Marketers look at new ideas, and PR becomes the 'closer'

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The landscape of marketing is changing more quickly and dramatically than I ever could have imagined, and its new realities will require public relations to shoulder more of the load.

I came from away from Advertising Age's AdWatch conference last month amazed at how seriously advertisers are talking about lowering their presence in traditional media, such as TV (except for product placements), and expanding their use of grassroots promotion and PR, special events and multimedia marketing packages.

Steve Heyer, president of Coca-Cola Co.'s Coca-Cola Ventures unit, contended that Coke stuff on the "American Idol" TV show, including the Coca-Cola-red couch where aspiring singers wait for their try-outs, is better than a 30-second TV spot. Julie Roehm, director of Dodge communications at DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group, said, " If you're only about 30-second TV commercials, you're in big trouble."

Other AdWatch speakers said ad agencies abdicated their responsibility to think beyond traditional media. What clients look for, they said, are big ideas from any and all quarters that encompass a more consumer-centric approach. "The era of pushing a message to the consumer is over," said Procter & Gamble Co. Global Marketing Officer James Stengel.

Pepsi-Cola North America President Dawn Hudson told how Pepsi and Dodge teamed for a joint promotion-but not at the behest of their agency. "We share the same agency. They could have put us together," said Ms. Hudson. "What we're looking for is a marketing solution, not just an advertising solution."

Integration seems to be the way of the future. I don't entirely buy the contention of Al Ries and his daughter, Laura, that PR should introduce a product, and that advertising should come later to sustain its growth. Whatever the disciplines used, however, they all must work together to give a unified message to consumers. It is relationships with consumers that matter, and these are built by ideas that transcend individual media.

All these new ways of reaching people create impressions and good feelings about brands. But somewhere marketers also must provide solid information about the product upon which consumers can make rational buying decisions. If TiVo and Replay eventually rule the day (a scenario I'm not ready to accept), and empower millions of viewers to zap TV ads, then marketers will be forced to rely on product placements within TV shows to get across brand awareness. If that happens, PR will take up the slack to explain what the product is all about.

One thing I know for sure: Marketers want multiple solutions to brand building. Woe be it to anyone who insists their medium can do it all. Ad agencies gave away hard-won relationships with clients by defining what they did as making ads-not finding marketing solutions. "What other ways are there to communicate your brand promise, to connect with consumers to create that relationship and loyalty?" asked Ms. Roehm.

I see PR as the second half of a one-two punch. Product placements, events and community marketing will be used more and more to create a warm and fuzzy feeling. But PR will be seen as the "closer" medium that turns a budding relationship with consumers into a lasting and ever-romantic union.

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