Something Else Ad People Can Learn from PR

I’ve grown increasingly obsessed with the convergence of advertising and public relations, driven mostly by the realization that social media amounts to a powerful new crowd-sourced form of PR for brands to harness and utilize.  As Public Relations grows ever more powerful through social media and other forms of empowered and viral word of mouth, advertising agencies need to recognize it’s influence and integrate the discipline more fully in service of brands.

But we can take lessons from more than just what PR does for brands; we can learn from how PR sells itself.  In many ways, they far outpace this industry.  For too many years, ad agencies have operated under the assumption that our worth was self-evident, that our value was well-recognized and understood.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingUnfortunately, that’s not the case.  At least, not anymore. In a time of free media platforms, of unpaid brand ambassadors and most critically, radically empowered procurement departments, faith in the returns on advertising investments is no longer a given.  As a sales profession, we’ve done a lousy job of addressing this growing skepticism.  We’ve allowed the same people who could quickly enumerate the quality differences between a Mercedes and a Kia to apply uniform pricing to creative product which is every bit as variable.  And we’ve not compellingly refuted the growing notion that empowered consumers can handle advertising themselves, despite five years of high profile yet uniformly crappy Doritos ads in the Super Bowl.  For a sales based business, we’ve simply not sold ourselves well.

And yet PR agencies do that regularly through one of their most fundamental practices.  Every year–and often every quarter, they present a summary book or DVD that lists all the mentions their brands have earned, all the stories generated and media insertions to their clients.  These simple documents make their product tangible and real.

Ad agencies need to adopt this practice.  We are very good at listing what awards various projects may have won, but we’re far less facile at quantifying their market impact, at describing the ways they changed the conversation among consumers.

As skepticism around our industry rises, we need to tackle this issue head on.  We need to sell ourselves.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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At At Minimum, Spokespeople Should Be Able to Speak

Earlier this week, Advertising Age posted a story about the Kellogg Co. consolidating its agency roster from thirty down to five.  As anyone who has lived through this nail-biting process well understands, a lot of agency people will be losing a lot of sleep for the duration of this process.

The comments regarding this story decry ad agencies for everything from pushing a dated creative model to displaying a crippling lack of differentiation to cowing to the commodity-creating evils of empowered procurement departments.  Yet none of them mention a part of those six terse paragraphs that comprise the story which set my teeth on edge.  Apparently, a “tight-lipped” Kellogg spokeswoman e-mailed this in response to an interview request: “On an ongoing basis, we have discussions across the broad remit of our partnerships regarding maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of our operations and efforts…  Those ongoing conversations are confidential.”

Time To Head Back.  Again.

Time To Head Back. Again.

For crying out loud, that overwrought tripe was put out by a spokesman?  That’s not communication, that’s robotic oration.  In one compound sentence, she manages to choke the communicative potential out of twenty-five words.  Legally-sanitized whitewash like this treats communication like a commodity; devoid of color, intonation and differentiating clarity.  I would have preferred that she write “Lorem ipsum dolor…”; it would have at least communicated her corporate obfuscation more colorfully.  And ‘remit’?  Come on…  To my wife’s ongoing embarrassment, I’ve read “It Pays To Enrich Your Word Power” in The Reader’s Digest for over thirty-five years, yet never once have I been tempted to reach for the word ‘remit’ let alone the more hysterically-florid ‘broad remit.’

Worse, it’s the wrong usage.  ‘Remit’ is most commonly used as a verb; as a noun it refers to a legal process of transferring records from one court to another.  So while Kellogg currently enjoys a ‘broad roster’ or a ‘broad aggregation’ or even a ‘broad assemblage’ if you feel compelled to get all fancy-pants, their thirty agencies do not comprise a ‘remit’ broad or otherwise.

But I bet they have plenty of people who could make a more compelling spokesperson…