Subscribe to industry newsletters


Search jobs

The Law of Publicity

The birth of a brand is usually accomplished with publicity, not advertising, according to marketing guru's Al and Laura Ries. This is a rule that marketers would do well to remember.

Clients will know that one of my favourite quotes is by this father and daughter team, who visited South Africa last year with Marcus Evans conferences: "Publicity builds brands, advertising maintains it". According to the Ries's, in the past, it may have been true that a beefy advertising budget was the key ingredient in the brand-building process. "But what worked in the past doesn't necessarily work today. We live in an over-communicated society where each of us gets hit with hundreds of commercial messages daily.

"Today brands are born, not made. A new brand must be capable of generating favourable publicity in the media or it won't have a chance in the marketplace," states the seminal Ries 'Law of Publicity'.

The duo emphasise that people generate publicity and that publicity is a game of people. "Most companies develop their marketing strategies as if advertising were their primary communications vehicle. They're wrong. Strategy should be developed first from a publicity point of view. Brands are first established by publicity, then advertising maintains that brand."

All of the big global marketing powerhouses were first created in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes and Fortune magazines: Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Compaq, Gateway 2000, Oracle, Cisco, SAP and Sun Microsystems. By publicity, not advertising.

Top of the heap are Donald Trump, "King of PR who spends nothing if he can help it", and the "Emperor of PR", Richard Branson. Both compensate for expansion through publicity. Another example sited by the Ries' is Viagra, which was a $1 billion drug before any advertising was done by Pfizer. And take the successful Body Shop brand - a policy of no advertising, only publicity.

In promoting or launching a brand, there is a distinct difference between the "big-bang" vs the "slow build-up", they say:
1. Advertising campaigns are usually launched with a big-bang.
2. PR campaigns are invariably rolled out over an extended period of time (the slow build-up).

"Yet, when a study of was conducted of successful brands, it was shown that they take off slowly, they don't take off like a rocket," says Laura Ries. "Advertising is not the best way to launch new brands. Take Crystal Pepsi, for example. It had attained 5% market share in its first month in the US - an enormous achievement. But, a year later, the product had disappeared!"

Ms Ries says on launching a new brand into the marketplace, many people will ask the question: 'How much better are we than the competition?' "A better question to ask is: 'What are we first in?'"

She explains: "Being first in a new category makes news. The Law of Leadership states that it is better to be first than better. If you can't be first, then set up a new category you can be first in! That is the real essence of the branding game."
For example: Rolex, the first expensive watch; Swatch, the first fashion watch; CNN, the first cable news network; Haagen-Daz, the first gourmet ice cream...

"All of these brands (and many, many more) were first in a new category and, in the process, generated enormous amounts of publicity," Ries points out.

So, do you want to be a novelty or a brand? Best you consult your communications consultant first! For a lesser budget, and often more measurable return on investment, the client can achieve greater returns by going the publicity route.

About Louise Marsland

Louise Marsland is Editor of Communicate, a joint venture publishing initiative with She has worked as a journalist and Editor for 17 years across newspapers, magazines, the Internet, notably The Star, Saturday Star, Progressive Retailing (Editor), Retailing Africa (Managing Editor), Executive BusinessBrief (Editor) and Marketing Mix (Editor). She left Jo'burg for Cape Town two years ago to help successfully launch the leading grocery retailing B2B Internet Portal, and publishes and Edits the weekly FMCG Files ezine for the Portal. She is back in Jozi to study part-time for her Masters in Commerce and currently acts for clients as a Media Strategist, focussing on media and communications strategy, as well as editing and writing for various media. Email: .

    Let's do Biz