PR shops step into the creative game

PR agencies are coming up with ads and producing the content, bleeding into what was once the domain of creative agencies.
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The Canadian Cancer Society has a new video that it hopes will spread. It’s a little ditty teaching 15- to 29-year-old men how to check for testicular cancer.

The video is all about good “Nutiquette,” and follows a man as he is unexpectedly serenaded by a group of singers who have seemingly broken into his house. It’s polished and catchy, and possibly something you’d see during a late-night comedy hour on TV.

But the ad didn’t come from a creative shop and won’t be airing on traditional channels. It came from Toronto-based PR firm Environics Communications. After four weeks, the video had over 31,000 hits on YouTube. Actual PR around it just kicked off mid-September, so Andrew Kinnear, VP digital strategy, Environics, hopes the spot will get even more play.

While they batted around the idea of a paid media buy with more traditional creative, the digital-only approach was taken because, Kinnear says, videos shared by a friend are more likely to be watched all the way through, and generate conversation online.

The entire video, with the exception of the final edit, was done by Environics (from the idea to the song writing to the actual filming) and marks a new trend in the industry where PR firms are treading into creative agency domain, coming up with their own ads and actually producing the content.

“We’re bleeding more into creative territory by necessity,” Kinnear says. “It really has come from the shift in consumer behaviour. It’s not just about leveraging influencers or getting [a message] through the media. It’s creating content and assets to reach our audiences with a more engaging message.”

Matt Sepkowski, national director of marketing, Canadian Cancer Society, adds that he’s seen a shift in PR shops offering more creative services, though that wasn’t the primary reason for taking the PR-first approach with “Nutiquette.” Environics had the best idea for the campaign budget, he says, though he’s very happy with the results to date and would definitely consider taking the PR-first approach again.

And it’s more than just digital content (though that is a big driver). PR shops are being asked to handle social media feeds and execute mass experiential campaigns.

Amanda Alvaro, managing director of Toronto-based Narrative PR, which works out of the Bensimon Byrne offices, adds that the two-way dialogue with consumers over social channels has propelled the need for more creative, more frequently. Add in the financial crunch in 2008, and business at PR shops that can also do creative has boomed. “Marketers were looking to get big bang for their buck,” she says. “They couldn’t necessarily put all their dollars into expensive means like TV. Some of our busiest times have been since 2008.” Narrative picked up six new clients this past year alone, including Grey Goose and Workopolis.

Finally, clients don’t want to hit up five different types of agencies for one campaign, Alvaro says, meaning more and more, marketers are looking for a one-stop shop.

As a result, PR firms are hiring the creatively inclined. At Toronto-based Edelman, for example, a half-dozen people work in the Creative Group, including a video producer, creative director and a team of design folks, all brought in within the past two years, says Lisa Kimmel, general manager, Edelman.

“While PR agencies have always had the creative ideas that can generate conversation, the execution of the creative itself hasn’t always been at the quality of traditional ad agencies,” she says. “We’re very good at the telling side [of a story]. We haven’t been as strong on the showing. [But] we recognized there was an opportunity for us, and if we had the right people and big ideas to bring forward, then we’d have the opportunity to take the lead.”