Brands to agencies: PR versus marketing is crap

Execs at J&J, MasterCard, and Hilton spoke frankly about what they want from agencies and how firms need to get off the sidelines and throw themselves into the center of the fray

Brands have told comms agencies that the idea of "PR versus marketing is crap" and reminded them that it doesn't matter who takes the lead.

Marketers and CCOs associated with some of the world's biggest brands shared their take on how the client-agency relationship is evolving during the PR Council’s Critical Issues Forum at the Rainbow Room in New York City.

Kieran Donahue, VP of marketing, Americas, at Hilton Worldwide, says that just as there is personalization for the consumer, agencies need to think more about personalization for their brand clients. And Donahue could care less about whether or not an agency is executing in a new marketing discipline. "The whole idea of PR versus marketing is crap. You are all connected."

She believes that as the sector that best understands brand reputation, the opportunity for comms and PR is great, but advises: "Don’t stand on the sidelines and wait for someone who will pull you in. Make yourself the center."

Chris Monteiro, CCO at MasterCard, emphatically concurred with Donahue’s take and cautioned the audience on spending too much energy on the question of what discipline leads, likening the amount of discussion he is hearing on the topic to the days of everyone talking about the "seat at the table."

He added that when a consumer reads an interesting piece of content they don’t wonder to themselves 'I wonder who thought of that – marketing or communications.'

In working with agency partners, Monteiro says he "doesn’t dole out work like at a deli counter," rather he looks for agency partners that "run into the fire and will fix problems and fix them fast." Marketers need outside views and agency partners can offer up the broader perspective, he adds.

Maggie FitzPatrick, CCO, VP and global communications and public affairs at Johnson & Johnson, agreed, adding, "When we have our heads down in the business, we need agencies to bring innovation."

She went on to advise agencies, especially those working with large brands, to build a network throughout the company working to understand the business across divisions, not just the ones in the agency remit.

Moderator Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group, asked the panel to offer some key takeaways on how to deal with procurement where everything "is dumbed down to the lowest cost and our margins get cut to the quick."

Monteiro replied that if you are having conversations about procurement when they are already in the room, it’s too late.

To avoid falling victim to procurement, FitzPatrick advises being buttoned up throughout the process on the fundamentals. Get the billing right, uncover inefficiencies and redundancies before the client does, and make sure everyone on the team understands the "master agreement" including things like confidentiality agreements.

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