Digital Pushes PR and Marketing Closer

In the annals of marketing communications it wasn’t long ago that PR and marketing were like ships passing in the night. No more. As the lines between PR and marketing blur, C-level execs increasingly are pushing the two disciplines to collaborate, particularly on the all-important digital front.

“Social media has built a bridge between PR and marketing,” said Lauren Cochran, director of interactive marketing and new media for the Miami Heat. “It’s no longer just about creating content and posting it on your website. There’s a need for immediate communications, which requires a collaborative effort.”

By aligning PR and marketing, brands and organizations boost the odds that their marketing campaigns will provide more depth for intended audiences and avoid missing creative opportunities.

In addition, brands are melding PR and marketing because earned media—which drives consumer appeal online more so than paid media—plays into PR’s traditional skill set of starting conversations and telling stories. Social media is just another thread helping to knit the relationship tightly.

An example of PR collaborating with marketing can be seen with the Miami Heat’s Heat Nation, a fan site that started in late 2014. The Heat’s communications staff worked with marketing to produce and distribute a video exploring Heat Nation and what it means locally and nationally.

The video debuted at the team’s opening home game last fall. Later it was posted on YouTube, the team’s website and other digital channels. Heat players also tweeted it on their individual Twitter handles. Since launching, Heat Nation has generated 300,000 mentions on Twitter.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Cochran said, referring to the increasing collaboration between PR and marketing. “It’s a constant evolution where you’re building trust between the two sides and breaking down barriers.”

Indeed, building trust may be half the battle when PR and marketing work in concert on digital programs. “You have to work together to capitalize on talent while making sure each team’s needs are being met,” said Kristin Montalbano, director of digital publicity at National Geographic Channel.

The channel’s PR and marketing departments earlier this month collaborated to create a digital play dubbed #BarkBreak that touted a weekend of dog-related programming on Nat Geo WILD called Barkfest.

The team fanned out to dog shelters in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., and offered consumers via digital messaging the opportunity to request a #BarkBreak, an adoptable dog or puppy delivered to the consumer’s door for about 30 minutes of playtime.

With each request, a message was shared on Twitter promoting Barkfest. PR also coordinated a press day with puppy deliveries to Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, Newsweek and People, among other outlets.

Journalists were asked to share their #BarkBreak experience on social media and encourage readers to request their own #BarkBreak via a Twitter link. “As requests came in, our marketing team coordinated puppy deliveries throughout the day to consumers who shared their experiences through social media, all ultimately driving consumers to Barkfest that weekend,” Montalbano said.

HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES

In addition to PR and marketing working more closely internally, brands also are asking their PR agencies to collaborate with their marketing teams in-house.

Brownstein Group has been the agency of record (AOR) for Universal Technical Institute Inc. (UTI) since 2013. During the last two years the Philadelphia-based PR agency provided the technical education training organization with media relations and thought leadership opportunities. The agency’s responsibilities were expanded early this year because of a shift in UTI’s internal team structure. Brownstein’s new mission: Support UTI’s marketing and business objectives in more tangible ways.

Brownstein now is working closely with UTI’s marketing team to support the “For Success” campaign, which debuted in the first quarter and targets high school guidance counselors, teachers and administrators. Brownstein brings to the table additional insight, strategies and digital tactics designed to spread the “For Success” message and reach parents and students.

The collaboration’s products are scheduled to debut early in the 2015-2016 school year. Included will be social media messaging complete with relevant trending hashtags surrounding high school graduation and college/post-secondary acceptance. There also will be a shift in UTI’s media relations strategy; it will move away from top-tier business media outlets and toward bloggers and social influencers.

Brownstein also will set up “virtual” panel discussions via Google+ Hangouts to leverage recognizable partners, thought leaders and UTI spokespeople to discuss trending topics. “While the campaign’s success cannot yet be measured, the coming together of PR and marketing was crucial to the development of this strategy,” said Erin Allsman, VP of public relations and social media director at Brownstein Group.

“This was a challenge for all parties, as the two disciplines were previously operating as separate and distinct functions,” she added. “Not only did we have to convince UTI’s team that PR filled a void in this specific campaign, but we had to demonstrate the discipline’s overall value to the organization.”

‘CHESS VS. CHECKERS’

When PR and marketing work more closely together, part of the obligation for PR is to be beholden to the company’s financial objectives. Take North Plains, which provides digital asset management services.

Before Liz Sophia (McClellan) took charge as CMO last July, the company’s freelance PR team would write press releases sporadically and provide media relations as necessary.

That changed dramatically when McClellan came on board. “We needed to make sure PR was a good investment and had some skin in the game for driving measureable results and awareness,” she said.

North Plain’s PR team was given the opportunity to prove its mettle. Its first test was touting a Forrester Research report about digital asset management companies. The report was released in November.

PR and marketing collaborated to develop a webinar stemming from the Forrester study, which was held in April and drew more than 300 people. The PR team tallied the webinar registrants and divided attendees according to title, industry and region.

Based on those criteria, PR developed content to distribute to individual attendees depending on their position in the sales and marketing funnel. No metrics from the effort are available yet.

“It’s chess verses checkers,” McClellan said, referring to PR being more digitally savvy. “This way, PR comes up with input from the get-go and advises [marketing] on the content strategy based on [webinar] attendance and the questions that were asked.”

CONTACT: Erin Allsman, eallsman@brownsteingroup.com; Lauren Cochran, lcochran@heat.com; Liz McClellan, lmcclellan@northplains.com; Kristin Montalbano, kmontalbano@natgeotv.com

This article originally appeared in the May 25, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.