I’m stealing Toni’s idea of extracting a worthy comment and turning it into a proper post. Benita Steyn, who previously commented on another post about this topic, provides the beginnings of what could be a great discussion on “what is the ultimate purpose of PR?”
“I sat down tonight to answer Catherine’s question on why I find building relationships to be a limited view on the purpose of PR. But then I got side-tracked when I read Judy’s post (again) on what PR is and isn’t, and the comments that followed (especially those of Toni and Brian) and couldn’t refrain from first ‘laying an egg’ here (as we say in my language Afrikaans). I think Judy’s issue is a good preamble before venturing into the ‘mother of all questions’ namely what the ultimate purpose of PR is—something that I hope we can still discuss in length.
With regards to Toni’s reference to Emanuele Invernizzi’s approach (IULM University, Milan) that there are ‘core’ competencies in PR (media relations, public affairs, organisation of corporate events and ceremonials) and ‘extended’ competencies (employee, supplier, marketing, investor and other stakeholder group relations), I see it a little differently — namely that PR has a ’strategic’ role to play in the organisation as well as a ’support’ role.
Potentially, PR can support any other function with its tools. It can organise an event for marketing (e.g. a product launch); or publish the annual report (for finance); or design the website (for information technology). These are activities in pursuit of another function’s goals and here PR is only a support function. My argument is thus that this is not PR, since ideally PR should not be defined by its techniques but by its goals. ‘Whether it is PR’ or ‘when it is PR’ should be determined by which/whose functional goals are being achieved rather than by which techniques are being used. (Do I hear snoring already as a result of this academic discourse? But I shall not be intimidated!!) The question is: Does an event or a newsletter belong only to PR? Is this not the reason why there is such confusion as to what PR is because we are defining it by techniques that are also used by other disciplines/organisational functions?
Performing such support activities on behalf of other functions is not a problem per se, certainly not when PR also has a clear strategic role in the organisation. But when it doesn’t, it could lead to an identity problem–worsened when PR actually reports to another function because its activities are then most often used to support the goals of the other function (as is often the case with marketing). The result is that after a while top management and everybody else sees PR and marketing as one and the same, because they become indistinguishable in their activities/ techniques. (In other words, PR loses its identity in the pursuit of the other function’s goals).
I want to be even more provocative and refer to the so-called ‘integrated communication’ concept, which to me looks more like ‘integrated marketing communication’–i.e. PR activities used in support of achieving marketing communication goals. Nothing wrong with this at all, but are we seeing here the integration of the marketing and PR function, or are we seeing the use of PR activities in support of another function’s goals/objectives? Is this PR? Is this integration? If PR assists with the annual report or arranges shareholder functions—is it moving towards integration with finance? I know this is a very ‘previous century’ viewpoint but I have never yet been able to buy into this integration stuff. Maybe some comments will help to remove the bucket from my head and take me into the 21st century?
Some last clarifications in this regard: I do not hate marketing or any other function. I do not believe in turf wars. It is counterproductive. Actually, I would love to see PR co-operating strategically with other functions such as marketing, e.g. bringing about a service quality culture in the organisation; or with HR, in advising/developing communication strategies/goals for how to prevent the negative effects of downsizing/ restructuring through pro-active management communication; or with information technology, in developing systems/parameters for collecting information on stakeholders through environmental scanning. But is this not ’synthesis’ (where each retains its own identity, sets its own goals in accordance with its own competencies/unique identity, and works together to achieve organisational goals) rather than ‘integration’ (losing own identity and becoming one with the other?)”
And Toni Muzi Falconi’s response:
I do not disagree with your rationalization and I think that your support versus strategic role that public relations plays in an organization can be very useful, if not for other reasons at least to clarify the difference between an organization that thinks public relations and an organization that thinks marketing. Both thought are fully legitimate and, again, very much depends on the organization. Also, both concepts (public relations and marketing) are sufficiently fuzzy to allow the use of terms such as marketing public relations, or relationship marketing, or internal marketing, or social marketing…and so forth.
Also your issue about integrated communication is a valid one although I recall having been, in the mid eighties, part of a highly rewarding joint effort by Italy’s Ogilvy and Mather group and my then agency SCR Associati, to develop an ‘orchestration’ approach (this is how O&M then called it), which led:
a) to pr definitley taking the lead of the various disciplines;
b) to the formation of a joint venture (sintonia) which was a great business success for the two years it existed (personality issues broke it up);
c) to the definition of an orchestrated communication model called gorel (governance of relationships)which is today’s most adapted and adopted approach in this country….
This just to say that marketing is as vulnerable as public relations.
Finally, I am intrigued over your definition of synthesis and integration which obviously apply to many fields of thought. Thank you.