The Case for Blending PR and Advertising

On February 15, we reported on APCO Worldwide’s purchase of ad agency StrawberryFrog. On Friday, we had news that Bailey Gardiner, a PR and integrated marketing agency, and Fishtank Brand Advertisinghad come together to create i.d.e.a., a “full-service creative group.”

All across PR, advertising, and marketing, there’s been much talk about the “blurring” of marketing disciplines. Fleishman-Hillard’s chief exec has talked with us about how their work is cutting across a variety of marketing areas. And firm leaders Richard Edelman (Edelman), Fred Cook (GolinHarris), and Rob Flaherty (Ketchum) all spoke at the last PRWeek NEXT conference about the competition between advertising and PR, and the client’s new openness for “big ideas” that come from the PR agency.

Increasingly, PR firms are tackling their work with this sort of boundary-free approach that opens doors for more business as well as greater integration. Indra Gardiner, founder and chief influence officer at i.d.e.a., says the relationship between BG and Fishtank started with eight months of joint pitching and business wins. Eventually, blending the two together “started making more and more sense.”

“We will be seeing more of that,” she told us over the phone this morning.

When talking with her colleagues at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy, she said she’s hearing more and more that other firm leaders are focused on adding to their content creation abilities, “which is more of what PR is being asked to do.”

“It’s not enough to be a good media relations person and understand social media,” she continued.

This is where firms are adding staff or acquiring other firms, Gardiner said, because “a PR pro can’t do it all. It’s too many hats to wear.”

This mixing of disciplines takes a physical form at the firm’s San Diego offices, which is designed around an open space that allows all teams to talk regularly and informally. Though some meetings might only concern the PR or advertising group, in the end it all comes together for the client.

“There aren’t too many accounts where there isn’t a blend,” said Gardiner.

APCO’s head Margery Kraus answered the question “Why We Bought An Ad Agency” in a post on the Council of PR Firms blog.

“It is beyond dispute that lines between advertising and earned, owned and borrowed media have blurred, with social media serving as the great connector,” Kraus writes. “…As a result, they are looking for their agencies to provide clear roadmaps through this complex labyrinth and help them achieve optimal service delivery without preconceived ideas about the channel mix.”

In the end, the need for integration in order to make the “big idea” a reality prompted the move. Kraus even wonders aloud who will follow.

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