Danny Rogers: The battle to own clients and the media

A piece of research by Shine Communications, published this week, gives an insight into the increasing rivalry between PR and advertising.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

It polled marketing directors on the relative merits of each discipline and how they approach integrated marketing communications (News, page 3). With a sample of less than 100 anonymous respondents, one must treat such surveys with a dose of scepticism, but this one at least highlights some significant issues.

The most encouraging finding was that nearly 60 per cent of clients said social media had changed their marcoms approach. Ninety per cent said PR was best-placed to take a lead.

However there was a warning that digital was not yet owned by either PR or advertising and that they would prefer just to 'hire the right people'. This confirms that social media have presented a huge opportunity for PR consultancies, but that they have not yet proven their worth here.

There is recognition that the media landscape has changed and that top down, brand-to-peer communication has been replaced by peer-to-peer collaborative comms. But while everything has been thrown up in the air, the new order has yet to settle.

Another positive finding was clients now see PR as at least as important as advertising. By citing PR's greater 'credibility', they hit the nail on the head. Enlightened companies realise it is their senior PR advisers who provide them with an objective view of their reputation. Without this, one wonders how the most creative ad campaign could ever succeed.

However, one senses that clients in this survey are not asking for PR agencies to integrate their comms for them, they are asking for leadership in PR's specialisms: reputation management, third-party endorsement and word-of-mouth strategies.

Most worryingly for PR, the main criticism of advertising (80 per cent) was that it was 'expensive', which must be partly down to the recession. There is a big difference between cost-effective solutions and simply undercutting everyone else. There is nothing wrong in being expensive as long as one is adding recognised value.

There will come a time when client budgets start growing again. By then, PR practitioners must have better proved their value. Being 'more strategic' is simply no longer enough. In today's world, the consultant of choice is best in class and undeniably, measurably, essential to the client brand.

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