Come Together

Like the latest diet craze, every few years a book comes out that offers a crash course for trimming advertising down to size.

The latest—The Fall of Advertising, The Rise of PR, by Al and Laura Ries—is an interesting read that takes some good ideas too far. What troubles me is its title. It’s bad enough that PR and ad people still look at each other with blank stares—or, worse, with enemy eyes fighting over client budgets. At a time when they ought to be establishing connections, the book’s title, taken on its own, puts them in conflict.

For PR people who say it’s time for advertising to pass the torch, the tipping point was the dot-com explosion—when PR did take the lead in many launches. Personally, I’d rather be identified with the bubonic plague. These people want you to believe advertising is a marketing tactic that’s gotten out of hand. Oh, really? Do they really mean to downplay, among other things, ad agencies’ strategy work, positioning and research?

At the same time, saying to an ad person that PR ought to be doing the driving is like saying Ari Fleischer should run the White House or Tom Brokaw should read press releases off his TelePrompTer. That’s because many ad people think that all PR people do is hold press conferences and write news releases. Sorry, we do more than that. Used strategi cally, PR is essential in architecting brand credibility, driving consumers’ appreciation of brand benefits and deepening their brand involvement.

Overzealous catchphrases might sell books, but ad and PR people need to recognize that the strategic fit between them doesn’t come at each other’s expense. It’s funny how marketing conferences run rampant but very few are attended by both groups. No wonder they still circle each other with suspicion. At a minimum, PR and ad people should read more about each other’s discipline, learn about each other’s structure and seek out case histories to know more about each other’s best work.

Hovering over all of this, of course, is the idea of integrated marketing communications—a hallowed term that seems to date back to the Bible. Clark Caywood of Northwestern’s Medill Graduate School of Integrated Marketing Communications tells me that ad people who recall the ’50s insist they were practicing all sorts of integrated marcom back then, before the era of TV took over.

If integration remains a work in progress—not just in advertising and PR, but in sales, promotion, interactive and everything else—you’d have to be blind to overlook the changes that have occurred. Given today’s marketplace and the now forever-empowered prosumer, campaign execution had better change or else. Ad and PR people are attending meetings and pitching together, and some agencies are creating truly holistic offers. But there’s a lot of sorting to be done, and everyone knows it.

When will things change? Maybe when more graduates from programs like Medill’s start seeding the marcom world. Or when clients unify their communications functions, as so few have done. Most likely, it won’t be until they start insisting on holistic programs or take their business elsewhere.