PR versus advertising
Date: 06 September 2012 17:21
PR is leading the way these days, while traditional advertising appears to have lost its sparkle. Or is this wishful thinking?
In the book Rethinking Reputation, authors Fraser P Seitel and John Doorley put their case for their view that PR now trumps advertising. Doorley explains why he believes advertising has lost its edge: “It used to be that a company or a candidate or a bank president could ‘purchase’ their way to prestige and positivity through advertising or marketing. No longer. Today, where images are established through 24/7 mobile/Internet/cable TV/radio commentary and non-stop social media conversations – reputations can no longer be constructed through top-down, paid media.
“In the new-media world, one’s reputation depends largely on virtuous action communicated candidly and consistently through a steady stream of free media – releases and speeches, media appearances and charitable contributions, Facebook and Twitter postings. Stated simply, a smart organisation or individual today will recognise that in rethinking its reputation – PR must lie at the centre of its strategy.”
However, all messages must be clear and consistent. Seitel gives an example of how it can go wrong: “Nobody especially cared for Jean-Claude Trichet, the French civil servant who ran the European Central Bank (ECB) till last November. He was distant, aloof and spoke in platitudes as Greece and Spain and Italy spiralled steadily downward. But Trichet’s successor, Mario Draghi, was a breath of fresh air. He was a banker, spoke with conviction and inspired global confidence – especially when he declared in London in July that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to support the euro.
“But recently, when Draghi seemed to backtrack on his earlier declaration, the euro – and the credibility of the ECB president himself – took a hit. Such is the price one pays in the 21st century for inconsistent communication.”
One reason why PR gets through to consumers is because it is able to engage. Tom Leatherbarrow, head of B2B at agency Willoughby Public Relations says that within the B2B sector, PR is certainly becoming, if not more dominant, then certainly an equal and complimentary partner to advertising. “While advertising has a clear call to action, many clients are wanting to put over much more complex messages which do not necessarily demand an immediate buy response. Many are wanting to go beyond what one of my former clients called ‘product pushing’ to try and engage with customers by using more sophisticated messages about added value; whole life costs to justify premium pricing strategies and customer benefits rather than merely product attributes. PR is increasingly being seen as being more empathetic to customer need.”
However, Gavin Devine, chief executive of agency MHP Communications thinks that any talk about PR taking over from advertising is over-stated. He says there are many cases when only a stunning advertising campaign will have the impact a client needs: “For example, selling mass-market products, or achieving widespread behavioural change, is often best achieved through above-the-line activities.“
PR may like to claim the digital space, but Devine points out that advertising also has a role to play here: “Digital and social media campaigns prove that there is a place for both industries to co-exist and collaborate, as these campaigns often have elements of both PR and advertising. What we’re seeing much more here, as MHP is part of integrated group Engine, are joined-up campaigns, where PR builds on traditional advertising and vice versa, often through social media activation. Using PR and advertising together can help to achieve message continuity across all media platforms, and to all audiences; consumers, employees, investors and stakeholders.”
Soundbites: Is PR taking over from advertising?
Tom Watson, professor of PR at Bournemouth University:
“PR is about developing discourse, engagement and relationships. Traditional advertising is focused on display. As we become increasingly conversant and networked societies, the role of public relations becomes more important as it creates value that advertising can’t.”
Anne Massey, editorial consultancy proprietor:
“I’ve been in the business long enough to have survived several recessions and it’s my experience that the PR workload picks up during belt-tightening periods. A squeezed budget buys precious-little advertising, but a lot of targeted, sales-driven, profile-raising PR coverage and that’s what’s in demand during hard times. It will be interesting to see whether PR budgets grow apace as the economy improves – or whether there’s a rush back into advertising once budgets swell enough to warrant it.”
Johnny Pitt, CEO of PR agency Launch Group:
“Essentially, all good marketing people are communicators, so it‘s no surprise that disciplines other than advertising are adept at making their case. Only an advertising dinosaur, made sluggish from the champagne quaffing of the 1980s, would try and get a client to spend all their money on one marcoms discipline. The smart PR, advertising, digital and marketing agencies stopped squabbling over the same budgets when someone realised the only way to loosen the purse strings was to get results rather than just show off in front of their rivals.”
Written by Daney Parker
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