There used to be a series of dividing lines that kept agencies in their lane. In the most simplistic terms, above-the-line agencies were separated from below-the-line agencies. Above-the-line agencies made the broadcast and print campaigns, and the below-the-line agencies did everything else.
Thankfully, this weak linear construct did not survive Digital Disruption. Today, agencies of every type and size are competing for the same client work. This is not to say there are no specialists. Agencies continue to lead with their area of specialization. The difference today is specialization merely opens the door. Before long, the client wants to know what else the agency has under its hood.
Ad Age is reporting that PR agencies, in particular, are making marked advances into what was once ad agency territory. PR shops are also hiring ad agency veterans to boost their creative capabilities.
In February, Edelman, the world’s top PR firm by revenue, brought on its first global chief creative director, Judy John, former Leo Burnett chief creative officer of North America and CEO of Canada. John leads Edelman’s 600-person team of creatives and planners globally. Edelman has made other significant hires from McCann, Deutsch, McGarryBowen, and Digitas.
John says the way in which agencies have approached creative in the past “hasn’t shifted enough to keep up with what’s currently happening.” She adds, “the paid mindset of ‘you’re going to buy your way into someone’s feed and consciousness’ makes clients more conservative. A lot of clients and agencies are wasting money and making things that consumers don’t care about or engage with.”
At Edelman, Earned Media Is A Mindset
Edelman says nearly one-third (31.5 percent) of its business now comes from brand marketing; crisis and management make up 36.4 percent. Digital comprises 18.7 percent, public affairs 9.6 percent and intelligence, data and research 3.8 percent.
“We look at earned media as a mindset, not a set of tactics,” Russell Dubner, Edelman U.S. CEO says. “Edelman’s responsibility has always been to come in with a point of view, challenge clients and stretch their courage. That, over time, has really moved from communications to brand marketing, to corporate and public affairs, to digital, to everything.”
What does “earned media as a mindset” mean? It means that brands who can capture the attention of the marketplace will also earn massive media mentions, as Taco Bell did last summer with The Bell, the quick-service restaurant’s pop-up hotel in Palm Springs that Edelman invented.
Taco Bell’s asked its agency partners for ways to take the brand that is “for everyone” and make it “exclusive in a way that holds people’s attention,” Dubner told Ad Age. “It shows that we’re being asked to solve problems that you can’t advertise your way out of.”
Richard Edleman Weighs In
“The End of Insurgents” is a recent blog post about shakeups in the media business from Richard Edelman, President and CEO of the agency his father Dan Edelman founded in Chicago in 1952.
What is the playbook for PR firms and communications professionals in the current context? We are more convinced than ever that every one of our clients need to become its own media company. We must create shareable, engaging content with influencers. We are partnering with clients to fill in the holes left by the winnowing of reporters, with massive gaps in important areas such as healthcare. We must recognize that a depleted reporter force will lead to bad reporting, leading to the spread of misinformation; we must ensure that our clients are equipped with a lightning-fast response mechanism. The NBA’s reaction to the China crisis this week revealed the dangers of insufficient crisis protocol. There is absolutely a premium on relationships with reporters and editors to ensure a court of appeals on facts.
Edelman is building on the famous maxim, “Every Company Is A Media Company,” forwarded by journalist Tom Foremski. “Companies must learn how to publish, listen, and converse in a very fragmented media world,” Foremski argues.
Richard Edelman’s read is that brands can no longer rely on media companies to spread their stories, or to tell the stories properly in the first place. His business reaction to an industry in crisis is to fill the gaps in journalism, and as discussed above in the agency services business, as well.
The brands with the best stories win in paid, owned, earned, and shared media. For clients, the challenge is finding an integrated marketing agency that has chops in all four realms. It isn’t easy, but it is increasingly necessary. The alternative is managing an array of specialists who must find a way to sell what they make. When all you make are ads, the recommended solution will always be an ad.
What clients need are elegant solutions to their marketing communications problems. Sometimes, it’s an ad. When you’re attuned to the customer’s real needs, the ads can come later as a means to support the big idea, whatever it is.