Are Ad Agencies on Course to Become PR Agencies?

image Technology has brought about a great deal of convergence in not just formerly disparate areas of technology, but also formerly disparate disciplines of art, science and business.  The many interesting conversations I got a chance to be a party to at SxSWi this year showed me nothing else if not that.

One of the first panels I attended was the panel on how the Minority Report was becoming reality, and I think that sort of became my lense for the remainder of the event.  That panel talked about the convergence of humanity and technology.  One of the immersive augmented reality programs became a foil for conversation on a panel I was later on with musician Peter Himmelman, when we talked about ways that he could perform live via the internet, yet still have a personal, live and two way feeling of connection with his viewers while he performed.

Something that I think I’ve seen coming for a while but first saw evidence of during SxSW was the convergence of PR and advertising.  When I started putting together my personal sponsorship packages for SxSW, I described the services not just as a link and a graphic on my website to your site, but me acting as a bit of PR and consultant for those that gave me sponsorship. 

I ran into Ernie Mosteller, a veep at Brunner Digital (an advertising agency), and the mode he was running in at SxSW perfectly mirrored what I was doing, and here he was working for major name clients like Zippo, the Art Institute, Tums and CES.

(Download the MP4 here)

The project they launched at SxSW, SmarterFaster, was used to chronicle this fusion of advertising, consulting and PR at SxSW, but continues as they try to merge the worlds of technical and creative work.

Brunner sent seven folks out to SxSW, and they all chronicled their experiences and discoveries there at the site as part of an ongoing conversation with their co-workers and clients and readers to further an understanding of the mechanics of marketing, advertising and existing as corporations in a social media world.

One of the topics we talked about in our podcast, Ernie touched on in one of his videos posted at SmarterFaster, which was some of the concepts of transparency that Tony Hsieh of Zappos talked about. The Brunner agency not only worked that convergence concept with their SmarterFaster blog, but were taking those ideas back to their clients.

While Ernie and Brunner (and I) are on the cutting edge here by routinely mixing these sorts of consulting activities to major clients, it’s something that’s quickly spreading not as a meme or fad, but as a natural evolution of corporate existence in the new media ecosphere.

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Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins was the Founding Editor of SiliconANGLE, as well as the creator of and Executive Producer for theCUBE. He has since left the company to found the digital agency Roger Wilco and take a partnership with Barista Ventures.

He’s a Bitcoin early adopter, as well as a blogging, podcasting and social media pioneer. Prior the founding of SiliconANGLE, Hopkins worked as Associate Editor at Mashable during its formative years. Prior to his career in startups and media, he worked as a developer for large corporations like Nokia, IBM, Apple and Cox Communications. Hopkins lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and two children.
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  1. I'd say yes. As online ad revenue grows I think the line will blur between PR & Ad agencies. Sites like Twitter combine the role and make advertising more interactive, demanding PR type talent to manage the campaign.

  2. I think the lines blurred a long time ago. For over a century, savvy marketers at large companies and associations have utilized custom media (custom publishing, content marketing) to communicate directly with customers/members — by-passing the traditional channels of PR & advertising. It made sense to our firm 20 years ago to embrace tools like CompuServ and listservs along with the magazines and newsletters we were producing for clients. So yes, anything new that has emerged, for blogging – Twitter, has been a part of what we offer. P.S. – Here's our coverage of SxSW in 2008 – – We've had a group attending for the past five years, but we decided this year, it's better to *live* conversational media than to *experiment* with it.

  3. Thanks for the input, Rex. Much appreciated.
    It's interesting, because from time to time, I talk about PR, and whatever
    it is I say about PR people and how they should be working, I inevitably get
    a comment that says “smart PR people have been doing _________ for decades.”

    I've made friends with a handful of PR folks in the tech business, because
    only a handful seem to be doing PR in a different way – in a way that blurs
    boundaries of business, marketing, advertising and all of that.

    I don't discount what you say, Rex. Perhaps it's just the smart folks that
    do it right, as you say. No insult to the lots of PR people that I deal with
    daily, but there are only a few PR people that would be classified as
    “smart” by your definition.

  4. @Mark – I left the PR/Ad business 19 years ago specifically for that reason. I was drawn more to way that companies/associations (any institution) could communicate directly with customers/members/supporters/fans than traditional methods of advertising and PR were then focused on. I'm afraid, now, that so many people are enamored with the “tools” of social media, they are going to miss the whole point. You can't bring over to social media such ideas as “targeting” and “demographics” — it's an entirely different thing to have conversations with customers. I've been thinking a lot lately that a marketing group more likely to “get” social media (moreso than advertising and PR people) are the folks who run customer support operations. They *actually know* what customers want to talk about. (Another reason it was a bad move for companies to 'off-shore' that function). In any event, thanks for the thread. Interesting topic.

  5. Hah! No problem.
    This topic is starting to become something of a wheelhouse for me, so I
    imagine it'll surface more often for us here.

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