Surely time for the PR v. advertising battle to end..?

Reading Jackie Cooper's latest essay I agree with a huge amount of what she says. Almost everything in fact. And why not? Having worked for Edelman in both freelance and permanent roles, I've had a bit of contact with Jackie and have enormous respect for her. As you'd expect, as founder of Jackie Cooper PR she's a true doyenne of the consumer PR world.

But the headline (and also the first line in fact) really jars: "Why It's Time for Ad Agencies to Admit Defeat".

The PR industry has a real complex about the advertising industry – and it's one which isn't generally reciprocated. I can't quite work out whether is an inferiority or superiority complex…but it's a complex. The industry seems to clutch desperately to anything that might sound the death knell for advertising agencies, presumably so PR can nab all the budget that it believes has always been PR's by right. I don't get it. It often reminds me of the desperation in this…PR's Kevin Keegan to advertising's Alex Ferguson.

In the first line of her essay, Jackie says: "When ad agencies are rebranding themselves as "short form content agencies", and media agencies are suddenly sprouting production arms you know the jig is up."

Hardly. The world of marketing is changing. Marketing services agencies of all types are having to adapt to a world dominated by conversation, community-building and engaging content: advertising, PR, media planning, direct marketing…it's a challenge for them all. But to think that there aren't very smart people sitting in ad agencies working out how they can remain relevant is crazy. And the changes that Jackie points out above are evidence of that.

It's true that many advertising agencies haven't traditional been skilled in creating and delivering on-going consumer engagement campaigns; campaigns that start, develop and manage communities in which brands can participate. Their focus has been on 30-second spots, full-page ads and billboards. But that doesn't mean that they can't learn how to adapt (or, more likely, hire the expertise, as many are currently doing). They have the resources to do so and, more importantly, they often enjoy a direct line into the senior marketing decision-maker within brands and already have their hands on the bulk of the budget. 'All' they need to do is convince the client that they've re-engineered their business and crack on with the job.

Unfortunately, despite arguably having an existing set of skills that are ideally suited to an 'engagement' marketing model, PR agencies are (generally) a step away from the marketing director and often pigeonholed as providing a specific set of services at a certain proportion of budget. The barriers to changing that are significant.

In reality (or the very near reality) there should be no PR v. advertising discussion. Some PR agencies will thrive, some will fail. Ditto for the ad guys.

So can we stop it now?

2 thoughts on “Surely time for the PR v. advertising battle to end..?”

  1. PR gets the budget it deserves I’m afraid. Clients aren’t stupid. For a multitude of reasons advertising agencies are working hard to deliver more long-term PR-style campaigns. And much as it pains me to admit it I believe they’ll succeed. Partially because they need to, but mostly because they’ll put huge emphasis on delivery and measurement.

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