The concept of an integrated agency is nothing new, so why do PR pros and creative types still have trouble talking to each other?
Even when they use the same words, some agency staffers say, they mean different things. When PR pros talk about "timelines," for example, it can cause consternation in a conference room full of paid media professionals.
"I’ve been in those meetings," says Burkey Belser, managing partner at Finn Partners. "You see all the marketing people look at their colleagues with the mouths open. They’re aghast. The PR people, however, are looking at us and our objections and they’re seeing us as mentally feeble or lazy."
Of course, they all understand the dictionary definition of "timeline." But their backgrounds mean they have different concepts of what a timeline should be.
"A PR person comes in the door and says, ‘Let’s whip out an infographic and throw out a video and design a newsletter or powerpoint. It’s Monday, so how does Wednesday sound?’" Belser says.
One resulting scenario: the creative people, he says, start asking about how the work connects to the brand, what the target goal is, and who the audience is, while the PR people are sitting there "tapping their pens on the table impatiently."
Belser notes it’s been a problem for a long time. "When I first got here, I had been in marketing for 40-some odd years," he said. "I had worked for PR firms forever and we should be kissing cousins, but we’re not kissing all that much because of exactly that: because we say the same words and mean something different."
MWWPR president Bret Werner agreed--to a degree. "We do have different lexicons," he said. "Although as an industry I do think we’re pretty far along."
But not far enough along, apparently, for MWWPR to dismiss the problem. The agency created a lexicon, Werner said, to level-set conversations between the two groups and hopefully create more understanding. "It’s good to align people in what we mean and the verbiage we’re using," he says.
Belser notes that he’s also trying to fix the problem. "I’m on a campaign about this," he says. "In fact, we’re going to do webinars to try and explain and talk to the differences."
The issue is slowly working itself out on its own, some agency leaders say, as PR people increasingly do more creative work.
"Technology is making it easier for account people to whip up certain pieces of creative work on the fly," says Adam Ritchie, principal of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction. "It's only going to get easier and more accessible. Look at journalists and how they're adapting into multimedia storytellers. If a reporter can develop an interesting angle, sell it into their editor, do the interviews, shoot the footage, write the copy and produce a multimedia package largely on their own, so can PR people."
PR firms are more often reaching beyond the ad agency universe for creative talent, making the paid vs earned media distinction less important.
Caroline Dettman, chief creative and community officer at Golin, says her creative staffers come from everywhere. "You can start to get into a very traditional place sometimes and the answer isn’t to just get more advertising creatives," she says. "There are creatives in every type of agency."
Even so, some comms pros still have problems communicating with each other, tripping over different conceptions of the same terms. Belser outlined a few.
"Goals," for one.
"The goal of marketing, in my mind has always been to build a brand, and it’s long-term," Belser says, cautioning he is speaking for himself, not his agency. "The goal of PR absolutely can be the same, but it’s also used to shape policy debates or mitigate damage of a brand in crisis. I don’t think marketing is ever called on to do that."
Even the word "creative" itself can cause issues.
"What I also hear from PR people is that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. What they’re saying is they’re just not visual," Belser explains. "It’s the cause of real misunderstanding and frustration."
He says PR people generally exercise their creativity using familiar tactics, but with paid media staff, it’s "a heck of a lot messier," which is why the word "timeline" causes problems.
Werner agrees, noting the word "creative" has evolved and people in paid and earned may use a dated definition of the term.
"We define ‘creative’ as the birth of an idea," he said, explaining that it shouldn’t refer only -- or at all -- to the coming up with illustrations, video, or ad copy. That should be called production.
"Production is the process of making the components, i.e. a piece of content, an infographic or something like that for social media," Werner explains. "Creative [refers] to the birth and the genesis of the idea."
Of course, the market will ultimately force the issue, if the differences get in the way of doing work and attracting clients, Ritchie says.
"Those labels are an excuse for everyone to stay in their comfort zones," he says. "The best creatives are the ones who've developed themselves professionally through account work, and the best account people can envision the details of every asset they'll need for a program to succeed. Nobody's doing themselves any favors by separating the two, and those lines are going to get blurred for us, whether anyone likes it or not."