I’ve been thinking about Arun Sudhaman‘s article in PR Week – following his time at the Cannes Lions – and the thought that it is still advertising agencies that come up with the really big ideas rather than PR agencies. I’m sure the article will cause some controversy and hand wringing from the PR community…when it contains quotes such as: “PR agencies have historically been subordinate…” it’s somehow inevitable.
But I think it’s largely accurate.
I think that advertising people have an advantage in that they’re already in the habit of thinkiing without the constraints of real world considerations. Their creative process starts without any concerns over “how?” just (to use a phrase from an advertisement) “what if?”
PR, on the other hand, has always needed to quickly work out the practicalities of creative execution…and doing so often kills the big idea before it’s even got near the client (who often kills it anyway if it gets that far). The PR industry is out of the habit of unconstrained thinking.
As if to prove the point as I was rolling this though around my head earlier, the two Steves at Speed Communications – Wadds and Earl – simultaneously tweeted about a new TV ad from The Economist (it had obviously done the rounds at Speed…The Economist is a client of theirs).
Now, imagine if that same idea had been generated by a PR team…”Right, what we’re going to do is have a fella walking across tightropes over a European city…stepping from one to another, leaping from here to there…”
Lovely. But how soon before PR practicalities kick in? “Which city do we use? How do we get permission? Will it generate media coverage? What if he falls off..?” The idea whithers on the vine.
The ad guys, of course, know that they can use a clever bit of green screen and CGI and Bob’s your uncle. Nice big idea and we all get a week’s jolly in Berlin to boot.
In Sudhaman’s PR Week article, Jim Hawker of Threepipe is quoted: “We are still some way down the pecking order, even though we are always coming up with fantastic creative ideas. It’s about being heard in the right places.”
Spot on. Reading between the lines (possibly incorrectly) Hawker’s saying that the client PR contacts we deal with on a daily basis aren’t always the ones who are going to see the potential and value in a big idea, let alone have the budget to execute. Ad agencies, on the other hand, generally have a line straight into the senior marketing decision-makers.
Another interesting quote comes from Tony Effik of Publicis Modem: “It’s not that PR agencies have not come up with great campaigns, it’s that they were not integrated with paid media. Adding paid media gives a PR campaign more legs. Resources are also an issue – PR agencies tend not to hire strategic people.”
Two points here: PR agencies needing to think beyond pure editorial results and ‘free’ media (YouTube, blogs, Twitter) and come up with ideas that can be driven through paid media; and hiring the right people.
To the second point, one of my continual frustrations with the PR industry is that we have almost entirely failed to attach value to the creative; that we give away the big idea – or use it as a sales tool – and seem happy to simply to get paid for execution. And when you’re giving something away, where’s the motivation to invest in the resources to create it? If you do, loss leaders become more loss and less leader. But it’s something that’s so ingrained in our industry that it will be almost impossible to change. I mean, imagine turning up at a pitch and telling the client that you’ve had a brilliant creative idea but it’ll cost them £50k to hear it… ”Next!”
The first point, of course, relates to the blurring of the lines between disciplines, which is where both the risk and opportunity lies. But if PR is going to take advantage, we need to throw off the chains that constrain our thinking, and fast. Personally, I don’t believe that the advertising industry has more creative people than PR, it’s just that they’re more motivated to be creative.