The advertising industry has always seemed to me like an older brother to public relations. The cooler, smarter, wealthier older brother driving the fast car, playing the cool music and hanging with the fashionable crowd.
Mark Tungate’s history shows the two industries to have been much more similar that I’d thought, more like cousins born in the same year.
Both claim a long lineage but began as industries when industrialisation created the consumer age and when education led to democracy and the growth of government.
Advertising still has some of the Mad Men allure and it has had many colourful characters. There’s been a history of tension between the creatives and the researchers (research academic George Gallup was employed at Young & Rubicam).
But integrated service firms have a long history too: McCann Erickson pioneered this ‘total marketing’ approach embracing public relations and sales promotion alongside advertising from the early decades of the twentieth century.
This is primarily a history of great men (and a few great women) and it gets into its stride in the boom years of the 1980s (with the rise of Saatchi & Saatchi, Abbot Mead Vickers and Bartle Bogle Hegarty).
The 1980s was the high point of television advertising because this is when large audiences could be reached on fewer channels, exemplified by Apple’s ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad directed by Ridley Scott (British names keep appearing in this global history).
The Paris-based author is also strong on the French contribution to advertising. ‘Outside the United Kingdom, France has the strongest advertising sector in Europe. For a start, the country boasts two giant communications groups: Publicis and Havas.’ What explains this French prominence in an industry that feeds off free market capitalism? Though the author does not make the connection, he does quote Philippe Michel explaning: ‘The job of advertising is not to sell, but to create a cultural link between the desires of the entrepreneur and those of the public.’ So it’s about culture, not commerce!
This is a tale of talented and driven individuals, of growth and acquisition. But there’s no discussion in the book of training, development, professionalism and qualifications – a focus of recent histories of public relations. It seems the industry welcomes talented people, but has not evolved mechanisms for developing them.
Snappily written (one section is titled ‘Far from the Madison crowd’), this is an elegant survey of the global advertising agency business based on published sources and interviews with key players. It ends in the converged world where ‘communication’ is the preferred term. “The word ‘communication’ now covers such a vast territory that it almost defies definition. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, musicologists, technology wizards and gaming enthusiasts … any or all of them might have a role to play at a modern agency.”
Richard Bailey is editor of PR Place. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.