How to Use PR to Overcome the 3 Biggest Challenges of the Natural Products Industry

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It seems so simple and obvious.

Create healthy products that are really good for people, using natural ingredients or materials. Who wouldn’t prefer to buy foods and other products that are natural and healthy, over those that are…not?

If you are in the business of manufacturing or selling natural products – healthy foods or nutritional supplements, or products for consumers’ homes, gardens, pets, or personal hygiene – you already know the hurdles you need to overcome to be successful.

1. Gaining Consumer Awareness of Products to Drive Sales

The manufacturing of food, health and home products – particularly in this country – is big business, and it’s hard to imagine many food or household product companies with deeper pockets than Kraft or Proctor & Gamble. In fact, in 2007 AdAge.com reported Kraft’s annual budget for media and advertising to be a cool $1 billion, while for the same year US News & World Report pegged Proctor & Gamble’s ad budget alone at a whopping $6.8 billion.

Smaller companies have to be smart and creative to compete in these markets. So how do you create consumer awareness when your annual marketing budget is swamped by those of the big conglomerates like a row boat in the wake of the QE II?

One of the best strategies available to you is a well-conceived PR campaign to gain consumer awareness of your products. I’m talking about arranging interviews for your spokesperson on talk radio and TV shows, or to receive editorial coverage in newspapers and magazines. This media coverage can mean a huge increase in consumer awareness of your products, and it can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of equivalent advertising time.

But, it’s not only a great value because your marketing dollars stretch farther, its value is compounded enormously by the implicit third-party endorsement when the media is talking about you on the air or in print. Their dedicated audiences are influenced by favorable mention of your products.

And thanks to the Internet and social networks, the reach of your message increases exponentially – particularly if it “goes viral.”

2. Establishing Product Credibility – In Spite of the FDA

The nutraceutical companies have the toughest row to hoe, with FDA requirements severely limiting the benefits they can claim for their products.

Even if you manufacture the world’s best quality echinacea, you can’t run ads or do any marketing claiming it will help cure the flu. So, how do you get around this restriction?

Enter the expert and credentialed spokesperson, preferably with a string of letters after his name, who is interviewed on radio and TV shows, and/or quoted in newspapers and magazines on your behalf. He will ostensibly be on the air to comment on the dangers of this year’s flu strain…but he will also have ample opportunity to explain how a high quality echinacea supplement, such as the one you manufacture, can mean the difference between missing a day of work versus an entire week!

3. Arriving in the Promised Land – Strong Retail Distribution

Although it’s great to be getting shelf space at independent natural food stores, one of the most effective ways to generate interest in your products by the big chains can be pretty much summed up with two words: consumer demand.

My firm had a client a few years ago whose CEO was not satisfied with the lukewarm interest he was getting from a large chain. We decided to conduct a blind taste test of our client’s product in front of one of their stores in a major city, and of course the media were invited to attend. It was a huge success, and the store was deluged with customers wanting to buy the product. Within the week, the CEO got a phone call with a huge order!

The client was Stephen Grubb, President of SoyNut Butter Company, and he wrote me this note after he got that call:

“The media exposure you got for us resulted in kind of a reverse distribution process. In other words, instead of waiting for stores to carry our product, your publicity campaign created such demand that stores are calling us to order our products – just to satisfy their customers!”

A marketing campaign using PR strategies is essential for generating the customer demand that will get retailers’ attention.

I think Al Ries sums it up beautifully in his national bestseller The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR. He wrote:

“Advertising doesn’t build brands, publicity does. Advertising can only maintain brands that have been created by publicity.”

I couldn’t agree with him more on this point.

I hope some of these insights are of help to you. I personally care about the success of this industry, as it’s how I’ve taken care of myself and have raised my family, and it’s why my agency has specialized in working with companies in the natural health field for twenty years!

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