PR TECHNIQUE: Firm relationships: Working with an ad agency

PR firms and ad agencies need to communicate in order to work well together. But the most important thing is making the client's goals the top priority

PR firms and ad agencies need to communicate in order to work well together. But the most important thing is making the client's goals the top priority

For integrated marketing efforts to work efficiently and successfully, it is essential for PR agencies to work effectively with advertising firms - a synergy that Kate Childress, SVP and partner at Fleishman-Hillard, calls "complicated, but simple." The key to a successful relationship, clarifies Childress, is "understanding where your discipline fits into the landscape." She adds, "If there is mutual respect and everyone has the same end goals in mind, the two complement one another." Fleishman works with BBDO on anti-tobacco campaigns for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. While both agencies are owned by Omnicom (it is common for agencies from the same holding company to partner on projects), Childress says the primary reason Fleishman chose to work with BBDO's Minneapolis office was because of its knowledge of and experience with tobacco issues. Fleishman and BBDO ensure cooperation on the account by keeping communications channels as open as possible. They have weekly phone meetings to continually update all team members. They issue joint-status reports to the client that reflect PR and advertising activity, and all in-person presentations are performed together. Phone and e-mail distribution lists include all team members from both agencies so that everyone is in the loop, even if a particular message might not directly pertain to its recipient. This kind of open communication and clarity on distribution of responsibilities, according to Childress, is more important than both agencies being in constant agreement on everything. "Some creative tension is not bad," she says. "It forces you to think outside the PR box. Articulating how your work supports the advertising makes you see the bigger picture. It gets you thinking from a consumer audience's point of view." Michelle Overall, director of talent negotiations for Ketchum, adds that communicating openly from the outset of the relationship can prevent duplicating costs. When a marketing campaign involves advertisements with celebrities, for example, it's important to arrange PR dates for the celebrities that coincide with the launch of the ads. It may seem obvious, but if PR or ad agencies get too independently focused, this can be overlooked, causing potential detriment to the client. "Trying to go back after the fact to get that spokesperson is much more expensive than if it was arranged when contracts were negotiated," explains Overall. "This can result in higher costs or a client getting less exposure than they could have." And catering for clients is exactly what Roy Elvove, EVP and director of corporate communications for BBDO, believes binds PR and advertising agencies together. "Because they share that sense of urgency and attention to detail that's necessary to serve on a client's behalf," he says, "PR and ad agencies have very similar cultures." As well as Fleishman, BBDO has worked on integrated campaigns with Golin/Harris (for Visa), Edelman (for KFC), and Porter Novelli (for Gillette and M&M's). Although most larger advertising agencies have communications representatives like Elvove, whose main responsibility is to publicize the firm's work, partner PR agencies can generate outside publicity for advertising campaigns and the agencies that created them. For a successful working relationship to exist between PR and advertising agencies, however, generating results for the client needs to remain the top priority. "At the end of the day, the ad agency does not own the advertising," says Elvove. "The client does." Ogilvy PR and its sister ad agency Ogilvy & Mather approach clients jointly through a detailed strategic process for brand development - a system the two refer to as "360-degree brand stewardship." In instances where a potential client is looking to develop an integrated brand, the two agencies will work jointly from the start, beginning by pitching for the account together. Steve Dahllof, managing director of strategy and planning for Ogilvy PR, claims that selecting what channel to use - advertising or PR - is secondary. "We don't even think about what aspect of communications we are going to use until we decide how we're going to articulate the brand." Dahllof points to the example of the joint work the two agencies did for the American Chemistry Council. Noting that the head on the account is from the advertising side, he explains, "In this case, it was imperative that we built trust in the brand first. That is not the role of advertising. So we started with PR, knowing that the ads would come down the road." Other clients for whom Ogilvy PR and Ogilvy & Mather work together on integrated campaigns include the American Red Cross and DuPont. "By having these set processes in place, we always know what the end goal is in every meeting," concludes Dahllof. "There is no pushing and fighting for share of voice." Of course, not all joint efforts end in mutual contentment. Sydney Ayers, principal of Denver-based Ayers Strategic PR, discusses what she calls "an amicable split" from her agency's former partner advertising agency, BSM&R. After three years, the joint operating agreement that resulted in Ayers/BSM&R Strategic Public Relations is being officially dissolved at the end of this month. Citing "different cultures in terms of how [advertising and PR agencies] work and who they connect with," Ayers says the partnership did not work out the way either side intended. She explains, "Advertising agencies tend to connect with clients at a managerial level, because their responsibilities require more tactical, one-way communications. PR firms, however, connect at the CEO or COO level, because they're involved in two-way communications and strategic counsel." This disparity, according to Ayers, leaves advertising executives disconcerted, as "their budgets tend to be so much larger than the PR agency's, so the advertising firms feel like they should have control over the PR function." ----- Technique tips Do clarify the respective responsibilities of each agency from the outset, and communicate openly and frequently throughout the campaign Do always view an integrated account from the perspective of how PR can complement advertising, and vice versa Do consider the compatibility of team members' personalities when selecting a partner agency Don't view creative tension between agencies as a bad thing. It can lead to improved articulation of messages Don't assume that your partner agency understands your discipline as well as you do Don't partner with an agency which does not share your vision for the account. It is imperative that you both have the same goals

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