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The ongoing (and pointless?) battle between PR and advertising agencies

Why do PR and advertising agencies feel the need to look down their noses at each other? Why can’t everyone just get along?

That’s the discussion that Chip and Gini have after an article appeared in AdWeek with the provocative title “PR Agencies Invade Adland.”

As the creator of the PESO model that calls for the integration of all forms of media, Gini has some especially strong feelings on the subject. The reality is that the lines between all types of agencies have blurred. It’s now more of a question of an agency’s primary focus, but there is an increasing need to have some degree of fluency in a range of communications disciplines at any type of agency.



CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the agency leadership podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

GINI: and I’m Gini Dietrich,

CHIP: and we’re here today to talk about a communications Civil War.

GINI: It’s it definitely seems that way for sure.

CHIP: It may be a little little dramatic, but it is it is the ongoing, never ending battle over the supremacy of PR versus advertising.

GINI: Why can’t we all just get along?

CHIP: Yeah, so many reasons. many, so many reasons.

It would be no fun. And then we’d have nothing to talk about spare so

GINI: well, at least not today. We wouldn’t. That’s true. It’s nice to have an episode, you know, cooked up by the fact that the two types of agencies cannot seem to get along because they view they look down their noses really at the other PR is, thinks that that advertising is just

CHIP: I don’t know how I would describe it, but they just look down their noses at each other and it’s It’s really unfortunate and so unhealthy.

GINI: Yeah, you know, it’s funny because I worked for an ad agency and I did PR. But I ran, I ran the PR department inside the agency. And it took a really long time to educate my colleagues on. Okay, it’s great that you have a new ad campaign, but I can’t just go tell the media about it because they would, for real come into my office and be like, look what we’re doing. Can you go tell the media and I’d be like, No, we need something else. And you know, I did a lot of brown bag lunches and things like that, because that was their perspective. It was okay, you do earned and we do paid and that’s that’s how we work. And there’s an article that ran an ad aged about a week or so ago that that talks about the the lines between paid media and earned media are all but erased. But it’s interesting from the, from the perspective of how that looks, because I don’t think most PR firms and maybe the global guys are but I don’t think most PR firms are doing creative campaigns and Super Bowl ads and TV ads and YouTube video, you know, I mean longer form advertising, YouTube videos and things like that. But but the Ad Age article makes it sound like we are stepping all over advertising brother end and eating their lunch. And I know that that’s necessarily true.

CHIP: It seems like unnecessary panic on the part of the advertising community. Because you’re absolutely right. There are and first of all, I think everybody needs to accept that there are different levels of PR and different levels of advertising. You’re talking about Super Bowl ads. You know, there are folks who can do Super Bowl ads even within the advertising space. Not every ad firm. Yeah, is set up to do a Super Bowls or level ad. And PR agencies probably are not going to be getting into that space anytime soon. But there’s no question that the PR and advertising agencies are in less distinct silos. They were when you and I started our careers where it was. There was a little bit more definition now, particularly with the advent of digital and the fact that if you want to get any kind of content out online, there’s usually some sort of paid component and what is paid content? Its advertising, right. So you know, you necessarily have more overlap. And there’s even this really important model out there called the PESO model. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. You haven’t. No, you haven’t, you haven’t yet? Well, I heard of it. I forget who came up with it. But you know, it’s obviously someone with a little bit too much free time. And lots

GINI: of free time. Lots of great recession probably leveled this person and she had lots of free time.

CHIP: For those of you who may not have listened to every episode of this or not as up on things, Gini is actually the creator of the PESO model. So just so that will end the suspense there. And what does pesos stand for Gini?

GINI: paid, earned, shared and owned media

CHIP: and this is something that communicators all across the board. Talk about Today this is it is a term that you have managed to get into the psyche of every communicator and on the tongues of every communicator. And that’s great, because they are all intertwined. And what are the first two paid and earned? In other words, advertising and PR, right? I mean, it’s, you have to have some of these components integrated together, whether you integrate them directly within your agency, or you’re partnering with them. There’s, you’re going to be involved in a spectrum of things as an agency leader today that you might not have been 25 years ago.

GINI: At the same time, though. I mean, we have always done advertorials and you know, there have there have been paid pieces of what we’ve done, always done. I mean, everybody else in our sponsor content and native advertising. We’re creating the content. We’re maybe not necessarily buying the media space, but i would i don’t think that PR should do that anyway, because media buyers and media planners, have relationships can work those relationships. can buy in bulk, you they were a PR firm typically does not have that in their bailiwick. And so there’s still the need to work with our advertising brother and to get that work done.

CHIP: Right. And and every firm should not be, you know, fully integrated communications, I think is what we like to call it today. Right? You know, it’s you don’t need to be full service, one of my least favorite terms describing their agency, if you’re full service, you’re probably no service unless you actually are 6000 person agency of which there is I think one so, you know, it’s just it’s you have to understand what it is that you’re good at. You have to understand what it is that you need to do on your behalf of your clients. And and you just need to find those individual pieces. But for God’s sakes, let’s stop making this a war between different segments of the agency space.

GINI: Yes, because there is room for all of us. You know, I will say though, it’s pretty interesting. And you know, having worked at Fleischmann this one was a very this this is a very large PR firm strategy. So one of the things that our article talks about is the bell which is a taco bell hotel and restaurant. It was open for just four nights and August sold out immediately to reporters influencers and some Taco Bell and food enthusiasts who experienced a fire pool. Custom drinks like the Baja mango mosquitoes and of course lots of fried greasy food. But it wasn’t cooked up by a creative agency or an ad agency. It was Edelman and the end united Entertainment Group. But again, I don’t this is not new. I mean, we have done when I worked at Fleischmann, we did tons of stunts. We did all sorts of things that weren’t dreamed up by our advertising brother and they were dreamed up by our street teams and our the creative people inside our agency and then it was executed on by the accounting.

CHIP: Well the reality is so much of the the content that is You know, the advertising content or I’m not even sure what I would call this Taco Bell thing and I’m not sure I even still understand what

GINI: you don’t want to go to a taco bell hotel and resort. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

CHIP: I cannot imagine that you know that there’s a lot of reasons why I would want to do that. But yeah, now we’re just gonna leave it there. Just know that it just sounds like a bad idea to me button set setting that aside. The reality is that, you know, it’s always been collaboration between PR comms firms and an advertising. And, you know, when I was in PR agencies, I spent innumerable hours working with advertising partners, and we would often refine ideas and come up with ideas jointly and together I mean, now, technically, the advertising guys would get the credit, right, because they’re the ones who are ultimately building it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still a collaboration. And so to think that if you’re in advertising, you have a monopoly on creative ideas is kinda That’s fair. I mean, you can be just as creative no matter what the type of firm that you’re in. But I think I think one of the things this article does bring out and the Taco Bell example is a good one where it was Edelman engage again, and the article mentions a number of other large agencies, the larger a PR agency gets, the more likely it is that they’re going to have to get into a broader spectrum of services in order to keep growing because there is, you know, there’s a limit to the amount of clients that you can have without conflict if you stay within a silo so that the idea that as you continue to move from side to side and get into other spaces, so but that’s not necessarily the thing that the vast majority of PR agencies are going to be doing because they don’t have that kind of headcount. They don’t have that kind of right, you know, revenue growth need and particularly the holding company ones who have extraordinary pressure to grow revenue quarter over quarter which is Not necessarily healthy for looking at as a model if you’re a small to mid sized agency,

GINI: well, it’s challenging because you get the you have the wrong metrics in place, you know, you, you are for sure, if you’re using that as a model, you’re you have revenue and profitability, which you should have. But I also think that there’s, the larger the revenue number, the more successful they’re seen. And that’s not necessarily the case they could be losing money and same thing for you. It doesn’t matter what your revenue model number is, if you’re losing money on the bottom line, who cares? That and that’s that’s a really I think it’s a hard lesson for agency owners to learn and probably something you have to learn on your own fairly quickly.

CHIP: And the business models for different types of agencies are very different. So you will you know, if you’re, if what you know is PR agencies, you want to be careful about getting too deep down in the advertising route because the the way that most ad firms make money is not effective. exactly the same as PR, it’s not based on fee retainers, for the most part, there’s a lot of other components to it. And so if you’re if you’re not careful, you can get into a lot of trouble. And I’ve seen some agencies who have gone down that path of not not realized what they were doing, and then it comes back to bite them. So it’s, you really want to be thinking about what business you’re in. But in a lot of times, you can get the benefit just by playing nice in the sandbox and working well with other agencies, whether you’re directly partnering with them or your clients or hiring them directly. You know, far too few agencies spend time thinking about how to to be that good partner in the sandbox, as opposed to trying to figure out how to just grow their piece of the pie. Yeah, the way you make money over time is by playing nice in the sandbox

GINI: and giving your your clients the very best thing for their goals and objectives. It’s not to hog the the ideas or the money or the budgets or anything. That’s not the plan. Also, I think small and midsize Size firms have a distinct advantage. Because if we spend our time looking for those partner agencies, so web development firms, media, buying, branding and brand persona, you know, the different types of expertise where a client may say, we need this, or you’re able to say, we can give you this, and here are our partner agencies, that gives you a distinct advantage to win more business and to your point, create long longevity and more loyalty and all those things because you’re solving somebody’s problem.

CHIP: And there’s no doubt that if you’re a PR agency, you need to be smarter about some of these other services than you have been in the past. You need to know what goes into a, at least at a high level what goes into a good SEO program or good web. Yeah, and and, and you need to be careful that you’re not diving into things that you’re not really good at because that will end up reflecting poorly, and I think we’ve You know, we’ve seen some elements of this have abdin flowed over the last 15 or 20 years. So, you know, it’s I remember when I first was working in the agency world in the 90s. And, you know, you had to be a real expert to be doing websites, because you know, that was the newfangled thing. nobody really knew how to do it, right. And then, and then it became sort of, Oh, well, pretty much anybody can do that. And so just about every, you know, PR agency under the sun started, you know, building out websites, because it was super simple. And it’s starting to become a little bit more complicated, again, in part because of some of the requirements around accessibility and things like that, that, you know, that if you’re not building sites in quantity, and and living in every day, you may miss things. And it’s, you know, that’s a bigger issue than it was, you know, even five years ago, so you need to know what you don’t know you need to know what it’s appropriate to do in house what it’s better to partner on. But part of that means just understanding the whole communications ecosystem and what goes into it so you got to stay current

GINI: You have to stay current. And I mean, to your point at Fleischmann, we brought in a Robert true he was the the creative guy and he built a team of web developers and graphic designers and creatives, you know, they we didn’t do, we didn’t go out and do that, you know, the the job of the advertiser, but we definitely did pretty presentations and graphics for clients and for our own stuff. We definitely were building websites and all that kind of stuff. So yeah, there there have always been erasing of the lines and blurring of the lines. And I think it just feels bigger now because, you know, things are things are starting to replace our own jobs like technology and artificial intelligence. There’s machine learning that’s, you know, getting smarter and smarter on how we do things. And because of that, and also because there’s a bureau of labor statistics, information that shows in the last nine years PR firms have kind of grown a little bit from an employment perspective. But advertising agencies have grown exponentially. So I can understand, especially as a global with the global guys that they have to be adding these kinds of things in, but from from, from the main street perspective, we’re not stepping on their toes, I don’t think.

CHIP: Yeah, and look, I mean, I think some of this probably comes down to definitions and how you self identify, because, you know, the, as I said, earlier in this episode, the reality is that there is a lot more overlap, I think, today then than there was in the past and even see this debate, you know, should we get rid of the term public relations and start calling it something else and that, that seems to cycle up every six months or so someone writes a piece about it. And you know, we get to run around and, you know, jibber jabber about it for a while, but, you know, it doesn’t matter what you’re calling it, it really matters what it is that you’re providing to your clients and it The the overall service set that you’ve got, and there are even within PR, historically there have been different subsets. Right. So you’ve got crisis Communications and Media Relations. And, you know, so what I mean, you know, let’s let’s not get bogged down into, you know, these, you know, terminology differences. And instead, let’s look at what we’re providing from a service. Sam solution set.

GINI: Now all that said, I do believe that marketing is eating our lunch from a social income and content perspective, and we are seeing search engine optimization specialist starting to do, I will put it in quotes for new media because I don’t think it’s truly an immediate it’s link building is what it is. So we are seeing some of that and because of that, I do think PR professionals need to step up and say, Hey, wait a second. We’re storytellers. We’re reputation managers. This is what we do. And a lot of That stuff content, social relationship building is about the front end top of the funnel building those relationships. And we don’t want to give that up just because we have a more bossy marketing brother and

CHIP: I just spent 15 minutes trying to defuse the Civil War,

GINI: civil war, but I,

CHIP: you have managed to come in and throw kerosene on the fire.

GINI: I don’t think it’s a pigeon holed into earned media, which is where we’re pigeonholed.

CHIP: And thank God you said bossy because I’m not allowed to use that word anymore. It. Look, I hear what you’re saying. And I think that it’s really just it’s not so much a question that marketing is eating PR as lunch. I think it’s that there is a subset of the traditional PR community that is not modernizing fast enough. That is fair. Yeah. And it absolutely We need to modernize. And I think part of the problem is that, you know, there is some degree of reputation and PR that that attracts people who are comfortable in the traditional mindset. And I think a lot of the people who view themselves as innovative or cutting edge or more inclined to go towards something more digitally focused, you know, a newer space, you know, whether that’s SEO or PPC, or web dev, you know, but if you’re in traditional PR, you need to be moving along. You need to be attracting those people to your firm. You need to be learning about these things and not saying look, and look, I mean, I I work with agencies that are very, very traditional, and, and they like being traditional, but the, if you if you’re not willing to understand what the changes are that are taking place around you, you can’t continue your evolution and if you do not evolve as any business You are going to shrink, you are going to find it much more difficult to compete. So you need to continue your evolution, whether your agency has been around two years or 20, or, you know, I guess not 200 200 years, but but there’s certainly been ones around more than 20 years. So whatever it is 30 4050. So, you know, you need to continue that evolutionary process. And and if you’re listening to the show, and you’re an agency leader, you are the one who drives that cannot rely just on your, your team. To figure it out. You need to show that level of curiosity yourself, you need to upscale yourself so that you know what’s going on. And that’s how you’ll be able to compete effectively. In the in the future.

GINI: Yes, I agree with that. And that’s a better way of saying it versus creating a civil war.

CHIP: Yes, but you know, but the Civil War thing is what gets people to actually listen.

GINI: You know, civil war between PR marketing and advertising,

CHIP: right. I mean, you know, think of it as sort of an advertising snippet. It, you know, it’s not as detailed or as substance driven. But it’s, we throw it out there because in a 32nd little clip on TV, you’ll pay more attention to it by saying that.

GINI: And I just wrote your title for you to for your show notes. So you’re welcome.

CHIP: Well, thank you. So it’s good that someone does that for me. Because, yeah, it’s a challenge. Sometimes. I have to sit there and remember, what is it that we talked about? We talk about? Fortunately, we have the automated transcripts. So I go through and read them. I’m like, Oh, that’s right. Now I remember

GINI: the automated transcripts that thinks that when I say spin sucks, it’s not what it hears.

CHIP: You know, I forgot about that. Yeah, it also it would be nice. And if anybody from otter ever listens to this podcast, and I’m sure they don’t, but if if the if they do, it would be really nice if it could learn that your name is spelled GI would be nice. Yeah. Because every time I have to go in there and manually edit it, and it just it makes no sense. It’s get your name right as far as mapping to your voice. So it knows that your speaker name is Jenny, GINI. But it does not understand anything you say. And I’m Jeannie Dietrich, that it actually it seems to it. Sometimes it will do it GINNY. And sometimes it will do Jenny interesting with various spellings of Jenny. So I don’t really know

GINI: why oh, my god, no. So, you know, if my grandfather can’t get it, right, I suppose we can expect artificial intelligence to get it right.

CHIP: Well, I mean, the good news is I will say that for whatever reason, otter gets my name, correct. Which humans seem to have trouble with because I’m getting old skip all the time. I get called skip, and I get called Chuck. And sometimes by people that I’ve known for a long time, and I’m like, you know, my name is Chip. Why, what? But something in their heads is so fascinating. Ai wins out in that case, all in these automated transcripts, it almost always gets my name. Correct. But, you know, to back to our original point, right, we were talking about before, before we run out the clock, or the clock runs out on us, whichever it may be. Look, you know, I just, I guess I would say that, I think that instead of getting wound up as this particular article does about PR eating, advertising this lunch, we just, we need to think about how it is that we can continue to learn and continue to learn from each other as well, because there are things that you do on the advertising side or on the PR side that can actually help your core business. So it’s not even just knowing what the other guy is doing. But it’s just the more you study at the more you learn from it, you can say, Oh, hey, you know, I, I saw this technique in an ad, whether it was on TV or online or wherever, and maybe I can apply some of that to what I’m doing on the PR side and vice versa. The advertising folks should be paying attention to what we’re doing and PR and say, you know, maybe maybe some of that can find its way into some of the creative that we’re doing.

GINI: I like it. I agree. Amen.

CHIP: Because ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s all communications.

GINI: That’s all it is. We are Yes, we are all communicating correct. We’re all communicators.

CHIP: And it’s just a question of what medium we’re using, what specific tactics we’re using, but the same general principles apply. We’re still trying to effectively communicate a message that helps our clients. So whatever kind of agency you are, that is ultimately what you’re doing at the end of the day.

GINI: Yes,

CHIP: indeed. And it’s what we’re doing every episode of the agency leadership podcast, we’re communicating with you. And we’re trying to communicate a message. Hopefully you’ve taken that message to heart today. I thought this one was this was actually a pretty good glide path segue. I don’t know why you’re mocking me, Jenny.

GINI: That was an amazing segue. You know what? I can you I’m supporting you That was amazing.

CHIP: Starting with the next episode, you will be hard to find in the glide path. Let’s, let’s let’s see how well you do drawing the episode to a close. Okay, so So starting with Episode 51. So we’ll Episode 52. Jenny will be in charge of bringing us in for landing at it. We’ll see how that works out. So, so make sure you tune in next week for that. But in the meantime, we’re going to draw this episode and this epic to a close. I’m Chip Griffin

GINI: and I’m Gini Dietrich

CHIP: and it depends

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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