Is it fair to state that unethical PR practice results primarily from a marketing focus on publicity? Aren’t spam press releases, pseudo-events, poorly conducted surveys and spin all about gaining attention regardless of the truth?
Can we blame PR’s poor reputation on an increased focus on promotional communications for competitive differentiation (the reductionist view of PR as solely a subset of marketing)?
As a tactical function, PR is reduced to generating “free advertising”. That means evaluation ranges from calculating advertising value equivalent (AVE) to demands to prove return on investment in terms of sales generated from media coverage.
At the other end, those championing PR as a strategic management function seek to distance themselves from the press agents. But in doing so, aren’t they ignoring PR’s proven ability to achieve marketing objectives, either alone or as part of an integrated approach?
While focusing on areas such as public affairs, “serious” practitioners outsource “marketing PR” to consultancies that promise creativity – often with little regard to ethical practice. Indeed, PR agencies are then viewed as interchangeable with other external marketing functionaries, with whom they are increasingly competing for share of marketing budget.
This outsourcing approach ignores the fact that organisations’ reputations are often based on issues relating to the products or services that are offered to customers. PR can also pro-actively support the achievement of strategic marketing objectives if the two work together as equal senior management functions.
In distancing the “profession” of PR, are we supporting our poor public reputation, which is based commonly on the views of journalists (and bloggers) at the receiving end of the mass marketing approach to media relations?
Allowing PR to be used tactically to generate publicity has enabled the might of marketing to extend beyond relationships with consumers to encompass communities (eg cause related marketing) and employees (the so called, internal market).
This may not matter, apart from the fact that marketing tends to reflect one-way methods of communication rather than the dialogic approach that is championed by public relations theory as the ideal. Traditionally market research has been asymmetric, seeking information to persuade or influence audiences in favour of the organisation.
Surely the key to addressing PR’s poor reputation lies in the hands of the in-house management of the discipline. Utilising PR to achieve marketing objectives should not be a role to be outsourced or delegated to junior technicians. If we are committed to delivering real strategic benefits, that must include a real responsibility for achieving marketing objectives too.