Alyssa Garnick, Founder of Agean Public Relations, discusses how consumer brands are increasingly propelling positivity and optimism, even during Coronavirus. She provides examples of passion brands and commodity brands who had gained permission to play in the current environment, sparking creativity, brand love and engagement and sales.
Alyssa also shares her thoughts on if there is any place for stunts from consumer brands right now. Lastly, Alyssa tells us what it’s been like to start an agency amid COVID and today’s churning business dynamics.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: ALYSSA GARNICK
DOUG: Alyssa thanks so much for being with us.
ALYSSA: Oh, thanks Doug. It’s great to see you.
DOUG: Alyssa is one of the more optimistic people I know, and she’s been looking at what consumer brands are doing that’s both positive and creative during this challenging time of COVID.
ALYSSA: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what consumer brands have done over the past six months. I’ve noticed a few things working with them and also observing great work. Number one is kind of like this push for optimism. Definitely noticed it, even in March and April, although it was kind of selective which brands could do it then. And I think in the beginning it was more like forced optimism, like we’re trying here, we’re trying. Now I think it’s kind of like leadership optimism. Brands are literally saying… and companies… we are going to take responsibility for doing our part, and some of that is kind of sharing optimism and positivity in the marketplace. So, I’ve certainly witnessed that as one kind of observation.
DOUG: You talk also of passion brands and commodity brands, and those could mean different things to different people. So, can you share a little bit about how you divide them?
ALYSSA: Oh yeah sure. In terms of passion brands and commodity brands one of the things I’ve seen is kind of a bucketing of which brands kind of have permission to play right now in a more optimistic promotional kind of positive space. And I definitely think it’s passion brands. Those are brands that have basically earned the right to play because they have such a great followership, they have so many people that love them. They’re even beyond lifestyle brands. They’re brands that have evangelists. So, I think passion brands have done the work over the years, and it’s paying off this year because they have more permission to play. And then commodity brands, that’s in by no way a demeaning term. Brands that typically have to fight harder to break through these days these practical brands, these essential brands, even in commodity categories, I think also have kind of equal permission to play.
DOUG: And Alyssa you have some specific examples of brands you feel have navigated this situation well.
ALYSSA: Yeah, a few. I mean on the passion brands side I definitely hold up Krispy Kreme as the gold standard. This year I think they have done an amazing job kind of capitalizing on and propelling positivity in the marketplace and connecting further with consumers. They have a rabid fan base, but they’ve managed to gain press coverage, brand love, social love over the things that they’ve done, and what they did is they basically decided we are going to do a series of acts this year that bring more than just doughnuts to people; they bring joy. And I’ve admired this work. It’s incredible. And they did medical worker Mondays, they did sweet Saturdays in the darkest darkest days of the original quarantine, if you buy a dozen, you get a dozen free to give to a neighbor who’s quarantined. They I think have been very impressive in what they’ve done inclusive of their seniors program. If you’re a senior in 2020 come in cap and gown, and we’ll give you free dozen doughnuts. So, they had permission to do this. I think a lot of brands could have said oh we can’t do that now, or oh should we. They actually had permission to do it. and it paid off. It’s been absolutely incredible work and great I think for consumers.
DOUG: Do you have another example that might be more on the commodity side of things?
ALYSSA: Yeah, I mean an essential brand like Lowe’s, for example, did a partnership with fashion week, and they basically tricked out the fashion week events that did manage to happen this year. Then they did collaborations with designers on their website. It was absolutely creative and motivating and inspirational. And that’s a brand that I think you could easily say oh had no business to be at Fashion Week. Well guess what? They did it, people liked it, and I think they had permission to be there not just because of who they are, but the place that they have in people’s homes and in people’s lives this year. So, they had kind of permission to play.
DOUG: Can stunts work in this environment?
ALYSSA: I think stunts can work if you are a passion brand. Buyer beware, you need to be very careful of stunts. But one that I thought was particularly clever, and it worked, and it is working is Burger King basically begging for a Michelin star, saying they deserve a Michelin star because of the quality of their ingredients, and how the chef comes across in their burgers. And I think that was awesome. It’s quick, it’s kind of stunty, but Burger King has a long history of kind of extreme marketing and PR. So, people are accustomed to that from that brand and let them play. So, I think stunts can work, especially if you’re a passion brand, but definitely do it carefully, but I think they have done it extraordinarily well.
DOUG: COVID has obviously forced brands to have major changes in what they’re doing and their approaches. Also, the social justice issue coming to the fore. Why don’t we deal with COVID first in terms of what are some of the things you’re saying, what are some of the best practices. And now they’ve started a change, what’s going to be ahead for brands as sort of where COVID evolves even on a weekly kind of basis now?
ALYSSA: Ok, so absolutely. So many people have been affected by COVID. So, there’s more strategic rigor, I think even for the consumer brand work which I certainly enjoy. We’re also seeing agility. Plans have to be changed and revved so many times before they launch, and right up until the moment of launch. So, I’ve been responsible for planning and rewriting a plan in March, rewriting a plan in May and then rewriting it in August to go in September, and even having kind of different scenarios laid out, if this then that, so that we could accommodate for different places where society may be when it actually comes time for launch. So, this agility is extreme, and it really is important because you can’t these days bake something three months before and not check it you know three days before it launches.
DOUG: For a brand organization to be agile, definitely having increased diversity is part of that. I don’t want to put social justice issues and the enterprise if they’re a separate bucket because now they have to be more fully integrated into everything an organization is about. What kind of guidance are you providing to clients on those issues?
ALYSSA: I mean first of all this is work and guidance and important pieces of what we do that should have been more front and center before. It was in some ways, it was in some cases, it could have been even more. I’m glad it’s here now. So, some of the things that we do are obviously make sure that we bulletproof plans, make sure that we add not just diversity into plans, but that diversity is kind of core to the plan. There can’t be one offs, there can’t be things that aren’t checked by multiple audiences in multiple parties.
There can’t be things that are kind of creative without any sensitivity. There’s just no room for that, there’s no tolerance for that, probably never should have been. So, we definitely account for that. And I think there’s also constant learning. I’m constantly learning and trying to partner with new people to make sure that I get it right in my strategic counsel and in our creative ideas.
DOUG: That’s great guidance. And if any of you want to fact check me on my opening statement about Alyssa and her optimism… After a significant career success at multiple agencies she decided to start her own agency in the midst of a pandemic. I believe that takes optimism and some other personality traits as well. Tell us about that navigation.
ALYSSA: So I actually think it’s a great time to launch an offering if you can. And the reason why I think that is because companies need options. They need different options right now, and they’re open to different options right now. So, I thought long and hard about it, and what I really focused on was getting the positioning right. What can I kind of credibly do and deliver, and what would be right for the marketplace right now and can also maybe grow or scale or change. So, I thought a lot about it, but I actually landed a place where I thought it was a right time to do this.
DOUG: Thanks for spending this time with us.
ALYSSA: Oh, my pleasure. Great to see you, great to connect.