What’s the biggest difference between the advertising and PR trades?

The very best advertising agencies do one thing incredibly well for their clients. Having gleaned Leonardogillesfleur_Irreconcileable_differences_43_904 insights from an end user's wants and needs, they'll create a compelling campaign that creates an emotional connection between a brand and its target audience. When done correctly, it's positively magical.

To their credit, though, ad agencies never, ever, attempt to advertise their own services in the industry trade media read by clients, prospects and peers.

The same cannot be said for PR firms. Our industry trades are littered with myopic, self-congratulatory ads that provide no insight whatsoever on the client's or prospect's world but, instead, focus squarely on what the PR firm feels sets it apart from the competition. And, that dear reader, is a cardinal sin.

Advertising should be about you. Not me. It should prompt a visceral reaction that leaves you nodding your head and mumbling, 'Yeah. That's me. That's my need. I need to know more about how they can help me.'

Instead, a sampling of recent PR agency advertising headlines seem more like a print version of the old grammar school trick of seeing who could attract the teacher's attention fastest. “Oh, pick me, Ms. Dresner. I know the answer. Pick me!”

To wit, check out these headlines:
– 'Real. Creative.'
– 'Two campers see a bear. Yada. Yada. Yada.'
– 'Telling the story of innovation.'
– 'Go. Ahead.'
– 'Who's in your circle?'
– 'Way more effective'

With the possible exception of the penultimate headline, each and every ad is self-serving. None create an emotional connection with the end user (Note: I'd include our own inward-facing advertisement in my criticism. Doctor: Heal thyself.).

That said, there are a few exceptions to the abysmal state of PR firm advertising. Carmichael Lynch Spong's campaign is both unexpected and client-focused. Their most recent one is entitled, 'They loved the launch. So what about the next 364 days?' That's spot on. It tells me, as a prospective client, that CLS knows I need to keep showing results to my senior management.

Another campaign from an earlier generation of management at Ogilvy PR was just as effective. It depicted a harried corporate communications executive, checking his watch and looking for a cab. The headline read something to the effect, 'We know you live in a 24×7 world and need a partner who does the same.' It's promotional to be sure. But, it also told me that Ogilvy PR ‘got' the prospective client's pain.

The worst PR agency ads are the ones listing the various awards won by the firm in the previous 12 months: “Best Workplace,” “Best Young Professional,” “Best Industry Blog”, “Best Use of Artwork in a Hallway,” “Cleanest Restrooms,100 Employees or Less,” etc. Enough already. Clients don't care about your awards. They care about their challenges.

I think the editors and publishers of PR trades should do more than accept insertion orders and checks from agencies. They should provide some sort of counsel on advertising effectiveness.

There's a reason ad agencies don't advertise. They know it's next to impossible to create an emotional connection with a harried CMO in one page of copy. If only PR firms would wake up and realize the same truth.

3 thoughts on “What’s the biggest difference between the advertising and PR trades?

  1. I’ve been pressured by egotistical owners/management to create such self-serving ads in the past, only to have them fall flat. I can only agree that they’re a complete waste of time unless the client’s needs are addressed PERIOD.