SUPPLEMENT: PUBLIC RELATIONS; Integrating the delivery

Putting a message across consistently and economically is one of the benefits of taking an integrated approach. But it also demands clarity on the strategy, writes Ken Gofton

Putting a message across consistently and economically is one of the

benefits of taking an integrated approach. But it also demands clarity

on the strategy, writes Ken Gofton

Only three months after setting up a working party to examine the

financial services market, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group launched a new

financial offshoot: Virgin Direct. First offering PEPs, then insurance

and now pensions, in 18 months it has won 75,000 customers and is

managing funds of pounds 400m.

On that original working party was an outsider recruited for his

financial services experience: Alastair Gornall, managing director of

Consolidated Communications. Described variously by Gornall as either an

integrated PR agency or a PR-led agency, Consolidated now handles all of

Virgin Direct’s communications, including the press office and a pounds

6m advertising budget.

‘We meet every Wednesday morning with Virgin Direct’s managing

director,’ says Gornall. ‘There are no politics, just a total focus from

everyone on what we are trying to achieve. It is a great way to work and

very exciting.’

He acknowledges that the approach isn’t right for everyone. Big

companies with big budgets, a raft of brands and large marketing teams

are structured to a more traditional way of working, for example. But

young brands ‘want to work faster and want a new structure, one that can

move like greased lightning’, he explains.

‘These clients want to be involved in the whole process, they want to

see the work developing, including the ideas that would normally go in

the bin.’

Putting the whole budget with a single agency is just one way of

approaching the integrated marketing question, of course. As far as

public relations is concerned, it is a relatively rare route.

In the rush during the early 90s to establish ‘integrated’ agencies, the

usual offering was advertising, direct marketing and sales promotion.

All too often, however, PR was left out in the cold - possibly because

the other disciplines just didn’t understand PR, or because they

assigned it the junior role of sending out the press releases.

Yet over the years there have been some classic cases of integrated

communication, where PR has had a key strategic role. At least 15 years

ago, for example, Unilever faced restrictions on the health claims it

could make in advertising Flora margarine. The solution? Burson-

Marsteller masterminded a PR campaign saying medical research suggested

that polyunsaturated fats were (relatively) good for you, while the ads

concentrated on saying that Flora was ‘rich in polyunsaturates’.

It was much the same in the mid 80s, when Countrywide (now Countrywide

Porter Novelli) pushed the health benefits of soluble fibre for Quaker


There is no real argument over whether PR has a part to play in

integrated marketing. Clearly it has. Nor is it a question of saying

that you must have an integrated agency to have an integrated campaign.

No one seriously believes that. The integrated agency is just one

solution, but there are many others.

At one end of the rainbow, for example, you have the clients who bring

all their specialist agencies around a table and, if necessary, bang

their heads together. At the other end are those large, international

agency groups with a complete offering: the Young & Rubicam group has

Burson-Marsteller as its main PR arm; J Walter Thompson has Hill &

Knowlton; Omnicom owns Countrywide Porter Novelli; Eurocom owns Biss

Lancaster; Grey has GCI; and Saatchi & Saatchi has The Rowland Company.

A client which has chosen the latter route is Cotton Council

International, which promotes the use of cotton. Grey and its PR

subsidiary GCI Group work together on the account.

‘It is up to us to recommend how the budget is allocated and how the

message should be amplified through advertising, exposure marketing and

PR,’ explains Adrian Wheeler, managing director at GCI. ‘The client

would be astonished if we did not collaborate in its best interests

across its four European markets.’

So it can be done. But the bizarre situation exists that most people

believe that integrated marketing is a ‘good thing’, the structures

exist to make it happen, and yet all too often it is structures that get

in the way. And this applies not just to any role that PR might play,

but to the other disciplines as well.

On the agency side, there’s a real battle to win a share of the cake.

Where several agencies are involved, they are all going to want as much

of the budget as possible. Even using a multinational group with

separate agencies for the different disciplines doesn’t overcome this,

because each will be a separate profit centre. Similar arguments apply

in many of the so-called integrated agencies as well.

Clients, on the other hand, are hampered by tradition. In large

organisations, there might be separate departments for PR, sales

promotion, advertising and direct marketing, with budget allocation a

slowly evolving process. And university courses segment the disciplines

in the same way - if they give any attention to below-the-line topics,

that is. ‘We think in boxes because we are taught in boxes,’ says David

Lake, managing director of Countrywide Parker Novelli in Banbury.

Lake claims that one of the mistakes clients make, even when they are

seeking an integrated solution, is to give the strategic thinking role

to the ad agency, often for historical reasons.

‘The planning is done by an advertising planner, who comes up with a

strategy appropriate for advertising. The other disciplines then have to

find ways of interpreting that preferred platform to their own work,’ he


‘You either go back and say ‘yes, we can see how we can take the

advertising message further on our side’, or you have to say ‘sorry, it

won’t translate into PR or sales promotion’, or whatever. But then it is

no longer an integrated platform.’

GCI’s Wheeler claims there is nothing more sad than the spectacle of an

advertising agency deploying one concept and a PR agency pursuing

another. It is, he adds, not only a crime against the economic use of

resources, but no service at all to either client or consumer.

Gornall backs that view: ‘You have to spend a lot of time thinking about

the strategy at the outset,’ he says. ‘But when you have done that, you

can say ‘we have a battle plan. Now, what weapons are we going to use?’.

The argument is all about weapons. Advertising is like the artillery and

the sales force is the infantry, going in after the target has been

softened up.’

More controversially, he adds: ‘A lot of US agencies take the view that

public relations is the task of communicating to all of a company’s

audiences and that advertising is a particular tactic, that it is just a

message-delivery system.’

Compaq highlights computer costs

Compaq enjoys high status in the computer industry, but its position is

constantly being challenged by cut-price manufacturers. Its PR agency

Firefly prompted it to conduct research into the attitudes of IT and

finance managers towards the costs of owning and running PCs. From this,

Bates Dorland devised an ad campaign with the headline ‘Compaq costs you

less than cheaper computers’.

What the research highlighted was a great deal of ignorance about the

true costs of a computer network, and also out-of-date approaches to

monitoring the numbers and types of computers in a company. A quarter of

those surveyed thought that the cost of supporting a PC through its

lifetime would be about a fifth of the original purchase price. In fact,

the total cost is likely to be four times the original price,

particularly when account is taken of the cost of down-time and lost


Additionally, Compaq now offers systems which will conduct a PC audit

throughout a network at the press of a button, as well as offering early

warning of faults and providing automatic back-up when it detects them.

Some of the managers interviewed still conducted manual audits taking up

to six days.

For the integrated campaign which followed the research, Firefly

produced a booklet, The Hidden Costs of Computing, as well as a research

report available for purchase by people responding to Bates Dorland’s

advertising. The PR agency also handled publicity in the national and

computer press and using elements from the research, provided the

material for a dedicated web site:


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