PR: AT CLOSE QUARTERS - How do advertising agencies and PR agencies work together? Helen Jones investigates

Public relations, for so long the Cinderella of the marketing communications industry, has become an essential part of the mix as advertising agency groups strive to offer clients a one-stop shop and seamless integrated solutions.

In the past ten years, independent PR companies have been snapped up by agency holding groups, not only to generate public relations for clients but also to encourage mutually beneficial cross referrals and give the holding groups access to new areas such as investor relations and employee communications.

For many advertising agencies, it's about providing clients with more flexible solutions. Ogilvy & Mather, for example, says that it increasingly works not only with Ogilvy PR but also other PR companies within the WPP Group, including Hill & Knowlton on the launch of the Ford Street Ka.

O&M's chief executive, Paul Jackson, says: "The intention is to create a great creative idea early on and then see how it can work in terms of PR or direct marketing. It's not about stretching the idea but coming up with a big idea that will encompass other disciplines and can be used in a variety of ways."

So how does the relationship between ad agency and PR company work in real terms, within the same holding group?


Cilla Snowball, the chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers , says the relationship between the agency and the PR specialists within the Omnicom Group, which include Ketchum, Porter Novelli International and Fleishman-Hillard, is only the tip of the iceberg. "Lots of big integrated accounts operate across every area - advertising, PR, direct marketing, media planning and buying, not just a selected few." However, AMV has worked with Ketchum, for example, on the Pepsi account.

"We worked with the agency to ensure that we had a completely coherent strategy for the brand," Anna Burns, Ketchum's director of new business and marketing, explains.

AMV also works closely with Omnicom's corporate PR specialist Fishburn Hedges on the Department of Health's anti-smoking campaign and the BT and BBC TV Licensing accounts. "What we try to deliver on integrated accounts is the quality of people from each discipline. The benefit to the client is increased efficiency and the fact that we know one another and have worked together in the past," Snowball says.

She adds that there are obviously "occasional spats" between the different disciplines but they share a common goal.

Neil Hedges, the chief executive of Fishburn Hedges, says that the PR company's relationship with AMV is not hierarchical. "It really depends on the client. Some clients want the advertising agency to play the lead role, others, where perhaps the PR consultancy might have the historical relationship, want the PR side to lead." Snowball agrees and adds: "With BBC TV Licensing, for example, the lead comes from the DM agency Proximity and we, together with PHD and Fishburn Hedges, have important roles supporting that activity."

Hedges says that he has an extremely good working relationship with AMV and other companies within the Omnicom Group and says that may be because the partners really understand the advertising business. "I think the fact we work well together is because our background is quite unusual - the founders were originally in advertising before moving into PR. There is mutual understanding and respect, and I think that was at the back of our minds when we did the deal to become part of AMV in 1996."

He says that working with AMV has the benefits of cross referral. "BT, of course, has had a long, established relationship with AMV and through that relationship we were given an introduction and got the PR account, although with BT it's more and more a seamless way of working across the disciplines."

However, he adds that Fishburn Hedges also works successfully with other agency groups. "We certainly don't have an exclusive relationship with AMV . We work for Shell as the lead agency on shareholder communication and that involves working closely with J. Walter Thompson."

Snowball also believes there are some distinct advantages to having PR expertise within the group. "Although we have our own in-house PR, we would be mad if we didn't use the skills and advice of the PR companies within the group to publicise our work."


In contrast with AMV's Snowball, Bruce Haines, the group chief executive of Leo Burnett, has not, until now, worked closely with PR specialists.

However, Leo Burnett's merger with D'Arcy means this situation is likely to change. In the past, D'Arcy has worked closely with the PR agency Manning Selvage & Lee on a number of accounts including Procter & Gamble, Western Union and its healthcare client, Lilly.

"Our relationship with MS&L is very recent but I would, in the future, like to work more closely with PR," Haines says. "It will fit the way Leo Burnett has been reorganised on a platform of media neutrality. There are all sorts of ways we can work together and I'm looking forward to it." PR and advertising have always worked particularly closely together on the Philips account. Barry Jones, D'Arcy's global client managing director for the Philips business, says: "I look after Philips - the PR, below the line and advertising. It's an integrated service for Philips globally." He adds that it is structured through a "loop team" made up of senior management from all disciplines.

"We look at all the communications opportunities in order to get well-balanced, integrated campaigns. If Philips is launching something that is first in category and it's newsworthy, then it's very PR-able. But if it's the fourth ad campaign for a shaver then we will look at different solutions," he says.

Nicholas Walters, the managing director of MS&L, says that, for certain clients, "integrated communications is absolutely mandatory - although, in my experience, 80 to 90 per cent of marketing directors in the FMCG arena will mention it very early on in the brief but, in reality, few really mean it or carry it through."

However, he says some clients have embraced the strengths of the "loop system". "To make it work, you have to have very senior people involved," he says. "Sometimes the solution will be advertising, sometimes direct marketing and sometimes PR, but it's not about fighting your own particular corner but coming up with a real solution to a client problem." He adds: "A good relationship with an ad agency is not about going to a pitch with the same colour business cards because you happen to be in the same holding company - it's about clarity of thought."

And so far, he says, the relationship between PR and advertising has worked. "In some groups there is still a fight for a place at the table but it hasn't happened here. Is there intellectual tension between the ad agency and PR company? Definitely. Is it a bad thing? No. It's healthy and without it, you won't get rigorous thinking."