Richard Brett, Shine Communications - New leaders of the pack

The move from traditional ad models towards dialogue models benefits PR agencies.

We all know that the way we talk to consumers is changing rapidly. The fragmentation of media, coupled with the social media and digital revolution, means old approaches no longer work in isolation. This move away from traditional advertising models and towards a dialogue model across multiple touchpoints plays well into the hands of PR agencies. We can be the new leaders of the agency pack. But are we?

Back in 2002, Al and Laura Reis published The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. In it, they argue advertising is littered with the fall-out of numerous and expensive failed campaigns.

They argue that traditional advertising is being undermined; it lacks credibility and cannot cut through the marketing clutter. But they do not dismiss it altogether: advertising has a big role to play in maintaining brands once PR has been used first to build them. Build the buzz, the conversation, the understanding and the depth through PR, then allow advertising to reach the areas others cannot reach.

Recent academic work reinforces the view that PR has an increasingly important role to play. Two studies (Micu, 2005 and Loda and Carrick, 2005) revealed that when faced with advertising and editorial messages, editorial was more effective at delivering recall and achieving more intense readership. When faced with multiple communication media, the sequence of publicity then advertising was by far the most impactful.

So is this reflected in where budgets are going? Is there an actual shift in marketing spend from advertising agencies to PR? If we look at the most recent numbers, yes. In 2009, UK PR agency income increased 0.75 per cent (PR Week Top 150 2010), whereas ad spend dropped ten per cent in the 12 months to September 2009 (Nielsen).

However, I cannot help but feel that as an industry we aren't out there taking the mantle. As advertising agencies restructure and launch digital offerings, social media divisions and PR functions, their historical strategic and creative leadership can make them better placed to reposition themselves as the integrated knowledge centre for clients.

Our strategic and planning team, Shine1, as a lead agency function, is one answer to this. Last year, we commissioned a large piece of research that talked to marketing directors about the changing role of PR in light of the social media revolution.

The results reflect the move suggested by the PR Week and Nielsen numbers. Managers view PR as more crucial than advertising - when asked which discipline they relied on, PR scored 5.75 out of ten, compared with 4.75 for advertising. The PR agency is gaining more respect in terms of driving integrated communications (14.3 per cent of managers said PR was the number two driver of integrated comms) after the internal marketing team.

On who should drive forward social media, 90 per cent said PR agencies were best placed to carry out work in this area, so this is a huge opportunity for PR.

Quite simply, as an industry, we have to compete. This is an enormous opportunity. It is a shift that is ours for the taking, but each of us has to move and change rapidly. Shine1 will be working regularly to drive pan-industry thinking; we've just commissioned our next piece of research, looking at managers' views of brands built by PR and brands built by advertising, which should help give us all further insight into the minds of budget holders.

This social media revolution means companies have to put true relationships with their public at the heart of their strategy. Every piece of behaviour, output and information is being watched, commented upon and written about, and PR agencies are by far the best placed to work with clients to develop an appropriate response.

- Richard Brett is a director at Shine Communications


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