PR, advertising, branding, digital, direct and media industries fight it out on The Drum bus during Advertising Week Europe

Representatives from across the marketing communications industries came together to fight it out in a survival of the fittest 'balloon debate' on The Drum's double decker bus during Advertising Week Europe.

The debate, hosted by The Drum's editor Stephen Lepitak, brought together six individuals from advertising, branding, digital, direct, media and public relations. Tasked with debating which one of their industries would best represent the future of marketing communications, panellists were faced with the daunting prospect of being ejected from the bus if they failed to step up to the mark – as judged by an audience of bus passengers.

The end of each heated round saw one panellist unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road to make their own way home or back to Advertising Week.

Here, we take a look at how the debate played out, revealing which industries stood the test of time – keeping their seat on the bus until the end.

Round 1: advertising, branding, digital, direct, media, PR

The first round saw each of the speakers allocated up to five minutes in which to argue why their industry is the future of marketing communications.

Jane Wilson, managing director of corporate affairs at MHP, kicked off with the argument that when it comes to survival of the fittest, public relations is ahead of the game as it is all about adapting and evolving to the modern world. She added: "There probably isn't a single aspect of this industry that isn't driven by PR."

David Jackson, senior strategist at FCB Inferno, went next, making the case for advertising by saying that it creates an emotional connection that resonates with consumers - something that's needed to drive purchase or behavioural change - citing the agency's recent 'This Girl Can' work for Sport England as an example.

Direct marketing was next to stick its head above the parapet, with DotMailer's Skip Fedura arguing that direct touches every channel, and that its very definition - getting an immediate response from your target market - could apply to all marketing.

Lambie-Nairn's Adrian Burton then discussed the value of branding and the role branding agencies play, comparing creating brands to raising a child. He added: "brands provide equity for the future."

Digital was next, and Ben Sutherland, board director at iProspect, took a swipe at advertising.

"The king is dead, and in this instance, I belive the king is advertising. Creativity is alive and more invigorated than ever, but advertising as we know it is dead. What you see now is the final twitches of a dinosaur struggling to understand its own doom.

"The old approach to advertising, which has a slight egocentric arrogant point of view about how we push messages to consumers, is outdated and outmoded," he added.

Lastly, YouTube's Derek Scobie discussed the two facets of media - supply and demand - and argued that media is the 'microphone and the amplifier' connecting advertising and brand content with consumers.

He added: "Media is in a golden age, and we're going to have almost unlimited access to fantastic content in future. From a media perspective that's just a massive opportunity for brands."

Direct received the lowest number of votes, with Skip Fedura kicked off the bus as a result. Sorry Skip!

Round 2: advertising, branding, digital, media, PR

With the key arguments outlined, the panel members turned to comparison to strengthen their arguments in the second round.

  • The digitisation of channels was named as a strengthening factor in the development of all marketing channels. Sutherland argued, for example, that PR is arguably more powerful than ever because it's digital.
  • Media needs content to survive. Burton made the point that most media content is brand-driven, and argued brands are now attempting to take back that ownership, using the example of the BBC adding its logo on to the Top Gear opening credits.
  • Great creative differentiates very similar products from each other and helps all the channels down the funnel work harder, argued Jackson.

Media received the lowest number of votes after this round, with Derek Scobie asked to leave the bus. Hope you got home OK, Derek.

Round 3: advertising, branding, digital, PR

The temperature started to rise on the bus as the remaining panellists made the case for their industry.

  • Burton drew on the role that brands play in the way we define ourselves, adding that branding is important because "it sits at the top of the tree".
  • PR "sparks the imagination", according to Wilson. She argued that PR brings to life events like the Olympics, the Royal Wedding and Felix Baumgartner's jump from space.
  • Advertising is talked about by people who don't work in advertising, Jackson reminded the audience, using the annual excitement around the John Lewis Christmas ad as an example.

With the audience finding the other panellists' arguments more compelling, advertising was kicked off and David Jackson left the bus to make his own way home.

Round 4: branding, digital, PR

Sutherland drew on a number of current predictions about the role digital will play in our industry's future, including the prediction that 70 per cent of media will be traded programmatically by 2017.

Burton argued that the common denominator among each of the channels represented in the debate is brands, while Wilson compared creating a brand to having a child. "In your eyes they can do no wrong until they go into the big wide world, then you see what little shits they are. That's where PR comes in."

As branding received the lowest number of votes, Adrian Burton was forced to leave. Nice knowing you, Adrian.

Final round: digital and PR

Now neck and neck, the only two panellists left on the floor were MHP's Jane Wilson and Ben Sutherland of iProspect. Sutherland admitted it was now time to play the pity card to engage the audience's votes, discussing a varied career in which everything he has done so far has culminated in his current digital role.

"I do direct marketing, I do advertising, I do PR, to a certain extent, I certainly do branding. So that's why I think digital is at the heart of the future and the growth of the advertising industry as it currently stands.

"It's the glue that brings all of the different disciplines together. And arguably without it, everything else would fail miserably," he added.

Unfazed, Wilson's final argument brought the debate back to the people at the heart of digital businesses and communications.

She said: "There's no doubt that digital businesses, digital ways of working and digital ways of communicating are at the heart of the future, but they can only be made to mean something when you have people at the heart of them. Not digital. What makes people behave in a different way is other people - their recommendations and their networks. Digital is a tool."

Wilson added that she has witnessed her colleagues in PR embrace digital and content to "build great conversations and shift perspectives for their clients' organisations".

With the closing arguments put forth, The Drum's editor Stephen Lepitak asked the audience to vote for a final time to decide which industry best represents the future. However, both sides proved compelling enough for Wilson and Sutherland to receive an equal share of the votes – taking joint first place and the shared glory of a digital/PR victory.

Photography by Bronac McNeill

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