It’s no secret that we marketing and communications folk do love a good ‘hoo ha’. The downside of working among an industry of creative visionaries is that we have a tendency to veer towards drama now and again.
I know this because I have lived and breathed the creative industry for almost two decades, leading communications for, among others, independent trailblazer Wieden+Kennedy and later starting my own agency FinchFactor, headquartered in London and Amsterdam.
Throughout that time, I have seen things that would make your toes curl. Everyone loves a good advertising industry story – if I wasn’t such a gentlewoman I would certainly be saving a few of the most salacious details for my memoirs.
Not only is it an industry with more than its fair share of mavericks – I’m sure we would all have been burned as witches in a less tolerant time – but our very bread and butter is in the alchemy of turning the blandest of brand messages into something magical. So it’s no surprise that controversy stalks the industry like a lovesick teenage fan.
The latest discussion to open up a can of worms in Amsterdam is a thought piece written in a leading industry title around the incendiary subject of ‘What PRs can learn from advertisers’. No sooner had the article landed on the desks and inboxes of the industry great and good than it was already being unpicked, debated and generally harrumphed about left, right and centre. A retaliation piece inevitably followed – not from me, I might add – scolding and ridiculing the writer for being out of touch with modern communications, explaining that it’s not all a life of bulging Rolodexes and champagne flutes, and in turn offering up advice on what advertisers can learn from PRs.
As you can imagine, both pieces were suitably choleric, providing extreme viewpoints. And, obviously, I get it: commentator Katie Hopkins gets writing gigs from being controversial and there’s nothing different here. However, I do think that the argument raises important points about the seismic shift that brands, ad agencies, production players and communications companies are all going through right now.
The marketing mix has never been so blended. In the past week alone, I have met an advertising top dog who has moved into post-production, a production managing director who has gone ad agency-side, another creative agency boss famed for creating pitch-perfect, awards-a-go-go TV ads who wants to put sizeable business into social and a digital agency famed for creating virals looking to set up a PR arm.
And at the heart of this is a massive opportunity for PR. In the brave new world of one-on-one, borderless communications, it is PRs who can truly say we understand the value of, and the recipe for, earned media – after all this is not foreign to us and, while a few new rules may apply, the game we are playing remains the same.
However, it seems that the PR industry’s biggest failing is the appalling job we have collectively done ‘PR-ing’ ourselves. We all know that the ‘shoemaker’s children’ rule – that we forget to provide for our own needs – applies to most service providers, but seriously, if advertising agencies still believe PR equals Rolodex plus bubbles, plus Ab Fab, multiplied by ‘Waiting to marry into seated gentry’, then we have no-one to blame but ourselves.
I even have a certain allergy to using the term ‘PR’ and, speaking to brands and agencies alike, this is something that really chimes. I would argue that the days of reliance on a press release are well and truly over and that ‘reputation management’ and ‘influencing the influencers’ – whoever they may be – are phrases that are much more synonymous with the work we do as an industry.
The most effective campaigns, come awards season, often have a PR strand to them, at least in activation if not the creative route. And this is a trend that should only continue to gain pace in future. It makes perfect sense – for brands and for consumers. However, to achieve that, we need to understand the opportunities that both sides offer and come to the creative table with a hunger for advertising and PR collaboration.
When the conversation moves away from a bun fight for budget and into this blended approach, then things can get very interesting. And this is the way that PR – or as I prefer to say, reputation management (or RM for abbreviation-lovers) – can transform and shield itself against extinction.
So how do we do this? At FinchFactor we are unusual in that we work in three different ways:
- Directly to brands as a consumer communications agency specialising in putting the consumer into consumer tech, as well as startups, innovation and design;
- Directly to creative industry players, helping them to focus on thinking, acting and becoming brands themselves; and
- In a three-way partnership with agency and brand, to elevate opportunities across the digital and real-world earned media space.
This gives me a singular perspective on the challenges that each side faces – I’ve even contemplated writing a self-help book: ‘PRs are from Mars, Advertisers are from Venus’.
I joke of course, but all too often, I get the feeling that as marketers, advertisers and communicators, we operate in distinct silos. It’s all well and good being a specialist. However, there is a need for all sides to either remove the blinkers or make it a priority to tell their story and educate peers about their world.
A great example of this came from a communications associate who judged on the PR jury at last year’s Dubai Lynx. One piece of work that won gold in the PR category at the festival was Not a Bug Splat – giant installations in Pakistan displaying large scale portraits of children designed to be seen, and felt, by predator drone operators in the region.
Or closer to home – and sure to be an awards shoo-in – the Missing Type project for NHS Blood and Transplant, which removed the As, Os and Bs from a variety of everyday names, brands and places.
Both of these campaigns are about as far from a traditional press release as it’s possible to get. Both are brilliant examples of what is possible in PR and in blended communications today.
So, whichever side of the table you sit on, I urge you to make your children some new shoes.