Collaboration Roundtable: Concerted effort [Extended]

In an age of integration and multiple platforms, a willingness and ability to collaborate with all partners has become table stakes. Industry leaders gathered in Chicago to highlight the keys to and tangible benefits of doing so at this Allison+Partners-hosted roundtable.

Participants (in alpha order):
-Mike Cummins, director of PR, Tyson Foods
-Cheryl Georgas, SVP and deputy GM, JSH&A
-Brian Grace, director of communications, Progressive Insurance
-Julian Green, VP of communications and community affairs, Chicago Cubs
-Candace Mueller Medina, senior director of communications, PepsiCo North America Nutrition
-Heather Oldani, senior director, US communications, McDonald’s
-Jay Porter, president, Chicago, Edelman
-Lisa Rosenberg, chief creative officer, Allison+Partners

Moving the agenda
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Offer an example of how effective collaboration has driven a notable business objective.

Lisa Rosenberg (Allison+Partners): There was an activation we did at South by Southwest this past year that exemplifies collaboration within our team, as well as with external partners.

In addition to our client work, we sought to do something for our own brand. We gathered internal colleagues from all departments. We were discussing our C-Factors program and pondering ways to bring the Cs to SXSW. We liked the idea of a food truck and coffee, but it was cost prohibitive. Cronuts were really hot at the time, so we focused on that.

First, we partnered with Dominique Ansel, the chef behind the cronut. He was interested in going to SXSW, but wasn’t sure the angle. We saw an opportunity to bring the cronut out of New York City to a new audience. It was a great way to cut through the clutter for him and our firm. The idea of Cronut at Midnight was born.

There were limitations to how many he could produce, so we came up with a secondary item just for our SXSW event – the chocolate-chip cookie milk shot.

Our event took place on a Sunday at midnight. We wound up with close to 3,000 RSVPs for an event space that held 300 despite the fact we were up against Mashable’s MashBash and a Snoop Dogg performance.

Our research indicates we controlled 80% of all agency conversations at SXSW, so share of voice was a significant win. We generated close to 1 billion media impressions where Allison+Partners was included – very unusual for a PR agency.

Dominique benefitted equally. The cookie shot was so successful at SXSW, he made it a permanent part of his menu that remains immensely popular. From concept to execution to end-result, this exemplified the unique impact of collaboration.

Brian Grace (Progressive): If we’re not collaborating we’re missing an opportunity. Insurance companies are challenged because our product is intangible.

Progressive is a data-driven company. It’s how we price our policies. That data presents numerous opportunities to engage – and collaborate. We have information on when accidents happen and the factors involved. This data can be the basis for some great stories that will resonate with consumers. It’s a window to bring PR people and data analysts together. Of course, insurance is a highly regulated industry, so legal enters the equation.

Once we’ve got our story, we call on our internal agency 96 Octane to make that data interesting. An example of how this all comes together is our Black Wednesday campaign. We found the Wednesday before Thanksgiving – when everyone is returning home – is a big night for accidents and claims. We turned our data into a consumer-facing effort that encouraged people to stay off the road. We have enjoyed similar success with campaigns around the 4th of July and motorcycles.

The more you work with partners with whom you have not collaborated much in the past, the stronger the relationship and the more automatic it becomes to use everyone’s strengths to develop really effective initiatives.

Heather Oldani (McDonald’s): We don’t have time to not collaborate. Our team went out to Silicon Valley a couple years ago to look at how tech and startup companies collaborated. Regardless of discipline or expertise, these people had to come together quickly to develop offerings to get to market in line with competition. Traditional organizations are only starting to tap into the power of getting out of your comfort zone and welcoming different perspectives on how to achieve the same goal with a campaign.

The current "Our Food. Your Questions" effort is a good example. Fully realizing we were opening ourselves up to some really tough questions, we knew collaboration was essential behind the scenes. It is the unsung hero. We had to work closely with our supply chain partners, our suppliers, and legal to know what we could and should say. Of course, the PR team wants to say things a certain way, as does the social team. The legal team, along with our suppliers, has obvious mandates, too. It’s a process that demands collaboration. When you’re dealing with about 12,000 questions and counting, it can’t just be the PR team or the agency. The subject-matter experts from our suppliers and the like have helped make this initiative what it is.

So much great thinking within your organization rests outside of your immediate discipline. Being able to tap into that on a regular basis empowers campaigns.

Jay Porter (Edelman): The speed and complexity with which agencies and clients alike must now operate necessitates collaboration, but it also requires serious thought to how teams are structured.

We’ve upped the ante for ourselves in terms of what collaboration means because we’re bringing in significant numbers of creative people from digital or traditional creative agencies. We’re bringing in planners and business strategists. When you incorporate these entirely new skill sets and people find themselves sharing responsibilities that were once fully their own, trust and respect among parties is mandatory. That is the essence of collaboration.

Our creative newsroom epitomizes this. It brings that fast-twitch creativity that is in traditional PR’s DNA together with creative design, video, and other types of content creators in real time. Collaboration is the foundation.

Cheryl Georgas (JSH&A): For a boutique agency, collaboration is particularly key in two areas: working with global brands and new business development. We are part of IPREX. Our collaboration in that network has allowed us to get in on three or four key business opportunities. Similarly, agencies in the network have come to us for our expertise in social, crisis management, and new product launches. It helps them – and us – remain competitive. The importance of that for a firm our size cannot be overstated.

Mike Cummins (Tyson Foods): The recent merger of Hillshire Brands and Tyson is a period of great collaboration not only internally at our offices, but also between people in Arkansas, where Tyson in based, and Chicago, where Hillshire is headquartered.

Also, Tyson is focused on food service, so it hasn’t thought about brand as much as Hillshire, which has always been consumer-focused. A lot of time is being spent figuring out what each side does and how to merge it. It’s a huge learning process, but it’s also a great opportunity to pick up tactics and thinking each side has not had to ponder previously. For example, Tyson has always dealt well with local governments where they manufacture food, which is something we can definitely learn from. It’s vital to ensure siloes do not develop between Chicago and Arkansas. The ability to collaborate is making the merger go smoother.

Candace Mueller Medina (PepsiCo): If collaboration is not in your DNA, you can’t produce that great work. And that means every team: communications, consumer relations, legal, nutrition, R&D, marketing, even finance.

Early in 2014, Quaker launched its Good Energy campaign. The whole concept was that busy moms have less energy than they do time, so we focused on the fact our products provide good energy throughout the day. In addition to the comms team, the insights team was heavily involved, as were our PR and ad agencies. Our promotions team played a huge role, as did our marketing team, in helping us launch this initiative at the Sundance Film Festival with our Good Energy Lodge. That moment in time helped propel the ad campaign and it really demonstrated how the disciplines can help each other. It was a great idea, but the reason it worked was because there was tremendous trust between internal and external teams.

(Editor’s note: Medina assumed her current role in late October after two-plus years as senior director of communications and chief of staff at Quaker Oats, a PepsiCo brand.)

Julian Green (Chicago Cubs): A baseball season is the longest of any professional sport. The entities with which you must collaborate truly encompass everyone – from the accounting team, to those in charge of food vendors, to the folks in charge of stadium lighting.

There’s a difference between transactional collaboration and effective collaboration that drives business results. This has truly been underscored by the fact our product on the field has struggled of late. We’ve been forced to take a step back and figure out how to effectively collaborate to drive business.

Luckily, this past year was Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary, so we put together a yearlong campaign in celebration. We had 12 homestands last year, so we created activities during 10 of them for each decade in that century. And collaboration was crucial to ensure every touch point with our fans was covered so they would have a reason to come to the park.

Starting with our marketing department we discovered opportunities to create engagement on numerous underutilized platforms. We launched the 100 gifts of service, so even the community affairs function played a key role. It was a collaborative effort across the organization that ended up increasing attendance and driving season-ticket sales, which is truly a key measure.

Of course this coming year, we won’t have the benefit of a centennial celebration. However, the collaboration we have established with all partners puts us is a great position moving forward.

Traditional thinking

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): A PRWeek/Allison+Partners survey indicates that traditional collaboration tools – emails, conference calls, and in-person meetings – are still greatly preferred. Do you agree and why?

Green (Cubs): I agree and will go a step further. I joined the Cubs, and its 200-person staff, from MillerCoors, with 8,000-plus employees. It really struck me how much people at the Cubs used email and IM, as opposed to actually talking with others.

When we talk about collaboration, it truly doesn’t get more effective than one-on-one personal engagement, especially to come up with those major business-moving strategies.

Oldani (McDonald’s): This is a case where traditional companies might have a leg up. A certain magic happens when you’re face to face with somebody. Technology can enable the building upon ideas, but those great ideas will most readily spring from in-person meetings.

In fact, at our organization – and many other large companies I know of – collaborative workspaces have been created where people can come together to exchange ideas. These spaces foster personal interaction, which is something you can lose with technology.

Georgas (JSH&A): As different types of agencies collaborate more with each other, the power of face-to-face meetings is particularly important, as issues of trust and chemistry need to be established – and the existence or lack thereof will shine through in the work.

Porter (Edelman): Technology giveth, but technology taketh away. Down to the junior level, everybody is empowered to say, "Let’s get this off of email and meet in a room to discuss." Emails have obvious value, but it gets to a point where it’s no longer productive and you need a conversation.

Cummins (Tyson): Traditional methods have become so because they work. With emails, particularly among numerous parties, it’s easy to get lost when someone is answering something from three emails ago.

Sure, there are times when you are working on a document where email is perfect to allow people to update it, send it out en masse, and no conversation is truly required. However, to come up with the big concepts, in-person meetings work best.

Medina (PepsiCo): Nobody will disagree that meeting face to face is ideal, but it is challenged by the always-on world we live in. Things happen that require reaction before you can realistically meet. Email, which is a traditional tool at this point, allows for alignment and the informing of many people about a pressing issue. In our fast-paced world, I contend email truly has a huge role in realistic collaboration. If major issues need to be resolved, yes, in-person meetings need to happen. In addition, tonality can certainly be misinterpreted in emails, as could actual meaning.

Grace (Progressive): Technology has its place. We use Google Hangouts for a lot of meetings. We’ll use Google Docs to collaborate in real time with our agency during a pitch. You can see in real time who has contacted which reporter and what the reaction was. And Google Hangouts are great for more routine meetings where it’s helpful to see someone’s body language from a few thousand miles away. All that said, for relationship building, making huge decisions, changing minds when needed, and securing buy-in, nothing replaces in-person meetings.

Green (Cubs): It’s crucial to remember, though, that just because you’re meeting in person, doesn’t mean it’s effective. There is such a thing as too many meetings when you spend an hour or two together and nothing gets accomplished. You want this collaboration to work? You have to put in the time to make sure those person-to-person meetings are optimally utilized.

Rosenberg (Allison): It’s equally important to set up an environment where people feel free to potentially go off script. This fosters new thinking and flexibility. Meetings aren’t always best when you only stick to an agenda. You never want to miss out on the opportunity to talk about something that could lead you to an unexpected place and that really great idea. You need to find that balance where the different brains in the room can tackle challenges that may not be on the to-do list.

Proper alignment

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): A PRWeek/Allison+Partners survey revealed "lack of true alignment among parties" to be the greatest inhibitor of effective collaboration. What are the main causes? What are the main cures?

Green (Cubs): Technology can be a starting point for this lack of alignment. It’s tough to count on such tools when you’re trying to communicate about a big idea or get buy-in.

Being inclusive during the idea-generation phase is a huge factor in gaining alignment. You don’t want to come in with all the answers or a big solution without considering those who might have some impact or helpful influence.

Rosenberg (Allison): Earlier in my career, I was working on a major CPG product launch. The marketing team had a concept the ad agency loved, but internal comms hated. The ad concept wasn’t perfect for PR execution, so the comms people didn’t want us building on it. Meanwhile, the marketing team wanted to build a whole campaign around it. On the agency side, you’ll deal with misalignment such as this.

We didn’t love the core idea, but had to make it work. In-person meetings galore were essential to build out campaign executions around this one idea. An executive creative director from one of the big ad agencies was very engaged, so we had to be mindful of his sentiments. We needed to sell an idea the marketing client would buy, the PR clients could work with, and present it as an integrated campaign. It meant giving the ad agency a say in how the campaign got executed from a PR standpoint, but we were able to get everyone going forward.

It took longer than it should have, which underscores why misalignment is such a tough obstacle. However, the campaign ended up very successful, so the efforts to collaborate despite differences proved essential.

Georgas (JSH&A): During the presentation that preceded this roundtable, the McDonald’s executives said they needed to be role models of collaboration internally if they expect their partners to follow suit. That is dead-on.

In addition, the client has a key role in terms of how it interacts with its agencies in terms of planning and integrated marketing. Clients need to give agencies freedom, but they can’t be totally separate. Too many times, we've been given a brief, a budget, and told to play nicely in the sandbox. That’s a difficult position for an agency because you want to do good work, but you’re still accountable for your bottom line. When the client is involved, you’ll always see the different agencies collaborate much more. Unsurprisingly, the work produced is better.

Medina (PepsiCo): Having a feedback group – not just for agencies, but clients – should be part of every initiative to ensure collaboration is encouraged and monitored, whether it happens annually, twice a year, or weekly.

In terms of derailing alignment, a major challenge is the fact we answer to multiple stakeholders and sales, for example, may have very different objectives than the communications people.

Mapping out a vision for success from the get-go is crucial. It’s something everyone can go back to at any point to ensure they are on the same page.

Grace (Progressive): In terms of internal collaboration, misalignment often stems from the different goals each department has. Everyone needs to take a step back with each partner to see how a project you might collaborate on supports the company’s objectives. That’s a common goal around which everyone can work.

Cummins (Tyson): Communicators have a responsibility to not only be collaborative, but also ensure broad collaboration. We’re the ones who take messages public. We’re the ones who answer the questions from various constituents, so we have to know everything – and that includes what all relevant parties are thinking. We can’t live in a gray area. We must make sure there is alignment. It’s an essential function of our jobs.

Oldani (McDonald’s): You need that alignment before you take something external. We've actually instituted leadership alignment sessions where we bring in the CMO, the comms lead, the supply chain head, and chief legal counsel. Internal teams can be aligned, as can agencies, but until rubber hits the road and those four or five officers are aligned and agree with your approach, you don’t really have true alignment.

Porter (Edelman): The point about communicators being responsible for facilitating alignment cannot be overstated. Even in a 30-second spot, we could be crystal clear in what we wish to say, but there are multiple stakeholders with different agendas who will observe, comment, and pull things apart. As PR pros, we must lean forward.

On the agency side, we need to be the people willing and empowered to ask those tough questions. Not to poke holes necessarily, but to ensure alignment and that we’ve thought through all possible reactions. We can help avoid potential second-guessing by playing that key role.

New tools of the trade

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Outside of traditional tools such as emails, conference calls, and in-person meetings, what newer products are you using to bolster collaboration efforts?

Rosenberg (Allison): It really depends on what you need to do. There are a lot of file-sharing tools, such as Box or Dropbox, WeTransfer or Hightail. Of course, Google Hangouts or Google Docs are good options. There’s even SharePoint, which isn’t new, but still very useful.

The time it takes to learn how to use a new tool can be an inhibitor to its use, but it’s important to resist the temptation to avoid new tools for that reason. My agency recently shifted to Box for everything. It replaces individual office servers. Since we work on one P&L with offices around the world, it makes collaboration that much better.

It’s not practical or possible for everyone to be in the same room all the time, so Google Hangouts is definitely helpful to foster collaboration. And remember: this is not the domain of Millennials. Every PR pro needs to get on board.

Oldani (McDonald’s): I would love to leverage more of the technology out there, particularly Spigit or other crowdsourcing platforms. For a risk-averse organization, though, the main issue becomes who can get access to that information outside our walls. The desire to use these great tech tools is often countered by fear of vital information being stolen, which prohibits the adoption of these new collaboration tools.

Of course, there is a way to solve that problem. Instead of using YouSendIt, for example, our IT department created a McDonald’s-ized version of it. It would be great to use ready-made tools, especially free ones. However, you can get creative and enjoy the benefits of technology while still addressing privacy concerns and the like.

Grace (Progressive): The issue of protecting information is paramount in the insurance industry, which is so highly regulated. There are many great tech tools I simply can’t use or certainly wouldn’t. That’s why Google Hangouts stands out for me. It’s a video feed that is not recorded, so it eliminates a major concern.

Georgas (JSH&A): Our hands are somewhat tied based on what technologies our clients can and cannot use. Basecamp, however, is an offering we’ve used effectively.

Oldani (McDonald’s): This is actually a learning opportunity for everyone. In the spirit of teamwork, it’s advisable to ask your partners about the workflow collaboration technologies they use. In fact, we press them about it in an effort to create an infrastructure for collaboration externally. And then we go a step further to see if we can create that capability internally.

Porter (Edelman): The best answer is a combination of existing tools with platforms you roll out yourself. It’s also important to recognize that different clients want to use their own solutions and sometimes it’s quite beneficial to incorporate those into your system.

Technology is great for collaboration, but we’ve actually brought a distinct human element to it. In recent years, we started investing in a network of people for whom a key part of their job is to be knowledge managers. All of our large accounts have a dedicated knowledge manager. Our practice leaders all have these managers spending at least part of their time aggregating, curating, and updating.

In the past year and a half, we’ve launched an internal system based on the experiences of those knowledge managers. It not only contains so much vital intelligence, but it’s created in a way to share information in the exact way our people have told us they needed it. Knowledge management has become a legitimate career path, but it’s also a great example of merging technology and human elements in a manner that facilitates collaboration.

The heart of integration

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Please discuss how collaboration uniquely empowers integrated efforts.

Rosenberg (Allison): Share a Coke is a fantastic campaign where I can’t identify its genesis. It drove engagement through multiple disciplines. Packaging played a key role. It was marketed very well. Social really drove home the reasons for people to buy a can. I’m not even a soda drinker, but it caught my eye. When you think about a campaign that inspires that kind of engagement from a consumer standpoint across so many different social platforms, that stands out as an integrated campaign that is all about the idea, not where it stemmed from.

Grace (Progressive): The superstore campaign with Flo came out of the idea that we have an intangible product that we needed to make tangible. However, collaboration plays such a huge role in keeping it strong and current.

Stephanie Courtney is an improve actor who plays Flo. She represents the brand so well, particularly the helpfulness we wish to highlight. We just put out our 100th ad with Flo. Few other brand icons have that kind of longevity. Between Stephanie, the ad agencies, and our internal teams who create programs based on Flo, it’s an ongoing collaborative effort where ideas are shared to bolster it on all platforms.

Taken a step further, we continue to give Flo a cast of characters with whom to interact. We take her out of the superstore to go camping with people or to ride motorcycles with them. She even had a new partner join her around Halloween – LeBron James, who dressed up as FloBron. The campaign is seven years old and going strong – and the collaboration of so many different partners is the reason why.

Oldani (McDonald’s): Anytime you put something out now, you have to realize it will go worldwide. As such, the implications that could have on your global counterparts must be considered.

In terms of "Our Food. Your Questions," whenever we’re answering queries in the US about food in the US, we must be very specific because there are different supply chain standards or criteria around the globe. The global complexities necessitate you ensure up-front alignment and collaboration with your global marketing and communications partners. They need to know what you’re doing so they aren’t caught off guard.

And of course, you can very well have global consumers engaging with you on US channels. We try to put systems in place to deal with questions in the regions where they are asked, but it doesn’t always work that way. Again, you must collaborate globally.

And when you work with celebrities, as Brian alluded to, there’s major collaboration there, too. Former Mythbusters cast member Grant Imahara is a central figure in our current campaign. Yes, he is getting paid. However, he is also very authentic because he is very skeptical. He hadn’t eaten McDonald’s in 15 years. He had a lot of questions about our food. We don’t tell him what to do. He tells us what he thinks should be done for this campaign to have credibility. It’s a good example of how brands are collaborating with influencers in ways they never did before.

Medina (PepsiCo): We work with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck for Quaker Oats’ Fuel Up to Play 60 program. We collaborate with our sales team to leverage the NFL partnership properly and then develop promotion around that by leveraging Luck. He truly embodies the program theme of teaching families to be healthy and physically active, plus he eats the product and has a legitimately wholesome personality.

One element of collaboration we haven’t touched on yet is empowerment. The people above you in your organization need to empower you. From a branding perspective, clients need to empower their agencies. You must provide them the guiding principles, but then allow them to make decisions quickly. In an age when brands must concern themselves with so much more than just selling product, that collaboration, that empowerment of all disciplines is needed. 

Porter (Edelman): What would have looked collaborative in multi-stakeholder initiatives a few years ago is no longer enough. For Dairy Management Inc. we recently launched, which took us three years to bring all the pieces together. This was a longstanding client with whom we’ve become quite integrated into its operation, but this project took that to a different frontier.

This platform is a storytelling content hub. The goal was to allow all these stakeholders – dairy farmers, dairy producers, and so on – to be on the same page in an environment where some unknown, uncredentialed person could say something true or not about nutrition, sourcing, what have you. The entire community had to understand what was being said, find a common point of view, and respond in a concerted fashion. The true complexity of bringing something such as that to life required quite a bit of hand holding because whether on the agency or client side, not everyone is immediately comfortable. Traditional attitudes of wanting total control and knowing exactly what’s going to happen simply won’t work now. It takes collaboration to a whole new level.

Georgas (JSH&A): This past summer, Reddi-wip put out a brief to numerous agencies to come back with ideas on how to celebrate berry season and get people to think about and engage with the product, particularly its different uses. The brand team had the idea to ask customers to share photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using #BerryJoyful, where they could showcase how Reddi-wip helps create joyful occasions. We led the creative development process, as well as traditional and social media outreach, while a promotional agency helped execute the sweepstakes that were a key part of the effort.

Cummins (Tyson): Earnings, M&As, and crisis are issues I deal with. When they arise, I will find myself in a room with finance and legal people I might not be with regularly. They speak in language I might not be as familiar with.

Say there’s a product recall caused by mislabeling. These are situations that truly put collaboration to the test because everyone has different concerns and immediate goals, and certainly different tasks, but you really all need to drive toward the same result. Somebody has to figure out where the product is. Someone has to get the product back. Another team is working with the USDA. We’re writing press releases and have to figure out how to best tell consumers. There are truly myriad audiences. And of course we have a crisis plan and have gone through exercises, but nothing such as this ever follows a script. It might be cliché, but everyone truly has to get on the same page. Too often in situations such as this, the importance of collaboration is not fully embraced when it really is the foundation of handling crises as best as possible.

Medina (PepsiCo): It’s collaboration on steroids. You must do everything Mike was talking about, but fast.

Porter (Edelman): Nobody wants a crisis, but they can be beneficial in the sense it forces a foxhole mentality among the team that often gets paid back in a more positive or exciting engagement.

Cummins (Tyson): Particularly in a big organization, crises are actually a great way to meet people who you really should work with more, but often haven’t. For someone in communication, you will now be able to call upon that person who runs the supply chain because you will have worked with them. It enables future collaboration, too.

An open mind
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Is there truly broader acceptance that the big idea can come from anywhere? How is that playing out?

Rosenberg (Allison): In our heart of hearts on the agency side, we want to believe there is no client bias as to where that big idea can come from, but we’re not there yet across the board. The challenge is your client partners sometime view their role within certain confines and, thus, view the PR firm’s role the same way.

At clients where marketing and communications are truly integrated, yes, the acceptance that the ideas can and should come from anywhere is higher. In truth, nobody will say it has to come from only one place, but the actual behavior has not quite caught up to the belief yet.

Porter (Edelman): Client attitudes on this run the gamut, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised. In a recent case, we presented a very PR-minded social-first idea the client loved so much they wanted to turn it into a TV spot and have us do it. It’s a brave new world.

Georgas (JSH&A): One of our clients during the most recent Presidential election wanted to create buzz for their product tied to it. They went to their ad agency and asked them to develop a TV spot. An internal stakeholder suggested they not think so narrowly. A call went out to all its agencies for ideas. We were told we had come up with the best, most integrated one, but they still went with the TV ad because it is guaranteed placement.

Among many clients, there is still a lack of comfort with the fact you’re not guaranteed placement with PR. They are open to looking at ideas, but not necessarily executing them.

Oldani (McDonald’s): My thoughts on this have changed in the past couple of years. Our global marketing officer believes the lines have blurred between PR and marketing to the point there is no line. The way things are activated and executed might still lean toward certain disciplines and, perhaps, that’s what some agency executives are feeling. There is true leadership belief within those key individuals that ideas can come from anywhere. Taken further, we are seeing ad agencies act more like PR firms and vice versa. That historical legacy of who owns and does what is crumbling, but it’s not as if someone flips a switch and it just changes.

Another level of this broad acceptance is that the big ideas can come from the agency with the smallest budget. I’ve seen global brand agencies activate ideas that came from these smaller shops. It will take time for all clients to get there, but it is happening.

Of course, this has to be a two-way street. Communications people have to get comfortable with the idea that ad agencies could come up with a really great PR idea and PR firms have to be ready and willing to activate those. The concept of the big idea coming from anywhere has to be embraced by everyone.

Green (Cubs): In my world of sports, ideas can come from anywhere. If it translates to revenue for the team, come one, come all. The PR people are so involved in the day-to-day execution that it is challenging to carry that "big idea" mantle. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t bring big ideas to the table. And remember: none of this means anything if you can’t execute it, so if you’re looking at PR’s overall role in bringing big ideas to fruition, it’s there.

Medina (PepsiCo): Ultimate success would be co-creating ideas with other agencies and the client versus having the big idea come from one function or agency. It’s an educational process to explain that PR people can do so much more than just communications. This is where data is so important to show the success stories of what PR has done.

Cummins (Tyson): It’s always been much trickier for PR to attach hard numbers to its efforts than it has been for the ad people. Hard numbers are much more likely to sway the decision-makers to do things that way, which is why they lean toward ads. In turn, ideas from anywhere else might tend to get bunted.

Social media, however, is the key facilitator of these blurring lines. It’s where PR can really make its mark. However, there is a challenge there, too, in that the areas that lead social differ from brand to brand. Everyone has their own unique idea of who should lead it. Broadly speaking, PR has done a very good job of taking a huge leadership role in social media and, as such, has earned a voice among all the other disciplines.

Grace (Progressive): It has to start internally. I report to the CMO and work daily with our heads of social and integrated marketing. We’ve crafted a truly integrated model internally. In turn, we’ve seen awesome ideas come from both our PR and ad agencies that have implications well beyond the scope either has been hired to provide.

We have not quite gone all the way on everything, but it’s encouraging to know we’ve gotten some knock-it-out-of-the-park ideas from our PR agencies that we were able to activate on a much bigger scale. In turn, we just got a pitch from our ad agency that included PR tactics I want to run with. Ideas are coming from everywhere and broad acceptance of that is almost there.

Oldani (McDonald’s): I grew even more encouraged the other day when one of our PR leaders welcomed me bringing the head of our ad agency into a meeting where we were going to present PR ideas. It was a Hallelujah moment. We need to encourage that and build off of each other’s ideas.

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