From the editor-in-chief: Advertising is only part of the Christmas story

Classic PR has its place at the Christmas table, even if advertising appears to take the glory at this time of year, writes Danny Rogers.

In the (long) run-up to Christmas, and with the launch of glossy ‘festive ads’, advertising’s newfound swagger is perceptible. Working in ‘PR’ can feel comparatively unglamorous. Low-rent. But this is misleading.

The Financial Times this month published a bombastic article entitled How the Mad Men Lost the Plot, which slammed the advertising industry’s obsession with digital and social media at the expense of powerful, emotional TV advertising, which the author Ian Leslie claimed was much more effective in driving long-term sales.

The piece claimed people are watching more television than ever before and are no more likely to skip ads today than previously. The article, which has created much chatter in marketing circles, also asserted that consumers don’t want social media relationships with brands and therefore many of the ‘owned media’ or branded Twitter or Facebook feeds are a waste of time and money.

Worryingly, this latter hypothesis may well be true. And, if so, it is a serious blow to what has been a major trend for PR departments and agencies in recent years. One certainly senses a growing backlash against ‘branded content’ for content’s sake – and a flight towards quality content, which is better des­cribed as traditional journalism, writing and film-making.

Highly topical to this debate is the new 'ManOnTheMoon' Christmas campaign from John Lewis. This successful retailer has, for the past five years, boosted brand reputation and sales by employing well crafted storytelling and film. Leslie’s article uses John Lewis as a case for TV advertising.

But Leslie is ignoring the increasingly sophisticated role of earned media – better known as classic PR – in this mix. The bought media spend for 'ManOnTheMoon' is relatively modest with John Lewis relying heavily on PR and social media to distribute the film. Last year the retailer enjoyed 22 million online engagements for its Christmas campaign and this doesn’t include myriad mentions in newspapers and broadcast media since launch.

In this age of subscription TV, iPlayer and ad-blocking software it seems unlikely that many key demographics will be engaging with traditional TV advertising in the future. So brands should indeed be experimenting with a more integrated and PR-led approach. John Lewis is doing just that. As Matthew Freud points out in our interview, the brand communication is part of the content that people want to consume.

Look at it this way and traditional advertising agencies look less sure-footed.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief

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