Using PR strategically to transform your brand into a major player

Bonnke Shipalana, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Johannesburg-based communication agency, The Allure Group (TAG). Pic | Supplied.

Bonnke Shipalana, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Johannesburg-based communication agency, The Allure Group (TAG). Pic | Supplied.

Published May 27, 2024


Building brand awareness can be a prohibitively costly exercise that can dishearten any aspiring entrepreneur particularly in the current economic environment where disposable income is a luxury.

“Public relations (PR) is a practise that has proven to be very effective in enhancing brand awareness, shaping the public perception, enhancing credibility, and building a strong, lasting relationship with the audience,” explains

Lauding the importance of PR in creating brand awareness, Shipalana notes that while traditional marketing focuses on promoting products or services directly to Bonnke Shipalana, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Johannesburg-based communication agency, The Allure Group (TAG).consumers, PR takes a more holistic approach to managing a brand’s reputation and fostering public trust.

“There is both good and bad news when it comes to developing your PR plan to enhance brand awareness. Firstly, let's talk about the good news. A PR-led brand awareness campaign does not require the GDP of a small developing country to activate. An impactful PR campaign can be run on a shoestring budget provided it is well developed and meticulously executed.

The bad news is that often the results of this exercise may not be immediately apparent. PR is a prolonged and sustained process that knits the brand narrative and reinforces particular attributes about the brand. Due to its sustained and lingering nature, the results are more enduring,” he explains.

Case study

Citing the example of how a fledgling company utilised PR to grow its footprint, he mentions how New York-based Death Wish Coffee, catapulted itself from a local operation to a nationwide brand that was selected as the official coffee provider to the International Space Station (ISS) following a successful, viral PR campaign. The company’s founder, Mike Brown, identified a gap in the market for a high-caffeine, bold-flavoured coffee that could satisfy even the most fatigued consumers.

Death Wish Coffee’s unique selling proposition was its claim to be the “world’s strongest coffee”, and the company aggressively promoted its brand message on social media, using platforms like Instagram and Facebook to share customer testimonials.

The company also developed engaging content and videos that highlighted the intensity and strength of its coffee that was shareable, and tailored to engage coffee enthusiasts who were likely to appreciate the brand’s unique value.

The turning point came when Death Wish Coffee won Intuit’s “Small Business, Big Game” contest, which awarded them free advertisement during the Super Bowl in 2016.

The ad featured a dramatic Viking ship braving a stormy sea, metaphorically representing the coffee’s power and intensity. The exposure from this ad, watched by millions, propelled the brand into the national spotlight overnight. The viral campaign had a long-lasting effect on the brand. Death Wish Coffee continued to leverage the fame from the Super Bowl ad to grow its base of loyal customers and expand its product line.

“Death Wish Coffee’s story illustrates the power of viral public relations in transforming a small brand into a major player in a competitive market. By effectively using social media to build a loyal community and capitalising on a once-in-a-lifetime advertising opportunity, Death Wish Coffee maximized its brand’s visibility and sales, proving that even small brands can achieve extraordinary growth with the right PR strategy,” Shipalana explains.

It is this realisation of how PR can be a catalyst for growth for struggling SMEs that has compelled Shipalana’s TAG to partner with Independent Media, to host a masterclass on July 3 where a panel of accomplished and renowned brand experts will coach entrepreneurs on how to leverage the power of PR to build their brands.

This upcoming masterclass which is the first of its kind in South Africa, is aptly titled, Building a Brand Through PR, in reference to the skills that the panel of brand building experts will be sharing and imparting to the participants.

This insightful, one day masterclass will be jam packed with presentations and case studies by a panel of acclaimed PR experts, who will share case stories and personal experiences of how they managed to raise the profile of global brands in South Africa.

“Participants will acquire knowledge on how to strategically use PR to improve brand awareness, manage reputation, and engage stakeholders through a combination of academic frameworks, practical case studies and interactive conversations,” says Shipalana.

Speakers at the PR masterclass

The event has lined up 12 industry experts who will present case studies and personal testimonies on how to build brand awareness. Speakers on the day will include, Dr Thebe Ikalafeng (creator of Brand Leadership and Brand Africa), Qhawekazi Mdikane (Momentum Brand Marketing Executive Head), Sylvester Chauke, (DNA Brand Architects’ founder), Jeremy Maggs (a Brave Group company’s managing partner), Bonnke Shipalana (The Allure Group’s Group CEO), Sibu Mabena, (Duma Collective’s founder), Tshepo Mohlala, (founder and chief creative officer of Tshepo Jeans) Papama Mtwisha (Founder of Africa Your Time Is Now), Thabani Khumalo (CMO Corner’s) and many more.

Event details

The masterclass will be hosted on Wednesday, July 3 at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg from 9am until 4pm. Tickets for participants who wish to attend the masterclass at the venue retail are R650, while those who wish to participate in the masterclass virtually can secure their tickets for R350. The ticket can be purchased online from

The Star