Working together: good in principle...

Ian Hall asks if top PR agencies should compete or collaborate with sister agencies to win client marketing spend

At director level in major PR agencies, it could almost be part of the job description to lament how many brand strategies begin with an advertising concept. PR agencies may increasingly sit 'at the top table' alongside the ad men, but all too often they are the ones fighting for scraps.

'Some clients continue to ask PR agencies to "PR an ad" or take the ad tagline and turn it into a campaign,' sighs Ogilvy PR Worldwide client services director Ash Coleman-Smith.

Of course, some clients are more 'integrated' than others. Unilever, responsible for Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign, is one client widely lauded for, in one's words, 'pushing agencies very hard to work in an integrated way'. And some sectors involve PR in creative planning more than others. For FMCG brands, ad agencies tend to take the lead; but PROs in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors often have a primary role in campaign planning, not least because of laws restricting advertising for the latter.

But one factor is clear. If PR agencies are to pick up a larger slice of the pie they must convince marketing directors to see them as an integral part of the marketing mix, not as an optional extra. Microsoft UK marketing director Nick Barley asserts: 'If a PR firm convinces me they can reach my target audience in a more efficient way than the ad agency, they will get their fair share of my budget.'

Cross-agency support
Theoretically, at least, the major agency groups – WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic – are at an advantage when it comes to offering clients seamless cross-agency support. Sister ad, PR, design and direct-marketing consultancies within the same group are likely to have substantial experience of co-working.

However, it is human nature to be protective of your own territory and each agency CEO's priority is likely to remain the performance of his or her's own business, ahead of concerns about group profits.
Some groups are trying to change this. Diversified Agency Services (DAS) is the Omnicom division comprising its PR agencies – Ketchum, Fleishman-Hillard and Porter Novelli (see box). It operates 'discretionary bonusing' to reward people who have 'encouraged' work being shared between disciplines. 'We make a lot of noise at our quarterly meetings about business that has been passed around,' says DAS chief executive Anthony Wreford.

This is one solution. But are other agency groups adopting similar co-operative principles? Mark Adams, partner at creative
services 'business accelerator' Pembridge Partners LLP, says: 'It is now more common for PR people to sit with ad agency people looking for "the big idea".'

One senior figure within WPP, which oversees agencies such as Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe and Hill & Knowlton, says
the 'past two to three years' have seen an acceleration in the extent to which agencies have been working collaboratively. But, as Adams admits: 'PR agencies still tend to get the cold shoulder: the atmosphere when you get four or five marketing agencies together tends to be more confrontational than co-operative.'

Adams' view is shared by Ireland-based John Saunders, regional president for Fleishman-Hillard. He says: 'Just as there are people in a PR firm who will behave territorially, people within a holding company will behave similarly.' He adds: 'I would see myself as a competitor of, say, [sister agency] Ketchum, but there are recent examples of when we have collaborated.'

But is collaboration a good thing? Cohn & Wolfe UK chairman David McLaren asserts: 'There's nothing like competition between siblings.

A few years ago there was a terrible buzzword – "co-opertition". In WPP we called it "kiss and punch" – you'd be pitching against a WPP agency in the morning, then working collaboratively in the afternoon.'

McLaren was global client co-ordinator for WPP from 2000 to 2002 and remembers how he was teased about how the politics of such a role would make it a 'nightmare'. But he insists: 'It wasn't – all the agencies recognised that integration was our future.'

He adds: 'Clients want more integration and, for PR agencies, genuine innovation in client service should outweigh any turf war with other agencies.'

In reality the battle for budgets can be an unseemly scrum – and vested interests should be kept for intra-group discussion only. Ogilvy's Coleman-Smith adds: 'If agencies enter a discussion with a client's brand or business interest at heart, you'll be fine. If
you enter with vested interests to the fore it will be a disaster.'

Sue Garrard is planning director at Fishburn Hedges, part of Omnicom's AMV.BBDO group. She argues that unless agencies can find mutually beneficial ground, partisanship will overshadow any spirit of co-operation. 'Until individual agencies in a group
handle integrated clients in a revenue-neutral way, clients won't be getting channel-neutral advice,' she says. 'Behind closed doors, conversations will always be fraught, because of the bottom-line implications of shifting spend from one discipline to another.'

And when more than one discipline is in front of the marketing director, a lack of understanding of how one or other charges its time can be another obstacle.

Paul Barber, until recently CEO of Ogilvy PR Worldwide across EMEA and now executive director at Tottenham Hotspur FC, says: 'Education is needed on how PR firms charge relative to ad agencies. It can still come as a shock to ad men when they learn PR firms charge out their time hourly.'

Another problem is that PR heads are restricted to relationships with brand managers – who themselves are absent from the top table. McLaren points out: 'Marketing directors integrate every day – it is part of their job spec. This is not necessarily the case for PR managers or brand managers.'

Threat and opportunity
The speed with which TV audiences are fragmenting, and the arrival of newer marketing techniques, such as text messaging, create both threats and opportunities for PR agencies as they look to raise their status in marketing directors' eyes.

Microsoft's Barley says: 'PR is often down at the end of the food chain. I think that's wrong. But marketing directors sometimes fail to understand what PR can deliver and automatically default away from it.'

Any improvements in PR agencies' lot will be client-driven and therefore incremental. PR consultancies must hope that as more ad agencies – and marketing directors – become acquainted with their potential contribution to a campaign, the greater the role they will allocate to the discipline.

Case study: Omnicom
Media owner Omnicom is home to a number of PR agencies under the umbrella of Diversified Agency Services (DAS). We asked Ketchum and Porter Novelli's bosses about collaborative opportunities and influence within the group:

David Gallagher, CEO, Ketchum London
'Omnicom is very hands-off: letting each agency battle for client work means that the client will benefit most. Its agencies are more decentralised than in other holding companies – and PR firms benefit as [DAS CEO] Anthony Wreford comes from a PR background.

'Omnicom's main function is to encourage better people development. Around 24 agencies meet every quarter to discuss opportunities to integrate; we mostly discuss best practice and ongoing work.

'Clients vary wildly – some give proper representation to PR in the creative planning process, others are simply ad-driven, which is frustrating. It varies more by client than by sector, but pharma tends to (and often has to) lead with PR, as does tech – but in consumer we can appear to be something of an afterthought.'

Jean Wyllie, UK MD, Porter Novelli
'We join up with other Omnicom/DAS agencies based on relationships and client need. There are network opportunities to share knowledge, which is great, but it is not a three-line whip.

'We are not busting our balls for Omnicom. We will not destroy our culture for a couple of points on the bottom line and we are not expected to. People are our priority – putting people first drives innovation, expertise and client service excellence.

'While some clients still see PR as media relations, we are increasingly involved in integrated campaigns drawing on a range of disciplines – with PR "owning" the strategy.

'Our "Smile" campaign for Hewlett-Packard was executed across advertising, web marketing and point-of-sale in conjunction with H-P's roster of marketing agencies.'

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