As the lines between marketing and communications continue to blur, PR agencies must accept an immutable fact; not all advertising people are a good hire.
I was reminded of that this week with Michael Goldberg's swift exit from Porter Novelli to Deutsch, after a six-month stint.
"I simply missed the industry I consider my craft,” he told Ad Age. “I have always loved advertising -- the creation, the expression, the people, and the way of thinking.”
If only he had stopped there. “I will look back on the venture as a bit of post-grad work to expand horizons, globalization, and respect for integrated communications. While many of the people I met along the way were nice and talented, we did not have similar wiring."
Post-graduate work with nice and talented people. Talk about damning with faint praise.
I do not know Goldberg or his “wiring” well, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that something deeper rubbed off on him during his PR tour. He's not the only recent ad agency departure. Steve Hardwick, who spent his career at big ad firms, left Fleishman-Hillard after less than a year, for reasons undisclosed.
Expectations are high when an advertising executive joins a PR firm. Hiring outside of communications is essential for the vitality of the profession, and clients and companies are the beneficiaries. But it's not always a straightforward cultural fit, especially if the emphasis is on harvesting the advertising knowledge instead of actually creating a new kind of communications professional.
I've noticed a few things about a certain kind of ad agency defector over the years. They talk more than they listen. They want to be change agents. Journalists and media relations are alien. And they are shocked - shocked! - at how much smaller budgets are in their new life. The power proposition is sharply different in the PR world – though evolving quickly – and to be successful they need to take the time to learn how it works.
The poster child for a successful ad-to-PR transplant may be Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. Her first job in PR was Goldberg's role at PN, following leadership roles at ad agencies Y&R and JWT Worldwide.
But Salzman is a reluctant evangelist for the switch. “I adore my ‘boss' in the PR space – a biz woman, ad woman – and that has made my @erwwpr experience worthwhile,” she said via email. “But I find the PR world lacks the sense of urgency and the ballsy characters that made life in an ad agency joyful. PR agencies don't breed the same drive to pull all-nighters, reinvent the world, live the ideas, and put much more energy into hierarchies and positioning statements, versus living the future.”
“I am torn,” Salzman continued. “I love what I do, the clients, and the challenges, but the tiny budgets and the lack of global ideas on most accounts makes me frustrated that young PR practitioners don't get the brainfood I got in the ‘Mad' world. I respect the folks at PN and who work with me at Euro RSCG. I just wish the fearlessness I grew up with was part of our PR culture.”
Salzman says she wouldn't go back to advertising now. “I want to improve the energy level and ballsiness of PR.”
So what's the problem here – are we just fundamentally two different breeds? I would love to blame advertising natives for bringing their anti-PR baggage into the tent and for being annoying, pompous, and wrong. But it would be naïve to dismiss Salzman's comments because no matter how fast things are changing, fundamentally the disciplines have their roots in two different places and cultural histories.
To strike a better balance, communications needs to exude the kind of confidence that other marketing disciplines have as their hallmark. Communicators I know do have all the drive and talent to change the world, but the passion isn't expressed in the same way – and we shouldn't apologize for that, but we should find the right channels to express it.
Even at this advanced stage in the profession's development, advertising still commands gravitas, even from communicators themselves. Communications needs to push its point of view more forcefully to create a proper balance. PR has brainfood of a different flavor, perhaps, but its enrichment is just as potent.
Communicators may be culturally averse to ad-style swagger, but it does not have to subvert itself in its own agencies just to attract people who come from a different marketing pedigree. We shouldn't just embrace the perspectives that PR gains by bringing in cross-marketing experts, but help these newcomers see the light and then become the profession's most ardent and convincing evangelists.
Tell us your stories, those of you from advertising that have found new passion in the PR world. Help others follow in your path. Communicators are a kind and generous community. We welcome all of those fleeing the inevitable decline of advertising for the burgeoning power of communications.