Why We Bought an Ad Agency

Why would a PR company buy an ad agency? Isn’t that backwards? This is a question I’ve been asked a lot in the weeks since my firm, APCO Worldwide, announced it had purchased a majority share in creative powerhouse StrawberryFrog. StrawberryFrog is a great agency with innovative leaders, a winning philosophy, iconic clients and a strong trajectory, but that is not the whole story. The rationale is much bigger than APCO or StrawberryFrog and addresses a transformative shift in the way consumers interact with corporate brands.

It is beyond dispute that lines between advertising and earned, owned and borrowed media have blurred, with social media serving as the great connector. The explosion of information sources and sophisticated tools that help people navigate them have fundamentally shifted control into the hands of the readers and viewers and away from professional content creators. We can no longer communicate differently market-by-market; we need to recognize the powerful links emerging across a globally connected world. Our clients understand these powerful trends. As a result, they are looking for their agencies to provide clear roadmaps through this complex labyrinth and help them achieve optimal service delivery without preconceived ideas about the channel mix.

But even this isn’t what ultimately led us to pull the trigger on this deal.

The big idea here is the recognition that we can no longer conceive campaigns designed around what we want to say about our companies and brands. No matter how creative, compelling and emotional the appeal, these kinds of campaigns are increasingly bound to fail.

Communication strategies today require us to passionately seek a deep, authentic point of alignment between our brand’s values and character and the interests and instincts of our various stakeholders. We must stand for something larger than ourselves, but also something that is honestly about us as well. We need to communicate with creativity and emotion about that big idea, and we must also advocate for it arm-in-arm with our stakeholders. Sometimes we will lead, but we must just as often be prepared to support, empower and follow.

Scott Goodson and his team at StrawberryFrog coined this “movement marketing” and made it their mission. At APCO, we call it becoming a Champion Brand. No matter what you call it, it is the future. And global brands looking for an alternative to traditional solutions are embracing this philosophy.

So why would the PR firm buy the ad agency? I believe one of the core competencies of the public relations professional has always been to understand those myriad stakeholder interests and how they intersect. Our base instinct is to listen first and talk second. Most advertisers, on the other hand, are best at communicating what they want to say. Through this lens, it makes total sense that the PR firm would lead. But it also explains why we were so drawn to StrawberryFrog, an agency that we found truly thinks both differently and globally.

Companies must take a bold step into a new era of aligning their goals with stakeholder expectations, and fueling trust and shared value across all audiences. The faster companies adapt, the more competitive they will become in this ever-changing global marketplace. APCO and StrawberryFrog have made the leap. Who will follow? We hope you’ll join us in a conversation about #convergence on Twitter.

7 Responses to “Why We Bought an Ad Agency”

  1. Kim L. Hunter said on February 29, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Margery Kraus has always been a thought leader! I, for one, am not surprised that APCO Worldwide acquired StrawberryFrog. Why? It takes innovative thinking and strategic positioning for a communications firm like APCO to do the unthinkable! You go girl!!!

  2. Steven Cody said on February 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Great blog, Margery. I totally agree. That’s why we bought an advertising agency/interactive shop called H20 about 18 months ago. It’s no longer about pr vs advertising. It’s about listening to the audience and understanding how he or she wants to engage in a conversation. Like you, we’re channel agnostic.

  3. Margie Morris said on February 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Providing stellar services in rural Texas requires our ad agency to combine the best elements of advertising, PR and marketing within the context of what makes every target audience’s heart sing. It is gratifying to read that the alignment (and enthusiasm) we provide is just as important in the Big City and the Big World. Thank you!

  4. Chris Klopper said on February 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    What a brilliant and insightful post – thank you Margery.

    Every word was well worth reading but the sentence that really stood out for me was the one that reads…… “Communication strategies today require us to passionately seek a deep, authentic point of alignment between our brand’s values and character and the interests and instincts of our various stakeholders. ”

    What a great summation of where our thinking should be headed.

  5. Lynn Hazan said on February 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Creating alignment between customers and brands is an ongoing process. Now that we have so many tools for getting our messages out, we need to consider how to use the best tools to their full potential. It makes good business sense to integrate the best talent to work with our clients. Less fighting too!

  6. The Case for Blending PR and Advertising - PRNewser said on March 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    [...] head Margery Kraus answered the question “Why We Bought An Ad Agency” in a post on the Council of PR Firms [...]

  7. [...] month, APCO announced that it purchased an ad agency, StrawberryFrog. Kraus wrote about it for the Council of PR Firms blog and we discussed the blending of advertising and PR [...]

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