Two-and-a-half days, one ocean liner, 350 marketing pros, 3,700 one-on-one meetings, 12 seminars, eight meals, six cocktail party invitations, and one PRWeek rep.The Marketing Forum, for the uninitiated, is a grueling event which uniquely takes place on board a ship and introduces paying marketing supplier companies to clients - generally marketing directors and those of a similar ilk - who attend for free.
But PRWeek went for the seminars. (OK, and the cocktails.) The event attracts enough top speakers that us journalists can come away feeling that they know what's weighing on the minds of the US' top marketers.
The key session had five experts thinking out loud about the convergence of advertising and content, kicked off by a glorious montage of clips, from the Johnnie Walker Blue Label appearance in The West Wing, to FedEx's key role in Cast Away.
The panel's host, Michael Kassan, formerly a media-agency giant and now principal of CenterSpan Digital Media & Entertainment Group, was joined by an advertising creative, a talent agency exec, an advertising journalist, and a marketing director.
Are you thinking what we were? Where is the PR guy? After all, they battled it out in last week's Analysis, which described the muscle that talent agencies were trying to wield in this area. OK, that was just product placement, and what we speak of here is brand guardians and content creators shaping content together, but the omission was glaring.
But when asked about it after the session, Kassan said, "It wouldn't have hurt to have a PR person there ... but it might have been redundant."
True, all the experts on stage had a key part to play in this young area.
But maybe, as Kassan finally said when pressed, the real difference is who gets the best contact with the marketing director, and how early in the process a PR firm is able to enter. Any talk of "brand stewardship" on the agency side nearly always starts and ends with the ad agency.
But if what's needed is in-depth knowledge of brands (or causes) and media outlets, ingrained relationships with talent agencies and their celebrity clients, and experience of good (and bad) product placement, then it's the LA PR agencies - especially those owned by mainstream PR firms with mainstream marketing expertise - that can check the most boxes.
The absence of a PR person in the seminar is not all Kassan's fault.
Maybe the existence and narrow focus of our industry's trade associations supports the delusion that the PR world begins and ends at, well, PR.
Smart firms know their "PR work
has encroached on other disciplines far faster than other disciplines have encroached on it. The unfortunate fact that many marketing efforts are led by the ad agency has had a happy side-effect in forcing PR firms to have greater knowledge of other "earlier
disciplines in order to make the PR element work.
With ad budgets squeezed, convergence is an emerging area. While there are specialists like Kassan who've moved in early, by his own admission, his particular role is unique. And while the ad boys are getting in early as they're already cozy with the client, this doesn't mean they're the only ones for the job.
As Kassan says, it's a collaborative process and everyone has a place.
For convergence to be seamless on the audience's side of the camera, it must be seamless on the other. Don't miss the boat next time.