Some public relations firms, reacting to the way digital and social media have changed the communications landscape, have started to talk about creating and mobilizing brand advocates. For Unity founders Nik Done and Gerry Hopkinson, that doesn’t go far enough. They want to create “raving fans,” the kind of people who “love your brand, products and services so much that they want to hang out with you and with others who like you too and tell other people about you.”
The firm reaches those people through what Done and Hopkinson call “whole brain marketing,” an approach that combines right brain creativity with left brain discipline and strategy to develop campaigns—spanning public relations, guerrilla marketing, experiential, digital, entertainment, crisis and CSR disciplines—that are bold and imaginative and effective in driving real bottom-line results.
Done, a veteran of Ketchum and Band & Brown, insists that partner Hopkinson, formerly of QBO, MasterCard subsidiary Mondex, and Band & Brown (where the two met) provides the right-brain creativity, though you get the impression that she’s being unduly modest. Nevertheless, they clearly make a good team: since Unity was launched in July of 2005 it has grown at a healthy pace—up by about 25 percent in 2010, to a little more than £1 million—and has picked up a host of awards from PR Week and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (including the latter’s Outstanding Small Consultancy title) in addition to two EMEA region SABRE Awards in each of the past two years.
The firm has also attracted a pretty cool client list, including the homeless charity Crisis, Royal Bank of Scotland, Orange, Nivea, Pizza Express, Peroni and NBC Universal, and in the past 12 months has picked up new business from Virgin, Pernod Ricard, café direct, publisher Hodder (handling new Steven King and James Bond books), and WWF. It has also attracted some interesting talent: Adam Barber, formerly of Financial Dynamics, was brought in to head Chalk, the firm’s start-up corporate communications brand, and earlier last year Unity hired Dr. Alicia Renedo, a professor of social psychology from the London School of Economics to bolster its left brain credentials and provide genuine psychological insight into consumer behaviour. Renedo helps Unity develop its communications strategy and also takes on her own research projects, helping client Nivea with research into body confidence issues, for example.
The firm’s approach means that the variety of work is impressive. For Pernod-Ricard, for example, Unity is working on a campaign to refresh the image of absinthe, focusing the creative community—and in particular on a sub-group the firm has dubbed “cultural provocateurs,” using an approach that combines events (or “happenings,” as Unity calls them), social media, and upscale custom publishing. For café direct, Unity came up with a “grow your own” campaign that had the brand’s fans turning their handbags and other household items into “mini-allotments.” For Pizza Express, meanwhile, the firm’s PR advice went far beyond the traditional: Hopkinson recommended a complete redesign of the brand’s restaurants to make them more conducive to the company’s mission of “feeding great conversations.”
“Netmums has worked with Unity for almost four years now and they are the most refreshing PR team I have ever come across,” says Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums. “They just seem to be able to get under the skin of your brand and with wonderful creativity, they package up your key messages in a way that the media love and that attracts consumers. If you are looking for results-driven PR and a team that seems to care as much about your brand as you do, then I highly recommend Unity.” Adds Lisa Flanagan of Cancer Research U.K.: “In skindividual, Unity created a campaign that not only captured the attention of the hard-to-reach youth audience but also motivated them to spread the SunSmart message among their peers. Achieving this among a group that is notoriously difficult to engage in health messages was no mean feat and was made possible because of Unity’s understanding of the core audience.”
Unity works primarily in domestic markets, but has worked on pan-European assignments through an informal network of affiliates.