Ever since it became clear to us all that “social media changes everything,” we’ve seen a not-so-slow-motion convergence of PR, Digital and Advertising.
PR is relationship-centric. PR cares first and foremost about making everybody happy. Can we make the mainstream media happy with our clients’ stories? Can we make consumers or B2B prospects happy with our clients’ content? “Relationships” are central to the strategy. Tactical considerations around “what type of content do we create? … how do we distribute and promote it? … how do we store and tag it?” spring from this mindset.
Advertising is creative-centric. It’s ironic to think about, but Advertising cares even more than PR’s spin doctors about “buzz.” What is the best creative approach to get people to consider our clients’ products/services? How can we wow people enough (via creative executions, digital tools and relevant placement) to generate positive Word Of Mouth? When advertising execs think about “PR” it most often tends to be the type of PR that springs from their creative concepts, e.g., as a byproduct of the ad campaign.
While Social Media has led to convergence of these disciplines, most of us have been around long enough to know that this isn’t the first time such convergence has been attempted. Past efforts have largely failed because of the dichotomy of mindset described above. The PR groups spawned from within Ad agencies rarely rose beyond “red-headed stepchild” status; PR firms that essayed to tackle the Advertising game invariably fell before the creative onslaught and superior funding of pure-play creative shops. As a result, the pendulum shifted in the mid-90′s: clients started to prefer “best of breed” agencies over “integrated” shops.
This time may be different, as Social Media is conveniently “horizontal” and can legitimately be considered the glue between PR and Advertising. Thus the fierce rush to tout converged capabilities.
But let’s pause for a moment to imagine what this new world could look like…
If you are an Advertising exec, can you imagine a scenario in which you’d suggest to the client that they do PR/Social — and only PR/Social — for a 6–12 months before considering a creative push?
Think about my recent case study re: using Social Media to drive message development. In the course of six months of listening, engaging, etc. we learned a whole lot about consumers’ true preferences and issues, and were able to deploy a genuinely differentiated PR strategy. I imagine a genuinely differentiated advertising strategy could also have been executed with such “relationship-centric” fodder.
But if, on Day One of the program, you’d relied instead on research conducted via expensive focus groups and expansive market analyses, you would just as likely have suggested an out-of-the-gate advertising campaign based on the client’s “superior network, unprecedented contract flexibility, cool phones,” etc., and might have further suggested that the WOW FACTOR of your campaign ideas be bolstered by a supplemental PR push about the campaign.
On the other side of the equation, if you are a PR exec, can you imagine a scenario in which Advertising should take the lead? For example, let’s consider a well-known brand that has taken a few big hits with regards to its Customer Service. Say the company’s CEO had made a transformative decision as a result of this bad press, and was diligently installing revolutionary technologies and protocols to become #1 in their industry when it came to Customer Service. “Relationships” with consumers have been frayed, but you know once enough people know about these changes, they might give the brand a fresh shot. In this scenario can you see yourself making the case that a splashy, mass-audience ad campaign, backed by PR in social channels, might be the best approach? (I can see the wisdom of the approach but if I am being honest my first reaction, as a PR guy, is to make a case for wooing consumers via PR/Social before considering an advertising campaign.)
I am not trying to paint with too broad a brush; I do not mean to suggest that no one in advertising respects or considers a relationship-centric approach. Nor do I mean to imply that PR folks don’t like or “get” advertising. (Nor have I even considered the difficulty of convincing “Old School” clients to adopt the agency’s preferred approaches!)
What I am suggesting to those clients and agencies gravitating to the convergence strategy is that Social Media does make such a strategy more possible than ever before … but it also impels (what feels like) a bizarre and uncomfortable mindset on practitioners accustomed to pure-play execution. Before you start chatting up an integrated approach, it seems to me that you need to prove that the model works within your own four walls. Can the adherents to each discipline put “alignment” above “ego,” and let the chips fall where they may?
Posted on: September 16, 2011 at 11:25 am By Todd Defren