Head to Head: Does PR have more value than advertising?

In this series, Mumbrella invites the industry's senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues. This week, Joanne Painter, managing director at Icon Agency goes head to head with Eleven PR's group account director Kiefer Casamore on whether PR has more value than advertising.

Marketers and those in the ad industry often debate which is better: advertising or PR?

The managing director of Icon Agency, Joanne Painter, argues PR has more value, because PR can own content and the profession is now much more measurable than it used to be. On the other hand, Eleven PR’s group account director, Casamore says PR and advertising need to work together, making one not any more valuable than the other, because advertising is the megaphone for PR.

Yes, argues Joanne Painter, managing director at Icon Agency: 

“With the advent of the data age, many marketers are re-evaluating the role of PR and advertising in their marketing mix. Understanding how each discipline measures and ‘demonstrates’ value is increasingly important.

In recent years, PR has moved rapidly beyond the old and widely discredited ‘Advertising Value Equivalent’ (AVE) measure so beloved of boards and old-style marketers. AVE has been replaced by a more nuanced, data-driven focus on reach, effect, outcomes, influence and content.

Painter says PR can own content

Advertising, meanwhile, remains tethered to both the form and value proposition embedded in the pre-digital media world. The 30-second TV commercial as a means of communication no longer has the power or reach of the past. Moreover, the economic model behind advertising relies on purchasing space at a time when this may be the least effective way of getting a message out. Let alone connecting with consumers in a targeted, authentic and on-demand manner.

Advertising agencies counter this argument by emphasising their ‘ownership’ of creativity and its central role in building brands and selling products. The problem with this argument is that creativity is not binary. Yet advertising continues to ‘measure’ its value in metrics little changed from the days of Don Draper.

PR, on the other hand, has adapted to the multi-channel, multi-platform marketplace with alacrity. Why? Because at its heart, PR is about stories told, shared and amplified.

PR is essentially channel agnostic, which makes it the ideal vehicle for a world in which the consumer, not the advertising agency, defines brand worth and the brand narrative.

And thanks to social and digital metrics, PR is now highly measurable. A PR manager can see in real time how their content, message or campaign is cutting through – and quantify these results to a client.

PR also has the advantage of ‘owning’ content. Despite a decade of unrelenting change, the fundamental rules under which good content operates have not changed: transparency, authenticity, dialogue, openness, trust, credibility. This is what PR does best.

Of course, as the MD of an integrated agency – by which I mean our model combines the art of creative advertising with the craft of PR storytelling and the science of digital marketing – I genuinely believe the real value for clients is when advertising and PR work synergistically.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Cannes Lion judge and long-time PR commentator, Paul Holmes, speak about the shifting dynamic between PR and advertising.

He explained it this way: “The end product of advertising is just an ad. The end product of PR is a relationship.”

That’s what I call value.

No argues, Kiefer Casamore, group account director at Eleven PR:

“It’s said ‘If advertising is about storytelling, PR is about getting others to tell your story’.

But if no one can hear your story being told, what’s the point? Advertising is PR’s megaphone for being heard.

As an earned media specialist, to argue PR has less value than advertising would be like loading the gun and pointing it square at my foot. What I do believe however is no one discipline within the marketing mix is superior to another.

Truly effective marketing is the combination of a strategic insight that informs a creative platform – which is then executed across paid, owned and earned channels. At Eleven, we create cultural impact for brands that drives PR and social engagement, while working with our co-located sister advertising agency, TBWA, on integrated solutions.

Casamore says advertising is the megaphone for PR

What does this mean? First and foremost, before addressing a problem, we consider all of the consumer touch points and how they can play a role in changing behaviour.

Traditionally, PR practitioners were tasked with securing coverage in print, radio and TV. However, with the prevalence of digital and changing media consumption habits, we’ve had to learn new tricks.

For example, it’s no surprise that in many instances, key media targets take the form of social media platforms, making the shelf life of earned content short-lived, and amplification key.

A re-shared online article, a branded tweet or a post on Instagram have far greater value if coupled with clever paid media tactics to ensure reach and longevity.

The categorisation of advertising and PR has also changed. Consider ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ which won the Grand Prix at Cannes for PR in 2013 – was this PR or advertising? Both arguments have merit, but what was clear is that it used a real human insight for storytelling, which was then implemented through the line. My point being, its success was born out of PR and advertising integration.

PR consultants will always be the custodians of the media relationship and clever storytelling will remain our craft. For those few who can think outside their day-to-day job description, herein lies the art of delivering true marketing value.”

  • As told to Abigail Dawson. If you’re a senior PR professional who would like to take part in a future Head to Head, please email abigail@mumbrella.com.au

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