The PR industry from the outside

PR pros rightfully tout the discipline's role in the marketing mix. But what do leading execs from advertising, media, and interactive marketing make of it?

PR pros rightfully tout the discipline's role in the marketing mix. But what do leading execs from advertising, media, and interactive marketing make of it?

Over the past several years, John Osborn, president and CEO of ad giant BBDO New York, says he's had more exposure to the PR discipline than ever - and he's not complaining. In fact, he describes PR and advertising as two puzzle pieces that lock perfectly together.

"PR has always played an important role, but now with IR, crisis management, and consumer PR, it's even more important," Osborn says. "And with a rise in integrated marketing, there's a need to bring specialized experts to the table to augment what it is that we do from an advertising and creative side."

He says the need to establish authentic, credible marketing messages with consumers has made it necessary for "us to think long and hard about how PR can play a role behind our messaging. The days of referring to PR as 'buzz' are over. It's a really important driver that can either bring credibility or not to everything we do."

PR's numerous elements, including sponsorships, IR, internal communications, and crisis management, can enhance all other activities, Osborn says. "[Those] variables can make or break anything that we're doing from an advertising or marketing communications side," he notes.

The increasing role of technology in everyday life has also helped raise PR's profile, Osborn continues. "If you have a story out there, it can be affirmed or discredited with the click of a button," he explains. "So you have to really think through the PR strategy behind that and how everything works together in a seamless way. This is the thought behind integrated marketing, so it's incumbent upon people like us on the [ad] agency side to work with PR experts to think holistically about our marketing [strategy] for our client."

Kerri Martin, director of brand innovation who heads up marketing at Volkswagen, says PR has become more creative and inventive, and she could never understand why it hasn't always had a seat at the strategy table. "That's always boggled my mind," she says. "I think a lot of companies are looking at the success of industries that have relied heavily on PR - fashion and entertainment - and asking how can they tap into that."

Volkswagen's strong belief in PR was made evident earlier this year when it brought on MWW Group as its first AOR in six years and utilized the practice extensively in its relaunch of the Rabbit.

From the beginning, she says, the Rabbit relaunch strategy was strategically aligned with marketing, PR, pricing, and distribution. "PR will continue to play an important role with the Rabbit," Martin says. "We don't do things for PR's sake, but we've created a lot of buzz and have been able to manage that through a really effective PR strategy."

David Sable, vice chairman and COO of direct marketing agency Wunderman, who got his start in the marketing industry at sister PR firm Burson-Marsteller, says during that time, "we were way more connected with the C-suite than any ad agency I knew." He adds, "Over the past 10 years, some of the more traditional ad agencies have become disenfranchised from the core strategies of the businesses they represent."

Sable doesn't believe PR's growing importance is a new trend. "The ad industry is looking for reasons why it has become disenfranchised," he says. "[Ad execs] are saying, 'Oh, well, there's more appreciation for PR,' as opposed to looking at what they do and thinking maybe there's something wrong with their approach."

But Paul Woolmington, founding partner of Naked Communications, a brand communications and media strategy company, says that while PR's profile and role have ascended, no one discipline is more important than any other.

"Like almost every other marketing services sector, the PR industry is too insular, too focused, and doesn't often see the bigger picture," he says. "[It] is biased and thinks it should be at the center of the communications universe. What makes it effective is the inter-relationship among all disciplines. PR is not an end in itself. It is one of the very powerful means to an end, but it's not the end in itself."

Woolmington says the industry could do with more strategic thinkers who could articulate the strategic role of PR as part of the communications mix.

Nick Pahade, president of the Denuo Group, a seven-month-old interactive marketing agency and part of Publicis Groupe, says PR has "blossomed" beyond what's long been considered traditional PR and now regularly works with other marketing disciplines. Pahade says this helps eliminate the silos the different disciplines exist and operate in.

"We're still operationally set up in silos, and the fact that these things are rubbing up against one another is going to lead to some positive revolution," he says. "There certainly are clients asking for and demanding these silos be eliminated and making decisions based upon those that are embracing it. Is it necessarily the norm at this point? No, but I think you are seeing more and more of that."

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