Cannes 2009

Time to Close the Gap Between PR and Advertising

Stop the Segregation at Awards Shows Like Cannes and in the Marketplace

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Integration among industries is nothing new. Throughout time, industries with similar formats, products or product-delivery systems have grown by bringing their offerings together. For instance, once-separate grocery stores and pharmacies are now commonly housed together in one supermarket, and corner drugstores are selling a wider selection of convenient grocery items. The local cable company has evolved into an internet service provider that can also hook you up with a phone package, and the phone company is offering internet and TV services, too. More recently, Facebook has incorporated Twitter-like status updates into its news feed.

That's what smart industries do to innovate. They integrate and evolve.

So it's hard to fathom why the advertising and public-relations industries have always kept their distance from each other. Nowhere is this practice more prevalent as when they celebrate their annual awards functions. For more than 60 years, the Public Relations Society of America has run its Silver Anvil Awards as a PR-only affair, just as the newer PR Week Awards only honor the work of PR pros. Despite frequent co-mingling at parent company conclaves and client-planning sessions, PR and advertising brethren never share the awards stage together.

Until this year ... sort of. For the first time, PR was invited to the 50-year-old Clio Awards, where strategic communications trophies were handed out during a ceremony in Vegas last month. For that, we were honored and grateful. And on June 22, at the Cannes Lions 56th Annual International Advertising Festival, a jury of global PR executives will award what they deem to be best-in-class PR campaigns. Inclusion at what organizers call the "world's only truly global meeting place for those interested in creativity in communications" is both exciting and a step toward progress.

A cynical colleague of mine joked that PR is still a little like the warm-up band at Cannes, slated on day two before the real festivities begin. It's even possible that welcoming PR entries became an economic necessity -- as submissions out of the ad world declined by 20% compared to last year. But in truth, with earned attention and engagement the lingua franca of the social web, isn't PR poised to be more than the warm-up band and more of the headliner?

The real question for all of us is how much longer can we segregate PR from advertising, digital and word of mouth -- both as awards categories and in the workplace? Haven't the lines blurred enough already? Isn't consumer communications behavior and preference dictating a change?

The tagline in Cannes this year is "Ignite Your Creativity," but wouldn't a better call-to-action be "Ignite Their Creativity" -- a nod to our participatory culture and service to common clients?

Ketchum, where I am chief innovation officer, submitted five campaigns for consideration by the Lions PR Jury. All are distinguished by their success igniting creativity and engagement in consumers. Consumers were engaged by Ketchum's campaign for Nokia that enlisted Spike Lee to create a socially collaborative film co-created by the very mobile-device users that Nokia sought to reach. And for the Haagen-Dazs brand, we encouraged consumers to get involved and plant seeds to create new habitats for disappearing honey bees -- a buzz campaign that sent ice-cream sales soaring.

I imagine the creative work from the ad agencies is not dissimilar from ours -- and certainly that's true from the pure digital and word-of-mouth shops. Our best work, no matter our discipline, gets consumers involved.

By the time most PR folks have left Cannes, during the final slot of the festival, a fun-sounding agency called Lean Mean Fighting Machine is addressing a topic that's at the crux of the matter: Changing agency models. I wonder if they'll be proposing one fully integrated party.

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Karen Strauss is chief innovation officer at Ketchum, a leading public relations firm.

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