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Un-box your agency

Marketing officers who give their PR, creative and digital shops freedom to perform beyond their traditional roles have a lot to win, says Edelman’s Jason Gallucci

By Jason Gallucci, managing director, brand, Edelman Middle East

We all know that the marketing landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years and continues to evolve at a rapid pace.

Agencies have had to evolve too, but many brands still keep them in their old silos and have not updated their perceptions of the skills on offer.

For example, what is PR?

To many chief marketing officers, public relations would be defined either as corporate communications or media relations. Some would not even see it as a marketing discipline. They are wrong. Times have changed.

Whilst comms skills and services are still offered by every PR agency, most of the medium-to-large firms offer so much more and have a different core marketing skill at their heart.

PR agencies know how to get things written about, talked about and shared. They know what ingredients are needed for a story. They are earned-centric. But they don’t just amplify; they create and produce too. 

Many are hiring planners, creatives and producers from adland and then reprogramming them to be earned thinkers. Edelman has more than 600 globally.

Some PR agencies have in-house experiential events and film production departments. Some offer social media, community management, influencer management, social customer relations, social crisis and all manner of online reputation services. Add in strategic earned-brand consultancy and a PR agency starts to look a lot different from the days when we were called public relations officers.

So why are CMOs still sticking to the old ways? Why are they not challenging a big PR agency to tackle their integrated briefs, head to head with their ad agencies?

Well, some are.

Edelman Deportivo in Stockholm has been voted the ‘best and bravest creative agency on the planet 2017’ by Contagious magazine – above advertising stalwarts such as BBDO, 72andSunny and Leo Burnett. That is thanks to some equally brave brands who embraced the earned future and broke their mental PR box.

My agency, Edelman UAE, recently created and built a haunted house in Dubai for the Syfy Channel. We listed it as a “very cheap house to rent” and filmed unsuspecting visitors being scared silly by the crazy experiences we had hidden inside. The Facebook and YouTube content was seen by 1.7 million people over two days, and we also generated a heap of media coverage by using the same experience with journalists and bloggers. Is this PR? We think so.

We know the same blurring of lines is also happening to advertising agencies as they try to poach our staff and also offer an integrated solution. Digital agencies are doing it too, and now even the management consultancies are getting in on the act by buying in creative talent.

So, every type of agency can offer everything?  Are they still specialists or now jacks of all trades? The answer is both yes and no. They all specialise in a core skill and they all have a core way of thinking: earned or paid.

It’s no longer neat and tidy. It’s no longer the case that channel planning equals a box and budget for the corresponding type of agency. In the short term, this may cause a headache for a procurement department, but a brave CMO should embrace the chaos. Mix it up and see what happens. Brief them all as integrated, regardless of their box.