PR is emerging as the latest threat to ad agencies’ grip on creative.


Today the lines between paid media (ads) and earned media (editorial coverage) are all but erased, with an increasing number of PR firms crossing into territory once commanded solely by ad agencies. Traditional creative shops have been threatened by the incursion of everything from in-house agencies to consultancies and specialty shops focused on disciplines like experiential and data marketing.

In recent years, however, PR has also stepped up to become a formidable foe. The transition is driven in part by marketers’ demands for integrated solutions, the rise of social media and viral content and financial pressures forcing PR firms to redefine their business models to remain competitive. Public relations firms—including Edelman, WPP’s BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Weber Shandwick and Rogers & Cowan PMK-BNC—are no longer judged solely by the number of media impressions they generate for a brand. For the past five to 10 years they’ve also been taking the lead on creative, social, digital and paid media.

Rogers & Cowan—which merged with PMK-BNC in July to form a mega Hollywood-focused PR firm with a mashed-up name—says it houses a team of 185 people that develop and execute marketing and experiential campaigns, content partnerships, and integration and influencer programs, along with music and entertainment strategies. The shift from traditional communications has been led by CEO Mark Owens, who joined Rogers & Cowan in 2015. Since his appointment, the firm claims to have tripled its brand marketing client roster to include Cisco, Audi, Heineken, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Verizon.Owens says 75 percent of Rogers & Cowan PMK-BNC’s business is now in brand marketing across digital, social and experiential.“PR at its heart is about storytelling,” Owens says. “It’s about shaping the narrative. That’s more important than ever.”

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