Last week's decision by the PRCA to join the Communications Agency Federation (CAF) along with bodies including the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in what has been termed marketing's 'Big Tent', seems the most logical thing in the world to Bruce Haines.
The IPA president, who is also group CEO of ad agency Leo Burnett, appears unperturbed that some in the industry have seen it as a sign of surrender from the PRCA. 'I am slightly surprised to hear it,' Haines says mildly. 'And I would be more surprised if it's true. Where we have agreed to engage is on areas of obvious mutual interest.'
These are evergreen issues such as procurement, client briefing and payment by results. CAF will meet quarterly and will be an extension of what Haines says is already the informal reality, where trade associations routinely share what they know. 'It is a mistake to look at it as the IPA leading this - it's not,' he insists. 'This is a recognition that marcoms is a broad church.'
That is exactly what IPR president Jon Aarons is afraid of. 'The PRCA is taking a narrow view of the PR business and kissing goodbye to all those specialist niches,' he says. 'We have spent years trying to establish our credentials as a distinct industry but this is saying PR consultancies are squarely in the marketing services camp.'
His clear implication is that practitioners in healthcare, internal communications, IR, public affairs and financial PR are unlikely to get much from CAF.
But Haines, with 30 years' advertising experience, is at pains to insist he values PR. 'I think PR is well understood (in the advertising industry),' he says, adding that the days when ad agencies made their pitches with no thought to other marketing elements are long gone. Clients demand a greater degree of integration between the different entities working for them. 'It is inconceivable these days that PR wouldn't be on that list for any major project,' Haines adds.
'We are well aware that there are different specialisms in PR,' he continues.
'Some are brand-specific but there are many areas where we rely on our (PR) partners.' Although he gives two highly brand-specific examples - car and vodka campaigns - when talking about how crucial PR has been in his own professional life, Haines cites food standards as well as advertising to children and the promotion of alcohol in general as areas where 'PR agencies have had particular importance'. Even so, he concedes not everyone in advertising shares this view. 'It may be the case that among more junior people in advertising there is some education to be done,' he admits.
Despite this, he says: 'A lot of the marketing services groups, nearly all of which started with an ad agency, now all have a sizeable PR element within their companies.' And it is interesting, given the advent of CAF, that Haines was specifically brought into Leo Burnett in March with a remit to expand the agency's 'non-advertising' interests. So what is his view of the long-term decline of advertising? 'It is vastly overwritten,' he smiles. 'This (the CAF) is not about advertising agencies feeling under threat. It is about recognising that times have changed.'
The PRCA, while denying the move will exclude specialist members, has pointed to the major prizes on offer - specifically, closer links with those involved in the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the representative body for client-side advertising. 'People on the ISBA are on the CEO or chairman level of Plcs,' says PRCA chairman Graham Lancaster.
'It is very important that we have a channel to the ISBA, which we wouldn't have without this relationship with the IPA.'
This rationalisation is slightly at odds with the IPA's own view of what the PRCA can offer it. Here is Haines, on the importance of financial and investor communications: 'A PR agency is much more likely to gain access to the CEO or the chairman's office than an ad agency.'
And might some observers worry that the PRCA also underestimates its own expertise when citing the IPA's training programmes - which are obviously seen as high quality - as something else the IPA can offer the PR industry?
The words from the big tent remain positive, however, as Haines concludes: 'I'd love to be provocative and say there is a great divide. But, among senior practitioners, we know we need PR.'
He even goes so far as to say he is a part-time practitioner of PR himself, when presenting the IPA's quarterly Bellweather Report on the state of the advertising sector. 'It's like when I tip up at 6.15am to do the Today programme,' he explains. 'I'm using straightforward PR techniques - I want the message to go out and I want the IPA to get the credit. That's PR.'
Critics of the PRCA-IPA link up must decide for themselves whether this comment offers them hope or confirms their worst fears.