May 02

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Or was it?

If two leading trade journals are any indication, the advertising industry is suffering from a Mood-swings1 severe case of manic depression.

On the one hand, there's The Delaney Report (TDR), which humbly bills itself as 'the international newsletter for marketing, advertising and media executives'. TDR just ran a lead story entitled, 'We'll Take It from Here.' The text provides a sobering report about inroads being made across the board by public relations. “No longer is it uncommon to have a PR agency compete for a client's services (PR, digital, advertising and direct) versus a traditional advertising agency.” TDR says, “PR is now in the sweet spot of a company's marketing plans.” Nice. Very nice.

Unfortunately, though, TDR then dives deep into PR's gains in social media and corroborates its thinking with observations from the heads of three PR holding companies: Harris Diamond of Weber, Gary Stockman of Porter and Ken Luce of H&K. Now, I could be wrong, but I'll bet an annual subscription to TDR (a damned pricey proposition, BTW), that none of these three, old white guys personally blogs, tweets, posts comments, podcasts or does anything else that would remotely resembles engaging in social media. Asking these three for their views on social media is akin to asking a couch potato what it's like to compete in a 230-mile cycling race. “Tough, dude. Very tough.” C'mon TDR, show some journalistic chops, dig a little deeper and interview PR executives who actually walk the talk.

And, now, for something completely different, take a gander at another ad industry trade: Michael Wolff's supercharged revamp of AdWeek, which calls itself 'The Voice of Media.' Methinks this particular voice suffers from laryngitis.

How else to explain its love fest with all things advertising? You'd never know traditional advertising is staggering like some drunken sailor on shore leave. Or, that other disciplines such as PR and interactive are stealing away market share faster than you can say land grab.

Instead, AdWeek's pages are an unapologetic homage to the 30-second TV spot (ugh) and mainstream TV advertising in general (Yuck. What's become of one-on-one marketing and engaging in a conversation with customers?). There are even photographic retrospectives of Doyle Dane Bernbach's and McCann-Erickson's offices from the halcyon days of the 1960s (should PR Week retaliate with a photo essay of, say, the Lobsenz-Stevens offices of the mid-1980s featuring an adolescent wunderkind named Edward Aloysius Moed?).

Like just about everything else, I suspect the truth about advertising's massive struggle to reinvent itself lies somewhere in-between TDR's doom-and-gloom report and AdWeek’s sunshine-and-roses tome.

I'd suggest readers view the two the way I do The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and Fox News and MSNBC, respectively (absorb the extreme POVS of each, realizing the truth lies somewhere in the midst of the murkiness).

In the meantime, though, a quick note to the big agency PR guys: I'm happy to issue an apology if you fellas actually do engage in social media.

Aug 30

Representing controversial clients is a slippery slope.

I’m a firm believer that, in the court of public opinion, a controversial client is innocent until Pat_robertson_devil_sign proven guilty. I also believe he or she deserves the very best representation possible. That said, some prospective clients are toxic and invite more trouble than they’re worth.

I’m reminded of the terrific image and reputation bashing inflicted on Hill & Knowlton in the early 1990s, when the firm decided to represent one highly controversial client after another. The carnage reached its apex (perhaps nadir is more appropriate) when Hill & Knowlton took on an image and awareness campaign for the government of Kuwait. Almost immediately afterwards, they were accused of ‘staging’ fake genocides to heighten worldwide distaste for Saddam Hussein’s Machiavellian machinations. It was an event that, whether true or not, inspired the Hollywood movie, ‘Wag the Dog’. H&K’s decision to represent a raft of highly controversial accounts precipitated a mass exodus of blue-chip clients (who didn’t want to be associated with a public relations firm that was caught in the crosshairs of negative news). The firm also lost top notch counselors, who disagreed with H&K’s stance on a moral and ethical basis.

As a proud alumnus of a kinder, gentler H&K, I’m pleased to see the firm has finally rebounded and reclaimed its rightful position as a top global player, but it took lots of blood, sweat and tears to execute the turnaround.

I mention all this because I see that 5W is representing Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law & Justice in its efforts to halt construction of the controversial Ground Zero mosque. As mentioned above, Mr. Robertson’s entity deserves the very best public relations support it can afford. But, at what cost to the firm? In its defense, 5W has never shied away from representing clients that most mainstream PR firms would avoid like the plague. But, does such representation jeopardize existing client relationships? Will it alienate employees who see the issue as a First Amendment right that has nothing whatsoever to do with public relations? Time will tell.

In our 15 years of business, we’ve tried to avoid highly controversial clients (falling prey only twice in my memory). Thankfully, neither relationship cost us clients or employees. In fact, with the latter, we were quite transparent and suggested that anyone with reservations could opt out of actual account work. Several took us up on the offer.

But, rather than place a firm in harm’s way, why choose to represent a potentially toxic client? The short-term gain in billings and notoriety will most certainly be offset by the long-term unease among clients and employees alike. As a former employer of mine liked to say, “It’s a classic lose-lose.”