Roughly a year since becoming Mars’ top corporate communicator, Andy Pharoah, along with chief marketing officer Andrew Clarke, recently upended the food giant’s longtime PR strategy. Whereas the company, best known for its iconic candies, has traditionally used agencies on a local market basis, the new pilot program puts local and global responsibilities for various brands in the hands of four of Mars' existing agencies — Edelman, Freuds, Omnicom PR Group, and Weber Shandwick.

The plan also tests four different approaches to getting those jobs done. Days after announcing the new strategy, Pharoah, who formally goes by VP, corporate affairs andstrategic initiatives, discussed the impetus and intricacies of the pilot plan, the need to make PR more than 'an afterthought', adapting to changing media and why purpose must be more than a marketing tactic. An edited transcript:

Mars products, particularly its candies, are some of the world’s best-known brands – so something in your marketing has been working.  Why change now?

We have always had an evidence-based approach to our marketing. We have been one of the biggest advertisers and TV has been a large part of that. Many of our products are impulse purchases. And we have won lots of awards for our marketing.  But there also has been increasing recognition that in today’s world, we may need to take a discipline agnostic approach. Ideas travel. And ideas can cut through (clutter) with social and digital media. So it’s becoming a real blurring of the lines when it comes to creative approaches.

How does that translate into switching up your approach to PR?

We have always used brand PR, but it typically had been almost exclusively market-by-market. And to some extent, it was an afterthought. But I think there is a recognition that, as the world is very much changing, the opportunity to build strong relationships between our customers and our brands is increasing – and in an ideas-first world, social, digital and PR should play more strategic roles in our approach. At the beginning of the year, we started discussions with some of our agency partners asking, ‘If we were to try to do things differently, how could we do that?' Those initial discussions in January culminated in a pitch in October and our announcement.

We are constantly evolving our media mix and how we do things. We have created partnerships with Amazon and Facebook and Alibaba. There is often a real integration between a sales channel and advertising … all brand communication. The way people consume media has dramatically changed. We clearly have less on TV than we did five years ago. This is about bringing public relations into that mix at a strategic level.

You are calling the new PR strategy a pilot.  What are you testing, and how will you know if its working?

We are testing a number of different things. For some things, we will see results much quicker and others will take longer. Our time frame is 18 months to two years.

With Omnicom, we are giving them the lead (in handling Orbit and Extra gum). But we are testing what results we get from having the same agency group [Omnicom] leading all the marketing around a brand. With Pedigree, we are using Weber Shandwick, which already worked for us in North America, and testing whether there is a benefit of having an agency that has global leadership and application in a market like the US.  Edelman will do the same thing with Skittles. Freuds (which is responsible for M&Ms and Seeds of Change) is the only agency that is only working globally, and not implementing in [many] markets.

So we think from these (different models) we will genuinely learn some things. How will these agencies do their job? Is there a structural model? Something may work well after six months, and others may take time, so they are not being judged the same.

Mars brands, particularly candies like M&Ms, are such a part of pop culture that it is in a way remarkable that they still need to be marketed.  What is there new to say?

It’s a constant focus on staying relevant … relevance in terms of the channels we communicate through, relevant in terms of the products we offer and relevant meaning the things you talk about. Increasingly you find campaigns revolve around purpose.

Pedigree ran a great campaign about, "Feed the Good," about the good things that dogs bring to the world and society. Skittles has done some quite interesting work around pride … a world where love means love … donate the rainbow. Skittles went with all white packaging. M&Ms launched a campaign around wind power, so that keeps them relevant. But purpose has not to be just a marketing tactic. Purpose is what you do, what you offer, what you believe. It has to be genuine.

In addition, we are thinking differently about how we can communicate as a corporation. We’re optimistic about the impact that global businesses can have by taking a leadership position in order to meet the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals. In order to play our part, we’ve launched our Sustainable in a Generation Plan — investing $1bn over the next few years into making sure our planet stays healthy and ensuring that tomorrow’s generation can thrive. Our greenhouse gas emissions at Mars are similar to that of a country like Panama when you take into account agriculture. We’ve got real responsibility to act.

Many people don’t know we’re the largest employer of veterinarians – and to tell that story, the company is taking a more proactive approach to external communications. We need to be present, transparent and engaged externally, communicating more about who we are, what we stand for and what it’s like to work in our organization. We are a private company, and traditionally we have been very private. We are increasingly going out and telling our stories because we know it matters.