Allowing PR firms to advertise is like handing a loaded gun to a child

June 4 - mad_men I hate almost all forms of advertising. But, having perused the brand, spanking new monthly version of PR Week and seen some of the print ads from PR firms, I must say we are especially inept at the dying art form.

Advertising, on the rare occasion when and where it makes sense, should strike a connection between the brand and the consumer. It should make me want to experience the 'product' being hyped by convincing me I need it in my world. Most ads suck because creative directors are more concerned with impressing other creative directors and winning awards than in selling their clients' services.

That same myopic approach holds true in spades for the PR firms who advertise. With one notable exception, the ads in the new PR Week are all inward-facing, boast about the agency, its people or its acumen and do absolutely nothing to connect with the pain that's keeping corporate clients up at night. Here are some examples (with the names excised to protect the guilty):

  • 'HTML. Spanish. Twitter. Mandarin. Newspeak. JavaScript. Slang. Layman's terms. Plain English. Jargon. Word-of-mouth. Arabic. We speak your language.' (Note from Rep: You damn well better speak the client's language.)
  • 'You come to us for perspective. So here's some. With eight agencies, several core disciplines, but one shared focus, XYZ has the ability to see what others can't – yada, yada, yada.' (Ho hum. So can every other agency. Next.)
  • 'Mission Statement: Our mission is not to be the best agency in America, but the best agency to work for (cite awards). If we are the best place to work, we will retain the best people (cite retention rate). If we have the best people, we will attract the best clients (insert client list). With the best people and clients, how can be not be the best agency in America? (Cite awards). Mission accomplished.' (My, aren't we a bit self-centered? And, btw, what image comes immediately to mind when one sees the phrase ‘Mission Accomplished’? Think aircraft carrier and a former president.)

There are other ads that are just as parochial, self-satisfying and inward-looking. In fact, I found only one ad that spoke to the client's needs and wants. It came from Ogilvy and was headlined: 'I got up at 6am. I went to bed at 11pm. That was my day. We know there's more to your day, yada, yada, yada.' This ad gets it. Its creators got that clients and prospects assume their agencies have the best people and the right services. What they need to know is that you're the right firm with which to partner to solve the unique business challenges keeping them up at night. They want a firm who will make them look like a hero to the CEO. Not one that boasts about its multiple offices, language acumen or delivery on its original mission statement.

So, note to self: even though it's so all about me, make sure the next Peppercom ad addresses the clients' world and not my own.

4 thoughts on “Allowing PR firms to advertise is like handing a loaded gun to a child

  1. I think you’re the one who’s missing the point, D. The ads are definitely client/prospect focused. Have you taken the time to read them? And, how many PR firms are actively recruiting at the moment? Self-serving ads attract no one. And, few, if any, clients will respond to an inside-out focused ad. Since PR strategy consultants have few, if any, competitors, its easy to take a laissez-faire approach to marketing.

  2. I think you may both be missing the point. PR executives read PR Week. Most of the ads may be geared to attract potential employees.

  3. I have to wonder why a PR firm would advertise in PR Week anyway, Steve. No wonder the ads are self-serving; their audience is their peers! They’re thumping their chests and marking their territory. Seems to me that one way to avoid nonsense advertising like this is to actually advertise where one’s prospects are.