As a younger sibling, I always struggled to equal my big brother – to run faster, win the driveway game of H.O.R.S.E. or bring home a better report card.
Volney Palmer opened the first American ad agency in 1850, but it was another 60 years before Edward Bernays established the first fully functioning U.S. PR agency. We're catching up, and PR agencies are as driven to match wits with our “sibling rivals” in the advertising business as I was to hit my brother's backyard curveballs.
At this point, PR agencies have carved out an identity distinct from advertising, but big brother can still school us on how to use consumer insights.
In the ‘70s, London ad agencies started to adopt the discipline of account planning - the use of consumer insights to inspire content that moves people. In Jon Steel's Truth, Lies and Advertising, the legendary Bill Bernbach is quoted explaining that “nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about [a] man you can touch him at the core of his being.”
Looking in the mirror, this discipline is a gaping hole in the typical PR firm. PR people write plans every day for our clients and prospects, but very few of us operationalize account planning in even the crudest form.
Why should we care? Why should we add one more time-consuming step into our programming processes? Because our clients are asking for it. According to GfK Custom Research, one of the world's largest market research companies [and a current client], its hottest seller for marketing execs is reliable insight on how consumers feel, what they think, and how these attitudes affect their actions. Gathering data points to confirm past behavior is yesterday's news. Literally.
Like the impetuous little brother, we often rush into “what we'll do,” rather than “why we'll do it.” But now we need to prove that if we build something, people will care. That proof comes from understanding what people think, what they feel, and why they do what they do -- for reasons they probably can't explain.
As a group, we need to look at people, a.k.a. the public, before thinking about execution.
A 20-year agency veteran, Brad Buyce is EVP of client strategy for CoynePR. He is an aspiring student of account planning, and he still loses most driveway basketball games to his brother.