to strike a chord and create a shift in consumer opinion.”

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