Why advertising increasingly needs PR support

John Lewis’ Christmas ad for 2017 shows how PR, along with social media, can spearhead and launch a major advertising campaign. Comms pros from W Communications and Taylor Herring discuss how this trend has evolved in recent years.

John Lewis’ high profile annual Christmas campaign, this year featuring Buster the Boxer, began its journey a little differently this year. In previous years, content was teased online before the launch of the full version of the ad on TV. This time, on the day of launch (November 9), the full advert was published at 8am on YouTube with bespoke social channel support, including a filter on Snapchat. Thirteen hours later, the ad was broadcast on ITV.

Earned media – as seen in press anticipation of the ad’s launch – can amplify advertising’s impact and, according to Richard Tompkins, MD at W Communications, there are more briefs asking for this. He notes: “PR briefs to help amplify advertising campaigns are not a particularly new trend. What has changed is the number of these briefs coming through the door.

“Increasing demand is fuelled by falling TV viewing numbers, which has in turn weakened the significance of the ‘ad break’. Landing that big TV ad moment has never been more challenging for marketers.”

Blurring the line between paid and earned

Peter Mountstevens, managing partner at Taylor Herring says this is due to the blurring of the line between earned and paid media.

“The rise of social media alongside ad-blocking technology has meant that advertising agencies and marketers have had to rethink their entire approach. They have had to learn to think like PRs; building editorial media hooks into their narrative and ensuring the end result is something people are likely to share rather than block.”

Mountstevens adds that this leads to a level playing field between marketing disciplines and traditional agency roles. They are becoming far less rigidly defined.

“Today the idea is king and many of the creative pitches we attend are ‘agency’ neutral – in other words a great idea is a great idea wherever it originates. This is hugely encouraging for anyone who works in creative PR.”

According to Mountstevens, this changing landscape has opened up ‘new opportunities’ for Taylor Herring. Last year the agency devised, conceived and executive produced a digital Christmas advert for Kwik Fit which ranked up over nine million views. More recently, it is promoting a series of parody Christmas adverts for partners at The Poke – a satirical online publisher.

PR lends more support across the festive period

The breakdown in the significance of the ‘ad break’ is particularly evident in the annual battle for the Christmas TV crown, according to Tompkins.

“It’s now common for agencies, including W, to be called on to pre-promote and extend the length of the feature adverts for the duration of the festive period. Consequently, the role of marketing in producing these ‘cultural moment’ adverts has shifted. Instead of being the lead in the process, they are progressively becoming a latter part of bigger ‘journey’ in consumers’ minds for retailers. The campaign behind the latest John Lewis advert was a clear indication of this,” he says.

However, this is not limited to Christmas ads, according to the comms pros. Tompkins adds: “This approach is certainly not restricted to the Christmas advertising space. W has had several 2016 briefs asking to provide strategy and creative to generate excitement ahead of traditional advertising campaigns – be that TV or outdoor.

“PR is now far more involved in the initial creative development, to ensure that the advertising recommendations and routes are able to be delivered seamlessly through PR and social channels.”

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