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The death of advertising would mean the death of PR, argues Trevor Morris professor of PR at Richmond University

2nd February 2018


We have already had one PR boss this year say that PR is about to eat advertising’s lunch. And all the new year predictions last month delivered the annual ‘This year will see PR prosper as advertising sickens’ quotes.

The reality is that if advertising declines so too will the media. Subscriptions and cover price come nowhere near covering the cost of producing media, indeed the trend is towards advertising coming the only source of funding. Without advertising there are absolutely no social media. And without media, conventional or social, there is no PR. Eating advertising’s lunch would make PR sick.

Advertising pays

PR is vital in terms of providing oven-ready content. What PR doesn’t do is pay the costs of media. Advertising does that. ‘But what about cover price and subscriptions?’ some will say. Well what about them? Hands up those who pay for their social media usage. Hands up those who actually bought a newspaper this morning on or off line – and even if you did it will only have covered a fraction of the cost of production. With the exception of the Netflix and Amazon-style subscription models, almost all mainstream and social media content is paid for by advertising.

What is true is that advertising has changed. It is not as glamorous and sexy as it used to be. The days of being able to reach 30 million people with a TV ad and a couple of newspaper ads are gone for ever. The internet ate that lunch.

But advertising creativity is far from over. The best ads now and in the past always created a PR buzz. The Cannes Lions Award winners are witness to the ability of the advertising industry to eat some of our lunch. It is just that advertising now has to deal big time with multiple media outlets and data and increasingly data protection. Just like PR has to.

Healthy figures

And is it even true that advertising is in decline? According to WARC (The World Advertising Research Council) UK advertising spend continued to grow, reaching £5,318 million at the end of Q1 2017 – albeit with slowing growth rates.

In the US advertising expenditure accounts for about 2% of US GDP and has done for nearly a century. So the evidence, at least for now, is that adverting is changing but not in decline.

The reality is that if I was a client and I knew I needed a big ‘multi-eye ball’ advertising campaign I would look for an advertising agency that knew a PR team who could exploit what they did. I wouldn’t look for a PR firm to do the ads. Similarly, if as a client I needed to reach journalists, bloggers and influencers then an advertising agency wouldn’t be my first port of call. And frankly for the really complicated data stuff neither an advertising agency nor a PR firm would be my first port of call. Neither is very good at maths!

Each to their own

In the end advertising maybe a little less dominant and cocky than it used to be, but it is here to stay fuelled in part by big digital brands like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon - who are notably heavy users of traditional advertising. Meanwhile, PR and advertising will continue to compete and co-operate in the commercial and business world. Where PR will remain dominant is in the field of corporate reputation, charities, campaigning, politics and government. I don’t see anyone else eating that particular lunch.

Trevor Morris is professor of PR at Richmond University



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