I believe there's a semantic problem tied to reasonable concerns lots of PR pros have about marketing. I also strongly suggest decoupling the limited definitions some may have of marketing as pertaining only to the strictly commercial activity of offering goods, services or stock under the direction of a person with a marketing title (VP, director, manager, etc.).
Consider that a religious faith, political campaign, sports franchise, government service, NGO or any entity needs to compete for attention or support in the world of ideas for support from a constituency or community (i.e. customers). Any of these entities may apply PR to promote itself, grow or help create change. A public company's CFO clearly acts in a marketing role when they direct the IR team to promote broader or increased share purchases to investors. Some IR pros may prefer distancing themselves from their PR counterparts. Get over it.
PR isn’t self-supporting. Try taking away the essential organizational need to "market" itself in some way to a constituency and what then is public relations about? As grand or seemingly important a thing as PR may be from professional practitioners' perspectives, it’s not a free-standing activity. It exists to support an enterprise or some kind of activity in need of communications outreach for awareness, credibility and relationship-building. Similarly, but perhaps not a perfect analogy, where would medical practice be without patients? A personal or organizational objective precedes and directs the need for PR action. That objective is a marketing one.
Suggest that some objections to this perspective grow out of many PR pros' past frustrations working with whatever passed for marketing management in their employer or client organizations. This friction can perhaps lead PR pros to wanting to distance themselves from marketing, especially when marketing has acted in ways that are strategically counterproductive to the long-term benefit of the organization or its customers or community.
PR can be the organizational conscience when marketing or sales are short-sighted. PR continues as an organization's eyes and ears since part of its job is community and market engagement. However, this is also an area of responsibility for effective marketing and one of the excellent areas for potential marketing and PR cooperation. It also points one of the key connections between the two disciplines.
Differing focal points, between marketing and PR as often raised by some in PR, or "brand vs. community" fails to realize that the brand is effectively a promise to the community and customer, not something separate from it. It's not about inner (company) verses outer (community) perspectives. Effective modern marketers aren't only thinking about maximizing revenue. Word of mouth via social media is making that approach ever less possible, practical or profitable.
So I suggest looking at the broader concept that PR serves and supports some kind of a "marketing" function whether its promoting "stuff," or communicating ideas, political or social change for a cause. This is true for sponsoring organizations or clients whether there's someone in charge with a specific marketing title or not.
My recent book, connecting the Mind and Voice of Business, attempts to illuminate how the working relationship between an organization's governing or managing (marketing) entity and those managing PR can be an effective partnership. However, PR needs a partner and that partner is marketing. Whether the word is used or not, if you’re in PR, you’re marketing something.
Ford Kanzler is principal of Marketing/PR Savvy in Redwood City, CA, and author of Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business (available from Amazon and B&N). He can be reached at email@example.com.