PR and Marketing: No Longer an Either/Or

The man and woman holds in hand a jigsaw puzzle. Business solutions, success and strategy concept.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a marketer say they “don’t do comms” or a fellow PR person claim that “marketing just doesn’t ‘get it’,” I’d have a nice chunk of change on my hands. However, in the current economic environment, we can’t afford to think of communications this way.

Viewed by many businesses as ancillary functions, marketing and PR teams are often the first on the chopping block when it comes to cost-cutting measures.

More than 40 companies in the health tech space, for example, had layoffs last year, many in marcomm. 2023 hasn’t been much better. Coupled with more informed consumer, and B2B buyers looking for value, decreased marketing budgets, a particularly noisy news landscape, and the trend of reporters taking on multiple beats to cover positions that may never be backfilled, the picture is bleak at best.

We need all professionals in the space to proactively push for more cross-pollination between marketing and PR—and not just to protect their jobs, but to create truly comprehensive and powerful communications functions that drive business results.

Ground your work in audience insights

PR professionals often start with questions like, “Which reporters and media outlets should we target?” Similarly, marketers ask questions like, “Is this best for the corporate blog or can we pull from our sponsored content budget?” Neither is wrong, but both would benefit from asking channel-agnostic questions.

They should be starting with, “Who needs to hear this news?” followed by, “How do we reach them through the channels or influencers they relate to?” An audience-first strategy inevitably leads to leveraging the full PESO model, pushing content to key audiences through an effective mix of paid, earned, shared and owned channels.

As an example, one consumer health tech brand I work with sets aside a healthy monthly budget for paid content, not because they can’t attract media attention—they can and do—but because there are a few select publications they don’t always secure coverage in organically, but that reach their target audience.

Rely on tools, tech, and Google to bridge gaps in knowledge

Marketers are often wary of trying to execute PR because they don’t know reporters. While relationships are important in media relations, there are other ways to be successful ahead of building rapport. If an organization has a tool such as MuckRack or Critical Mention, anyone with a login can look up reporters, their beats, and their recent coverage and tweets—finding both contact information and reasons to reach out.

Savvy communicators are often on social media and are also avid readers of newsletters—simply taking the next step of paying attention to who is posting on social and which reporters are writing this content can inform a PR strategy.

On the marketing side, there are also a host of user-friendly tools that, with a few tips from a friend, can be leveraged to understand how to kick off an email campaign or optimize blog content for SEO.

When facing pushback, lobby for pilot projects that have a lower risk profile

Small, inexpensive and low-risk pilot projects are incredibly effective at showing the value of bringing marketing and PR together. Pick an industry event and have PR seek out earned speaking opportunities but supplement them with nominal sponsorships identified by marketing to increase brand visibility.

Have teams collaborate post-event to write an article about key learnings on both sides—maybe it’s a LinkedIn article, or maybe it’s a byline. Have the team decide together and share credit for the amplified impact, building the case for the next collaboration.

Take the in-the-weeds tactics away, and whether you identify as a marketer or a PR professional, you’ll see that we’re all communicators with a shared interest in storytelling. So, let’s drop the “either/or” and go with the “and.”

Sarah Natoli is Senior Vice President, Health Strategy at Allison+Partners.