Why I quit PR and started a digital agency (or, To hell with swim lanes)

Three years ago I quit PR after 20 years and started a digital agency, Daylight (this one, yep.)

I did it because I was tired of head-butting this perception that PR is just writing press releases and media relations. I did it because I was tired of being excluded from creative pitches because we were a PR agency, or coming up with great Big Ideas that were given to advertising agencies to execute because clients said we hadn’t done it before. I did it because PR as a descriptor is archaic anyway. (Who is the Public? What Relations are we having?)

Recruiting digital talent (or what I call, talent) was an uphill battle because digitally experienced marketers want to work for “digital” agencies, not PR. This even though many experienced PR practitioners are skilled storytellers and masters of messaging, regardless of channel.

Brands tend to confine agencies to swim lanes labeled PR, Advertising, Media, Creative, and Digital. We’ve done ourselves no favors by inventing new labels such as Content Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Sensory Marketing, ad nauseam. These swim lanes are a holdover from pre-Internet days before it totally disrupted the marketing and media industries.

Clients know agencies don’t like to be boxed in, and over the years we’ve met enlightened clients that bring agencies in for “agency days” where the team with the best idea gets to lead the campaign, regardless of discipline. That’s great, until the client has to decide how much each agency should be paid. Then the Media people scream bloody murder. Or the advertising agency.

It’s time for CMOs to lead the charge, break down the silos, cultivate cross-discipline synergies and make a paradigm shift into a world without swim lanes (Us marketing folks also like our buzzwords.)

Simply said, clients need to be daring, to put their money where their mouth is when they say the Best Idea Wins. They need to nurture the flame of invention from smaller agencies (especially when it’s hard), and challenge their larger agencies to be more inventive.

I founded Daylight because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a PR agency, because digital agencies are granted more flexibility in the sandbox these days. But isn’t Digital just another swim lane you say? This is where it gets interesting, because Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Let me repeat that: Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know with a comment below or send mail to David@Daylightpartnership.com