PR ponders its position among marketing disciplines

PR agencies have been forced to question their role in the marketing mix, after advertising firms scooped a slew of awards with PR-led campaigns at the 2009 Cannes ­Lions Advertising Festival.

Barack Obama: praise for campaign
Barack Obama: praise for campaign

Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best Job in the World’ drive, created by Australian ad agency CumminsNitro, was one of the festival’s biggest-ever winners, scoring Grand Prix in the PR, Direct and Cyber categories.

Chris Clarke, CEO of ­SapientNitro, which owns CumminsNitro, claimed ad agencies were more comfortable coming up with ‘big brand ideas’ than PR shops.

‘The great thing about the Tourism Queensland campaign is it’s not an advertising idea, but a business-building idea that drove an extraordinary amount of PR,’ he added.

Meanwhile, ‘The Great ­Schlep’, created by New York ad agency Droga5 to enlist Jewish support for Barack Obama’s presidential bid, also imp­ressed judges – winning PR and Titanium Lions.

The Grand Prix winner in the Titanium category – which recognises ‘provocative, breakthrough ideas’ – went to 2008’s finest example of political comms: Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Porter Novelli global CMO Marian Salzman, who spent 20 years working at ad agencies, said: ‘These are all big PR successes because they are totally integrated campaigns. The ad agencies are stepping up to the plate with these big ideas.’

Salzman told PRWeek that confidence and contacts were the biggest issues relating to the PR industry’s exclusion from the heart of the marketing conversation. ‘I think the differentiators are confidence and the client list,’ she said. ‘It’s easier to see a big, bold, risky idea top-down, rather than bottom-up. PR agencies have historically been subordinate, and that transformation has to take place.’

Graham Drew, creative dir­ector at Resonate, which won a PR Lion for its ‘Beautiful Game’ campaign for Sportech, added: ‘It’s impossible to ignore the power of word of mouth. Bef­ore, it happened as a consequence of creative. Now, people think about it from the start.’

Tony Effik, chief strategy officer at digital ad shop Publicis Modem, added: ‘PR agencies are used to a single influencer. Responding to ten journalists is different from dealing with 5,000 consumer comments.’

Cannes PR Lions jury president Lord Tim Bell, himself a veteran of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, earlier dismissed ad agencies’ strong performance: ‘What’s important is the quality of the work, rather than from where it emanates.’


How I see it

Tony Effik
Chief strategy officer, Publicis Modem

It’s not that PR agencies have not come up with great campaigns, it’s that they were not integrated with paid media. Adding paid media gives a PR campaign more legs. Resources are also an issue – PR agencies tend not to hire strategic people.

Jim Hawker

Co-founder, Threepipe

Our challenge is to come up with ideas that can compete with ad agencies. We are still some way down the pecking order, even though we are always coming up with fantastic creative ideas. It’s about being heard in the right places. It’s an image problem that PR has – being seen as the cheaper form of marketing.


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