100 days in PR: Carl Ratcliff reflects on the differences between PR and ad agencies

carl ratcliffHaving spent his career at creative agencies Carl Ratcliff moved from Naked Communications to lead One Green Bean earlier this year. Here he takes stock of his first 100 days in the CEO role and reflects on the differences between an ad agency and a PR agency.

There’s a whole host of prose out there about your first 100 days.

In terms of taking stock. And sizing your wares. What to change, what to fix, what to leave exactly as it is.

‘Do nothing’, a previous boss has said to me.

‘Do everything’, another.

Irrespective, the one thing you never get back is your initial perspective. Fresh eyes.

A perspective unfettered by politics, people or place.

A perspective that – whilst not pure, by any stretch – is yours. And yours alone.

With such ante, here are my observations. Focused on the differences, as I’ve perceived them, between Advertising Agencies, like Naked where I worked previously and PR Agencies, like One Green Bean, where I work today.

(Both would claim – quite rightly – to be more than the sum such label represents.)

So, in ten, and without judgement:

  • Advertising agencies imbue confidence in their people. PR agencies instil can-do.
  • Advertising agencies dwell with the problem. PR agencies dwell with the urgent.
  • Advertising agencies think in terms of craft. PR agencies think in terms of share.
  • Advertising agencies argue brand. PR agencies argue consumer.
  • Advertising agencies persuade evidentially. PR agencies recommend, experientially.
  • Advertising agencies assume lead status. PR agencies rarely do.
  • Advertising agencies have departments. PR agencies do not.
  • Advertising agencies breed specialists. PR agencies breed hybrids.
  • Advertising agencies work late. PR agencies start early.
  • Ultimately, both want to be loved.

What do I make of this?

Well, PR agencies are packed with a personality that is self-sufficient. And attuned to an earned media objective. Stories are sold, with relevance. Not paid for, after all. A PR mind looks for a hook to inspire that message to travel at the speed of send.

Meanwhile an advertising agency archetype, fundamentally, frames sales messaging, front and centre. It seeks to persuade because it feels it has the right to be didactic. And if you had paid for your moment with the consumer, why wouldn’t you?

However, in today’s world where the consumer is the medium, earning attention has to cut a more efficient outcome for brands and their messaging.

Or, have I simply had my head turned?

I don’t think so.

In the words of Scott Cook: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

And, to paraphrase Alex Bogusky, an erstwhile ad-man, you can’t buy attention any more. The playground was right, it would seem. You have to play, to play. Not simply pay.

And when you play, of course, you harness the very best your creative brain has to offer.

A harness that reminds me why I chose to get in this game, in the first place.

  • Carl Ratcliff is CEO of One Green Bean

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.