Weber Shandwick Tackles Advertising With New Group Focused on Paid Media

Sawmill to Expand Beyond Advocacy

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Sawyer Miller supported this campaign for Covered California.
Sawyer Miller supported this campaign for Covered California.

The lines divvying up paid, owned and earned content among different types of agencies continue to blur, and Weber Shandwick's latest move might just cause them to disappear -- for the PR agency at least.

The Interpublic PR giant is revamping its advocacy group Sawyer Miller Advertising as a full-service ad agency called Sawmill, a Weber Shandwick Agency.

"You'll see us expanding well beyond where Sawyer Miller traditionally played in the advocacy world, into brand equity campaigns, consumer, and other verticals," said Sawyer Miller President Tim Ryan.

Mr. Ryan will be co-leading the new shop with Josh Rose, chief creative officer of multi-platform campaigns at Weber Shandwick and Deutsch L.A. vet.

Sawyer Miller Advertising has typically handled campaigns that support social and political causes for clients like Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Abengoa and Healthcare.gov. As Sawmill, it wants to offer more robust advertising services to all clients and sharpen its ability to advertise across paid media platforms such as outdoor, TV and digital.

The new shop will be built on an infrastructure of Sawyer Miller's 50 or so staffers and offices in D.C. and New York, while expanding to L.A., where Mr. Rose is based. And while it's still early days, the shop plans to invest in talent and beef up in-house production tools, Mr. Ryan said. He described Sawmill as a "commitment to advertising."

"Ad agencies have been talking about PR-able ideas or ideas that make headlines," added Mr. Rose. "That's translated into work that's very social. We're maintaining that and looking at how advertising can make news."

It's not the first time Weber Shandwick has expanded its remit beyond traditional PR confines. Last year, the shop created the brand publishing group MediaCo to capitalize on content marketing demand from clients.

Over the years, other large PR firms such as Fleishman-Hillard and Edelman have also made plays to boost their content creation and media buying capabilities.

"More than ever we're seeing a blurring of the lines and clearly the ownership between paid, owned and earned," said Weber Shandwick President Gail Heimann. "Ultimately creative shapes the campaign and we need that hardcore expertise in all of those places, and to be able to attract and nurture the kind of talent that makes us not a PR agency doing advertising but gives us a full-blown competitive integrated offering in the paid space."

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