Breaking Down Advertising’s Walls

In his blog here at Fast Company, Faris Yakob said that the advertising industry is no more, and now there’s only the communication industry. Faris is quite right that the traditional walls and boundaries are shifting.


In his blog here at Fast Company, Faris Yakob said that the advertising industry is no more, and now there’s only the communication industry. Faris is quite right that the traditional walls and boundaries are shifting. As “Director of Customer Insights” for Peppercom, I was recently a public relations representative on a panel for the Advertising Research Foundation during Advertising Week. Joining me was a digital agency representative, a customer service representative and an audience researcher, and we often found ourselves talking about many of the same issues.


Am I arguing that there is no longer a distinction amongst advertising, public relations, marketing, audience research and customer service? Absolutely not. But Faris is also right that everyone in marketing has much to learn from one another and should consider their jobs as communicators more holistically.

I came to the world of public relations through academia, where distinct disciplines can be especially entrenched. In the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, where I studied and worked, our approach was wholly interdisciplinary. The program attracts students and professors from a variety of academic disciplines and often looks at what new perspectives can be discovered when journalism, cultural studies, English, history, business, computer science and a variety of other backgrounds come together in collaboration.

Our program–now set to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its first graduating class next year–has also strived to break the barriers between the humanities and application of our ideas outside the classroom. Adopting MIT’s mantra of applied research, Comparative Media Studies created a variety of programs emphasizing “applied humanities,” working with granting institutions, governmental bodies, non-profits and industry partners to create research programs. I helped launch and later manage the Convergence Culture Consortium, a research group that has partnered with companies from Turner Broadcasting and MTV Networks to Petrobras and Fidelity Investments to research how culture is driving change in a digital media landscape and why understanding those cultural patterns are crucial for both the academy and the industry.

My movement from an academic working with industry to an academic within the industry was driven by my interest in how companies and their audiences converse; what better place to study that conversation than public relations? In my position today at Peppercom, I remain especially interested in why and how the industry and the academy should collaborate around media and the humanities. My posts here at Fast Company this week will focus on this theme: what can the industry learn from the academy, and vice versa?

Again, I believe Faris hints at this in the aforementioned post, writing about the importance of language in industry discourse and how language and metaphors shape how we as marketing professionals approach our jobs and, more importantly, our audiences. I think, just as various marketing concentrations can learn much from collaborating and no longer looking at one another as “the enemy,” marketers can benefit greatly from the broader range of academia as well, looking at current and forming trends without the express limits of today’s client or brand need. And academics likewise benefit from studying how ideas are put into action–and often why they aren’t–from those professional communicators putting ideas into action.

*Images by Inkwina*


In partnership with the ARF


Sam Ford is a research affiliate with MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium and Director of Customer Insights for Peppercom, a PR agency, in their Manhattan office. Ford was previously the Consortium’s project manager and part of the team who launched the project in 2005. He holds a Master of Science degree in Comparative Media Studies from MIT (2007) and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Kentucky University (2005), where he majored in English (writing), news/editorial journalism, mass communication, and communication studies, with a minor in film studies. Ford has taught courses on professional journalism, pro wrestling, and soap operas at MIT and WKU and has published work on these and other areas of U.S. popular culture and television. His work focuses on media audiences and immersive story worlds. Ford has also worked as a professional journalist, winning a Kentucky Press Association award for his work with The Greenville Leader-News and publishing a weekly column entitled “From Beaver Dam to Brooklyn” in The Ohio County Times-News. He also blogs for Peppercom’s Pepper Digital. Follow him on Twitter @sam_ford.


About the author

Sam Ford is Director of Audience Engagement with Peppercomm, an affiliate with both MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing and Western Kentucky University, and co-author of Spreadable Media (2013, NYU Press). He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and a board liaison to WOMMA's Ethics Committee.