A trend in PR and marketing is the growing overlap between the two. While in some companies strict demarcations remain between PR and marketing, many firms have found it important for the heads of PR and marketing to at least be aware of each other’s priorities and plans. As Page (formerly The Arthur W. Page Society) argues, the chief communicator’s role increasingly has her/him working across multiple parts of the enterprise.
In some companies, of course, the chief marketing officer is the head of PR, although this arrangement doesn’t necessarily guarantee members of the two departments work closely.
With this background, we asked senior brand communicators how they differentiate their PR efforts from those of their marketing communications colleagues and queried senior PR execs from firms how they advise brand clients on this issue. Below are their edited responses.
VP and CCO, The Home Depot
PR takes the lead on anything related to journalists. Marketing takes the lead on paid advertising. In the middle, we find owned media, influencer strategy, social media, experiential, sponsorships and beyond. People who grew up in PR seem to inherently understand how to generate organic buzz. They are scrappy and creative in stretching a dollar. They understand how to protect and build brand reputation.
Marketers know how to drive sales. They are skilled at harnessing AI to hone insights that ensure their dollars work as hard as possible.
The truth is, we are much better together, and the lines are messy. That’s a beautiful thing because we often wade into less-charted waters, learn from each other and improve our ability to think holistically about all the ingredients that drive a home run campaign.
I want all of my employees to be able to wear both of these hats, making them more versatile over time.
SVP & CCO, PNC Financial Services Group
I agree with Stacey Tank in that it certainly is becoming an interesting world in terms of who handles what, PR or marketing? With the advent of social media, the lines between PR and marketing started to blur a great deal and even to some degree prior to that in certain respects. At Bank One/Chase from 2003-2006, we used PR to help sell and drive awareness, consideration and purchase in limited cases building integrated communications programs.
In the agency world that I left almost three years ago, the lines are blurring rather quickly as PR agencies move into marketing and advertising and advertising/marketing firms try to move into PR. I would argue PR firms have it easier because they can hire creative and planners and better understand various stakeholders, for example regulators, policy makers, media, influencers, bloggers, customers, employees, etc.
Traditionally, of course, marketing is supposed to sell and PR changes behavior. The challenge I give my team is, ‘How can we insert PR to drive ROI or get as close to the point of sale as possible?' With banking, PR can only go as far as the application for, say, a credit card or checking account. With other brands, such as Starbucks, PR can go all the way to selling you a cup of coffee.
It’s important to look at the work of Page, the former Arthur W. Page Society, and how it defines the CCO. In short, it argues the CCO is a strategic business leader and counselor charged with protecting and building the brand’s reputation through communications; an integrator of the various parts of the company and the C-Suite; and a builder of digital engagement systems.
Another source is Richard Edelman’s thoughts on what he calls evolve, promote and protect. He believes communicators must be full partners with marketing. For example, with evolve, he points to CVS, which took a big step and stopped selling cigarettes, showing how the brand is moving forward. On promotion, he means storytelling. Protect, he says, goes beyond crisis management. It means communicators need to hold the brand accountable for promises on things like human rights and product safety.
As Page and Edelman argue, PR is an integrator and plays in a much wider swath than marketing. PR talks to employees, policy makers, regulators and investors, for example. Marketing traditionally talks only to customers and prospects. The challenge for PR is can you show up as a businessperson and then evolve, promote and protect and use assets such as the Edelman Trust Barometer to help your brand?
Director, Corporate Communications & Public Relations,
Neiman Marcus Group
While marketing and PR exist separately as part of the “paid, earned, shared and owned” content distribution matrix, the two are symbiotic from a corporate perspective.
We’re all familiar with the arrangement where often PR either reports to marketing or works in tandem with it. Regardless of alignment, PR’s communications objectives and strategies complement those of marketing, ensuring all customer-focused activities are collaboratively executed to achieve a common business goal.
That said, PR executes a number of tactics to reinforce its function’s importance, underscoring the value strategic communications yields when executed effectively.
First, strategic communications guards the reputation of a company. PR is the first line of defense protecting the mission and vision of the organization while navigating internal and external issues. PR works with senior leaders to provide valuable direction that determines the best course of action, works diligently to resolve issues, and builds the reputation of the company and the trust of the public.
Second, as professional storytellers, PR constantly is rediscovering not only what makes the organization unique, but how its leaders embody that essence. Communications professionals have the rare opportunity to regularly interact with and guide an organization’s senior leadership.
What differentiates a communications director from a marketing director is not just the level of access they are granted to executives but the opportunity they have to evolve them into embodiments of a corporate vision and mission.
PR leaders help shape the world’s leading authorities to become and be seen as true experts in their respective fields. As executives create road maps reinforcing their vision, strategic communicators help them refine messages for internal and external audiences and work tirelessly to establish their credibility.
Last, measurement and reporting validate the efforts of strategic communicators, providing the data points necessary to justify the value PR provides to an organization. But we must become diverse in the way we track success beyond reporting the number of impressions and placements only.
PR pros must dive deeper into secured and organic coverage, providing a critical analysis that is useful to the organization. As PR ROI is challenging at times to demonstrate, it is critical to provide reports touching on various data points, including sentiment, key messages, programs and campaigns covered, executives mentioned, visuals featured, hyperlinks included, etc.
Data is power. And PR pros need data to tell an internal story about what media are responding to and what customers are seeing.
CEO, Ruder Finn
Communications no longer differentiates between traditional marketing and PR, or even advertising for that matter. We don’t advise clients to differentiate, but rather we advise them to integrate. Communications campaigns are most effective if they take a 360 degree approach, and if messages, images and content are synergized across multiple online and offline platforms.
As the marketing and PR industries continue to become more integrated, to be successful, PR will need to take on more data-driven, analytics-based decisions while marketing will need to focus on authentic and independent content and messages. In both cases, we can no longer put out a campaign and just watch it run. There needs to be an established measurement process early on, so that we can continually review and measure real-time data from the campaign (from impressions to shares to sales) and make adjustments to content, channels or other components accordingly, to achieve maximum results.
Partner & Managing Director, Peppercomm
The definition of PR and marketing communications continues to blur, and therefore their roles at brands are blurring. Regardless, brands continue to be challenged to differentiate PR—especially ROI—from other marketing communications disciplines. To help them we recommend:
- PR is rooted in storytelling for the customer/consumer not just the brand;
- PR drives true brand reputation not just a product or a campaign; and
- despite a very blended media world, the value of an earned media placement still outweighs that of an owned or paid channel spend; and can be further impactful as it is leveraged across multiple channels.
I tell brands to think of PR as the toolbox and marketing as one of the tools, along with branding, social media, media relations etc. A successful PR strategy integrates the work of marketing. While the marketing team might have different goals, say increased sales or customer acquisition, for example, the messaging it is putting out needs to support the company brand and reputation. If all the tools don’t work in coordination, you have a PR problem.
Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen:
- Everybody uses the same message platform. Make sure you have one and update it regularly. Each team can have its own supporting bullets, but the way everyone talks about the company, its brand, and its differentiators is the same.
- Talk to each other. Frequently. Marketing should know what internal and external communications is saying, doing, and planning for.
- Collaborate. Sometimes the latest marketing campaign is exactly what the traditional media staff need to know about to get ink. Don’t work in a silo, leverage the good work that is happening across all teams.
Global Managing Director, Research, Analytics and Measurement Practice Group,
PR plays a critical role in business, engaging employees, educating shareholders, connecting communities, driving sales and managing the organization’s reputation across all stakeholder audiences.
To do this successfully, it’s crucial to develop authentic communication with those stakeholders so you understand what they care about or need most, and how your organization can respond and deliver. Developing an intelligence system that regularly monitors these audiences’ actions and feelings, in addition to collecting feedback from customer service call centers, sales conversations and employee channels, will help create one single point of view so PR is always poised to offer guidance and quickly activate.
By understanding what makes the organization’s key stakeholders tick, and continuing to monitor their engagement and adjust course accordingly, PR pros can gain a seat at every strategy table working with senior leaders to manage the organization’s reputation, risk and revenue drivers.Organizations must lead with an authentic voice. PR supports this connection.
SVP, Communications & Industry Affairs,
Entertainment Software Association (ESA)
As others have noted, the line is blurred in this modern age of media. Marketing and communications are symbiotic but unique. The modern communications pro has to meld traditional PR tactics with digital engagement and real-time engagement while driving advocacy through earned media. It’s not just pay and play or push and pray when it comes to engagement. Creating advocacy and third-party endorsement is the true craft of the communicator. Marketing can then build on this and amplify it through direct engagement. It’s the golden age of communications if we as a profession don’t mess it up.
The ability to navigate the public aspect of PR never has been more important. After all, it’s the public we want to reach with our messaging, and marketing can’t do that without a PR strategy.
Why? While we know how important it is for brand marketing approaches to promote themselves, their services and ideas, it’s a waste of time if the message isn’t relevant to the audience.
Brands first need to earn the loyalty of consumers to build a foundation for a symbiotic relationship, keeping consumers wanting to come back. Then, they become brand ambassadors, which is a brand’s dream, telling stories more authentically and influencing purchase power without spending any of the advertising budget.
But paid still holds a special place. Once the earned-first results are achieved, it’s the marketing communications initiatives that help build a channel-specific strategy to support our ever-changing cultural and media landscape. This is the magical sweet spot where the ideas have passed the “BS test” with the public—so we know the messages will land—and then they can be amplified using customized content on digital, social and paid advertising platforms.
Senior Director, Media Relations,
As we know, stakeholders and audiences are changing constantly and becoming harder for PR pros and marketers to reach.
Effective communications efforts can’t be split along PR and marketing lines; they have to be integrated, digital and deliberate. This goes for brands and organizations in just about any industry you care to name, from selling cars to mounting a campaign about automotive safety.
You need to make sure your audiences see a clear, concise message and that there’s coordination and collaboration across the C-Suite in those efforts.