Integrated playing field means firms must draft creative talent

If a PR agency wants to better equip itself to deal with an integrated marketing playing field, one where agency boundaries are hastening to become nonexistent, rather than just blurry, it should heed the story of Gil Meche.

If a PR agency wants to better equip itself to deal with an integrated marketing playing field, one where agency boundaries are hastening to become nonexistent, rather than just blurry, it should heed the story of Gil Meche.

Meche is neither soothsayer, nor marketing guru. He's a Major League Baseball pitcher who, after a relatively average season in a relatively average career, got a five-year, $55 million contract to join another team.

In baseball, and indeed all sports, there is a talent war every season as contracts expire and teams' needs change. Salaries for players in particular positions, who are either a rare commodity or a dire necessity for certain teams, go through the roof.

PR agencies' free-agent target - your Gil Meches - should be stars in the visual/creative arts, those who can actually create the visual, video, and Web components of campaigns. And it's going to cost you. A lot.

Not a week goes by where I don't hear, from junior-level staffers and agency presidents, about how competition is increasingly coming from advertising firms pitching a marketing strategy that sounds a lot like PR.

What interests me is the dichotomy in their reactions. Some take glee in the fact that the historically dominant one in the marketing family is finding its business model in peril; others are petrified that the ad teams might just steal their business. The latter are being more realistic. Here's why.

Clients are looking for, above all, idea creation, which is a simple, two-step process: the development of an idea (this is how we should position your newest ware) and the idea development (here's how we'll do it). In the past, ad agencies may have merely talked about the conduit for their idea being various forms of paid media. No longer; they're pitching the same PR buzzwords to clients: engagement, dialogue, experiential, and conversational.

It's much easier for ad agencies to convince clients that they can handle the conversation than it is, currently, for many PR firms to handle the creative. This is not to say that the creative teams at PR agencies are uncreative or untalented. But I've taken tours of your offices. The visual/creative/Web departments are cramped in small rooms, often working on mundane pitch materials. When PR firms do viral campaigns, they're often seeding the sites created not in-house, but by other marketing communications agencies.

You didn't get into PR to slowly build out your existing creative design framework to reach a level in which you can offer it as a bedrock service alongside media relations and corporate communications. You got into it to poach!

But visual artist superstars are going to be resistant to leave their well-appropriated, well-compensated, and well-appreciated seat at ad and marketing agencies. So you're either going to have to pay lavish salaries to attract them or throw in other perks.

It's eventual that some firm will act like the Yankees and get this bidding war started. You might as well get going now before all you're left with is a Gil Meche.

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