Magazine article Communication World

PR or Advertising - Who's on Top?

Magazine article Communication World

PR or Advertising - Who's on Top?

Article excerpt

IT'S A QUINTESSENTIAL COMMUNICATION STORY FOR THE 1990s: THE CLIENT IS A STARTUP VENTURE WITH A FEW MILLION DOLLARS IN CURRENT REVENUES AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF POTENTIAL. THEIR PRODUCT IS ON THE LOW END OF HIGH TECH, BUT WITH A BROAD RANGE OF NEW MARKET POTENTIAL. WHERE DOES THIS NEW ENTERPRISE TURN FOR ITS MARKETING COMMUNICATION NEEDS?

A virtual marketing department serves as the corporate communication arm of this company, which produces both hard-ware and software, operates a clinic in Los Angeles, and through the Internet has created a nationwide network of 300 professionals in the psychological counseling field, using an evolving electronic health-care tool.

One lone experienced communication professional provides the start-up enterprise's combined advertising, PR, marketing and sales operation. The uniqueness of the product and the professional counseling service providers' market make the traditional marketing approaches obsolete. Big national publicity splashes are in the works and two books are already being published.

"There is no question that we are absolutely going to hire a PR firm before we hire an ad agency," says Kent Pelz, sole proprietor of AdVantage, providing virtual marketing/advertising departments for start-up companies and others, most of which have not gone public yet and have visions of exploiting the internet. Pelz has a real client, EEG Spectrum, a biofeedback firm in southern California owned by some creative venture capitalists, for whom his statement above applies.

"Traditionally, that is pretty unusual," Pelz, who has more than three decades in the advertising/marketing business, admits. "At least in my experience, hiring an ad agency always came first."The business world hasn't been its traditional self for a long time now - ever since microchips and Microsoft and the Net consumed our lives. A globalization of the world's economies and consolidation of the largest companies and industries have followed suit. No wonder PR-advertising isn't the same old game.

As the international business giants get ever bigger, myriad niche businesses are springing up in health care, telecommunication, energy, banking and entertainment. We live in a business climate that has shifted radically in less than a decade, but it promises to shift some more before the millennium is only a few years old.

The communication drivers for these still-to-be defined markets have been turned upside down or totally reinvented.

"There is no doubt that the communication paradigm has shifted," said Gerald Swerling, former Porter/Novelli West Coast operations head and now an independent counselor and head of the graduate PR program at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication. He notes that a "tremendous maturity" has taken place in the public relations function this decade. He sees CEOs "demanding" that there be PR professionals at the strategic planning table for new products and initiatives, although he is realistic enough to note that the situation could change just as quickly as it has developed.

Nevertheless, the perception remains that advertising is still king of the communication mix in any serious marketing effort. And it is true that there is more advertising being sold these days than ever before. (A projected U.S. $112 billion in the U.S. alone in 1998, with another $88 billion collectively in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.)

The Wall Street Journal technology supplement in November quoted Marian Salzman, Young & Rubicam's futurist and the co-author of the book "Next: The Flow of the Future" on communication's future role: "By 2008, we'll be even more bombarded by advertising messages than we are in 1998! They'll add to the stress of info overload."

The raw numbers, however, may belie the dynamics in today's global markets that make branding and focus more important than ever - even for the mega-organizations with consolidated breadth and depth to their businesses. …

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