Parenting Roundtable: Welcome to the family

Brands still love mom, but dads are definitely on the radar. Industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid at this DeVries Global-hosted roundtable to highlight the ways in which marketing to parents is evolving.

Brands still love mom, but dads are definitely on the radar. Industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid at this DeVries Global-hosted roundtable in New York to highlight the ways in which marketing to parents is evolving.


Participants
Geri Allen, corporate and brand comms manager, Pepperidge Farm
Stephanie Azzarone, president, Child's Play Communications
Jenny Cherrytree, national PR and comms manager, Kumon
Doug French, cofounder of Dad 2.0 Summit; publisher, Laid-Off Dad blog
Liz Gumbinner, publisher and editor-in-chief, Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech
Julie Livingston, senior director, client development, CarrotNewYork
Bryan McCleary, associate director, US Communications, P&G
Emily Meyer, chief creative officer and founder, Tea Collection
Kelly Ramirez, VP, consumer group, Weber Shandwick
Stephanie Smirnov, former US CEO, DeVries Global

Common ground
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Moms and dads have obvious differences, but what are some of the similarities around which marketers can craft messages?

Stephanie Smirnov (DeVries): All parents love their children. All parents want to do right by them. That is the right place to start from as marketer or a communicator.

Beyond that, some interesting Pew Research data reveals that among working parents, there is nearly the same percentage of women and men worried about not getting the right amount of work-life balance and how that impacts their children. You might have to mine for some of those similarities, but they are there and provide a great starting point for outreach.

Stephanie Azzarone (Child's Play Communications): Whether it's dads or moms, the most effective messages talk about products and services that help parents keep their children healthy and safe. Things that help make their kids smarter or more successful at school. And, of course, offerings that provide convenience and value.

Julie Livingston (CarrotNewYork): Many moms and dads are connected 24/7 to their jobs. They're trying to be the best parents they can be in a very overscheduled society. Their kids are overscheduled. They're overscheduled.

As education-marketing specialists, we realize the importance of packaging information that is simple and turnkey in a way that will make their lives easier. We have to provide them with tools that lead to important conversations about life-changing issues, their child's health and wellness, or how to understand emergency preparedness.

Doug French (Dad 2.0 Summit): Brands are having a tough time because the idea of what a family is has fragmented so strongly. It's also difficult to put together a message when the people you're trying to appeal to have such different mindsets. And then you add social media to the mix, which makes brands even more concerned about making the wrong move.

This is where building relationships with bloggers on as granular a level as possible is so helpful. Both sides of that equation could advise each other and help both move forward and take advantage of the fact that communicating between brands and consumers – parents, in this case – is unprecedentedly easy.

Emily Meyer (Tea Collection): The common ground is that consumer, the parent. You can't develop a product without involving the consumer. You need to enroll them as you proceed or develop the next thing.

Kelly Ramirez (Weber Shandwick): Parents are definitely fragmented. We are everywhere and nowhere sometimes, but are definitely always connected. So whether it's with bloggers or on social media, you must make sure that the messages are out there.

Another common ground, whether it's moms or dads, is the need to find time to spend with our kids and do the things that are really important to us. A message that will resonate with any parent is one of a product or service that will help us find that time.

Liz Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): When Cool Mom Tech started a couple of years ago, I was surprised to see how resonant it was with dads, too. I also discovered similarities between moms and dads when it came to purchasing tech. It stops being about the cool factor and it starts to be more about keeping them organized and helping them spend more quality time with their kids.

There's a misperception that dads want shiny and moms want practical. In truth, however, they now meet somewhere in the middle.

Bryan McCleary (P&G): There's a false sense that you need to have different marketing messages for moms versus dads. Even though moms are buying more of our consumer products, they appreciate seeing dads in marketing efforts in authentic ways. When moms see dads doing the things they need to as fathers, it impacts them equally.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): Moms can recognize the family dynamic without seeing themselves in a campaign.

Unique factors
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Though there is common ground, moms and dads still have fundamental differences that marketers and communicators must account for. Please elaborate on the most relevant.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): Moms face extraordinary cultural pressure about their choices, particularly related to work versus family. Dads don't quite experience that in the same way – at least not yet. When moms go back to work after having children their coworkers always ask, “Who's taking care of the kids? Are you okay with that?” Dads don't experience that.

McCleary (P&G): We're at a cultural milestone right now with more than 40% of women being the primary breadwinners, according to a Pew study. The impact of that on marketing to parents is huge.

Azzarone (Child's Play): Moms are generally more social than dads, though Doug, to his credit, is helping change that. As soon as moms become moms, they join mom-networking groups and they go to mom blogger conferences, which is another avenue for marketers. At this stage, there are simply more forums to reach moms than dads.

French (Dad 2.0): There's a reason why the Mom 2.0 Summit didn't become the Parent 2.0 Summit and, in turn, why there is a Dad 2.0 Summit. Men respond to different marketing attempts. Men do buy household items – I certainly do – but they don't linger in stores. They come knowing what they need. And, for marketers, there is something to be said for building strong brand loyalty with someone who doesn't like to shop.

Livingston (Carrot): Smart brands initiate relationships with women at that milestone moment when they are going to become moms. It's a brilliant way to foster potential life-long brand loyalty. That simply doesn't happen nearly as often with dads.

Smirnov (DeVries): There are differences in how dads and moms parent that have been proven in studies. Yale, I believe, did a study on how parents interact with their newborns. Apparently, fathers are more likely to make funny faces. Men engage in play differently with their kids than women do. The magic is the marketers who can portray those differences without judgment. Smart marketers celebrate those differences and don't try to turn dads into moms or play into those dorky and dangerous dad stereotypes.

Jenny Cherrytree (Kumon): Today's generation of parents is also really smart. They will not react well at all to marketing that doesn't demonstrate respect for them – and that goes for moms and dads.

Livingston (Carrot): The word I keep coming back to is authentic. Brands need to break away from stereotypes and really speak to authentic situations – and some of them might be comical. Some of them might show parents, moms and dads, kind of bumping along, but they're real and authentic. And moms and dads respond to that.

Azzarone (Child's Play): Subaru has a marketing campaign that really stands out. It had a dad speaking to what appeared to be his toddler daughter behind the wheel. It was actually his teenage daughter taking her first drive alone. This year, Subaru followed up with a dad taking his daughter to the school bus and then following that bus all the way to school. It's authentic and perfect in capturing that emotional bond between dads and daughters. It's a wonderful way to market to dads.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): Marketing to parents doesn't always have to be earnest. It's even okay to portray a mom not knowing everything. A campaign about two parents trying to figure out how to swaddle the first night home would be hilarious, but totally authentic and true. Don't make it about the mom always knowing what she's doing and the dad being terrible. Both parents are imperfect and can laugh about it if the campaign is done the right way.

McCleary (P&G): Another point about authenticity is the need for marketers to avoid unrealistic depictions of perfect parenting, which is actually something the blogger community has brought to light so well. You can be a great parent without being a perfect parent.

Twenty years ago in baby advertising, you'd always see this depiction of the perfect nuclear family and everything was great. Meanwhile, 25% of women are going through postpartum depression. Again, bloggers have really shed light on the real deal when it comes to parenting and some of the challenges we face.

Smirnov (DeVries): If we assume we're mainly talking about kids under 18, who are those parents? Mostly, they are Gen X and older Millennials. This is the group of parents who gave us digital content such as Reasons My Son is Crying, the world's funniest Tumblr. That demographic is very irreverent about parenthood, but deadly serious about parenting. Marketers have to recognize that and craft programs accordingly.

On a separate note, TV ads targeting parents are very visible, but PR has a great opportunity to do all these wonderful, micro-targeted initiatives to same-sex parents, uncoupled parents, and multicultural parents, but the tip of the iceberg to the world is still that general market campaign. The challenge PR people have is that while a very micro-targeted approach is the way to get to all these different iterations of the modern family, there will be resistance if it's not matching luggage with the big general market TV campaign. That feels like a stumbling block.

Raising awareness

Doug French, cofounder of the Dad 2.0 Summit and publisher of the Laid-Off Dad blog, and Liz Gumbinner, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech blogs, sat down with PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid to talk about how to best communicate with parents and the keys to establishing relationships with influencers.

Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): While identifying the proper platform on which to reach any audience is crucial, when it comes to parents, how to communicate with them takes on significant importance. As content creators and parents yourselves, what guidance would you offer?

Liz Gumbinner: With social media, your consumers are now potentially your media, too. That changes everything because you're not just trying to push products at them. They are potentially your greatest evangelists that can go on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and spread the word about the brands they love. They're also potentially your worst nightmare when you've driven their wrath or ire.

More than ever, marketers must look at what interests parents, what motivates them, and what they will want to share because that's the big win. It's not just getting them to buy the product, but getting them to become evangelists for the brand.

Doug French: Parenting is hard. We don't want to be provoked nor insulted. There's a whole marketing plan that says create the hole and tell them how to fill that hole. Well, we've got lots of holes in our lives already.

Dads are newer at this, but I love the idea that we're part of the conversation now. We'll be having our third Dad 2.0 Summit next January in New Orleans – and it's come so far so fast.

And think about the new dads, who tend to be the most vocal. They're growing into the role of father at a time where dad blogs exist where they can see what other dads are doing. I grew up with Esquire.

Another interesting phenomenon is apparent when you see the ad campaigns that kind of make fun of fathers. Don't make fun of dads. The most vocal people who defend the fathers are the moms. They're unhappy to see their spouses treated that way.

Fidelzeid: What are some pitfalls marketers fall into when reaching out to parents?

Gumbinner: We're not all white with two white kids, with a mom and dad and maybe the mom stays home and really cares about getting her whites whiter and her floors squeaky clean. Things have changed. The face of parenting has changed. However, there are still brands that are really uncomfortable with the idea of casting an Asian dad with a Caucasian mom, which is not unusual any longer. This is what families look like now and marketers have to adapt.

This also applies to the roles of parents. Single parents, same-sex parents, shared parenting between divorcees. There are just so many different kinds of parents now. What we consider to be the typical traditional family isn't typical anymore. Marketers are just really slow to catch up with that.

French: Two years ago I moved to Ann Arbor, MI. At the elementary school my kids attend, it's very diverse. There are gay parents, divorced parents, adoptive parents, and unmarried parents. The working father, the stay-at-home mother, and two young, under-18 children is this kind of paradigm people hold up as the traditional family. But Dad 2.0 did a study two years ago and found that description only applies to 4% of families.

Gumbinner: A lot of women who self-identify as stay-at-home moms are actually work-at-home moms. They're blogging. They're creating small businesses out of home. They are involved with their kids' school, which is a full-time job. You need to understand all this and how it shapes today's family. In truth, the PR community knows it, but marketers haven't come along yet. They need to, though, because if you go on Twitter, you'll often see comments about “traditional” campaigns where people will tweet, “Where are the people of color? Where are the dads?”

French: Parents are savvy enough to know that this ideal that marketers try to paint as the real thing doesn't exist anymore. If they see a message they no longer aspire to, nor even recognize, they'll tune it out.

Gumbinner: All parents have a lot in common, too. If you stop concentrating solely on what parents look like and focus more on what they think, feel, and believe, you'll see that.

Circling back to pitfalls, though. Motrin did a TV spot about four years ago that was supposed to be cheeky, but was obviously not written by parents and it ended up kind of making fun of moms. The spot was based on the premise of a mom needing Motrin for baby-wearing, which she was doing because it makes her look cool and trendy. But then she has bags under her eyes and looks awful. It just wasn't funny. Moms were very offended and took to Twitter lash out. It was among the very first examples I recall where people used social media, went after a brand, and the spot got pulled within a weekend.

That's huge. They spent a lot of money on that spot, but they missed a core point in the campaign – the love. Parents love their children and that aspect was totally missing. You can be snarky and poke fun, but you need to represent the love parents have for their kids.

French: The bar is very high for moms in terms of expectations as it relates to parenting. With dads, if nobody dies, you're a genius. With Dad 2.0 and the dad blogging community, we want to see if we can get those bars to coincide. Maybe we can, maybe we can't, but dads should aspire to it.

I'm proud to say, though, that dads have come a long way. Ten years ago, I was an anomaly with my kids at the playground. In 2008, I was an anomaly as the first man to speak at BlogHer in any capacity. I'm not an anomaly anymore. That bar is cinching up a bit.

Fidelzeid: How can brand marketers most effectively communicate and work with influential bloggers?

Gumbinner: There are certain blogs you don't want to pitch certain things to. It's really important that somebody in your organization read the blog so you know how they want to be reached, what they write about, what they cover.

Second, develop a relationship before you even pitch anything. Let bloggers know you want to help them out.

It's also important to understand the different kinds of blogs out there. Just the other day I got a product pitch to Mom-101, where I don't do any product reviews. I explained that to the person, who said, "Well, you should know you're on all the lists we've got." And I replied, "Don't buy a list."

That's the next rule – the lists suck. You can quote me on that. Don't rely on them. You can use them as a starter, but please, don't just spray and pray those lists. Look at the blog you wish to contact and you very well might say, “Maybe they shouldn't have been on this list?”

Some bloggers are more like journalists. Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech will not write a review for money. I find it unethical, untrustworthy, and we wouldn't keep our audience very long. Of course, there are many bloggers that do exactly that. They won't even entertain your pitch unless they get paid. That's the way their model works and if you choose to work with them that's fine, but you have to understand the difference.

French: In looking at pitches that do and don't work, think about it in terms of commercial fishing and individual fishing. You're looking for a relationship. You're looking for someone who has a good business model who speaks the way you want them to speak. Lists, as Liz was saying, are just commercial fishing. It doesn't work and it's lazy.

Klout scores are popular, but mean nothing. We all crave quantifiable ways to represent what we're investing in. That's understandable and that's why Klout is what it is. It's so reductive. Fifty four is better than 48, but that's not really the case. Someone with a Klout score of 30 can be a much better ambassador for you than someone with a Klout score of 70.

Gumbinner: Basically, Klout evaluates how much you use Twitter. People with really high Klout scores might have no real clout, but they're chatting and responding to everybody all day long. It's something to keep in mind.

Doug French: In many cases, bloggers are creating the content they wish existed and from which they can derive help on working through whatever bombshells that life, parenting, or whatever has thrown at them.

Through Dad 2.0, I've met lots of PR people. Bloggers can tell the PR people who put the work in. If someone comes up to me and talks about diapers, I know they haven't done the work. My sons are 8 and 11. Now if someone comes up to me and says, “I noticed that your son just learned how to ride a bike and we have this new app for bike riders,” I know that person did the work.

Gumbinner: PR people have to think extra hard about what they're trying to achieve. If you're just looking for hits, maybe it makes sense to offer $10 gift cards or do what you have to do to try to get those hits.

If you're trying to build relationships with influencers, you have to approach it differently. I was the Target electronics spokesperson for the holidays to reach parents last year. That came about because I spent time developing a relationship with Target over the years. They knew Cool Mom Tech was a really niche blog to reach parents about technology because they're not reading about it on CNET or Mashable.

To develop relationships like that, it can't be just about sending blanket pitches, though there is room for that, too, in some cases. However, if you develop relationships, sometimes those small bloggers become big bloggers and big influencers with huge social media footprints beyond their blogs.

French: Parents have like-minded friends. If you create a good relationship with one parent blogger other avenues can open up.

Fidelzeid: What are some keys to marketing to dads?

French: I'm a father of two boys and I want them to grow up in an environment that embraces an updated and more enlightened sense of what masculinity is. It means loving your kids, confronting loss, dealing with pain. It means not just rubbing dirt on a wound, walking it off, and going to build a shed. There's a lot of macho among dads and that's fine.

However, dads are adults with adult issues. Expectations need to elevated with the media who portray dads, the brands that partner with and market to dads, as well as dads themselves in terms of elevating their skills as fathers.

Gumbinner: The portrayal of children in marketing campaigns is a key factor. It's also a huge way to get to parents in a positive way.

If you focus on boys liking cap guns and girls wanting to be princesses, parents are really sensitive to that these days. JCPenney had that blowup in 2011 with its T-shirts that read, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me." Way to generate some goodwill with the moms, huh?

Here's another good example. Lego introduced Lego Friends last year, which was very controversial. It's a more colorful Lego set made for girls. As a mom, it angered me. I sat down with the Lego people, talked to them about it, and ended up becoming the biggest fan. Their main goal was to get more girls into building. It wasn't about the colors. It was about creating scenarios to welcome girls into the Lego world.

In the end, I concluded that the issue was not Lego, but the retailers who are creating separate aisles for boys and girls. They're saying to kids, “This is for you, that is not for you.” If you put all the Legos together in one aisle and let the kids pick, though, they'll surprise you.

My main point: the way you talk to and about children in your marketing is very much on parents' radar. It's not just about selling us products. It's also about respecting our kids.

Parents in PR
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Brands' focus on parents is evident in ads, but has that truly translated into companies' PR efforts?

Geri Allen (Pepperidge Farm): Absolutely. We work with some bloggers on a regular basis. Mocha Dad is by far one of my favorites. He is from Texas. He is irreverent. But it's clear how much he loves his kids. It's authentic, it's real, and we try to take that into our advertising, as well.

One of our campaigns focuses on the theme that we're bakers and parents. In another, we try to tell the story of our founder Margaret Rudkin, who created a loaf of bread because of her son's allergies. Out of a mother's love this entire company was built. We have so many parents in this company that are just dedicated to getting that authentic voice out within their own social channels. Parents are definitely incorporated in our PR efforts and have actually led to some of our broader marketing initiatives.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): With so much fragmented and niche media, marketers must have a very clear brand positioning from which all outreach efforts can flow.

French (Dad 2.0): Ella's Kitchen, which makes organic baby food based upon a father's love, was a sponsor of our summit this year. Paul Lindley invented this company in 2006 and named it after his daughter Ella. It's noteworthy that Dad 2.0 is not overrun by sponsor companies that represent cars, beer, and financial services. It's brands that are associated with parenting, and by extension with motherhood, that are focused on caring for kids.

ConAgra ran a contest that gave you 30 minutes and seven ingredients to cook something. A very realistic scenario. It treated dads like normal parents. All the sponsors had the same philosophy: “We're here to market to parents. Dads are parents, too, and you're not anomalous. You can cook for your kids.”

Messages such as that and the ones Geri spoke about need to come out. In truth, blogger relationships truly help those messages resonate because you can't speak about those things as easily on a TV ad as you can on a blog post or other forms of online content.

Smirnov (DeVries): I wonder if one of the challenges when we talk to moms or dads is that when we're doing so, we view them as these constructs and forget that they're men and women. It's important to acknowledge that dads don't just want parenting tips, they want to know how to be better men. Even with moms, you have to remember they are women first.

It keeps coming back to that authenticity and acknowledging that there is no generic mom or dad stereotype. There's a man and a woman behind that parent. Are you approaching them with the right humor? Are you speaking to them in a culturally relevant way?

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Where is the balance between marketing to dads as men and marketing to moms as women?

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): I think back to a campaign I worked on for a headache reliever. A main hook was that it would allow you not to cancel your first date night in six months. It obviously targeted parents, but it also acknowledged that you're a spouse that wants to get out of the house sometimes. That tack won't work for every product – such as baby food – but for many products targeting parents, it's very effective.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): In that same vein, let's say you're a car company marketing to a young dad who cares about his child's safety, but still wants a cool car. Where's that common ground?

Azzarone (Child's Play): It depends on the channels you use. A dad blog would be a good forum to focus on the child-safety story. A single-guy website or publication would be venues for the “cool” story. The channels very much define the message you're going to use and vice versa.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): A great example is last year's Volkswagen Darth Vader ad campaign. It focused on all the cool features in the car and, by the way, there's a kid in the spot so you know it's safe for a family. Again, you can appeal to both sides. You just have to find a really clever way to do it and not always be so direct.

French (Dad 2.0): With dads, there are definitely ways to embrace manhood and fatherhood simultaneously in marketing.

Allen (Pepperidge Farm): It's about marrying the benefit for you as a person and the benefit for your children.

Livingston (Carrot): As education marketers, we look at this a bit differently. We seek to put together campaigns that are “fridge-worthy” [a common term in the education sector for something a child does that earns a good grade and is worthy of being placed on the refrigerator]. Something fridge-worthy will be appealing to a mom or a dad. It will give them tools to help them break through the craziness of their lives, and help them initiate important conversations with their kids about life skills. Those messages will tie back to the brand because we are distilling the essence of the brand in that way.

Smirnov (DeVries): At DeVries, we talk about Velcro topics. These are topics many people naturally gravitate toward and stick to, like Velcro. They are passion points.

Going back to the mom-woman, dad-man subject, this is where PR can be uniquely helpful because it's the nimble discipline, can move fast, and has all these wonderful new channels in which to operate and have conversations in.

I'll offer an example. If you're thinking about a craft beer consumer, there will be times you talk to that guy because he's a beer geek. Sometimes, you'll speak to him as an epicurean and you'll focus on pairing beer with food, much like you do with wine. Still other times, you'll focus on graduation season and think about that first beer a father might share with his son who just completed college. In all such cases, PR and social media can be uniquely helpful because you can find the ways to have those conversations that speak to the whole person, both dad and man or mom and woman.

Think about the evolution of the mom blogging community, which has exploded so quickly. In that short time, we've learned so much about how to talk to moms. With dad blogs gaining steam, we will become, I'd hope, equally as smart as communicators at learning how to talk to dads. From that, bigger changes to overall PR department communication strategies can happen faster.

French (Dad 2.0): Blogging has been around for 15 years, but in the case of what blogging is going to be, that's just a blip.

McCleary (P&G): So much progress has been made in how companies and brands work with bloggers. And if you mine for and really get to know the parent bloggers, you can glean so many wonderful insights you can take back and put in your marketing.

A danger, however, I see emerging is a growing commercialism in the way brands and PR agencies and bloggers are interacting. Not across all forms of blogging, but in the pay-to-play arena. I see too many examples of really bad outreach by brands where it's just a very shotgun approach to getting the word out. That's not the best way to work with bloggers from a brand perspective.

For P&G, bloggers are among our key ambassadors. We use them as sounding boards. We run product ideas by them. And, full disclosure, we have given them money to go out and perform Miracle Missions in their communities for a Pampers campaign we've done.

There is a place to work with bloggers commercially, but the PR industry needs to create some rules of the road in terms of how to do that.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): It's important to note that anybody can start a blog. Years ago, there were women who would sit at home, decide to start a blog, then write to companies all day long to tell them they have a blog so they could get free coupons and stuff and write about the company's products based on that. Those blogs exist, but I hope they're going away because, truthfully, there is no ROI for marketers when they get products reviewed like that.

McCleary (P&G): It becomes an advertorial that is very inauthentic.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): It's not even an advertorial. It's an ad. You're being paid by the product company you're reviewing. It's also crucial to remember that bloggers are now digital influencers with vast footprints. Perhaps their blog doesn't get a lot of traffic, but they have 200,000 Pinterest followers, a huge fan base on Instagram, or do huge Twitter parties. There are these digital influencers with many channels. Marketers must spend the time getting to know who the real influencers are so they can really do right by their clients or companies.

Azzarone (Child's Play): Marketers want the blog coverage because you can say a lot more in a blog than on Twitter, but the number of followers that some mom bloggers have on other channels – and even some dad bloggers now – brings even more validity to these platforms.

Allen (Pepperidge Farm): It's really also matching the blogger with our brand. Our company has a reputation for quality and care. I adore the Bloggess blog, but I don't work with her because that brand doesn't match ours.

French (Dad 2.0): We often talk about content marketing, but it's important to focus on the content part of that. Before you write a blog, you have to find your voice as a writer, and before that your voice as a father, and before that your voice as a man. Too many people put the cart before the horse and the result is content marketing with not enough emphasis on the content. You need to write content we want to partner with.

McCleary (P&G): Absolutely. And the content should go beyond the product benefit and speak to the essence of the brand.

Livingston (Carrot): Zero in on the sweeping value that will resonate with parents that will ultimately link back to the brands. Give them valuable content that will really help change their lives in some way.

McCleary (P&G): We've tried to really show the people behind some of our brands. Bloggers and consumers tend to really appreciate that. It shows we aren't just a multinational corporation, but there are real people just like them that work at P&G. For example, when some of our employees have babies, especially folks who work with the Pampers brand, they'll post pictures of that and the Facebook likes will go through the roof. Perhaps it seems silly, but people appreciate that.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): Cool Mom Picks is not a review blog. We need stories. Every good blog needs a story about a product. That need for a story makes blogging so perfect for what PR does. PR is great at telling stories and blogs are a perfect forum to pass along those stories that will enrich parents' lives. Everybody wins.

 

The new American family
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Same-sex parents. Single parents. Interracial parents. All much more prevalent than 10, even five years ago. This is the changing face of the American family. Have brands evolved their outreach efforts accordingly?

Allen (Pepperidge Farm): We have a strong diversity group within our organization and are owned by Campbell Soup Company. Pepperidge Farm actually advertised on NBC's The New Normal when it first aired and Middle America bashed us on social media for ignoring our roots. We stood firm, though, and said, “This is who we are and this is who we stand for.”

Ramirez (Weber): My focus is on the Hispanic market, which has changed and grown tremendously in the 15 years I've been in this industry. It's also an area marketers need to focus on even more because it has evolved so much. It takes that focus to understand the market so that messages are clear to that consumer segment and touch on the emotional points they are supposed to.

French (Dad 2.0): The fact dad bloggers are on so many marketers' radar now is a sign that brands are adapting to a changing family dynamic.

Azzarone (Child's Play): Many have this perception that single moms are all 16-year-olds and have lower income, but that's not true anymore. So many moms in their 30s, for example, are choosing to be single moms. Some brands have embraced this and are being proactive in their marketing with it. I've also definitely seen more brands acknowledge the dad's rising role in children's upbringing.

Meyer (Tea Collection): Our brand was built with diversity in its DNA. Tea Collection was built on increasing awareness of other cultures. As the years go on, it's become even more profound how powerful it is to have that philosophy built into our product. The changing face of the American family, as you put it, is built into our garments. That's a competitive advantage going forward. It enthuses and inspires me – and that comes across in our marketing.

Livingston (Carrot): Diversity has to be top of mind in any marketing effort today. We certainly take that seriously and build in a lot of flexibility and adaptability into our education programs.

For example, our Colgate Palmolive Program is distributed to 80 countries and is in 50 different languages. Some of these regions don't even have basic school supplies or electricity. So we adapt the program accordingly so those kids can learn about brushing their teeth or something else that's vital to their health and well-being. Our programs have these core brand messages that resonate because they are adaptable and flexible to the needs of a particular ethnic group or location.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): Speaking from a publishing perspective, we seek out companies that honor diversity and progressive family values and we're not afraid to be vocal in telling a company that they could do a little better. We're not snarky, we're encouraging.

One of the most successful posts Cool Mom Picks ever did was a couple years back when we announced the Old Navy Pride Tees that had two mommies or two daddies. Old Navy didn't really promote it, but we got incredible response. Our view is that there are and always have been all kinds of kids in the world that need all kinds of love and support. We honor that. This is about children feeling loved and respected and we'll always stand behind that – and appreciate brands that do.

McCleary (P&G): Focusing on the Hispanic market, marketers actually need to think about designing products for the mass market with Hispanic consumers in mind because they are the mass market now. Often, something that resonates with Hispanic consumers will be a good test for all Americans.

I also see too many PR programs with a general-market spokesperson and a Hispanic-market spokesperson. Why can't the Hispanic spokesperson be the general- market person? We tend to pigeonhole Hispanics in the Spanish-speaking world, but they very well might consume more English-speaking media. Marketers must understand that Hispanic consumers want to hang on to their cultural heritage, but also want to be full citizens in this new culture.

Cherrytree (Kumon): Every Kumon center is like a mini-UN. It's people from all over the world who share the bond of loving their children and wanting them to get the best education.

Many of the parents who use our services didn't go to school in the US, so they don't know anything about the ACT or the SAT. They don't know all the different channels you need to be successful here. As such, we create so much content with the goal of being a resource, but we make sure to respect the fact that parents know what's best for their child. We don't look to push anything on them. We provide content and resources they can pick from to be the best parent they can be.

Smirnov (DeVries): In trying to depict the face of the changing American family, you often find yourself wading into politically charged or polarizing conversations. It really requires great courage and conviction to put all these different faces on marketing platforms. Again, this is where PR can really shine.

If we're doing our jobs, we are building goodwill among editorial influencers and content creators for our brands so when they do take a stand the community rises to their support when there is backlash.

Cheerios' recent ad featuring a biracial family is a perfect example. The backlash was immediate, but the backlash against the backlash was equally immediate and even stronger. This brand bravely depicted the reality of the American family. The backlash came for a vocal minority that tends to be loud in the cultural conversation, but Cheerios had built up that goodwill, so the community came in to its defense even stronger. PR helps accelerate that.

Influencing the influencers
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How do you develop mutually beneficial relationships with parent bloggers?

Cherrytree (Kumon): Connecting with digital influencers is so crucial in my world and it starts with the realization that everyone is so inundated with emails and correspondences. You really need familiarity with the platform before you can think about building any kind of relationship that will have a meaningful marketing impact.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): It's not unlike the way you make friends. In fact, I have dear friends I've met through blogging. It started out with them writing me hilarious letters about my blog that I found so funny that I wanted to write back.

It's the same thing with PR people that reach out to me. Some simply say something very authentic such as, “I love your blog. I've been subscribing for five years, but never had the right things to reach out with.” I remember that. Much like in my personal life, I want to associate with authentic people in business. That's how you build relationships with an influencer.

Taking it a step further, I'll actively reach out to PR pros when I need suggestions for a holiday guide or the like because I know the people I go to won't hit me with every product they represent. They know what's relevant to my audience. They're not selling me. They are thinking about my needs, too.

French (Dad 2.0): There's a real conviviality that I've established with some PR pros I've met through my blogging. Through that, they've come to learn what interests me and I, in turn, have familiarity with the brands they represent. And they also know what is not a good for for me, which is just as important as what is.

Smirnov (DeVries): Where PR people sometimes go afoul is when they feel this pressure to achieve scale. You have to rethink your blogger strategy. Perhaps blogs are not the best venue for product publicity. Perhaps the way you work with bloggers is much more selective because you cannot develop depth of relationship with 500 bloggers.

At the same time, this is such an exciting time in terms of content partnerships with the bloggers with whom we do have a relationship. We view them as business partners and that's a notable shift in how we interact with bloggers. Again, you can't really do that on a grand scale, so it does necessitate a rethink. But if you have a handful of bloggers who are business partners, that takes your marketing possibilities to another level.

McCleary (P&G): I fear we're losing traditional PR and that many marketers now consider PR social media only. And, obviously, that's not accurate. Social media is a tool, a channel, but it's not a substitute for more traditional product PR.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): Keep in mind that bloggers often go onto traditional media. I do Today a lot. I've been pinning for Martha Stewart recently and have gotten a lot of thank-you notes from brands for that.

Ramirez (Weber): It also goes back to having a very solid brand identity. This all works like a network of friends where you bond with people with whom you have things in common. When a brand identifies things they have in common with a blogger or any outlet, that's a relationship that will work. And as we've already said, you can't really have 500 best friends.

Doing your homework
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How has the rise of data and analytics influenced marketing to parents?

Azzarone (Child's Play): We recently did some broad research around Mother's Day to identify what moms really wanted and what they were getting. Turns out about a quarter of moms got nothing for Mother's Day. Obviously, they were unhappy about it, but we saw an opportunity. In working with a specific client, we're looking to get them to own that and hopefully become the choice for Mother's Day. We've been marketing based on that data to create demand and purchases.

Livingston (Carrot): Data informs content, but its collection is also done on the ground. We send out our education curriculum developers to meet with real moms and teachers to make sure the programs and campaigns we develop really work for them.

It's great to look at the numbers. They provide a great guideline and help steer you in a particular direction, but those in-person conversations are so crucial for getting real, authentic input on the relevance of your programs.

Ramirez (Weber): Our recent studies have found there are 9 million Millennial moms in the US. A good portion of them would be willing to pay from $50 to $150 a month in order to have someone help manage their lives, to help them get organized. That's very useful information for many clients for whom moms are potential consumers.

So when we're developing programs for our clients, we take such findings and we package it for them and work with the brands to develop those solutions that will be the most effective for their customers. The experience we bring as PR pros with the quantitative data helps us craft the best possible options for clients. Marketing to parents is an area where this really comes to the forefront.

Livingston (Carrot): In our recent research, moms basically told us not to tell them what they should do, but rather boil things down to something actionable for them. That is truly guidance for any PR and marketing pro targeting parents.

Meyer (Tea Collection): In a recent qualitative study we conducted, we interviewed our top 20 customers to understand why they bought our brand. What we gleaned from that were some very interesting “a-ha” notions that tidied our moms and our customers into these personalities. That, in turn, is helping us craft our messaging this fall.

Azzarone (Child's Play): We've been doing research on what dads are actually responsible for purchasing as opposed to what they say they are responsible for purchasing. While most such studies are done via interviews with fathers, we decided to ask the moms and, needless to say, they have a different opinion and gave us different information. Some of those findings help us determine the categories that make the most sense for targeting dads.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): On both of my sites, we do extensive readership surveys in which we ask what they like best, what they would like to see more of, and why they subscribe to us. These findings not only help us serve our readers better, but it helps us work better with brands and marketers. We are able to tell them that 95% of our readers own an iOS device, mostly iPads. That's very valuable.

We can also do a site audit to see exactly what kind of tablets they own, what browsers they use, how many people access our site on mobile devices. All this helps us give tremendous data to marketers.

A 2012 audit we did revealed that six out of our 10 top posts of the year were our Father's Day Gift Guide posts. That data prompted Dove Men+Care, which sponsored our Father's Day Gift Guide in 2012, to re-up.

French (Dad 2.0): At XY Media, Dad 2.0's parent company, we're actually in the middle of a campaign with Tide where we have chosen four bloggers to conduct events with the product. We're trying to reach out to dads who don't have or engage with blogs and create these live events to build a community.

Both Mom 2.0 and Dad 2.0 have bloggers work on events like this. Reports are then put together based on qualitative data that's gathered from talking to parents about what they thought. This research is sent back to the PR firms working with the products at these events. These aren't static and artificial bits of information. It's actual thoughts and quotes about products from dads who wouldn't know a blog from anything.

Leading brands
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Please identify brands that are excelling at marketing to parents.

Cherrytree (Kumon): Chobani, which is a very young company, sees Millennials as this new generation of parents that wants to give their children the best and healthiest food.

In June, it was heavily involved in Sing For Hope Pianos, a program that returned after a one-year hiatus caused by lack of funding. Its goal is to make art and music accessible to everyone, particularly children. This is one example of how Chobani is continually in the public working with parents and communities.

French (Dad 2.0): Dove Men+Care is doing a fantastic job. There is an entire marketing campaign centered around the idea of a “journey to comfort” and coming to grips with being a dad. Famous athletes from John Elway to Dwayne Wade took part and the whole effort is so dad-centric. Dad bloggers have been around long enough to distinguish brands that are in it for the long haul. And Dove Men+Care maintains that focus year-round, even working with Cool Mom Picks on its Father's Day programs.

That long-term commitment is so important. Brands can't simply focus on fathers for a limited period of time around Father's Day. Dads are dads 52 weeks a year. Marketing to them can't be something that's just commercially convenient.

Gumbinner (Cool Mom Picks): On numerous Twitter conversations about brands that do a great job talking to parents, P&G's Thank You Mom campaign comes up consistently. Moms are so grateful to be acknowledged for the things they do and that program just resonated so well with them. Even having the word “mom” in it keeps it top of mind.

P&G has done a great job of ingratiating itself with the parenting community, bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

Ramirez (Weber): Technology companies have done some really great marketing to parents around their tablets. So many of those programs are very inclusive of kids, which is a win in parents' eyes.

Meyer (Tea Collection): Sticking with Kelly's theme, I'd say Apple. Its products are very family-centric and its marketing focuses on that well. Apple products equally satisfy my 3-year-old and my 40-something-year-old husband.

If there's anything I'd like to see taken to another level, though, it's the recognition that moms aren't doing it all by themselves. It takes a village, including grandparents, teachers, and so on. It's not only the parents that help shape children and marketing efforts should embrace this concept more.

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