Ad:Tech: At a Digital Marketing Conference, PR is the Silent Hero


Wendy Clark, Senior Vice President, Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities The Coca-Cola Company

Billed as the leading international event for digital marketing, Ad:Tech is a conference forever on the move. Shuttling between ten international locations in a calendar year, this global event seamlessly brings together the best and brightest from the worlds of marketing, advertising, and digital, in a vibrant mix of conversation, dialogue, and entertainment.

This year’s New Delhi edition, held between the 21st and 22nd of February at the Leela Kempinski Gurgaon, delivered some of the world’s top marketing and communications minds, discussing cutting edge trends and challenges in the digital space.

Even as each session provided insights that would have been tremendously useful to PR professionals operating in the digital space, the event was marked by a notable low attendance from the PR industry. Except for one PR agency head, a few MarCom heads, and a smattering of digital practice heads, the event was largely avoided by PR professionals.

Yet, even as the event’s keynote addresses and panel discussions brought alive stellar marketing campaigns, the majority of them were rooted by the core concerns of the PR industry – issues relating to reputation, sentiment, and understanding the stakeholders involved.

One thing was clear from attending the sessions – PR and Marketing cannot exist in separate bubbles anymore. Neither is PR a late addition to solid marketing campaigns – a kind of afterthought with the sole purpose of gaining press coverage for marketing efforts.

Instead, if there was something that brought together the best brand campaigns and talks by marketing heads at Ad:Tech, it was an acknowledgment of the importance of integrated communications – and marketing and social media activations grounded in a proper understanding of reputation and PR.

The opening address of the conference by the first of an all women keynote lineup, Wendy Clark, Senior Vice President, Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities, The Coca-Cola Company, was an electrifying demonstration of a brand with in-sync messaging, not only across time zones but also communications channels.

Dressed in her trademark Coca-Cola t-shirt (in her words, “everything communicates”), Clark spoke about Coca-Cola’s liquid and linked marketing strategies. In particular, she touched on the importance of a single core insight that drives her strategy – “stories spread value,” a mantra that underscores the importance of “shareworthy” content that engages all stakeholders in an effort to organically create value for the brand.

That might seem like wordy corporate-speak, but, on stage, Clark clearly embodies her brand. She is fun, quick, and always engaged with her audience – just like the iconic brand she represents. And she is also a practitioner who understands values such as crowd-sourcing content (from Coca-Cola fans, via YouTube videos), the power of virality and earned visibility (from a “Hug Me” vending machine in Singapore that distributed Free Cokes), and the expanded stakeholder map that goes far beyond the traditional partners targeted. She is also in keenly touch with the measurement of the impact of her campaigns – both the quantity of what is achieved, but also the quality and sentiment of what is said.

The focus on integrated communications, as demonstrated at Ad:Tech, highlights not only the growing importance of PR in the entire communicators toolkit, but also the need for different communication arms to work in synergy, backed by a shared sense of purpose. This is an opportunity that PR must embrace – to figuratively “claim” the tools that fall in the fuzzy lines between marketing and PR, and to develop tools, talent, and areas of expertise that clearly demonstrate worth – that is, to expand stale, aging definitions of PR.


Written by Kunal Pal for Image Management

One thought on “Ad:Tech: At a Digital Marketing Conference, PR is the Silent Hero

  1. Interesting and sad that PR folks gave it a miss. PRCI Global Conclave in Hyderabad – PR agencies, Corp Comm guys also gave it a miss – very poorly organised. However, the need for a comprehensive communication strategy that pans Media relations, Advertising, CSR & Stakeholder Engagement, Social Audit, HR & Recruitment, Branding, Events & Sponsorship, Internal & Marketing Communications offers the Corp Comm to offer value to a client. Sticking to Media Relations alone will alienate PR professionals even further and make them feel small and hence avoid such events. As a journalist – PR agency – Corp Comm – independent consultant in Hyderabad with 19 years experience – am doing all the above for clients under my firm by partnering with relevant folks who bring specific skill sets where required. 

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