Matt Williams: are unique events the way to win the agency PR game?

Every week there’s something new that’s killing advertising. That’ll put all agencies out of business.

This year, one of those trendy threats is advocacy. Why the hell would clients come to us anymore when they can get better reach and a more powerful message across using our favourite YouTubers and celebrity Tweeters?

That was the topic of discussion last week at The&Partnership’s daylong conference.

And luckily, our fears can be laid to rest. Sir Martin Sorrell (below) said so. “It’s a false distinction. Advocacy is a part of advertising. It’s an evolution,” he commented. Phew.
martin-sorrell-hed3-2013

For what it’s worth, I’m in full agreement. And was also nodding along when Philip Gladman of marketing consultancy Flintlock observed that actually “advocacy is as old as the hills. In a way everything had changed, and nothing has changed.”

It’s just that now we’re in an age of radical transparency, where advocacy starts at the top. Where agencies must be collaborative, informal and hold shared values if they are to fully harness the benefits that advocacy can bring to their clients.

That’s what’s really changed.

But in truth it’s not even the concept of advocacy that I’d like to talk about following the conference. It’s the event itself.

Agency PR is evolving. Fast. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s become less reliant on schmoozing and boozing (although there’s still plenty of boozing) and more incumbent on agencies themselves to create and distribute content that will drive home the right brand messages and provide clients and prospective clients with high-quality, impactful material.

This means looking for new channels, new ideas and fresh perspectives. It can be through anything – films, thought leadership pieces, partnerships, podcasts or, as in this case, an event.

Now, many would say that the last thing we need is another industry conference.

But I’d argue that the sheer number of them may well be the best reason why an event like this works so well.

So many of them mean so much diluted content. It’s almost impossible for people to make a clear judgment when attempting to pick and choose the right one to attend.

A conference of this nature, however, had an element of exclusivity about it (so Lord knows how I got invited). Hosted chiefly by The&Partnership senior staff – going all the way up the aforementioned WPP big cheese – it guaranteed an audience of mainly prolific clients, content hand-picked by those with a genuine interest in the messages being conveyed, and speakers of the highest order.

Who would you rather have secure you a decent panel line-up – the sales team of yet another bizarrely named industry conference or Sir Martin Sorrell delving into his Little Black Book? It’s a powerful way to share insights, to secure face time with clients that goes beyond a half-hour WIP, and an excellent way to drive home one single agency message.

Oh, and the resulting PR can’t be bad either.

I’m not deluded. I appreciate these events are costly, that they require a lot of resource and a crack event management team. I recognise that they’re not for every agency. And I know that many companies put on events, webinars and panel sessions every week.

But the scale and ambition of a full day’s worth of events with consistently good speakers should be applauded.

And as the marketing world shifts further and agencies continue to look for new ways to define themselves, it’s good to see another example of an agency leading the charge.

You May Also Like

About Matt Williams

Matt Williams
Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.