The relationship between public relations and marketing has traditionally been perceived as edgy. “Contentious,” “siloed,” “turf war” are words and phrases that come to mind when you describe the supposed rift between the two factions.
Thanks to the meteoric rise of digital and social media, old, familiar questions have once again bubbled up to the surface, such as “Who owns social media—PR or marketing?” and “How can the two entities work closer together for a truly integrated communications effort?”
Nonetheless, at many organizations PR and marketing are working together, and digital and social efforts have been blended into the marketing/communications mix. At Wyndham Hotel Group, which owns Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, “collaboration” is the buzzword when talking about PR and marketing. “We work this way because we have reaped the benefits and, frankly, because we have to in order to accomplish our goals,” says Christine Da Silva, VP, marketing communications, at Wyndham Hotel Group. Wyndham’s teams are small, given that it stewards 15 hotel brands across 66 countries, Da Silva says.
Therefore, it has to leverage all departments in the best ways possible. “While the lines between marketing and PR are fuzzier than in the past, we define our roles and responsibilities quite clearly,” she says. “Our public relations team is responsible for relationship-building and reputation management while our marketing team is focused on selling.”
“That’s not to say that when PR and marketing report into different department leads there’s a disconnect, Da Silva says. “It takes additional effort to ensure connectedness but it can absolutely work.”
The synergy at Wyndham is strong, with marketing and PR working together on most initiatives. In doing so, Da Silva says that campaigns have seen a much higher ROI. An example of seamless collaboration between the two: Last April, unbeknownst to the company, the Howard Johnson brand was featured on an episode of “Mad Men,” with lead character Don Draper visiting a Howard Johnson hotel to scout the brand as a potential advertising client.
When Draper arrived at the property, he was informed that the pool would be closed for his stay.
The marketing and PR teams knew a prime opportunity existed, but it had to move quickly—one advantage of tight collaboration between the two disciplines.
The brand issued a tongue-in-cheek public apology from the head of the Howard Johnson hotel brand to all of the Don Drapers of the world, inviting them to come back and have a free-night stay at select HoJo locations throughout the U.S.
The promotion was extremely successful, garnering more than 700 news clips for the brand, totaling more than 146 million impressions.
The cost: less than $1,000. “Turning this promotion around in 24 hours truly took a willingness to engage and deliver from all parts of the business, and true collaboration between the PR and marketing teams,” Da Silva says.
LURE OF BRANDING
Wyndham’s collaborative strategy now appears to be more of the rule rather than the exception. But according to Deborah Radman, marketing and PR counsel at PRIME Research (and a member of the PR News Advisory Board), the word that may be the culprit in the PR/marketing disconnect is “branding.”
“Even though it’s been around for a decade now, ‘branding,’ as a catchword is hot,” Radman says. She believes that many marketers have fallen in love with building an iconic brand, yet fail to take the emotional connection between a brand and stakeholders into account. “That’s what sets brands apart,” she says.
That’s a concept that’s now used by Mazda to launch new car models around the world. Jeremy Barnes, director, public relations & brand experience for Mazda North American Operations, says his company has turned the car launch on its head.
Eschewing an initial splashy ad campaign that has been the industry norm, Mazda instead uses a blend of media relations, social media and internal communications to tease the launch.
In January 2013, prior to the North American launch of the Mazda 6, in May, social and digital components were deployed, including teaser videos and photos on YouTube and Facebook, respectively. Then media relations picked up the ball, as journalists were invited to take a drive.
Simultaneously, Mazda gets the word out about the Mazda 6 to employees in its Irvine, Calif. headquarters.
“This gives them the opportunity to tell the story across their social media networks,” Barnes says. “Our best advocates are Mazda employees.”
The goal of Barnes and his communications team: When the advertising breaks in May and the launch reaches a crescendo, they want to hear Mazda dealers across the country say, “You guys are nuts; I don’t have any Mazda 6 cars left to sell.”
What makes these nontraditional car launches hum? Barnes reports to the VP of marketing and has a seat at the table when it comes to planning. “Rather than break out PR from marketing, we’re moving toward a much more integrated strategy,” Barnes says. Besides, this “communications first” approach fits with Mazda’s younger audience base, which Barnes feels is more open to social/digital efforts than to traditional advertising.
IT AIN’T OVER...
Then again, agencies on both the marketing and PR sides aren’t going down without a fight to “own” social, digital and content creation. Advertising giant McCann Erickson is expanding its social media offering via its “McCann Always On” unit.
On the PR side, Weber Shandwick is going beyond the traditional services offered by agencies in launching a content marketing play, called MediaCo.
The ultimate payoff, however, is having a finely tuned, collaborative PR/marketing engine that can nimbly move the bottom-line needle. PRN
Christine Da Silva, firstname.lastname@example.org; Deborah Radman, email@example.com; Jeremy Barnes, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is PR Getting Left Out? 4 Strategies to Get In
At Wyndham Hotel Group, PR and marketing are essentially joined at the hip, says Christine Da Silva, the company’s VP of marketing communications. But what if PR is getting the cold shoulder within your company? Here are four steps, per Da Silva, to prove the value of PR:
• Find ways to add value and demonstrate relevance. Being the creative center of an organization, being innovative—both are good ways to make a mark.
• Enlist supporters. Seek out the decision makers who believe in PR and work with communicators to try new approaches.
• Use successes to demonstrate the power of PR. Other leaders who might be skeptical will likely come around and realize the value of communications.
• Be the expert. Explain what works (and what doesn’t) in communications, and show how that affects the business.