Are we all in “advertising” now?

While I celebrate the PR industry, many of its people, it’s growth in influence and it’s innovation, I do not dance prematurely on the grave of advertising. Any visitor to Cannes or Eurobest knows that is a foolish game.

I spent three fascinating afternoons recently as a mentor on the Campaign magazine/Knowledge Engineers’ Future Leaders Programme. The participants were mainly from ad agencies and media agencies, with the odd in house marketer. I was the only non-ad or media agency mentor. I suspect I was eyed with suspicion as well as interest. I also suspect I learned more from watching them prep a pitch than they did from me.

We talk a lot in our industry about client centricity and gaining a deep understanding of our clients’ business challenges as opposed to communications challenges. Companies and organisations don’t have “PR problems”. They have business challenges which in an always on, sceptical communications democracy, require engagement with customers and stakeholders.

Advertising has always got this. Why? Because CMOs are numbers driven business people – hence so many end up as CEOs of their companies. Their ad agencies have done the creative thing, rooted in the business opportunity. PRs have tended to focus on tactics, positive mentions, raised awareness and “Likes” rather than meticulous measurement of ROI in sales and reputation.

(interestingly some of the participants had “Business Leader” as their job title, not Account Director or Associate Director.)

Back to my observations. Firstly, a big chunk of the allotted time for the pitch prep was analysis of “the customer journey”. Deep insights and research. I suspect that there are still many traditional PR folk who think “the customer journey” is whether a shopper takes the bus or their car to the supermarket.

Secondly, more and more insights and analysis. I have blogged and spoken before about how PR has to get this right and learn from advertising. (Interestingly I recently formed a partnership with Marketing Week to conduct some research amongst UK CMOs about the state of agency relationships. 25% said they still saw their ad agency as their key strategic partner, and 22% their digital agency, as opposed to 13% who cited their PR agency. That said, many felt underserved by their strategic partner agency on insights and analytics, content, social media, and the biggest servicing let down was helping them to futureproof their business and alerting them to changes in the marketplace. So from a PR agency POV, an opportunity as well as a challenge. If we get the analytics, content and business intelligence right.)

Thirdly, for a profession cast largely around paid advertising, the teams I saw in action did not rely on this medium but saw it as just one channel in the Paid/Earned/Owned/Shared matrix. For them the business challenge, the customer journey and associated insights, the killer key insight and the engaging creative response were the main focus. Tactical execution included some advertising, but often to boost earned media (John Lewis penguins anyone). Experiential and social were also at the forefront as well as creative technology.

The new breed of advertising leaders (as opposed to the old guard wedded to client budget zapping shoots on tropical islands and 30 second spots that were usually blunderbusses and increasing are getting ignored) must feel as constrained by the traditional view of their craft as many of us in PR feel about media relations, “free media” as the Cannes old guard refer to it, “spin” as many journalists cast it, and the press release.

We were not born a profession of press release writers. For much of our past “traditional ” media was the main channel. Ditto for advertising – the thirty second spot, the DPS etc.

So, are the next generation of advertising practitioners better prepared and more attuned to the new marketing era, with all the challenges and opportunities, than the current output of PR degrees and PR industry training courses?

If advertising is, as one dictionary definition puts it, “the business of persuading people to buy products and services (or ideas)”, as opposed to the craft of producing 30 second spots etc, then are we all in “advertising” now?