I guess they didn’t expect me to speak up.
I don’t remember the idea I brought up in that Super Bowl brainstorm, years ago. I do remember the evil eye the ECD gave me down the long, long table, the one that
said: Who the f*** said you could talk?
he thought I was there to take notes. I was the PR person, after all, not a creative. My purpose was to make an idea famous, not to make the idea itself. Except, when you find yourself thinking
that way, you’re wasting your secret weapon: your PR person.
Agencies have always had a touchy relationship with PR, because the work is supposed to speak for itself. When they do bring PR people in, it’s always in a little box on
the side of the agency. Every once in a while, they’ll throw something over the wall and say, “PR the hell out of this.”
That project may have PR-the-hell written all over it. It may have stay-the-hell-away
on it. More likely, it’s a solid maybe. But by the time you bring it to your PR person, it’s too late to change a maybe to a hell yeah. You need to bring in your in-house PR person or
consultant or PR agency a whole lot sooner, before it’s fully formed. Because they can make it better.
Almost every idea in advertising today hinges on one question: will people talk about it? People might not ever see your ad, no matter how much media
you put behind it. The only sure way to deal with an ad blackout is to create something that people want to talk about. And one of the few functions in your agency who have a handle on that question,
beyond your social listening team, is PR. Because you know who are people who talk about things for a living? Journalists.
Any PR person I know who’s been in the ad biz for a while can tell you almost exactly which stories will go
wide, and which will have an audience of none. They can help you give your story legs — if you let them. Here’s where you can start.
Don’t be precious
We’re conditioned to protect an idea, to curl around it in a ball while CCOs and budgets and clients hammer away at it. We’re able to do that
because we’ve come to believe, “We’re the experts.” That’s why my ECD shot me glares of death. But once your idea goes out into the world, it has to stand on
its own — and it may be too fragile for it. Let others in. Your PR person isn’t a creative director or an account person. But they do have access to a focus group — and an
influential one at that. Let them take a look.
Bring PR in
The right time to bring in PR is not before launch, or even before production. It’s before a client ever sees
it. Once the client signs off on it, there’s nothing PR can change. Once you’ve narrowed down what you’re showing to your clients, show them to your PR
team first. They can tell you which ideas are most likely to break through, and what tweaks will make them even stronger.
Bring PR in even earlier
You really want to see things happen? Add PR to your kickoff, but don’t have them work in a vacuum. Put them on one of your teams.
Don’t make them drink the Kool-Aid
I remember when I told a fellow PR expert, someone who was at the top of our game, how I got involved at the idea stage. “Wait. We can do that?” she
said. That’s what’s going to happen the first time you bring your PR person in. They’ll blink a few times, look around. “Is this
safe?” they’ll ask, and they have a right to. They've been burned before. There’s a pressure in agencies to drink the Kool-Aid: if you’re not with us on
this idea, you’re against us. So make it safe for your PR team. Welcome their ideas.
Look beyond the PR
You might be thinking, “Our client will never let us do PR. Why go through the hassle?” Even if
there’s not a chance of PR, it’s always worth it to bring in your PR team. You know why? Because a newsworthy idea will break out from the clutter, whether or not you have media behind it.
And, if you played a role in making your client famous, they’re much more likely to reward you with that all-so-important case study.
A good PR person is a splurge for any agency. Wanna make them worth it? Bring them in.