The relaunch of Marsteller Advertising under the Burson-Marsteller
umbrella is unlikely to ruffle many feathers in the Groucho Club,
although it may cause a few nostalgic ad agency eyebrows to raise.
It may not even seem particularly revolutionary for the PR industry. B-M
will not be the first PR agency to offer advertising under the same
roof, after all. In the financial sector Dewe Rogerson, to name but one,
has successfully exploited the synergy between its two co-habiting
operations for many years. And there are a handful of smaller companies
in other sectors now offering fully integrated communications.
But the fact that the world’s largest PR agency has taken this route to
capture the corporate PR high ground indicates two possible trends at
The first is the recognition by client companies that the corporate
brand has a power above and beyond the sum of the constituent parts, and
that in a world of product convergence, the values and reputation of the
corporate parent may be all that differentiates rivals in the same
market. And in this domain, public relations - not advertising - is
Managing the corporate brand requires more than the limited tools of
advertising can offer. It requires investor relations, government
relations, issues management, crisis management, and advice on corporate
strategy. Advertising alone cannot achieve any of that, although it can
be an effective tactic.
The second is that PR consultancies, which have traditionally shunned
advertising as an overpaid and overestimated rival to ‘pure’ public
relations, are seeing it in a new light. Not as a threat, but as a way
of strengthening their offering to clients.
Of course, putting ad agency and PR consultancy under a marketing
services group banner is an old wheeze, based on the hope that business
will flow naturally across the divide. But it never worked that well,
mainly because the two disciplines tended to tussle for control of the
This way, the relationship between PR and ad agency is focused not on
agency expectation, but on client need in a specific area.
This is next generation, son of PR stuff. This is corporate
communications, driven not by the rivalry between different marketing
disciplines competing for a slice of the same cake, but by a genuine
communications strategy. A communications strategy put in place by PR
B-M aren’t the first to think of it. But if they pull it off on this
grand scale, it may benefit all those who want to push public relations
on to the next level.