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Can PR agencies be as creative as ad agencies?

It’s a year since Interpublic’s GolinHarris introduced an internal revamp to its G4 model. Now it has recently appointed Caroline Dettman as its global chief creative and community officer to oversee the network’s creative work.

Last year, GolinHarris revamped its internal operations according to what it calls the G4 model, classifying its operations into four groups: strategists, connectors, creatives and catalysts. According to its explanation, strategists take care of insights, connectors over media relations, catalysts can be seen as “brand stewards” and, of course, creatives over creative work.

In an interview with Marketing, Dettman and international president Jonathan Hughes talk about why PR agencies can be as creative as ad agencies.

On mimicking ad agencies

When asked if the agency was mimicking the ad agency model, both did not deny it.

“As an industry, PR still isn’t thought of as being able to think big cut-through ideas. People still think of a traditional ad agency for that. PR agencies need to be able to show they have that capability. If you really want to engage in proper integrated marketing you need to be able to handle all aspects of that and not live in a narrow silo,” Hughes said.

“We have good account people who are good at media relations. We need to focus on bringing in good creatives. Ad agencies created the job of a planner and we need to bring those people in.”

They are competition, said Dettman, referring to ad agencies.

“If you look at the biggest campaigns today – I’ll tell you that they are all very much ‘PR’ ideas,” she said.

“Coming from Cannes and seeing the campaigns, when agencies promote the success of it, they always talk about the earned media aspect.

“So, you see the PR agencies trying to move into the ad space and the ad agencies into the PR space. They have been amazing at the creative packaging, we have been the better storytellers.”

Even in its hiring, it looks like the agency is moving the way of the ad shops. When asked where he was solving talent crunch issues (something that plagues any agency), Hughes said that of late, one area was in hiring graduates trained in areas such as videography – talking about how this helped the agency produce videos for clients.

With all its efforts, has the PR agency picked up a traditional ad brief?

Yes, said Hughes, revealing it had signed on a Singapore-based client, and had been tasked to do all aspects of the account, from logo creation to advertising duties and public relations. But he declined to reveal the company.

Can PR guys be as creative as the ad guys?

Dettman said her team consisted of creatives from ad agencies, as well as those from PR agencies. I ask her if there is a difference in thinking from either. (Dettman herself is a classic PR executive, having worked in various roles at PR agencies throughout her career.)

“Conceptual thinkers are not the purview of ad agencies. (Ad agencies) are great at content creation and making things look beautiful. But conceptual thinkers are a very small group of people and everyone is gunning to find them. You can find them in either profession.

“I’ve worked with creative directors who grew up in the ad world and the ones who worked in the PR world and it depends on the person. Not all the creative directors who grow up in traditional advertising are conceptual thinkers and not all can get past the tactical. It doesn’t matter what background you’re from, you have to be a good idea person.”

What’s the biggest challenge for the PR industry now, I ask.

Dettman’s answer and solution appears to lie once again in ad agency thinking.

“It’s being able to have creative bravery – getting our account leaders to have the creativity that ad agencies have.

“There has been a misguided thought where account servicing executives become yes men instead of a counsel to the client. We have to make sure that everyone, not just creatives, are pushing that perspective through.”

Once again, in justifying the PR industry’s creativity, Hughes mentions the campaign done by PR firm Red Consultancy in Australia which won several awards: The Most Powerful Arm. (The campaign is a petition to raise funds for a charity, Save our Sons, for the condition of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.)

Video here:

What are your thoughts? Can PR agencies be as creative as ad agencies?

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