Founded in 1988 as the public relations unit of regional advertising powerhouse Barkley & Evergreen, Barkley Public Relations spent most of its first two decades doing all the things the PR unit of an ad agency is supposed to do (although it did them better than most PR subsidiaries do). But over the past couple of years, the firm has reinvented and differentiated itself, largely by building on its expertise in the cause marketing arena—its flagship program, Lee National Denim Day, recently celebrated its 12th anniversary and continues to remain the largest single-day fund raiser for breast cancer research—to establish itself as a thought leader in an arena that increasingly attracts the attention of major marketers looking to make an authentic connections with their core consumers.
So while Barkley continues to provide strong media relations and crisis communications capabilities (supplemented over the past 12 months by growing strength in social media and blogger relations), its leadership in the cause branding arena—highlighted by original research conducted in partnership with PR Week—has enabled it to compete effectively with far larger agencies for national blue-chip clients.
The firm’s cause branding efforts are led by agency founder Mike Swenson, who also serves as chief marketing officer for Barkley’s integrated operations. Swenson was a featured speaker at the 2007 Cause Branding Forum, where he discussed the use of celebrity spokespeople in cause campaigns, and is a leading cause branding blogger. He is supported by Kelly Gage, vice president and director of cause branding, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the practice, and Jeff Risley, vice president and social media analyst.
After suffering a client loss in the first quarter, Barkley Public Relations rebounded quickly and experienced significant growth in 2007, with new business from The March of Dimes, Embarq Corporation, ITC Holdings and Helzberg Diamonds, contributing to fee income for the year of $3.5 million, up from $3 million in 2006. The firm’s client list also includes Blue Bunny ice cream, The Breast Cancer 3-Day, The Entertainment Industry Foundation, The Family Violence Prevention Fund, Lee Jeans, The March of Dimes, and Sonic Drive-Ins.
The agency worked with several clients, including Sonic Drive-In and Lee Jeans, on extensive social media campaigns, helping them tap into a community of brand advocates, while on the cause branding front the firm handled PR outreach for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, generating more than 3,000 news stories, a 39 percent increase over 2006, and supporting the March of Dimes with the most significant branding update in the company’s history. Says Doug Staples, senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications for The March of Dimes, “It is no small feat to change the fundamental brand positioning of an iconic organization with thousands of constituents across the country, but we have done just that. This was due in no small part to Barkley’s ability to come forward with powerful strategic insights and then help to sell them through the organization. In addition, Barkley has brought tremendous freshness and creativity to all our marketing platforms.”
Barkley Public Relations is a member of IPREX, a global network of public relations firms.