PUBLIC RELATIONS STRATEGY
MARKS AND SPENCER: CORPORATE IMAGE AND CORPORATE IDENTITY
Marks and Spencer’s core products in the United Kingdom are clothing which comprises 45.2 percent of its business, home products accounting for 4.9 percent and food items comprising 49.9 percent. The company is presently the leading clothing retailer in the United Kingdom with its signature clothing line. Marks and Spencer is the leading retailer of a wide array of fashionable, high quality, and great value clothing and home products and a large range of superior quality food products in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world. The company employs 65,000 people and is operating around 450 stores in the United Kingdom. It currently has 144 “Simply Food” stores throughout the United Kingdom which include bakeries, delicatessens and patisseries. Furthermore, Marks and Spencer’s international business includes wholly-owned stores in Ireland and Hong Kong as well as 198 branded franchise stores across the world (2006). Marks and Spencer’s primary concerns are its products, service, and the environment. The company underscores maintaining quality products with lower prices, better buying through best practices, and innovations in its product offerings. Secondly, it consistently tries to provide customers with a pleasant atmosphere in their stores through a refurbishment programme that aims to transform Marks and Spencer’s stores into modernized and pleasant establishments. Finally, Marks and Spencer firmly believes in and observes good customer service through the “Our Service Style” training program that engages the company’s store personnel in additional customer service training. Its primary aim is to provide customers with well-motivated, adequately-trained people, in the right place at the right time (2006).
Marks & Spencer is widely known as Britain’s most trusted retailer. However, in recent years, the company has realized that improvement in performance and profitability does not rely on reputation alone ( 2007). In 2005, the company has experienced a decline in clothing sales of 8.5 percent and 1.7 percent in food sales. The company needed a specific marketing direction for its food and clothing businesses since the two products cannot be sold in the same manner. Some analysts saw that it needed to brand its food products separately from its clothing line or revitalize the Marks and Spencer brand as solely a clothing brand (2005). In recent years however, the company was able to bounce back by discovering that becoming “customer facing” is an imperative. The company gave birth to a new mission which was “to focus on customers and be driven by their needs”. To achieve this mission, Marks and Spencer is lucky to have two major strengths. First, the company possesses the expertise. Its Customer Insight Unit, headed by Steven Bond, integrates what used to be disorganized analytical expertise in marketing, customer relationship management, sales promotion, footage assessment and location analysis. The CIU is now a major contributor in the company’s overall decision making process. Secondly, the company owns one of the most extensive customer databases in the retailing arena which includes around three million active charge card accounts and ten million transactions on a weekly basis. The new customer focus helps the company gather essential customer details such as what Marks and Spencer products they actually purchase, and provides substantial basis for corporate branding and operational decision making. The end result is that the company ensures that products in Marks and Spencer stores are exactly what customers want or need (2007).
KEY PUBLICS FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGNING
Public relations campaigning of Marks and Spencer is focused on its customers, employees and suppliers. Marks and Spencer’s stores in the United Kingdom receives 15 million customers every week. The company treats the customers as its lifeblood and its commitment is to deliver them with products that can provide satisfaction and benefits. Marks and Spencer monitors customer purchases and what they do not buy through a central customer services team. It also facilitates monitoring of customer opinions on a monthly basis. From 2003 until 2005, the company conducted a comprehensive research on customer expectations and found out that their customers expect them to meet their needs, be a good employer, observe fairness in dealing with suppliers and employees, offer responsible products and operate with a considerate environment. The company also complies with the obligations set forth by Section III of the Disability Discrimination Act by providing disabled persons, and their carers and family access to its products. The company collaborates with DisabledGo in this purpose (2007). Marks and Spencer also values its relationship with its workforce. The company recognizes that communication and consultation with its 65,000 employees in Britain is vital in maintaining employee-employer relationships and workforce efficiency. Thus, the company administers employee representation forums called Business Involvement Groups (BIGs) in each of their store and office area to provide employees with a venue for sharing knowledge and experiences, and initiating debate about the company’s business and operations ( 2007). Finally, the company operates with the assistance of its 2,000 direct suppliers of finished products (1,500 selling clothing, beauty products, footwear and home items; 500 supplying food products). The company ensures good standards of employment practices and sourcing decisions with the Global Sourcing Principles. Regular meetings with major suppliers, a programme of visits and conferences, detailed contracts of expectations and a database of technical specifications for every product are the primary strategies adopted by the company to maintain effective communication and coordination with its suppliers (2007).
PUBLICITY ISSUES AT MARKS AND SPENCER FOR THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS
The most significant publicity activity undertaken by Marks and Spencer is the “Look Behind the Label” campaign launched in January 2006 and still on going. The campaign is a joint communication and marketing strategy that provides customers, employees, and other stakeholders with stories on how Marks and Spencer source and manufacture its products, how its contributes to environment protection and animal welfare, and how it functions in its trading communities. The campaign is implemented through press advertisements, messages and posters within stores, and a specific section for the campaign on the company’s website ( 2006).
Marks and Spencer’s open communication with customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers has enabled it to be oriented on certain social issues that merit special attention. Shareholders and investors requested the company to start responding to environmental and social issues relative to palm oil sourcing. Accordingly, the company joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to participate in the pursuit of possible solutions. Then, the company has gathered information from a research that customers want Fairtrade products produced by farmers from developing countries. The company is cognizant of the fact that poverty in these countries can be alleviated through trade relations that guarantee sustainable income for the farmers (2007). Thus, Marks and Spencer pioneered in introducing a clothing line made from Fairtrade certified cotton in March 2006 as a response to the Fairtrade standard adopted in November 2005 and endorsed by several non-governmental groups which saw the need for a British clothing retailer to offer clothing with Fairtrade standard ( 2006). Furthermore, Marks and Spencer received the Compassion in World Farming Award for Investment and Innovation in Farm Animal Welfare Research in 2006 for being the first major food retailer to utilize 100 percent free range eggs in its baked products; for discouraging the use of growth-enhancing antibiotics in its livestock production before the European Union prohibits the practice; and for prohibiting the use of sow stall and tether system ( 2007).
CENTRAL ITEM IN THE COMPANY’S PUBLIC RELATIONS AGENDA
The customer is the central figure in the entire public relations agenda of Marks and Spencer. The company aspires to continue its “drive phase” with emphasis on improving product range and customer service. It is presently implementing aggressive advertising by underscoring quality and value to encourage people to visit its stores. In 2006, the company recorded 14.7 million customer visits from 350,000 in 2005, and 10 million purchasing customers. Customer satisfaction is ensured by improving product offerings (2006). In 2005 and 2006, the company re-introduced into the market the Menswear “Autograph”, expanded its Women’s Wear ”Autograph” and launched a “Per Una” range in lingerie and “Girls Boutique” in Children’s Wear. Its home products line is an offering of great value and elegant furniture and home items. The company also offers “Marks and Spencer Cook” range, expands its “Eat Well” to more than 1,000 kinds of products, and offers a new product called Fairtrade coffee (2006). The company also employs innovative mechanisms in product improvement. It relates with customers’ demand through the customer service team, marketing campaigns, and print and broadcast campaigns. Customers want fresh and healthy food. Hence, the “Marks and Spencer Cook” aims for additive-free and hydrogenated fat-free food products. The company also sells machine-washable silk night wear and seam-free underwear for its Lingerie range; and rattan-style garden furniture that combines convenience with style. Marks and Spencer’s future outlook for public relations includes business expansion and e-commerce. It will continue to use the “Simply Food” store to bring superior food products to new customers. It also aspires for longer working relationship with Amazon for its e-commerce efforts to build a market share (2006).
AN OUTLINE OF A POSSIBLE PUBLIC RELATIONS STRATEGY FOR MARKS AND SPENCER
- Research for Possible Media Partners
Most of Marks and Spencer’s public relations campaigns are found in the company’s website. There is a need for other media channels to strengthen the public’s awareness of its brand and corporate activities. The company can start by inquiring about customers’ preferred television shows, magazines or other reading materials, and radio station. Upon accumulation of these details, the company must decide on the major media channel it wants to use or what form of public relations campaign like TV commercial, radio program, newsletter, publicity stunt or a combination of these; identify which media people usually cover retail industry; and secure the contact details and previous works of the particular reporter (2007; 2007).
- Development of Public Relations Story
The next step includes the development of the kind of story the company wants to release in the media. The key here is to associate the products with current trends. For example, since the growing concern for people today are healthy foods and convenient lifestyle, Marks and Spencer can focus on how its “Marks and Spencer Cook” and home products address these needs (2007).
- Making Press Contact and Active Participation
Once the story is developed and the media is identified, the company can now initiate to communicate with the particular media company and reporter. The story must be presented and discussed among the persons involved. Once the media company releases the public relations campaigns, the company must be persistent in making the process continuous. There is a need for updating the reporter on new products, activities or happenings within the company to ensure that the public receives the latest information ( 2007).
PRESS RELEASE DRAFT
20 February 2007
Marks and Spencer Participates in Responsible Palm Oil Production and Biodiversity Protection
As part of Marks and Spencer’s commitment to its core values of Quality, Value, Service, Innovation and Trust, the company assumed membership to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil last year.
The move was a response to the publication of “The Oil for Ape Scandal” in September 2005 and the ongoing call of the British government for palm oil producers, buyers and investors to responsibly manage their palm oil supply chains. Palm oil is the world’s second largest oil product and a significant raw material of food products that answers around 28 million of edible oil demand from across the world. Palm oil production enhances the economic sustainability of many countries and supplements healthy diets. However, palm oil production necessitates the conversion of extensive land areas into plantations and causes destruction to tropical forest, ecosystems and biodiversity. Thus, the British government has participated with the Malaysian and Indonesian governments in their efforts to identify companies that use palm oil in their production and encourage these companies to manage their palm oil sourcing activities in a responsible manner. These companies include food and drug retailers and food manufacturers.
Being a large food retailer in the United Kingdom committed to responsible business operation, Marks and Spencer decided to join the government’s effort by ensuring that its major palm oil suppliers particularly Arhus are also members of the Roundtable and adopt responsible sourcing practices that do not render any damage to the environment (2006).