Lucia di Stazio: delivering tangible results and measurable returns.

Planning your strategic PR (2/2)

Published:  15 December, 2010

In practice, it is a dialogue between fully engaged members of the same team. That is quite different to the way most agencies work, and some companies may not want an agency that talks back or chases them to do things, he concludes. “Occasionally, we are also asked to follow campaigns upstream and lobby government to try and steer them in the right direction. “This usually comes about because a particular customer wants to get a message back on track.”

He cites as an example a major organisation that found it had been left out of the loop, as far as legislation was concerned. It had failed to make headway with its existing industry affiliations and felt that new legislation concerning Document L (conservation of fuel and power) was biased.

“In that instance, we helped them to present their case. And, only a couple of months ago, when the housebuilders were trying to delay it, we were back writing to government ministers to ask them not to delay Document L,” he explains. MRA can call on ex-government and other contacts to help persuade government about a client’s case.

“It is not a short-term fix, but it is important to know the right ways in which to apply pressure,” he says. “Builders’ merchants are central to most routes to market,” he comments. “Merchants, however, could become much more important than they are at present by being more proactive, because they are at the centre of so many supply chains and people come knocking on their door, the tendency is to go with the flow.”

At a time when being in the right place at the right time with the right products is so important, merchants must decide what areas of the market they want to be in, he believes. Mr Rigby says merchants could be much bolder about deciding to change format, for example.

“Strategy, after all, is also about deciding what you are not prepared to do,” he points out. Suppliers, too, are having to decide which markets and products they don’t want to tackle in order to conserve their resources.

“The margins are also shifting dramatically and people are being more picky. Changing your prices can have unintended consequences,” Mr Rigby says. “In a competitive market, reducing price rarely has the planned effect. Price cuts and promotional pricing can be highly effective in achieving the objective of increased sales and profitability, particularly in the short- term, but all too often the result is a very painful surprise and disappointment.

“In a slow growth market, competitors frequently react with price cuts of their own and the initiative can result in minimal or no sales growth, and poorer profits. With the shake-up within the merchant market, how will the sector develop as we slowly climb out of this long, deep recession? “We are entering a very uncertain time. The Government appears not to know itself how much it wants to cut and how soon.

“Businesses are going to have to be a lot quicker and much more flexible. This may present a challenge to larger merchant groups,” he says, adding that branch managers may emerge as playing a much more important part than they have in the past. In a polarised market, simplistically speaking, the division is between those with money and those without. Housebuilding and social housing programmes have been cut back, but fortunately the prospects for RMI look good in the longer term.

While ‘official’ funding may be in the doldrums, within ‘unofficial’ channels, activity is still lively, he states. “It may be difficult to get hold of a lot of money, but for home improvements of a reasonable size, money can still be sourced from family or friends. Business is moving on, but in different ways.”

Who are MRA Marketing?

Mike Rigby has more than 30 years of experience of public relations and marketing in building materials, construction and home improvements. His background includes 10 years of marketing at Dulux Paints, head of marketing at a national builders’ merchant, marketing director of a national home improvement company and director of a vertically integrated listed company.

His copywriting and marketing skills, combined with an unrelenting focus on customer objectives, strategy and competitive forces underpin his claim that MRA’s customers grow faster than their markets.

Lucia Di Stazio – director, joined the business 13 years ago, in MRA’s sister company, Rigby Research, measuring reputations and brand strength, buying behaviour and specification, and tracking key building products and markets.

In 2006, she moved to MRA Marketing and became a director in 2009.

Her considerable experience in research and in-depth knowledge of building and home improvement markets helps to ensure the business delivers tangible results and a measurable return for customers.

Jane Rigby – account director, is a fine arts graduate. She combines creativity and writing skills with in-depth knowledge of building and home improvements. Ms Rigby has eight years of hands-on experience of public relations and marketing in the building industry and her background is a valuable addition to MRA’s in-house creative design team.

This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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