How Rethink wants to do PR differently

Rethink’s formal introduction of its PR division Brand Narrative late last week is proof of a long-standing strategic pillar at the centre of the agency, said Sean McDonald.

“We always outperform the media budgets,” said the partner and chief strategy officer. In other words, Rethink strives for strategic ideas and creative campaigns that spread far beyond paid advertising. “This has been something that we’ve always considered, but we’ve never done deliberately—and now we’re doing it deliberately.”

Rethink Brand Narrative offers a range of PR, content, events and influencer marketing services, and is led by Lianne George, formerly director of lifestyle content at Rogers Media, and editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, and Meredith Montgomery, formerly vice-president at Ketchum. Rethink also recently hired Rethink Christina Vardanis, formerly of The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, and Best Health, as content director.

The Brand Narrative team has been working with clients for the better part of a year, but Rethink didn’t want to talk about it publicly until it had a portfolio of real projects in market. “We wanted to make sure we have done something—show proof of concept—before we said anything,” said McDonald.

With the steady decline of the traditional media ecosystem, and the explosive growth of digital and social media, the silos of advertising, PR and content have increasingly converged over the last decade. PR agencies have added creative talent, and creative agencies have chased virality and earned media.

But McDonald believes Rethink’s Brand Narrative will be different, in part because of the people they are hiring.

In general, the agency seeks people who care about craft and creativity, and the mechanics of marketing—how the different elements work together, he said. With Brand Narrative, they added another quality: “We need people that understand where and how newsrooms are starved for content, and where and how we can most contribute to them—with the best interest of our clients in mind.”

The other difference, he said, is that Brand Narrative is less a stand-alone division and more embedded expertise infused throughout the agency, no different than strategy, creative or design. Brand Narrative is there when Rethink pitches new clients, and anytime a new brief comes in the door.

“[W]e’re plugged directly into the Rethink machine,” said George in the release introducing the new PR team. “We’re partners in the agency’s strategic and creative process from end to end, which means the same brand insights and sensibility that inform Rethink’s creative work also form the basis for the brand stories we share across channels.”

Developing band strategy starts with understanding the cultural context, added McDonald. “That cultural context is informed by the media as much as it’s formed by people in the communities… So why not have people with an expertise upfront to also feed into the development of strategy, not the execution against the strategy?

“We want to create content that’s inherently attractive to the publishers and to the people. And that is based on a strategy that already has interpreted culture and the likelihood of the appropriate audience being interested.”

The rest of the Brand Narrative team includes account director Sara Lemmermeyer; PR managers Jacky Le and Chenda McKissick; influencer strategist Karin Torn; and PR co-ordinators Kaitlyn Vian and Claire Tam.

David Brown