This past week two people who until very recently made their entire careers out of PR and advertising both made similar claims that the industries they had just left were too slow to modernize and were therefore doomed. Hindsight, it seems, is 20/20 vision even if they can’t both be right!
The truth of course is more nuanced. As an independent PR agency we work closely with lots of great ad agencies, and as a judge at the Asian Marketing Effectiveness Awards I have been lucky over the last two years to see firsthand – and in the company of the leaders, planners and creatives of some of those ad agencies – some of the best work they produce. And in and amongst that work is some old-school TV advertising campaigns and print work for sure. But in most cases that was the right solution to the client problem. And the ads were great.
But most of the best ad agency creative these days features ideas that work well beyond bought media, and in many cases are truly conversational, two way and engaging. The PR category Grand Prix at Cannes is yet to be won by a PR agency. The campaigns that we all talk about after the awards for the last few years, be that Dumb Ways to Die, Fair Go Bro or World’s Best Job, are conspicuously PR ideas executed brilliantly by ad agencies and their partners. It seems to me that the ad agencies have come a long way. No doubt that speed of change will need to increase and no doubt some won’t make the hard choices and will fade away. But the best are, and will continue to change and do great new work that is effective for clients and relevant to today’s consumers.
But what of the PR firms? Well, just like the ad agencies learned from our ways of thinking, so we are also learning from them – or at least the best of us are. We now have planners and creatives, which as an ex-ad agency planner makes me very happy. We have studios with designers and art directors. We have search experts and we buy media because we know that social does not really work without paying Google or Facebook something somewhere. We produce films and infographics, we stage and sponsor events and do sampling, we write code, we are getting pretty good at analytics and in many of our offices now we have our own research capability.
We still do media relations and we still think that is bloody important. And we still believe that instinct – and not just analysis – has a major role. We are definitely stronger partner for the 24/7, always-on marketing that needs both instant turnaround of ideas and the ability to handle issues and customer reaction on the fly. The next big change for us as a firm is how we structure ourselves to manage these new specialists, and the thought and production processes needed to harness them. I expect the answer will be part ad agency structure, part newsroom structure, and I hope that through that we get the best blend of instinctive and research based planning, creative and execution. And I fully expect we will have to blow it up again in a few years.
And as for the more besuited, corporate-side of PR, there is no doubt that the industry continues to make progress with more in-house practitioners than ever, with boardroom status or presence and almost no CEO of any firm of scale without access to some form of continual PR advice. And the best of these (agency and in-house) continue to keep their company’s connected with the day-to-day reality of the world outside and all of its challenges, and yet remain long-term, pragmatic business advisors rather than pseudo-intellectual hand wringers.
The best of the PR and advertising industry has changed a lot over the last few years and will continue to do so, and I expect both types of agencies will continue to learn from each other and from our clients, our creative partners, the media, start-ups, the Shirkys, the Earls, the MacLeods and the academics. The speed of change will never be this slow again.
My thanks to the brilliant Hugh for the use of his illustration.