I guess as I grew up in a marketing environment I have developed a rounded view of the whole industry, so it always amazes me that as a communications industry we don’t communicate very well.
My dad started in sales, moved to marketing and then into PR. My brother and I followed in his footsteps, but ended up in advertising, myself on the creative side, Paul on the account handling side. In ad agencies, creative and account handlers seem to have a constant love-hate relationship, ours is just because we are brothers.
Between ad agencies and everyone else it seems to be about trying to be the biggest bull in the field, God forbid that the ad agency has to take any advice from any other kind of agency. Ad land likes to be the thought leader, to be in charge of the big idea and then expect other agencies to gather like dogs around the kings table to snack on the crumbs that remain. Guess I’m one ad man that doesn’t see it this way.
It may be bad for business, but the first question I ask any new client is: who is their PR agency and what have they recommended? I am also the first to recommend that PR can often do the job better and for less than paid-for media. And what they can’t do we’ll try and do. Advertising likes to create its own world while PR seeks to put itself, and its clients, in the real world of ordinary people. While media and ad agencies talk about fictional A,B,C1s, PR agencies talk about real people, what they read, what they talk about, what grabs their attention. I sometimes wonder if some media planners actually know what a real person looks like.
I’m not anti-advertising, far from it, just pragmatic. I see it as it is. I’ve always had a good working relationship with PR, and can thank the PR agency (or in-house department) for the success of many campaigns, especially when budgets are tight. One example was the asthma "glue poster" we did at Saatchi’s. We painted a poster in glue and left it up for two weeks. Pollution stuck to the poster revealing a headline, THIS POSTER HAS BEEN UP FOR JUST TWO WEEKS, IMAGINE WHAT YOUR LUNGS MUST LOOK LIKE. A powerful idea but it was the PR that took that idea from a roadside in Vauxhall to the nationals and to the breakfast tables of the masses. The same can be said when we stuck a 21-foot condom on the Cerne Abbas Giant for the Family Planning Association (FPA).
Advertising is brilliant at some things. It’s great for big impact, for creating brand values, instant awareness and for hard sell – where would the industry be without a retail account? It can create powerful selling characters, like Meerkat, get the nation singing a jingle and generate instant changes in sales figures.
I do however think we need to move away from hierarchies and towards a marketing world where we are all equal. One where the idea may come from any one of the marketing agencies, PR, advertising, digital, direct, sales promotion, field, and one where we can all work together in harmony, not in competition.
Give me a great PR idea and I’m happy to make it work in TV, posters or even a viral campaign. It should be noted that without PR, many virals would bump along the bottom of viewer figures. With almost all the case studies I’ve seen, it’s the PR that creates the spike. Without PR most ad campaigns would last only as long as their media schedule.
In today’s multi-channel, mixed-up media world, PR has become one of the few marketing disciplines that successfully crosses it all. Embrace it and it makes all other marketing disciplines fly better.
Chris Arnold is former director and creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, a former board member of the DMA, and former chairman of both the Agencies Council and the Creative Council. He is also author of Ethical Marketing and the New Consumer. He is the founder of Creative Orchestra.
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