A new approach

How can ad and PR agencies benefit from working alongside one another? Chris McCafferty offers his perspective.

Seven Dials: Simon Kelner (l) and Andrew McGuinness this month launched BMB’s PR arm
Seven Dials: Simon Kelner (l) and Andrew McGuinness this month launched BMB’s PR arm

Congratulations to Beattie McGuinness Bungay and Simon Kelner on the launch of their PR arm, Seven Dials, splashed by Campaign as its lead story two weeks ago.

The very fact a PR launch was afforded the coveted front page of Campaign is a surprise in itself and perhaps a metaphor for wider change. But what does it mean to launch a PR agency alongside an ad agency?

We started a similar journey in 2010, launching Kaper alongside Karmarama. Our ambition was to create a brave new venture that challenged the conventions of two industries that needed to evolve to remain successful.

Our stories should be told, shared, blogged, written about and, yes, advertised, as we responded to clients who reject the tension between ads and PR. So, what lessons have we learnt? Let’s focus on my top three.

The ‘PR my ad’ question

First, let’s address the age-old "PR my ad" question, which all PRs and creative teams will recognise. PR: "Sorry, your ad is not newsworthy." Creative: "Someone find me a new PR."

This tension is not going to change. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the ad itself will not be a story. It can be beautiful, moving, funny, creative and generally awesome. But that doesn’t mean it’s news. What has changed is how we deal with that classic ad/PR tension.

Today, we know the PR story is in the planning. Brilliant planning reveals the real-world insights that provide the foundations for an even more brilliant above-the-line campaign.

Show me the work, and I can admire it, but we’re going to have to pay to get it to an audience of millions. Tell me the real-world reasons why you’ve created a campaign, and I can tell others.

Who is the ‘editor-in-chief’?

Second, is the related issue of considering the different "editors-in-chief" our two worlds serve. In the advertising world, the editor-in-chief is typically the marketing director, serving the brand as its primary master. In the PR world, it is the actual editor of the newspaper, magazine or website we’re talking to, whose job it is to serve the interests of their readers.

Neither is right or wrong. And they are both crucial to building an integrated creative that delights both camps. The true skill is to work out where those interests overlap.

It’s at this crossroads of brand and editorial agendas that we find the campaigns that marketing directors dream about and the stories that editors care about.

At this crossroads, no-one cares any more if it’s advertising or PR – it’s just a brilliant creative idea that everyone is talking about and sharing. Think Coca-Cola’s "share a Coke", Dove’s "campaign for real beauty" (pictured, bottom) or Ikea’s "happy to bed". Ads? PR? Social? Who cares?

PR can learn from creatives

Finally, one to stir the blogs on the PR side of the house.

Ad agencies’ creative processes are better. Full stop. "They may be better than yours," I hear you cry. Nope. Better than all of ours. I’m fiercely proud of the creative record of both the PR industry and my own agency, but we still have a lot to learn. The rigour, time, disputes, challenges, endless reviews and craft that are dedicated to creating a great above-the-line campaign can often put PR creativity to shame.

I agree with Amelia Torode, the head of innovation at The Good Relations Group and former VCCP planner, who said that PR agencies need to embrace more conflict around their creative process.

In adland, creative, planner and suit may battle over a response to brief, usually questioning it from a variety of perspectives. The result is a more robust, rounded idea that all parties will fight for.

In the PR world, where people can be creative, planner and suit in one, this creative conflict becomes harder, if not impossible. And the end result less robust.

So, PR world, let’s stop whining about inferior budgets, resources and timelines. Let’s just take the best of adland’s creative processes and apply it through our storytelling eyes. The results will be compelling.

Combine that with real-world planning insights, and an ability to create stories where the agendas of our two editors-in-chief meet, and you have a powerful blue-print for ad agencies and PR agencies working together. Sounds easy, eh?

Chris McCafferty is the founder and managing director of Kaper

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