Public relations should embrace not deny its marketing links
Many people think that PR is a subset of marketing – they are wrong [See this classic: ToughSledding post/comments if you don’t agree]. But so are those working in PR who seek to put great distance between what they do and marketing. The denial of the close relationship with marketing which is necessary in most organisations (including the not for profit and public sectors) fails to recognise the reality of the majority of PR practice. Indeed, as Professor Anne Gregory discussed in a 2007 PR Conversations post, “about 70% of all public relations effort is devoted to what is called Marketing Public Relations”.
I believe the apartheid perspective is the cause of much misunderstanding between PR academia and practice. The learned view is adamant that PR is a distinct discipline, with strategic purpose that is about reputation, relationships, values and so forth. It often denigrates the role PR plays in generating publicity (reflecting criticisms of the “press agentry” approach in the dominant Grunig & Hunt 4 model paradigm).
So should the majority of PR practitioners be redeployed in the marketing function? Are only those engaged in strategic, public relations at the highest level worthy of being considered PR professionals? And should these enlightened beings pay little, if any, attention to what their marketing colleagues are doing – since that is clearly beneath their consideration? Or should they recognise the craft-focused PR practitioners as part of the team, but keep them in their place at the bottom of the hierarchy of the profession?
Denial may be the easy response to the increasing blurring between much PR and marketing practice – or encroachment if we are feeling at all defensive. I’m sure the marketers won’t complain – especially the consultancies – who relish the opportunity to own sponsorship, exhibitions, “experiential marketing”, buzz/viral/word of mouth, creative stunts even.
And what about internal communications – up for grabs between human resources, marketing or those who believe it is a specialist discipline and certainly not public relations? They can also take customer relations – surely that’s not really a core element of reputation management is it? But strategic PR claims ownership of issues and crisis management – can that be possible without engaging with those often most affected by any corporate problem?
This is possibly the crux of the matter – PR people are more than happy to lay claim to relationships with the majority of organisational stakeholders, apart from customers. If that involves a strategic “boundary spanning” role, that’s also fine by them – but that doesn’t include consumer insight and other marketing oriented research. Such intelligence or indeed, other aspects of marketing relating to pricing, product design/development, distribution, service standards and so forth isn’t our bag.
Public relations seems to want to take a “pick and mix” approach – we’ll take our favourite parts of the communication mix, and of course, whatever strategic influence we can gain. We’ll complain when marketing seems to be stepping into PR’s territory; wailing “they don’t understand us and what we do”. We cry that it’s their fault we’re stuck with AVE measurements – when we could argue for better approaches which THEY are probably applying in their own work.
Rather than denying any connection with marketing, we should be embracing much of what PR can learn from our corporate sibling. Here are just 5 suggestions:
- Investment in research and evaluation – do many PR functions/consultancies have research specialists in their teams? How much money is dedicated to establishing a baseline before any activity is undertaken and assessing against this during and afterwards? What do PR practitioners understand about statistical analysis, profiling publics, even media planning?
- Budgets that reflect the importance of the objective to be achieved – rather than argue for adequate funding, PR practitioners continue to boast about achieving “free” coverage, being more cost-effective than marketing, etc – no wonder it becomes difficult to secure decent budgets, especially for initiatives that are not focused on generating media coverage.
- Professional presentations drawing on theoretical principles – yes, our marketing colleagues generally learn a wide range of models and theories which they then use to present their plans and the rationale for the campaigns they propose.
- Enthusiasm and creativity – marketing people believe in what they are doing (they’re not fazed by the adage that at least of half their work is wasted). Their work involves generating ideas, seeking competitive advantage, new ways of working and opportunities for their paymaster to achieve marketing goals. In contrast, PR people can often seem pessimistic pointing out pitfalls and potential problems – we’re the Eeyore to marketing’s happier Pooh bear.
- An operational view of the organisation – marketing is embraced as a core organisational function, not just at the centre but the forefront of what many businesses are about. It claims a position by right based on understanding why the organisation exists and how it will operate to achieve this. This is beyond a marketing communications role, but involves understanding corporate finances and return on investment.
Yes, marketing already takes a strategic position, but does not deny the necessity to get its hands dirty too. The tactical delivery of marketing is essential to the credibility of the function in the boardroom. Its senior practitioners may not always understand what PR is about – but whilst we are gazing at our navels, the marketing folk know what needs to be done and if that means encroaching or otherwise blending the functions, so be it.
The future is undoubtedly going to be a need for closer relationships between PR and marketing. Indeed, those with PR competencies should be best placed to take advantage of the need for greater flexibility and maturation of communications beyond the traditional one-way advertising approaches. But we won’t capitalise on this opportunity for strategic generalists by denying the reality of specialist PR practice. Surely it is time for reverse encroachment with PR people embracing and adopting the best from marketing alongside their own assets.
Public relations is not simply marketing, but it’s not just strategic relationship building or reputation management either. Let’s celebrate our role in generating publicity, motivating publics and making things happen. The PR glass shouldn’t just be half-full, but overflowing – after all, PR practitioners throw the best parties don’t they?