Ad industry is 'running scared' from PR, adam&eve partner tells PRCA Conference

The advertising industry is "really scared" of the threat that PR agencies pose to their business, the partner of the ad firm behind recent John Lewis campaigns told Friday's PRCA Conference - although a senior PR figure said he still felt the comms industry was too often "accidentally creative".

Toby Harrison, planning partner at adam&eveDDB, told attendees he was "a tremendous admirer of the discipline that is PR", and said he could not think of "another time when we’ve been more scared of another discipline than we are of PR".

"So well done," he went on to say. After a delegate interjected saying "hear, hear", he then jokily warned: "But don't get too uppity."

Harrison, who ended his talk by saying "in closing – we’re still really scared, so if you could just ease off a bit that would be good", said that all agencies needed to bring true insights to their clients: "If we are not bringing something to our customers or clients that they didn’t already know, we’re not doing our job." He said it was insight that many UK consumers were no longer buying Marmite, but still had one or more jars left at the back of a cupboard, that led them to create this campaign:

He said he thought PR firms were less proactive than ad agencies in going out and finding proper insight. "The reality is that great insight is out in the real world, it's not just lying around on Google waiting for you to find it," he said.

However, he also said that agencies of all types were bad at measuring the impact of their work. "We spend a lot of the time measuring what’s measurable, not what matters," he said.

Later in the day, a senior PR executive said he doubted the true creative credentials of PR agencies.

Michael Frohlich, the newly promoted EMEA CEO of Ogilvy PR, said he "absolutely" stood by previous comments that the PR industry was often "accidentally creative". He said: "I wonder in how many of them we are accidentally creative... are we actually really good at post-rationalising?"

He then asked "am I right or am I wrong about accidental creativity?", with a show of hands evidencing delegates split around 50:50.

Frohlich said that ad agencies were better at managing and investing in creativity, but at PR firms it was "a bit more pot luck".

Earlier in the day, Freuds CEO and ad firm alumnus Andrew McGuinness said that the PR industry often felt inferior to the ad industry.

He said two major reasons for this were that the PR industry had "very low barriers to entry" and that there was "a £16bn industry telling everyone that paid media is the solution" – referring to total UK ad spend.

"I think we have to be bolder about our work, how we represent the work we do," he went on to say, before concluding his talk by saying that comms professionals have "a thrilling role".

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