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Communications Planning Offers Ray of Insight at Carat

Nov 11, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Not all clients think they want communications planning. Not all clients think they need communications planning.
In his new job as executive VP and head of communications planning at Carat, Doug Ray will try to identify clients that need the discipline and try to persuade them that they should want it, in addition to the more traditional media planning.
He said he’s starting to engage the agency’s other clients, but a very strategic approach to media planning probably meets 80% to 90% of their needs.
One of the main differences between communications planning and media planning is that communications planning starts with the consumer.
“You’re looking to understand what their habits and practices are in general, around the product, around the category and certainly around communications, but I think what we try to do is dive a little bit deeper to try to understand the whys behind the what,” said Mr. Ray, who also oversees communications planning for the Procter & Gamble account.
“So if they’re more likely to be an early adopter of technology, and therefore we can find them and target them through mobile applications and the Web, why is that? Why do they have that mindset? And specifically, how does that relate to the category?
“That defines the underlying need that the consumer has, and how does the category resolve those needs? Or perhaps they’re not resolving those needs, and by understanding that we can derive some ‘aha’ insights that might otherwise not have been obvious to us or our clients.”
One example of the way a communications plan can be built from a consumer insight is being submitted for an award by the agency.
An insight Carat developed for P&G’s Iams high-end dog food line was that while pet owners inclined to buy premium dog food were interested in all kinds of information, they don’t reassess pet food brands very often, except at trigger moments, such as when a health issue arises for their pets.
“We started to realize that we needed to inspire these consumers in order to break the inertia that they have to get them to reconsider their pet food,” Mr. Ray said.
Based on that information, Iams created a show on XM Radio called “The Pet Hour,” which is sort of a “Car Talk” for dogs.
“This is not your traditional advertising vehicle. It’s very lightly branded,” Mr. Ray said. But it works because “when you’re engaging consumers in content, their advertising barriers come down a bit.”
Also, there’s a gratitude effect.
“When you provide them with something that actually meets their needs—in this case, we’re giving them content about at-home pet training and activities they can do with their pet on a beautiful summer day—they actually then ascribed a certain purchase intent via the gratitude effect to the brand,” Mr. Ray said.
In this case, communications planning led to a way to engage consumers outside traditional push advertising. And, more important, “It’s actually having a significant impact on driving sales,” he said.
Mr. Ray, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, discovered early that he wanted to be in the advertising business. He’d considered doing something arty, such as the film business, but his grandfather straightened him out.
“He was the vice president of a manufacturing company when being vice president actually meant being No. 2,” Mr. Ray said.
When Mr. Ray got to Miami of Ohio in Oxford, he tried to indulge both left brain and right brain by double-majoring in graphic design and marketing.
“I realized very quickly that you actually couldn’t stay up all night working on an art project, and then be able to ace an accounting exam the next morning,” he said.
In his senior year, he was part of a school competition that took an assignment from the Coca-Cola Co. to launch a new brand of carbonated fruit drink into the Canadian market.
“Our team created the name ‘Fruitopia,’” Mr. Ray said, adding that later, in newspaper stories, the company denied that a bunch of college kids came up with the name.
He went to New York to break into advertising, interviewing for account jobs with big agencies and media jobs with smaller ones, and landed a media post with Ammirati Puris, then a hot creative shop.
His boss in the media department, Mike Lotitto, taught him that “we’re marketing professionals first and media practitioners second,” and that’s something he’s tried to hold onto throughout his career.
After Ammirati was acquired by Interpublic Group, Mr. Ray moved to DiMassimo Brand Advertising, an even smaller shop where, as a partner, he got to build “the media department of the future.”
“We came at solutions for our clients from a truly media-neutral perspective,” Mr. Ray said.
A few years later, he followed P&G’s search for an agency to handle communications planning. Essentially P&G was a client that wanted to do what Mr. Ray had been trying to do, but on a much bigger scale.
So he interviewed with Carat and landed on the P&G business, at first on snacks, pet foods and beverages, but eventually the whole account.
In his spare time, Mr. Ray likes to retreat to his log house in upstate Sullivan County, N.Y., where he can spend time with Big Bear, his 2-year-old golden retriever, and pursue outdoor activities such as hiking, rappelling, kayaking and rafting.
The log cabin is in the middle of nowhere and woodland creatures frequently find their way inside, he said. It requires regular maintenance to keep the termites and carpenter ants from destroying the place.
A tree once fell on the roof, but it didn’t do too much damage, said Mr. Ray, who used pieces of the fallen tree to make endtables for the house.
Who knew? From the time he was 12 until he was 19, Mr. Ray was a competitive springboard diver, reaching the regionals and state championships while he was in high school. In college, while attempting a back 1½ somersault with a 2½ twist off the 3-meter board, “I lost what was up and what was down and stopped the dive in the middle, opened up and landed sideways,” he said. Ouch. His ruptured eardrum kept him out of the water and ended his diving career.

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