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2014: A Year of PR Titans Versus Unconfined Advertisers

A recent post by Richard Edelman on his 6 A.M. blog, Show Up Differently makes about as bold a statement as I’ve ever read. The world's most influential PR company has alreaedy marked 2014 as the year of unparalleled change, some even suggest a veritable communications Donnybrook. Read on to see why social/digital has become the ultimate catalyst for a shift in doing business.  

Show Up Differently

Before we discuss the coming communications shakeup that will be the PR story of 2014, a bit of context is necessary. By way of a brief history, Richard Edelman’s father, Daniel J. Edelman (below right), founded the world’s most influential public relations company from a small office in Chicago back in 1952. Under his leadership the small firm grew to influence the world, and to help grow brands Americans have some to literally indentify Americana with.

Daniel EdelmanSara Lee to Colonel Sander’s KFC, Daniel a later his son Richard captained a PR ship which literally altered the course of communications. Today clients include Microsoft, Pfizer, General Electric, Wal-Mart Stores, Abbott Laboratories, Samsung, Royal Dutch Shell, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, to name a few. Now, at the crossroads where digital communications and social metrics collide, there’s an almost cataclysmic friction in between some key players in the publicity game, and in between PR and advertising.

Make no mistake here, massive influence forces are at play, and for untold billions in ad and marketing business.

Pre-Fight Press

With the much talked about Publicis-Omnicom merger on the horizon, some foresee an epic confrontation for the supreme role within the communications triad of PR, advertising, and marketing. From a PR insider’s view, the announcement by Fleishman-Hillard CEO Dave Senay that his publically owned firm would become the world’s biggest industry conglomerate might not have flown in the face or Richard Edelman, if not for this statement to New York Times writer Stuart Elliott categorizing the massive merger:

“It’s not that we’re going to become an ad agency, we’re moving into a different space. The vision is to be the most complete communications company.”

Not many took notice of this announcement, nor the subtle message within, but I did. When Richard Edelman wrote his “Dissenting View” piece in retort, things underneath the ring ropes of big time PR got kind of interesting. As it turns out, I’d just gotten permission to repost Richard’s 6 A.M. blog for our Everything PR News, I might add, the only duplicate content we’d ever posted on that PR news site. This is only significant because of the email I received from a high up (who shall go unnamed) FH executive literally fuming over Edelman’s "appearance on EPR" without a countertake etc. How was I to know the Battle of the Morannon was taking place? (My thoughts now).

Foremski with Scoble

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

Edelman versus Fleishman-Hillard, or Ketchum versus 5WPR put aside for a moment, turning to As ZDNet’s Tom Foremski (seen above with Rackspace guru Rocky Barbanica, and Robert Scoble)  for context now;

“I see lots of opportunities for disrupting PR firms, and the advertising agencies.  A new kind of marketing communications company will arise, as Edelman predicts, but I doubt it will come from within. It has to be what I call a New Rules Enterprise."

It’s these new rules that will bring the point home, show the ultimate winner in maybe the publicity dollars contest since the soap opera was in vogue in the late 50’s. Foremski’s post foretells of huge advertising/PR dollars on the horizon for some, while other visionaries discuss the grass roots inevitability of what Richard Edelman evangelizes in his Show Up Differently proclamation. Show Up Differently, is ironically (or fortuitously) mirrored by a recent talk from old friend Brian Solis.

Brian Solis - change agent

I remember when Brian evangelized tech startups with and to me from the days of Futurworks PR, and my own tech analyst days. Today Solis is by far the Pied Piper of the social-digital paradigm that’s affecting everything communicative. In a Facebook post yesterday Brian is quoted;

"I was a champion of technology. Now I am a champion for change."

My retort was a bit in line with Edelman’s track for an advertising industry about to take a back seat to two way communicative conduits – “now we innovate ourselves and the community.” You see, this is what all the social media overlap with marketing, advertising, and PR is leading up to. As Edelman suggests his private firm’s direction going forward as;

“We believe that the combination of public relations, digital and research will allow us to build a new kind of marketing communications firm that can help clients both promote and protect their brands.”


Finally, this post by Solis entitled; “2014 – The Embolden Years: Change agents lead the way for digital transformation,” actually fortifies what Edelman says. Advertising, as we have seen, as well as PR and marketing, will never be the same in the sense of independently functioning genres of communication. The “way” of business will not be to “bolt on” or add talent and technical units to a corporate monolith, instead business overall will become “top down” social entities in the way Richard’s family owned business (however huge) seems headed. To quote Brian again;

“Today CX is relegated to the champions who believe in its importance to improve relationships and loyalty. What CX studies and discovers affects every stage of the dynamic customer journey. How companies plan for engagement in each moment of truth is largely disconnected today. By becoming a strategic imperative at the C-Suite level, distributed teams and efforts will unite around a new or renewed vision to modernize and lead customer engagement throughout the new dynamic customer journey and in each moment of truth. This work will create new roles starting at the top with someone owning the customer experience a la Chief Digital Officer (CDO) or Chief Experience Office (CXO). While seemingly trendy, this function will unite marketing, sales, service and also IT. New areas of expertise will also be necessary to support these new efforts ranging from experience architects to digital anthropologists to data scientists to cross media strategists.”

Richard Edelman

And the Winner Is - Us

In summary, if you compare the “in the trenches” analysis of Altimeter’s Solis, with the encompassing 2014 moves of Edelman, you have to find it interesting that experts focused on (as Richard puts it) building a “combination of public relations, digital and research" that will allow for building new kinds of  marketing communications firms, firms that can help clients both promote and protect brands. the coherent vision of both is uncanny. From a personal perspective I find the dogma of Fleishman-Hillard and some others a bit control oriented, while that of Edelman, Solis and others is clearly adaptive, more free thinking. To quote the Isreali leader Shimon Peres;

“The internet, Facebook and Twitter have created mass communications and social spaces that regimes cannot control.”

We are at the dawn of a true connective age of humankind, for those who see. Business is now truly a byproduct of humanity, dependent wholly on what Solis calls “the experience.” It will be interesting to see and to live 2014 in the shadow of all this. Let’s hear your thoughts. I leave you with a point of light I've been reporting on for a while now, Edelman's Words of a Generation research/digital engagement. Remember, change, we can watch or we can be a part. 

Noted Correction: The author at the New York Times mentioned is "Stuart Elliot". I mistyped his name as "Steve" in the post. The mistake has been amended, and I'm sorry for any confusion.

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