There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed as if the advertising industry hardly knew PR existed.
Today, however, as more agencies latch on to the model of "360" or "integrated" communications, that once-common segregation of disciplines is no longer so segregated. But do the benefits of running both PR and advertising practices out of one outfit outweigh the challenges?
To ensure success within a multi-discipline agency, motivation "really needs to come from the top down," says Judy Lynes, VP of PR at Santa Monica, CA-based The Phelps Group. "We know a lot of ad agencies that have a sister PR agency across town, but they never really talk. You have to have commitment from management."
An early adopter of the integrated marketing concept, The Phelps Group hired Lynes 18 years ago to build an in-house PR practice when the agency's founder realized clients wanted PR services, but it wasn't viable to have ad execs writing press releases.
Lynes says the firm has developed a number of management practices to maintain smooth operations by removing the profit centers of individual disciplines.
"If PR was its own profit center, I might be under pressure to choose PR when it wasn't in the client's best interest," she says. "As a team, we decide what the best choice is; we don't want a conflict of interest in what disciplines we decide on."
There are little things that make a difference, too, Lynes notes. At the agency's weekly meetings, for example, staffers hear updates from both the PR and ad sides. And employees arrange their desks by account team rather than by discipline, alternating seating order frequently.
"It used to be all the suits on one side and the creative people on the other. But [this way] we get to see what everyone else is doing," Lynes explains.
Brian Pia, SVP and director of Birmingham, AL-based Luckie Strategic Public Relations, says the ability to work in tandem with Luckie's advertising division has helped his team thrive.
"From a client perspective, you can offer multiple marketing services under one company. That's a huge benefit from their standpoint," says Pia, whose cross-discipline clients include Little Debbie Snacks and the Alabama Bureau of Tourism. "But it's also beneficial from our point of view. In a recent meeting, we had PR team members and advertising team members, with the whole idea to work together to create a cohesive strategy for the client."
WongDoody Communications handles both PR and advertising for about three-quarters of its clients, notes Jennifer Cody, the firm's Los Angeles-based VP of PR. Among the most considerable benefits of having both disciplines under one roof, Cody says, is how easy it is to communicate with a client's ad side when it's within her own agency.
Luckie's Pia not only agrees, but also adds that easy communication is fundamental to keeping the multi-discipline model working.
"The key is constant communication," Pia says, "constant and consistent communication. If you have a very open-door policy, that's what is going to make it work."
Open, ongoing communication among PR and ad practices is essential to an integrated firm's success
The ability to craft cross-discipline, cohesive messaging strategies can benefit both agency and client
Removing individual profit centers limits conflicts of interest and ensures what's best for the client is always the top priority