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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

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46 Replies to “Public relations should embrace not deny its marketing links

  1. @Bill To add, Heather and Judy seem to use the term “marketing PR” to distinguish this kind of PR from the kind of PR they tend to focus on and believe in. Their belief is that PR – the right kind of PR, I guess – is not “marketing PR” but rather some other kind of PR, a PR that is focused on relationships, two-way symmetrical communications, mediation between client, publics, stakeholders and shareholders, and organizational renewal (if necessary).

  2. @Bill Of course. I never said SEO wasn’t a form of promotion. It could definitely be called that. I am only saying it is also a form of (internet) marketing. Nor did I say SEO was “new”. The procedure of it may be new, but the principles and objectives behind it are as old as PR and marketing themselves. You’re right.

    What I’m saying is: I have now come to understand from conversing with Judy and Heather, that SEO could be classed as “marketing PR”.

  3. Eric,

    You are entitled to your opinion. That is what PRConversations is about. However, you do not seem to have read my original post properly and I do not understand why you find it necessary to be rude about people having a discussion about the relationship between PR and marketing. I have no need to ‘sound intellectual’ but make no apology for reflecting on matters I see and hear being discussed by practitioners, many of whom are faced with challenges because of the merging, overlap and development of the two functions. I can swap scars with you in terms of practical experience in PR but my approach to getting things done involves my brain as well as getting my hands dirty. I don’t live or work in an ivory tower but do not apologise for discussing topics that interest me and others.

    Anyway, to get to your point about ‘marketing PR’. First, I mentioned this once in the original post and then in a quote. This was not a post about marketing PR; indeed I wrote about them being distinct functions but with areas of overlap, notably in respect of marketing communications. Marketing PR is not a made up term by PRConversations and I’m amused that your robust approach to research via Google did not find more original work on the concept. Did you try Google books or search for Marketing Public Relations? Try looking for Philip Kitchen’s chapter called Marketing Public Relations which appears in a couple of books. Indeed there was a book published with this title in 2009. Or look up Hutton’s work on the relaionship between the two areas. The same areas are covered in any text on Integrated Marketing Communications – or talk with Nissan and similar organisations that have merged their PR and marketing functions.

    In language a 7 year old can understand, marketing PR involves PR activities (publicity, media relations, events, stunts, use of celebrities, etc) used to achieve marketing goals. I don’t know what an alley oop is, but marketing PR is attention seeking, promotional, tactical work. In my automotive PR world it includes getting great reviews for new cars so that when potential customers see adverts and other specific marketing communications, they already are aware, have a favourable opinion and are a step closer to a sales person closing the deal.

    1. Ok great. That’s what I like: examples. And I don’t mean to sound rude. That isn’t my intention. I have been conversing with both you and Judy here as well as on Twitter and I suppose I’ve been a little frustrated at the lack of concreteness. That is not a fault of you or anyone else at PRConversations – it is just a preference of mine. I like things concrete. And I’m a very well educated person and have come to believe that, generally speaking, if something doesn’t make sense to me, it is usually because it is not concretely conceived or expressed, not because “I seem to have not read it properly.’ I have degrees, honors, awards and experience in analytic philosophy, e-commerce, search marketing, web analytics, project management, fine arts, – the list goes on. I’ve read things much more dense and abstract than your blog post. So, I do not think that I did not “read your original post properly.”

      Ok, now I think I see what you mean by Marketing PR. And thank you for the references. No I did not see any article in Google Books or Scholar that had anything more than a trivial mention of the .phrase “marketing public relations.” But I stand corrected on this.

      But again, doesn’t the term seem to complicate a thing more than is necessary? It does to me. Why “marketing PR”? Why not just call it one, or the other? e.g., soliciting a positive review from a customer in order to bring a prospective buyer a step closer to purchase – well, first of all, the marketing people in my circles do not really see that as a marketing tactic; in fact, we don’t even talk about review sites in terms of marketing at all. And second, that isn’t the purpose of reviews. Reviews are supposed to be written by people who have used the product, and the idea is that they give an honest appraisal of the product. It is rare that a disinterested reviewer is going to write a review of a product in order to persuade the next guy who comes along to read his review that he should buy that product. That’s not the motive behind why people write reviews, typically. There are just a whole host of reasons why soliciting a review really is only very marginally related to marketing.

      So, I wouldn’t have used the term “marketing pr” to describe that practice, is all I’m saying. I’d just call it “PR”. Or, I don’t know if I’d even call it that. But my point is: calling it “marketing pr” doesn’t add anything substantive to whatever it is you’re doing when you solicit reviews. In my mind, it only serves to obfuscate what it is you’re doing. And let’s not even talk about using the term “marketing pr” to explain to a client what you’re doing. We won’t even go there on that because, not only will the client probably not understand what you’re talking about, you run the risk of alienating them.

      But overall, I guess I can see your point and now have a better idea of what you and others mean by marketing pr. Thanks.

      1. So I don’t write in a sufficiently concrete way, but my style isn’t dense or abstract enough to be truly academic even though I’m trying to sound intellectual. You sure know how to engage in conversations (without meaning to be rude)!!

        In terms of my comment that you seem not to have read my original post properly, this was not a slur on your reading abilities, but related to the fact that my post is not about Marketing PR which was what seemed to bug you most. I was writing about marketing and PR as distinct functions and only included the term in passing.

        But since this is your focus, then I will engage with you on it. The reason why the term ‘marketing PR’ was coined (much like integrated marketing communications) is because there is overlap and confusion. You may feel that the distinction is clear, but many people do not. Indeed, Hutton’s work (which predated social media which undoubtedly blurs even further some of the communications aspects of both) is useful for considering how marketing is morphing into PR more and more. Kotler’s recent work from a marketing perspective shows this further.

        Indeed, it is the marketing perspective of PR as simply part of the promotional mix, and PR’s dominant focus (according to Gregory as cited) on publicity through media relations where the concept of marketing PR is situated. When the marketing folk think of PR, it is often in terms of using techniques for publicity purpose, which is what many consultancies deliver with a focus on press releases, social media tactics, campaigns and so on.

        In terms of reviews, I probably wasn’t clear that my reference was to media reviews primarily. Here the focus is on soliciting positive reviews from journalists prior to a car being launched. The same applies to movies, fashion and other areas. Such reviews – particularly when positive – may be used in advertising or other marketing material. But normally the generation of these reviews means PR practitioners are working with journalists, now bloggers – as well as celebrities, politicians and other influencers. Indeed, the Ford Fiesta Movement is a good example of an area of marketing PR (as you like specific examples). Was loaning these cars to a group of bright young people who would use social media to build buzz and interest before launch marketing or PR. Or does it demonstrate integration of both – or what may be called marketing PR.

        In terms of reviews – I find it interesting that you seem to think these are “supposed to be written by people who have used the product, and the idea is that they give an honest appraisal of the product.” That may be the ideal, but the reality is that these are often solicited. In traditional PR terms, that means providing products for test to journalists, and increasingly the same is done for bloggers. Indeed, Bernays used this idea of endorsement by celebrities nearly 100 years ago. With journalists, in the car industry, it goes further with a carefully staged launch event, where the car is shown in best light.

        Actually, a client would understand perfectly well that this is marketing PR since it forms part of the marketing of a new car. Increasingly, the blurring of the two functions is evident with new cars being revealed to groups of the public in advance of launch – eg forums such as Pistonheads in the UK are invited to Sunday Service events where they are among the first to see and drive new cars. Motorshows – and events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed (again in the UK) are used to both engage media and influencers as well as the public. Integrated or marketing PR.

        And that’s without considering sponsorship, CSR and other aspects where there are clear areas of overlap. Is cause related marketing about generating sales leads or creating goodwill (reputation – which I believe is delivering on the promise that a brand makes)?

        My argument is that PR and marketing have to work closely together. I don’t care whether we call it integrated marketing communications, marketing PR, publicity/promotion or whatever.

        1. Ok, sorry. Let me explain. I’m a New Yorker. What others see as rude, we generally don’t. I forget that everyone in the world doesn’t communicate as curtly and abrasively as we do. My apologies. New Yorkers – really mid-atlantic US northeasterners in general – we communicate differently. “Get to the bottom line because I’m in a hurry” informs our way of thinking and bleeds over into our way of communicating. “Just give me the bottom line, and let’s keep it moving” is how we operate. I forget the rest of the world isn’t that way.

          1. No worries – that’s the delights of having lots of different voices at PRC and we soon get to know each others’ foibles. I’m a Brit so outwardly very polite but with a core of cynicism and sarcasm!!

    2. Let me add to this. One of the things our firm does is solicit reviews from clients. And occasionally we will write or have others write a review for a client. We do this for mainly 1 reason: Search engine optimization. We want to either improve our own organic search rankings, or improve the rankings of our clients. That is marketing, in a sense. Yes, inbound marketing. Because the idea is that we want to position the site where it will be found by people searching for various keywords related to the product. So, yes, you’re right, that is a case where writing reviews are a type of marketing.

      But then, it’s just using reviews to assist with marketing. Why do you need to call it “Marketing PR”? In this sense, it’s not pr. We don’t care so much what the review actually says, so long as it’s positive. And it could say any number of things, just so long as it’s positive. There’s no real strategy behind the content selection. The only reason for the review is to boost the search ranking. So, I’d just say we’re doing marketing.

      1. Okay – I’ll bite again. One way that I would distinguish between PR and marketing is in terms of earned and paid for media. Your example is what is called ‘owned media’ (sorry more phrases I’m sure you’ll hate). Reviews on your own website probably have zero credibility – and no-one would be surprised that they are all positive. That’s just self-promotion or puff.

        However, many people in PR see achieving such positive comments in the media, on blogs, websites etc as their goal. Indeed, I had a puffy press release this morning for my own blog which I would never use. So what do we call the “craft” of producing reviews of how wonderful a book, film, car, PR company or whatever.

        If I discovered a book for myself and wrote a glowing review on my blog is that PR? Or what about if I’m sent a review copy? What about if I’m paid to write the review? Or if the author is a friend of mine? What about if someone writes the review for me and I just publish it? And if they pay me for publishing that review? What about if they pay me to go onto Amazon and write nice things? What about if I read a really great article about the book, bought it, read and reviewed it online? Or my friends and I discuss in a book club? Or we recommend books via Twitter to each other and the author thanks us? And so many more possibilities…

        You can call it marketing, but many others call it PR. It is grey, fuzzy and in a land where divisions are not clear. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it gets the book (or whatever) sold – but either way it is probably a part of marketing, but may well use PR to achieve that goal.

        1. Ahhhhhhh! Ding ding ding! Ok, the light bulb is now coming on. I see exactly what you’re driving at now. My apologies for the fierce vetting of your ideas. I think where I got tripped up was going back and forth between Twitter, and this blog, and PR chats, etc – that it was all starting to jumble together in my mind and I probably forgot what I was responding to!

          Ok, so there are a range of activities, which activities do not fit neatly into conventional categories of either marketing or PR – hence the term “marketing PR” has been used to describe them. Ok, I get it.

          And now that I think of it, this is what our firm does, lol! Marketing PR. We were doing this without even knowing it, ha!

          Thank you, Heather. I am sufficiently convineced now that you and Judy and the lot of you know what you’re talking about 🙂 This is a good website. And I will probably start frequenting it more often to get clear in my own mind what the hell it is my staff is doing

          Cheers, Eric 🙂

          1. Don,

            I think Eric was illuminated by our exchange and neither of us was really heated. I think the point in the link about focusing on the receiver applies for communications where the aim is on ensuring understanding etc. However, writers are entitled to express themselves and focus on what they wish to say with readers able to interpret, reflect and even be required to put in effort to understand, if that is their intention. Here, I do write often to say things that interest me and trust the points are of interest to others. I don’t think I was unclear but Eric picked up on one term and it was appropriate for us to debate that. After all, PRC is about conversations and opinions. Don’t we all love this interaction?

      2. If you are writing reviews (or soliciting them) for the purpose of SEO, then you aren’t doing marketing or PR but promotion. Promotion is one of the oldest activities in the book, one of the Four Ps of marketing and a hallmark of early PR.

        Study the precedents and confusion will soon be banished.

        Bill Huey
        Strategic Communications

        1. @Bill – I beg to differ. SEO is part and parcel of (Internet) marketing. It is a form of inbound marketing. Writing a review in order to put a client’s website on the 1st page of Google’s Local Business Results for a target keyword phrase, for example, is absolutely a form of internet marketing. In fact, SEO is one of the most potent forms of internet marketing.

          Your statement actually contradicts itself. You start off saying that SEO is neither marketing or PR, but promotions. But then you end by saying that promotions is one of the 4 Ps of marketing, and a hallmark of early PR.

          Heather’s point exactly: There are a range of activities which do not fit neatly into one or the other category. Hence, the term “marketing PR.”

          1. Oh no. You can’t hide behind an internet buzzword term like SEO and not call it promotion. Getting your name up to the front of the line–above the clutter–that’s promotion. And presumably you get paid for it, so it’s not pro bono Google enhancement. Promotion is a tool of both PR and marketing, and calling it “inbound marketing” or whatever doesn’t change its nature.

            I’m thoroughly sick of so-called new media people ignoring the basics about PR and marketing and pretending that they’re doing something entirely new, blazing new paths where no one has gone before.

  4. This is only my second PR Conversations blog post to read so forgive me if I am not on board or if I don’t fully understand the point. I’m the CEO of an Internet PR agency. I’m in the trenches, day in day out. I manage a staff of 4. I get my hands dirty. We do a lot of research, paticularly market research. I conceive of services, have to figure out how to market services, have to devise pricing, hire staff, etc. I get help, but I wear a lot of hats. I have to be involved in accounting, bookkeeping, HR, caring for staff, etc.

    I say all that to say this: We have to do what works, in order to be profitable. Period. That is why I have little patience with all this theorizing and pondering and making up new terms and such. Perhaps it is why I don’t much care for the Ivory Tower except in rare cases.

    First, let’s get something clear: The term “Marketing PR”. What? Who uses this term? And why? I haven’t seen or heard anyone out side the PR Conversations circle, use it. I Googled it; it doesn’t exist. I looked it up in Google Scholar. Not there. It sounds to me like a term that should have never existed, if because it is non-sensical. Marketing PR? These are two distinct disciplines with two distinct purposes. When I ask a PR Conversations person to show me where, what book, or a web link, where the term “Marketing PR” is used, outside of PRConversations, instead of the person simply giving me the answer, they deflect the question altogether in a manner that one might contrue as condescending.

    Ok. No bother. But here’s MY theory: If one can’t explain it in a way that makes sense to a 7 year old, one really doesn’t have mastery over the subject. So, as someone with an extensive background in marketing, e-commerce, programming, and who now runs an Internet PR consultancy – let me define marketing for you.

    Marketing, very simply, is throwing the alley oop. Sales is slamming it home.

    Put another way: marketing is basically the practice of generating a customer, a lead, a prospect. To create or find a market. To put your products and services in front of the decisionmakers who can choose to buy it.

    That’s it. That’s Marketing, in a nutshell. We try to complicate stuff that ain’t that complicated. That’s what irks me.

    Public relations is – in a nutshell – shaping or informing public opinion and public perception. Why must we complicate it, try to make it be something more than what it is? Is it to feel better about ourselves? To feel smarter, or ..? We’re not achieving world peace or finding a cure for cancer here, folks. We’re just … doing some PR.

    Even if I take the view here that PR is creating value, reputation, relationships etc., that still has little to do with marketing. Enhancing reputation is a function of branding, if you really want to get technical about it – and I’m not altogether certain that branding should’ve ever been considered part of marketing. Creating value – well, there are many markets for products and services that possess absolutely no value whatsoever (e.g., cigarettes). So it’s obvious that creating value isn’t necessarily marketing. And building relationships: That’s just a standard, ubiquitous business operations function. Can’t run a business without building relationships. But that doesn’t make it PR!

    I have a hard time accepting things when terms are conflated, definitions are blurred, common sense understandings and usages are “neologized” – I don’t like this practice because, quite simply …

    …It doesn’t get the job done.

    And that’s how I feel about using made up, opaque, unintellgible terms like “Marketing PR”. I feel like I’m dealing with someone who really doesn’t know what they’re talking about but does a hell of a job “sounding intellectual.”

  5. Tracy, There is definitely overlap between PR and marketing in respect of communications – although both disciplines are more than simply the ability to craft messages and transmit these. I actually think that to extend your analogy, the difference is more that marketing would promote the restaurant, its menu, special offers, etc – but it would be as a result of good PR that you knew the restaurant had a great reputation and would be prepared to pay extra, wait for a reservation and take special guests there. I also think it would be sales that took the order, but the point is that successful organisations require all types of roles to be executed well and work together.

    I disagree that it is the role of PR people to “offer up some kind of paid marketing campaign” – we have to understand the necessity for media to have income streams, but I don’t feel that linking editorial coverage with paid marketing is appropriate. The role of those in media relations should be to generate relevant and interesting opportunities for editorial – that can then be supported by marketing income which is either generated by the publication’s or the organisation’s sales/marketing specialists.

    1. Please allow me to clarify. I agree with you. I did not mean to suggest the PR should be linked, but at sometime down the road the organization will have to put a marketing campaign together that compliments the PR.

      For example, in 2008, a one organization decided to purchase a series of newspaper advertisements in which they required news departments add a “local hero” editorial component.
      The concept was envisioned as a PR and marketing marriage, and the group buy was purchased by our national sales rep however, our editorial team was outraged.

      A better alternative would have been to supply the news team with some good PR material, local hero leads perhaps, and purchase advertising separately that reiterated the local hero message.

      Unfortunately, there are many organization who put together weak PR material that does not offer relevant and interesting opportunities and they wonder why nothing runs.

      You are right, they key is working together.

      Thank you for your clarity Heather.

  6. The umbrella term here is “Communications.” To use an analogy:marketing may open the door but PR invites you in to stay for dinner, or perhaps PR opens the door and marketing hands you the menu – with prices – and offers to take your order.
    Either way, cohesive, successful communications include both.
    As media tighten their belts, it’s imperative that for every “grip and grin” on the evening news, in print or on line, we are prepared to offer up some kind of paid marketing campaign whether it is sponsorship or advertising.

  7. In the post above, I inadvertently credited Katz & KLazersfeld for having coined the mantra: “Who says what, to whom, through which channel and with what effect.” The rightful author of the mantra is American political scientist Harold Lasswell. I apologise for the error.

  8. This is a funny discussion. Toni talks, rightly, of how brand value is now an ISO. But marketing traditionally has more to do with branding in terms of its creation and sustenance than does PR, by far. In fact, branding is what marketing – particularly advertising – does. But brand and reputation are inseparable, as I think Toni acknowledges.

    For sure, PRs market reputations on behalf of clients, which in our society means promoting brands, be they sub brands or corporate brands (in the case of the likes of Sony they are all rolled in to one anyway.). A brand is in essence intangible – nothing but perceptions and sensations and it only has existence and value in the form of its reputation.

    Philip Kotler says ‘Perhaps the most distinctive skill of professional marketers is their ability to create, maintain, protect, reinforce and enhance brands. A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, design or combination of these, which is used to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors.’ Then again, Tom Doctoroff, a leading authority on marketing in China, has been quoted saying: ‘There is no proof anywhere that branding works.’

    In short, this is no science, and never can it be. For instance, as soon as branding peaks along comes anti-branding and market leaders with great reputations and high visibility lose market share and therefore value (listen to Tom Doctoroff and watch China and the BRICs go!).

    Moreover, Edward Bernays’ “torches for freedom” pioneered issues management to help flog cigarettes (it was a sales tool disguised as PR, though not brand specific, I might add).

    PR is part of the branding, reputation and marketing mix (it exists to create, promote and defend something) and it is nowhere near as distinct from “proper” marketing as many of us would wish. I looked at some of these issues in the wake of comments by Lord Chadlington and Lord Bell here:

  9. Jean, you raise a very interesting point. This is the presumption on marketing’s part that in some organisations marketing is predominantly in the business of marketing products and behaviours. They further presume that their segmentation can help the PR Comms team in knowing what market segments are predispsed to. Now, I won’t categorically state that it is the marketing folks that are reading PR Comms books or vice versa. But this is nothing new to PR Comms.

    PR Comms mantra (Katz &Lazersfeld): “Who says what, to whom, through what channel with what effect,” under what context, we might add, still holds true. “The who” is the target audience (or segment) that must researched in advance as to the channels they use, pretesting of messages etc. I dare assert that it is in regard the greater context of society, identified and potential stakeholders that marketing always falls short, for they’re concerned about sales and the next quarter.

    Marketing should revise its presumption that there are organisations that are only in the business of marketing products and behavious, and consider reputation, brand image in a wider societal context as critical factors/indicators of an organisations long term survival or demise, for that matter.

    1. Don – I like this aspect of considering the context of society rather than just a “market”. I am currently preparing to take seminars with 1st year PR undergraduates on Consumer & Audience Psychology. [I do have a personal dislike of the term “audience” which I feel sees the people with whom we need to communicate (or build relationships) as largely passive.] What you’ve just made me realise is missing in the programme syllabus that I’ve been given to teach is the societal dimension – the focus is primarily on influencing individuals (within a market) and looking at psychological aspects of individuals within segments, rather than wider group membership or even societal influences. Where theories do look at groups (eg Theory of Reasoned Action), this is in the context of peer pressures rather than a holistic understanding of wider society. We should of course, reflect that “no man is an island” – which perhaps in PR also means our understanding that people are rarely just consumers, but fuflil other stakeholder/publics roles at the same or different times.

      [BTW, this Unit is taught also to Marketing, and Advertising & Marketing Communication students alongside PR undergraduates, although their seminars are led by a specialist in their subject.]

  10. Very interesting post and discussion. My thoughts are-and I will borrow from the ‘genric principles and specific applications’ mantra- that how much marketing is embraced or managed by PR depends on the context.
    If an organisation is in the business of marketing products or behaviours ( think driking and driving) then surely the PR and communications team will need to be aware of what one of their key target groups thinks, how they react to certain messages, and what type of execution gets better results. In such an organisation, hopefully the two disciplines are working together very well or are integrated- in which case the marketing aspect becomes more (but not exclusively) the tactical delivery part of campaigns.
    In other organizations where there is less marketing activity, I fully subscribe to Heather’s five principles. It is not so much about carving ‘out’ territory but learning and adapting to the sitiation so that we are ‘in’ the toatl picture and make our startegic focus clear and relevant to the C suite.

    1. Very well said, Jean Valin. Not every organization is alike, nor are they all equally marketing oriented. Even if they are, their target market characteristics may vary widely, i.e., B2B, B2C, professional services, etc. It is critically important to understand the essence of the enterprise and apply PR practices and principles that are appropriate.

  11. My mistake Bill.
    I wanted to say exactly the opposite.
    If you read the ISO process, which is, since Monday, an international standard that will be required by accountants and auditors if they are to include the monteray value of a brand in the balance sheet of any company… you understand that PR needs to provide strategic support to the Board and operational support to marketing by enabling and conducting effectively the listening process of stakeholders perceptions of a brand.
    In any case, the parts of the document I cite in my previous comment should be sufficient…

  12. Thanks for the ISO link, Toni, but whaaat–they want to charge for telling me that PR should provide operational support to marketing? That’s something I knew already, and, like Don Radoli, disagree with on several points. In Palinese, I refudiate it.

  13. Toni — Thanks for the synopsis of the ISO standard on the evaluation of a brand’s monetary value. This should give PR Comms a powerful to argue their case in the C-suite.

    I am however skeptical about perpertuating the “operational support to marketing practices” definition of PR practice. Of course marketing likes this. Examined closely, it implies a subsidiary support role — a tool in marketing’s toolkit.

    A redefinition that puts publicity, promotion, events etc in PR Comms tool kit would make the other members of the C-suite stand up and listen. The current state of affairs is that marketing has “grabbed” theses tactics and by extention claims ownership the whole PR Comms function.

    At its core this a battle for control denition power. If we let marketing define the PR Comms function, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they outdefine PR Comms importance and value in the C-suite. Any entity, organization whose value is defined by others always “reacts” from a position of weakness.

    I hope PR Comms professionals will seize this new ISO standards for the evaluation of a brands monetary value and argue their case in the C-suite.

    Power and influence are rarely given (for if they they are given, the giver can always withdraw them) — they’re invariably seized, sometimes under cover of democratic processes and practice.

  14. Don, this is the way forward… never forgetting however that Public Relations remains an essential operational support to marketing practices.
    A very recent development, if we interpret it correctly, can forcefully help in the path you suggest:

    ISO, the International Standards Authority has just made available an officially approved standard illustrating the process of the monetary evaluation of a brand (

    This is a major breakthrough in the evaluation of immaterial assets, as–the report says:
    ‘ Intangible assets are recognized as highly valued properties. Arguably the most valuable but least understood intangible assets are brands. However, reliable values need to be placed on brands. This International Standard provides a consistent, reliable approach to brand valuation, including financial, behavioural and legal aspects”.

    Following an internal debate of the working group -that led the Scandinavians to overcome the German position by opting that all stakeholders (defined by the document as a ‘person whose decision making is, or might be, affected by a brand’), rather than just consumers, need to be involved in the evaluation process- the 11 page document, at a certain point, states that:

    ‘The emotional and rational states of mind among relevant stakeholders in relation to the brand determine its future success, and hence the maintenance of its value, or the increase in its value, or both. These relationships are the foundation of the role of brands and the generation of brand loyalty, leading to continued purchase and the capacity for such brands to attract a price premium. Consequently, an assessment of the value of a brand and of the specific risks to a brand is generally not meaningful without a comprehensive and diligent evaluation of relevant stakeholders’ perceptions of the brand in comparison with its competitors.’
    And it adds that :

    ‘Common stakeholders are customers, consumers, suppliers, employees, potential employees, opinion leaders, shareholders, investors, governmental authorities and non-governmental organizations’.

    How does this development impact on the public relations profession and function?

    The ISO paper clearly indicates that the monetary evaluation of a brand needs to involve the perceptions of the organization’s stakeholder groups. The implication is that, if the brand under evaluation is the corporate brand then the public relations function needs to be directly involved in such evaluation (one of the core managerial functions).
    If the brand under evaluation is a product or a service, then the public relations function needs to directly work with the marketing function in the process and enable the latter to effectively involve all of the organization’s stakeholders and not only the consumer segment.

    This very recent development, in my view, opens a thoroughly innovative and powerful potential opportunity to argue the value of public relations at the higher and more strategic end of the marketing discipline, and this in no way diminishes the fundamental contribution that public relations has always given to operational marketing practices.

    Your thoughts?

  15. Thanks for a well argued post on this sometimes contentious issue, Heather.

    I however am not quite sure whether serious PR professionals deny the five links you enumerate. I have yet to hear of anyone seriously exclude consumers as stakeholders.

    The definition of stakeholder is anyone, any organization or entity that can be potentially impacted by the actions of your client/organization. The reciprocity of this relationship implies that the stakeholder can also potentially impact your organization/client by acts of omission or commission.

    Consumers do indeed impact an organization (commercial company) by buying or not buying its products or services.

    Now back to the nature of the link to marketing. I think it is self-defeating for PR wish to subsumed under the marketing umbrella. PR should rise up to the occassion and prove what more value-added it brings to the table that enables marketing to execute its short term tactical promotions.

    An example of this is trust, image and reputation that take a long time in building but can be demolished overnight. It is the value of this tedious reputation building and its value to the firm that has to be explained to members of the C-suite (where ideally the senior VP for Comms sits). How can marketing guys who think in quartely percentages and their bonuses be expected to take this long term view?

    To be taken seriously, PR (Comms) should sever its historical umblical cord to marketing and stand up prove its case i the C-suite. This of course precludes hanging on the coat-tails of marketing, but includes adopting best practices and methodologies from this sibling who PR grown from. Put bluntly; PR should stand up and prove its worth and stop looking to marketing for sympathy. Cooperation between the two is inevitable — but this should be as equal partners.

  16. Melanie – I agree with you that PR most certainly can play a clear role in contributing to bottom line strategic goals that relate to generating interest for promoting products/services and achieving direct sales – even if they do this by building relationships and managing reputation not just gaining promotional coverage.

    That’s why I don’t support Bill’s recommendation for isolating PR to a “pure spring” – you don’t need to drink Koolaid to be achieving strategic “marketing” objectives with public relations.

    1. Heather:
      I think you misunderstood my comment on two points: I don’t recommend isolating PR, but creating a new branch call Paramarketing, which would provide marketing support in ways that marketing finds useful and strategically significant.
      Then, the AVE crowd could use their bogus measurement tool all they like to please their marketing masters without confusing advertising equivalency measures with PR measures such as behavioral change, reputation enhancement, increase in goodwill, etc.

      1. Thanks for clarifying Bill. Of course, there are many ways in which PR can be used appropriately to achieve marketing objectives which I’d like to keep in the tent, whilst the Paramarketers (or maybe just call them Publicists as they are focused entirely on publicity/awareness for its own sake) are outside.

  17. Excellent post.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said “Public relations is not simply marketing, but it’s not just strategic relationship building or reputation management either.” I’d love for a “PR purist” to explain to me how one can truly build strategic relationships in any organization that has marketing objectives, without incorporating marketing objectives into the PR objectives.

    If your organization aims to sell something and your PR doesn’t engage with customers, your PR is not strategic.

  18. If Anne Gregory is correct, and 70 percent of all PR is devoted to marketing activities, perhaps there should be a separate branch called Paramarketing.
    Then they could drink all the AVE Kool-Aid they like without polluting the wellsprings of PR.

    Bill Huey
    Strategic Communications

  19. I’ve never been at odds with marketing. We work together well and we are two very distinct departments. Foster and develop the necessary relationships to get business done. If you’re screaming, “That’s mine!” instead of engaging in meaningful converstations, you’re bound to run into problems not with just marketing but every other shared service and business function as well. Everyone doesn’t have to report to the same person to get things done. Some departments are set up under one person and it works for them. I think a lot of these problems are the result of putting egos first.

  20. Thanks for all the comments – all of which are very useful. I’m not convinced over the PR-marketing as corporate communications label, not because of any issues over integration, but because both PR and marketing are, and should be, more than communications. I suppose that is where the “turf war” often can be found – but in my view, the focus on communications loses the wider remit of both areas – which are really the ones where greater understanding is required of the other’s “territory”.

    I will probably return to the discussion over “corporate communications” at some point as I feel that raises more interesting areas of debate.

  21. This is a great and timely post…not just for those on agency side but especially for those of us who work within a corporation. Over the years I’ve learned that by closely aligning with the marketing department, there is strength not only in numbers (people working towards a common objective), but that any plan will be firing from all pistons. And naturally who benefits? Your organization.

    I did get a good chuckle over the Eeyore/Winnie The Pooh reference though…unfortunately, it’s very true! But no one can say us PR pros just arent trying to be realists! We’re just lousy brainstormers…cuz we (well I) don’t believe that “no idea is a bad idea!”

  22. I’ve always considered marketing part of PR, not the other way around It’s Public Relations after all, building relationships with all audience, customers included. I deal with customers all the time.

    And I’ve found the line has as often been drawn by marketing, advertising or sales folk, who want to “own the relationship”, claim the sale just for them, or leave the non-instantly gratifying sales-driving “fluffy stuff” like events and sponsorship to us in PR.

    Because PR is more long-termist and doesn’t deal in “15% off while stocks last!!” type messages, we have found it more difficult to attach a value to our worth to the bean counters who have to answer at the next quarterly shareholders meeting.

    But the flipside of that is clear: BP couldn’t marketeer or advertise their way out of their current mess: the only route they have is rebuilding trust and reputation over time.

  23. Useful post. Both PR and marketing are in the business of communication, messaging and managing relationships, not least in creating, satisfying and meeting stakeholder expectations (selling and promoting products and or ideas as part of a two-conversation, sometimes, and top down, or somewhere in between the two, mostly). That does not make them same thing. Marketing, for instance, covers the supply side in way PR never will or could. But you are correct, the trend is toward a merger – in cost-conscious times – at a practical level between the two functions. Social media accelerates this trend because it is a medium almost designed, as it were, to help disguise marketing – advertising even – as PR and PR as marketing (the distinction between paid and free promotion or comment no longer applies here as it once did or still does in traditional media).

    I looked at what this all means for PRs in a mini-review I wrote of the Greater Good: How good marketing makes for better democracy, by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz (an excellent and highly recommended book) here:

  24. I’m always a bit flabbergasted when I come across completely separate PR and marketing teams in an organization. Leaving customer relations to the marketing team is as grave a mistake on the part of a PR professional as it is for marketing to ignore executive speechwriting. The only way for consistent (thus credible) messages is for full disclosure and interaction between the two teams. I’ve always been a fan of “corporate communications” as a team name with both PR and marketing working together under a single leader.

  25. Excellent post Heather.
    I entirely agree with you although I doubt that today Anne Gregory’s 70% figure remains valid if , as one should, you do include in evaluating the time (not so much the money) invested all the subdisciplinees you mention.
    In fact, I was chatting a few days ago with one of the world’s largest consultancies that confirmed that in the US market marketing pr was growing rather than shrinking.

    If I may refer to the Stockholm Accords process, it is interesting that marketing was originally one of the six areas, considered as one where public relations brings more value to the organization.
    A special ad hoc working group exhanged ideas for two weeks to identify this value from an innovative perspective and submitted a draft which, according to the other groups, failed to actually explain how public relationsì’ support to innovative marketing (as you say, the whole traditional fundamentals of this management discipline is currently being turned upside down by innovation in theory and in practice).
    This is the reason why we ended up deciding to include marketing pr in the external communication area of the Accords which says:

    The communicative organization develops skills to continually nurture its relationships with customers, investors, communities, governments, active citizen groups, industry alliances, mainstream and digital media and other situational stakeholders.

    Public relations and communication management professionals:

    ■Bring the organization’s “voice” and interests into stakeholder deliberations and decisions.
    ■Assist all organizational functions in crafting and delivering effective communication, fostering understanding and building and sustaining relationships.
    ■Contribute to the development and promotion of products, services or processes that strengthen brand loyalty and equity.
    ■Advocate for stakeholder groups within the organization and sustain an appropriate dialogue in order to maintain social and reputational capital.

    In any case, your position is very clear (as always).

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