Too many ad execs think like Don Draper about PR

In today's fractured and explosive media age, public relations has surpassed advertising as the integrated communications and strategic counselor to clients, and Mad Men's Don Draper doesn't like it.

In today's fractured and explosive media age, public relations has surpassed advertising as the integrated communications and strategic counselor to clients, and Mad Men's Don Draper doesn't like it.  

Draper may be a fictional protagonist, but his character's dismissive treatment of PR exposes stereotypes and biases that the advertising industry still struggles with today. This attitude is detrimental to clients and employers alike. 

In Mad Men's episode entitled “Public Relations,” Draper demonstrates his contempt for PR, which creates some great tension in the drama. He bullies his employees, fires a client, and antagonizes a one-legged reporter.

The reporter attempts to interview the mysterious Don Draper, the partner and creative director of the newly launched ad agency Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.  The scene hits its climax when the reporter zeros in and asks the star of Madison Avenue, “Who is Don Draper?”

The question sets Draper off, and he dismissively retorts, “I'm from the Midwest, where's it's not polite to talk about oneself.” The reporter then ends the interview. When the less-than-flattering article comes out, Draper's partners scold him for failing to promote their startup agency. The story results in the loss of a key client who was offended for not being mentioned with other clients in the article.

Draper's lack of respect for PR came back to haunt him.

This scene subtly, but loudly reveals the tension existing between advertising and PR. Draper accuses the reporter of not doing his job and that his creative work should sell itself, but Draper knows he blew it.

The creative work would be Draper's ads, which are great and quickly get your attention. But in real life, advertising mostly falls short of impacting corporate reputation, image, and loyalty. These are the areas that have the most influence on bottom-line interests, which is why PR is seated more prominently today at the table.

For example, if a company wants to attract multicultural consumers, who are unaware of the brand, the company must take a holistic communications approach that has advertising, as well as digital, social media, and grassroots, but with an overarching PR strategy. 

The corporate credibility, citizenship, and narrative must be presented in an integrated campaign leveraging the strengths of numerous communications disciplines. PR is the only form of communications that can see the big picture and translate and deliver it to a coalition of stakeholders.

It's sad to see Draper falling behind the times and losing his edge in the emerging world of integrated strategic communications. He may be fictional, but Draper's attitude and shortsightedness of PR accurately reflects the thinking of too many advertising executives.

The next time I talk to an advertising executive saying he offers PR as part of his core services, I'm just going to politely state, “Dick Whitman may be able to mask around as Don Draper, but advertising cannot disguise its contempt for PR.”

Patrick Slevin is SVP and GM of the Tallahassee office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies.  You can follow him on Twitter @patrickjslevin. He can be also reached at Patrick.Slevin@hkstrategies.com.

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