It still bewilders me that Ad Agencies and PR Agencies remain separate, broken entities. If markets are conversations then why do communications organizations continue to avoid them? It starts with the Agency’s clients who don’t demand this singularity of their agencies. Marketing execs go shopping for the pieces. They look for a PR agency or an Ad Agency. Budgets are allocated based on this separation. Companies staff their teams with PR people and Marcom people. And Agencies match this staffing with specialists to match that demand. This cycle perpetuates; rinse and repeat.

Fragmented, complex, and blind

As an exteme example, I used to run the global Microsoft Office business at an Ad Agency and no one (on either side) was more guilty than we were. Our assignment was to convince the market through brute force that their version of Office wasn’t good enough. It took us 18 months to create a single (horrible) ad campaign. We’d talk to their PR agency maybe twice a year. We had no idea what they were doing and they really didn’t care what we did either. Our joint meetings were focused on making sure we didn’t step on each other’s feet so we could continue to do what we wanted. Even within my Agency, the media, creative, production, direct marketing and “interactive” people were completely isolated and distinct. As long as everything looked the same and was blasted to the street at the right time, we were fine.

Marketing disciplines are out of date

Go click through some agency’s websites. They’re still siloed into various mass-media disciplines and I can tell you after having sat though hundreds of pitches and working with over 20 agencies that they’re all still filled with prima donna specialists who think the best ideas come from them. Integration means checking the various boxes and repurposing the same idea across channels.

Time for a media cage match

In 1993, the UFC brought together fighters across all disciplines and pit them against each other in an attempt to determine which system would be more effective in a real, unregulated, combat situation. Since then, it’s become the most rapid growing sport in history and created a whole new, singular discipline called “mixed martial arts.” That’s exactly what needs to happen across Advertising and PR Agencies.

Mixed Martial Media will kick ass

The new communication companies will nuke all that specialization and reorganize. Here’s what they need to do:

  • Enable, facilitate and participate in communities. Stop pretending and really learn about consumers.
  • Focus on quality content instead of ads. Repeat: Stop making ads.
  • Share creative talent with the community. You don’t own the ideas.
  • Blow up the funnel and concentrate on unique steps that graduate along the way.
  • Participate, be open and visible.
  • Concentrate on the connected. Change your metrics to reflect it.
  • Results will occur daily or you’re not doing it right
  • Chris Tackett

    Been reading for a while now. Just wanted to say good job.

    Chris Tackett

  • Ed Brill

    Sam, I recently met with the head of a PR agency to discuss just this…especially when you start to bring social media into the equation, how can they think of themselves just as a PR firm? Some are forward looking but a challenge of the conversation for me was that most agencies won’t view “corporate marketing” experience as relevant when considering their talent pool and needed experience.

    I think the big agency conglomerates have the various skillsets in their boutique/subsidiary organizations, but internal fifedoms prevent the kind of cooperation that would be right for the customer.

    Change could be very interesting to watch in this area, but I think it has to be sourced right, too.

  • Jeremiah Owyang

    I’m not even sure if it has to do with mixed ‘media’.

    If we (or any company) wanted to be strategic about this, then they would first find out where they people are that they want to communicate withn. THEN, select which mediums to use.

    Focus less on tools, and approaches, and start focusing on the ‘who’ we want to reach.

  • paisano

    I’m in IT and don’t deal a lot with PR/marketing firms or departments but enough to agree with your assessment here and recommendations. The same approach will work wonders for any service oriented business model. I do deal a lot with outside contractors on special projects and can’t believe how much money they leave on the table by simply missing the boat when it comes to serving the customer. I shakes my head in disbelief as I watch these companies shoot themselves in the foot during their “pitch”. Instead of listening to our needs, wants and desires, they enforce “their” vision or assumption of what that is (remember what Felix Unger said about assuming, folks!).
    One of my mantra’s is “Use the technology!”. I know it’s difficult to break with tradition or company policy, however lame it might be. Working with another department in your company is not sleeping with the enemy! Believe in the old adage of strength in numbers. Work together and learn from every experience. Sure, you’re the experts and professionals, but sometimes the greatest lessons are learned when the teach listens to the student (when the vendor listens to the client).

    Waxing on/waxing off

  • Oliver Marks

    Eons ago I used to be an advertising creative – started out as a graphic designer, then art director and then creative director. Smaller agencies bust a gut to blend together all forms of creative – viral etc – but the bigger agencies, and the culture of their clients, continue with ye olde silo model supported by arcane metrics for justification.

    T’wasn’t always like this as any ad person will tell you. In simpler media times (60’s for example) Ogilvy, Doyle Dane Bernbach – and my personal favorite from that era, George Lois – were producing superb communication that really worked, with supporting PR. The big revolution in that era was combining words with pictures – imagine that! – most ads at that time were created by a copywriter who then sent it down the hall to be kitted out with a product picture. This was revolutionary at the time:

    Now we choke on mediocre ads through many channels, product placement, etc, it’s kind of like the 50’s again. The key to making great marketing communication is to push a single confident idea using every medium. And I don’t mean brand logos, we have race cars for that.

    What Sam is describing here is the new advertising revolution that needs to happen…

  • Wayne Rowe

    Mixed Martial Media, awesome.

    Being a martial artist I have seen the transition of traditional styles incorporating other parts of modern or complimentary martial arts. It has been fascinating. Traditional karate spends a great deal of time on kata or a choreographed sequence of moves/strikes/kicks. These kata served as training methods 100 years ago. Practitioners would also strike hard surfaces or into buckets filled with hot rocks. These ancient techniques were used to develop calluses, focus and strengthen punches enough to damage opponents who wore armor. I’m sure many have seen the high-flying kicks of Tae Kwon Do. These were originally designed to kick someone off of a horse. Certainly today’s martial artist won’t be fighting someone wearing armor or mounted on a horse. Adding the flavor of a modern art incorporates street fighting, common items that can be used as weapons or works situations where a modern day conflict might arise.

    The same is true for marketing and communications. The old ways worked in old times. Portions of the old ways are very relevant, but to make them work today you need different applications of the ancient knowledge and the addition of modern methods. Which system will reign supreme in the media cage match? I think Sam is on the right track.

    Old school communicators need to drop and give me 100 bare-knuckled conversation push-ups!

  • http://Website Alex


    I think that you’re right on about mixed martial media or holistic marketing. This is the the age of the holistic, of the integrated.

    Another case in point is the rise of holistic approach to medicine. This approach treats the whole person instead of a body part. Validating the approach are many examples that illustrate the impact of one part of the system on another (i.e. diet, allergies and ADHD).

    Mixed Martial Arts are a great analogy for what you’re calling for. I’ve also been amazed that the fast rise of the sport. Clearly one of the appeals (among many others) is the apparent applicability in the real world. Perhaps your invention – MMM will also quickly prove itself in the real world? :-)

    It’s time to move away from content-free (skills without domain expertise) PR and marketing experts who do nothing more than specialize in one narrow discipline.

  • John Johansen

    I started writing a comment about this and decided to write a post about it. It’s linked on my name.

    Let me just add that while I don’t think specialization should ever completely go away, I like your premise that the different functions need to be more unified. As the landscape for finding and consuming content becomes more complex, tying those interactions together will have a big impact on making memorable, and measurable, campaigns. Keeping pushing for this.

  • Zuzanna ‘8 kyu Kyokushin’ Pasierbinska-Wilson

    Good stuff, Sam. I think your point about getting involved with communities is crucial. From my experience it’s something PR agencies say they do as a part of their ‘social media outreach’, but this is usually limited to setting up a group on Facebook. No one gives a damn about customers.

  • http://Website khammond

    I agree with John. Different functions do need to be more unified but specialization should be retained to some extent. Perfect example: crisis communications. If you find yourself needing that service you are going to want someone who knows nothing but how to play in that realm and master it. Kind of like doctors, some disciplines can overlap nicely, but you hardly want the guy who is cutting open your chest to also spend half of his time and energy performing liposuction.

  • Jonathan Crow

    Yes, that’s why I am glad our marketing budget isn’t big enough to have problems like these – separate agencies for everything, who needs it;)

    And Ed, I echo that! In a previous life the company I was with had to pull some money out of a contract we had with a PR agency to put it in to social media marketing.

  • http://Website Sharon Greenfield

    As a fan of MMA (shout out to Gina Carano, who kicks all ass) this was a fun post, thanks Sam.

    I agree that things have certainly gotten segmented. I think originally it was the fact that marketing departments in organizations and/or the creative agencies that they hire for ad work did not know any reporters, or anyone in the media, and hence needed the guidance. And trust me, one does need to be targeted in story and reporters, because spamming everyone in the hopes that they will write something is time wasting for everyone and disrespectful to reporters. So PR was a separate entity. Of course, that was in the print only age.

    Now, in the digital age, things have changed, and so have the possibilities on how to communicate a story to a consumer. You have an interesting idea Sam, to bring everything under one roof. I do know that a major PR firm that I’m a big fan of, is beginning to do just that – they’ve created a digital design studio inside of the PR company. Hopefully this kind of integration will create a more fluid understanding of the product and how it could be useful to targeted consumers. I know, as a consumer myself, I appreciate when a product idea is cleanly and interestingly presented to me.

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  • Dennis McDonald

    Here’s an exercise that I have used with clients:

    1. Draw a diagram of the client’s organization with all the different departments and functions represented in some way.
    2. Outside the organization draw another diagram representing all the different groups that the company does business with, starting with different customer groups.
    3. For each customer group, draw a line to all the different departments or groups within the organization the customer deals with over the life of a business relationship. If you like, use different colors to represent all the different relationships you can have with customers — pre-sale communication, during sales process, post sales, service & support phases, etc.

    Now, explain how you can improve managing all these communications and relationships WITHOUT a more integrated approach…

  • Aneel

    Couldn’t agree more.. but this problem isn’t isolated to marketing/pr. The question is– who’s willing to lead? Are any agencies/consultancies willing to integrate and lead the way? Maybe make the market. Or will they simply be reactionary as always?

  • Lawrence Liu

    What the.. Sam, did *you* have anything to do with the Office “Dinosaur” campaign? Either way, knowing that you were at McCann overseeing the Microsoft Office account really explains a *lot* to me. :-) We can chat a bit more at the Mayhem Dinner next Monday or sometime while we’re both in Boston next week.

    Anyway, I’m not sure whom (in the Office org) you worked with during your time at McCann, but I certainly have excellent working relationships with our current ad and PR agencies. Hope it shows from the ads and PR that we’ll be doing next week at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. :-)

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  • The baldchemist

    “If markets are conversations then why do communications organizations continue to avoid them?”
    Who says that its so?
    Our friend above says who is going to lead. Well, you asked and I’ll tell you… we do!And we do it very very well. We have just won the CNBC 2009 award. Not that we chase awards our punters objectives come first everytime but it’s bloody nice to get recognised.
    Don’t bitch at all, just get on with what you do best and never settle for good enough ’cause it ain’t its boring dull and expecyed.
    Now, take care and get as much joy as youcan everyday.