VanderMolen: PR creating 'a generation of generalists' and may be in 'deep shit'

Agencies must "reject generalisation", says WE Communications boss Alan VanderMolen, who told the PRCA conference on Friday: "I'm really worried that our industry is in deep shit."

VanderMolen: Comms had a 'back seat' in the infamous United Airlines scandal
VanderMolen: Comms had a 'back seat' in the infamous United Airlines scandal

He said communicators are taking a "back seat" to marketers, pointing to recent poor communication from United Airlines over the high profile customer ejection incident; Pepsi for its panned Kendall Jenner ad; McDonald’s UK for its ‘dead dad’ campaign; and Dove’s body-shaped bottles.

He told the London conference that in-house departments and agencies are "running towards the budgets, therefore marketers are getting a larger say".

"This is all blending into this big pot called marketing communications and marketing services, and we’re losing our distinctive edge. I think as communicators it’s time to stick to our roots and to stick to the sensibilities of earned media, and remember the sensibilities of third party validation over YouTube influencers," he said.

VanderMolen – president, international, at independent global agency WE - urged holding companies to "reject generalisation", highlighting recent moves from WPP’s Ogilvy to phase out the Ogilvy PR name and for more PR professionals at Publicis’ MSLGroup to report to those handling big media budgets.

He said consultancies are suffering from "acute agency personality disorder".

"PR agencies want to be ad agencies; ad agencies want to be digital agencies; digital agencies want to be technology consultants. They’re losing the roots of their individual disciplines and they’re running towards this big marketing services budget… and by doing that, they’re generalising."

VanderMolen warned the industry may be creating "a generation of generalists" and feared the "commodification of communications and of PR."

He called for the industry to "be excited by the rate of change" and "innovate on behalf of our clients", but stressed: "I think we need to really, really make sure that we don’t lose our voice at the table because our share of budgets of the overall marketing services pie is decreasing."

Francis Ingham had opened the PRCA Conference by addressing criticism he had received following the expulsion of Bell Pottinger.

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