Ad land: start running, we're coming for you

There was a flutter of hearts and a preening of egos in PR world recently when Toby Harrison, strategy wonk at ad agency du jour adam&eveDDB, announced to the PRCA conference that ad land was 'running scared' of PR, writes Liam Fay-Fright of Semaphore London.

We're coming for you 'ad land', warns Liam Fay-Fright
We're coming for you 'ad land', warns Liam Fay-Fright
PR and public affairs might be climbing steadily up the WPP revenue table, but it still only makes up 11 per cent of the holding company’s total take. Advertising, media and data make up the other £10+bn. PR is barely a smudge on Martin Sorrell’s tax return.

Which leads PR firms to the perennial question: how do we get our hands on the other 89 per cent? The answer lies at the end of an eight-bit, unicorn-vomited rainbow: buckets of creativity. 

PR has long been a creative enterprise, arguably the most creative enterprise: our modern ‘always on’ strategies demand the kind of responsive, dextrous thinking of an air traffic controller at a Red Bull air race. 

By necessity, PRs have their finger on the pulse of culture, media, society and politics, because our day-to-day jobs demand we respond in creative ways to an ever-growing number of opportunities and existential threats to our clients’ businesses.  

We’re a full-time strategy department that is also responsible for its output – we do the thinking and the making.  

You might assume, then, that with these kinds of skills we would have pulled creative and media agencies’ pants down years ago.

After all, we think up ways to earn media rather than pay for it (which good clients crave because it is by far the greatest driver of behaviour change and purchasing decisions).

And yet… Frank Lowe came to work on a chopper and we’re still pedalling our BMXs. 

We can blame external barriers – ill-educated clients, a lack of time to think creatively, tradition. 

But the truth is, beyond a few notable exceptions, PR shops lack the creative muscle to compete with an ad agency flogging dreams it can prove sell dishwashers. 

The fact I still see some PR agencies trying to justify their work with AVE (Ad Value Equivalent) says it all. In my view our work is not equivalent, it can be much, much more powerful…

If we combine the brand strategy and craft of a top ad agency with the earned media talent of PR, that’s a potent combination. 

And that’s what Harrison is really on about. 

We’ll never out ‘ad’ adam&eveDDB, but we can take it to the cleaners if we poach the best of its creative process and combine it with our own ability to influence culture and media. 

It makes things, but we make things that make news. And in a complex media landscape, newsworthiness is the only way for a brand message to travel everywhere at once. 

The announcement this week by D&AD that it is launching categories for PR is a long overdue and welcome endorsement of the creative value and potential of our work.  

It’s our responsibility to prove we’re worthy of the highest creative accolade (and switch our Cannes entry budgets to something more credible – D&AD is a charity, not a rosé-fuelled profit machine).

And, when the first Black Pencil for PR is awarded, we can make our case to Martin for the other 89 per cent. 

Finally we have a seat at the top creative table and I, for one, am relishing the opportunity. 

Liam Fay-Fright is a founding partner at Semaphore London

Read: D&AD adds PR categories to 2016 awards in response to 'blurred lines of creativity'

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