Changing ad market makes PR invaluable

PR as a fully integrated marketing discipline is often talked about, but still criminally under-used. So it was reassuring last week to hear that another marketing services group - WCRS - has decided it needs to invest in top-class PR agencies.

The news comes four months after French giant Publicis Groupe invested heavily in Freud Communications.

WCRS has bought AS Biss for corporate and public affairs consultancy, along with a majority stake in the Slice agency, which provides consumer and entertainment nous.

WCRS group, now rebranded as Engine, is no slouch. Founded by charismatic ad man Robin Wight, its clients include BMW, 118118 and mobile operator 3, while its direct marketing arm, Personal, is performing strongly.

It is no coincidence that the PR acquisitions come as Engine completes its buyout from the Havas marketing group, which appeared to hamper the ambitions of Wight and his co-chairman Peter Scott.

Pre-Havas, WCRS owned Adele Biss's former agency Biss Lancaster, so Wight is no stranger to the power of enlightened brand PR in a full marketing mix. Watch this space for further PR acquisitions by the group.

Engine's advantage is that, unlike most of the marketing services groups with which it competes, it is independent and UK-focused. This should enable it to provide rapid solutions to clients here, without being drawn into the politics of group-wide client conflict.

Engine also realises that the traditional ad market is changing. Client spend is drifting away from TV ads, where the growth in personal video recorders, such as Sky Plus, presents a massive threat. Engine rightly wants to invest in other comms services to spread its risk, in the way Martin Sorrell has so successfully done at WPP.

The investment in Slice is interesting, as switched-on clients are looking at alternative ways to weave their brands into entertainment content.

When one reads that Slice is pushing music video content on 3's mobile services (News, p6), the theoretical synergies become real.

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