Graeme McGilliard - Media Strategist

Media Director

We love challenger brands. We love their ‘blank page’ attitude to business and their ability to make quick, bold decisions as they seek to gain a larger slice of their sector.

It’s most definitely a mindset and it goes far beyond those business cliches of ‘disruption’ or ‘game changer’.

When challenger brands come to talk to us, we’re keen to interrogate how far they’ll go to take on the status quo and say or do things differently in a way that is going to cut through in PR and on social to supercharge the brand ambitions.

We’re in an era that is saturated with everyone from car manufacturers to cat food providers claiming to be innovators, disruptors and breaking the mould.

Journalists and social media users dismiss most of this as white noise and rightly so. Do we honestly care if a toilet bleach, coat hook or cardboard box are ripping up the rulebook and doing things differently?

So, who or what is it exactly that you’re challenging?

There are many different types of challenger brand out there, from the local hero to the outlaw, the underdog to the people’s champion, and knowing what your position is is a great first step to understanding how you’re going to achieve a distinctive place in people’s lives. 

Some will use humour, others will call out the competition/sector leaders as not being match fit any longer while others will campaign for change as their way of planting a stake in the ground and announcing ‘we’re here’.

Next, know who you want as your customer or consumer. Being clear about this will help in targeting the media that is right for the brand to appear in and therefore what type of story or content is going to land well there.

Identifying the product, service or message that’s going to resonate with the audience is crucial to amplifying the challenger brand into something meaningful with journalists and consumers.

Monzo bank landed with a strong proposition that simplified and modernised banking for a new generation. Journalists loved it and suddenly their opinion was being sought on every story ahead of stodgy established high street banks,

Tapping into the things people care about most passionately is a strong tactic for gaining coverage. Tony’s Chocoloney made a mark in the media with a strong ethical stance on chocolate production processes and the often dubious supply chains of the major chocolate brands. This simple and compelling message played to the environmental and moral concerns of people and handed a small Dutch chocolate brand a share of voice far beyond its size.

Be warned, though, that some strategies are more high risk than others for challenger brands. Brewdog was a media darling for many years due to its outspoken stance on, well absolutely everything. However, this has led to investigation of its CEO for his behaviour and public boredom and mockery at yet another ‘shock’ statement or new product from the brand.

Tony’s Chocoloney, too, came under fire when investigations by the media uncovered child labour in its supply chain.

Any challenger brand who calls out bad practice elsewhere needs to be sure they are watertight themselves because curious customers and journalists will poke around behind the scenes in an attempt to verify how genuine your business halo really is.

However, the opportunity for challenger brands using PR and social channels is to gain visibility and voice that will supercharge growth. By clearly demonstrating the distinctive place you occupy and having an attitude that stands out, the media stand up and take notice.

When everyone claims to be rule-breaking and innovating, it’s vital to know precisely what you’re doing and why. Stand for something – and then champion it through earned and owned media.

Your PR can then be as ballsy, creative and challenging as you have the appetite to be, authentically. That’s the beauty of being a challenger. Your aim might be to get to No1, but while you’re on the journey enjoy the fun times along the way.

At Democracy, we specialise in supercharging challenger brands. Talk to us to find out more about how we’ve done it in the past and what we could do for you.