Does Public Relations Drive Marketing?

(This post originally appeared March 10, 2010.)

Public relations drives marketing. There. I stated my firm belief in a public forum in which I’ll either get eaten alive or get nods of agreement. For many years, I’ve tested this theory in front of a variety of marketing colleagues from all shapes and sizes of companies. Some agree; and one in particular outright scoffed in my face.

To back up any theorem, research is required. Off to the manual library I went in search of public relations teachings to see what academics had to say. To my delight, a book written in 1998(!) provided wonderful support points. (Of course, we in PR can spin any statement to advantage, eh?)

The first chapter of Value-Added Public Relations, the Secret Weapon of Integrated Marketing by Thomas L. Harris, leader in marketing public relations and past-president of venerable Golin/Harris, yielded a goldmine.

I remember that decade well in my Chicago agency life. Public relations was a serious competitor for marketing attention, and the C suite had begun to invite us to the table. The tech bubble was big and getting bigger, and public relations rode the wave. Mr. Harris noted “Integrated marketing communications (IMC) puts public relations squarely among the powerful disciplines.”

Those of us working in the field knew we had special talent, and clients loved our offering that was beyond tactical services.

  • Our thorough ability to research a space and conduct competitive analysis from the perspective of messaging content and positioning beat marketing and advertising hands down.
  • Our strategic counsel aligned against business goals was an approach usually expected out of industry consultants or analysts.
  • Our knowledge of the media and how to create news while preparing a thought leader for the occasion was nothing a marketer or advertiser could do.
  • Our messaging crafted for external audiences as authoritative, credible and fact-based was developed for marketing and sales teams to use in their communications channels, too.

Said Mr. Harris, “Credibility is key, and of all the components of integrated marketing, public relations alone possesses a priceless ingredient that is essential to every IMC program – its ability to lend credibility to the product message.”

I recall the firm where I worked offered integrated marketing communications; however, it was pie in the sky. So many agencies were protecting turf lest another grab billings; camaraderie was thin.

In Mr. Harris’s book, he quotes other public relations heavyweights, including the long-time CEO of Hill & Knowlton. “Robert Dilenschneider, editor of Dartnell’s Public Relations Handbook, is convinced that the new marketing mix puts to work jointly the tools of marketing and of public relations and that public relations ‘is the glue that holds the whole thing together.’”

I don’t disagree that public relations and marketing work well integrated. Mr. Harris speaks to the “new” concept of integration 12 years ago. Have we succeeded? Not really. There are too many siloed organizations generating leads for sales teams without benefit of strategic input from public relations. There are too many public relations practitioners concentrating only on media relations (regardless of traditional or social) without regard for the holistic inside-out perspective.

A prescient statement by Mr. Harris could have been spoken today; it directly relates to the current social media position in which we’re working and breathing:

“The integrated marketing communications process begins with the consumer. It requires that marketers radically shift from thinking “inside out” (what we have to sell, what we have to say) to “outside in” (what consumers tell us about themselves, their needs, wants and lifestyles).”

Because public relations is primarily focused on the outside-in, and marketers are shifting in that direction encouraged by social media, Mr. Harris provides a solid support point to my theorem – public relations drives marketing. Add to that public relations practitioners’ continuous creativity to differentiate tactics that resonate against strategies to attain objectives, and I’m sold.

Let the fireworks begin!

(Sunday, October 21, 2012 — Editor’s Note — Public relations is getting such short shrift these days; every blogger in the profession has taken up the cry for higher quality in what we do. In 2011, for the entire year, we combined forces to rally the troops to draw attention to our lot. Then, something happened…we tired of the fact that PRSA had re-labeled the profession something entirely unexciting and unfresh; we just let it go. A lot has happened since I penned this in spring 2010; I blend with marketing more now than ever. As a B-to-B social media marketer with core PR, I integrate disciplines to deliver a high-powered deliverable. I’m convinced this happens with maturity and seasoning.  I still firmly believe what I wrote…there are ideas and concepts and creative insight from the outside that help drive marketing innovation on the inside.  Call it malarkey, if you will; at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team.)

23 comments
darrenjorgensen
darrenjorgensen

Great post!  I so agree with your position.  Yes, PR DOES drive marketing.  And to have found your support in a book written in 1998 is pretty cool, too. I, too, agree that we've got to integrate our Marketing and PR initiatives - so that everyone is on board and telling the same stories that your listeners need to hear.  

 

(I'm also a firm believer in the power of stories. As a Marketing & Communications professional with a lot of video production experience, I've known for a long time how the power of stories affect people. For my MFA creative thesis I produced a 45-minute film titled, "At the Hand of Another: When Someone You Love is Murdered" in which I had access to interviews with 5 family members of 2 families which had both lost sons to murder.  I worked for a long time to get to know these families, to the point of being invited to spend Thanksgiving with one of them, and getting to know them, and really listening to them, figuring out what each of them cared about were the keys to getting such powerful interviews.  Wow!  The power of storytelling...)

 

And an integrated Marketing & PR Communications platform that communicates stories targeted for the people who need to hear them can be just as powerful.  And when this happens, it can really supercharge your campaign results.

 

Great post.  Keep up the great work!

 

Darren.

JensenWDavid
JensenWDavid

An effective marketing group should always look "outside in". Marketing over the last decade + has focused on traffic, how to get the most # of looks. In doing so, it has failed to capture loyalty. Loyalty creates consumers who become advocates. And that type of marketing is the best and most effective. After all history is on our side; we called it word of mouth then. ... Instead of using the web to generate traffic (or ratio driven sales) let's it use it to create a lot of loyal advocates with a larger word of mouth' network than the world has ever seen. The question isn't PR vs Marketing. The matter is about principle; and the ageless principle is sales are most successful when the customers needs are voiced, heard and met.

geoffliving
geoffliving

I love you Jayme.  But, I am going to disagree with you on this. Sales drives marketing. Sales drives everything in a company. No sale, no PR to be had. No customer service to be done. No operations to execute. No HR to hire. It all begins with a sale, and marketing's primary job -- PR included in companies -- is to help facilitate sales.

rdopping
rdopping

Jayme, I am the last guy that should comment here due to the fact that I have no idea how the PR and marketing world really works.

 

Until someone is in the inner folds of those professions they can't really say what is best or not. I will be watching the discourse here because it interests me and from a B2B perspective I need to communicate ideas to clients everyday. I know that my experience and intent is vastly different but in some way I am learning to be a better communicator because of my exposure to this forum.

 

 @SteelToad makes a good point which resonates with me from a consumer's perspective and in a way from a professional perspective. When I communicate with potential customers noise is a big issue. The story we used to tell was for "everyman" (that fit the profile) and we now know that we need to speak to the customer as an individual. Finding value is a tricky proposition and for me turns an average consultant into a trusted partner.

 

Our firm is now focussed on "earned media" and there is a push to teach the senior management how earned media benefits a business. It may not be a topic relevant for this post but I would love the opportunity to discuss it with you.

SteelToad
SteelToad

Just an opinion from a non-marketing person, It's a matter of a signal-to-noise ratio  Marketing is just more noise, good marketing is signal.

 

There's no lack of companies out there telling the public how wonderful they are, how they care about your needs, how they want to be there for you - noise, noise, noise, you get that from everyone. I'm sure there are a ton of companies out there that think they're doing marketing (and technically they are) because they're getting their word out already, they may even be responding to people on 'the twitter'. Still it's just noise.

 

Signal, is much less common. A few companies connect with the customer rather than correspond with them, they tell YOU what new wonderful things they have for you rather than just issuing a press release. These are the companies that your friends will tell you about and promote, and they're the ones who've taken the time to listen to somebody about PR rather than just assuming that talking = marketing.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @geoffliving Thought I'd let the comments gel until this morning...here we go...what is the sales and marketing team using to sell? Who is writing the educational materials (not advertisements) that communicate about the goods and services? 

 

Marketing's attention on lead generation for sales to bring in the pennies requires creative campaigns, topics and substance behind that lead-gen strategy in order to influence what marketing does to drive sales to sell the products. 

 

When I say PR Drives Marketing, this is about creativity and innovation. I'm basing this on 28 years in this field learning and growing and learning and growing. We can't have one without the other, and I'm also a proponent of the need for PR to bump shoulders directly with sales.  That's an entire bastion untapped. 

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @geoffliving So do people stop you at random to ask if you have products or services that they might want to spend money on, or do you first tell them about what you have to offer ?

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @rdopping  @SteelToad If I'm not mistaken, value and value propositions are squarely marketing functions. PR doesn't set out to find value in a product; however, we want to know what that value is so we can communicate and describe said product or service. 

 

Is your architectural firm less expensive than the guy down the street? Why or why not? What value do you bring to that equation? If it's mired in 18 awards for Best Architectural Firm of the Year, you can bet your prices should be higher. If you have 10 employees and they have 8, well, not so much -- no value add there.

 

When I approach a campaign with a marketer, I'm skewed because I blend. I'm no longer a purist (and frankly no PR person should be any longer). I can put on a hat and become a brand marketer (something I've done for clients the last 10 years) while secretly pulling my PR expertise to the forefront. 

 

That innovative drive from a PR perspective influences marketing campaigns all the time.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @SteelToad What a great comment, Ray...you've really hit it well to establish a difference. What social media has done, however, is stop marketers short. Their customary way of communicating AT a customer is no longer the norm; customers are looking inside companies, they are communicating deeply inside companies, and savvy marketers should already have switched it up to remain ahead of that curve. 

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

 @SteelToad The struggle I find is that employees who try to talk their bosses out of a press release usually find it hard going.

geoffliving
geoffliving

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Is writing collateral PR or just marketing? Does the PR team engineer the product, too?  Does it go to events and call potential customers to set up meetings, go, allay customer fears, revise offerings, provide the customer services, and resolve any questions after the sale.  I'm sorry, but I think the tail is wagging the dog on this one.  And I'm saying that with 20 years under my belt, and having sold 1 company, and built a second one, liquidating cash positive, both of which were PR and marketing services companies. PR is a role player in an organization as well as the marketing department, not the driver.

geoffliving
geoffliving

 @SteelToad So do people stop you randomly and ask you for a press release, over contrived tweets/social updates and content? Good sales people don't arm wrench.  Good PR people understand they need a business to represent -- e.g. a going concern -- and don't overvalue their professional worth.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @jennwhinnem  @SteelToad I think I need to write about a press release; called a news release nowadays. It's a formal vehicle to lay out the facts for a news event from which content marketing can occur. It's a critical element to outbound marketing and public relations AND social media. Absolute.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR moderator

 @geoffliving Yep; these are them sparks I'm speaking about. And, I don't need to compare my credentials with yours, Geoff. I'm confident enough with my own expertise to make a statement like this and yield the commentary all in the good nature of healthy debate (AND 2.5 years ago archives). 

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @geoffliving From your original comment ... "marketing's primary job -- PR included in companies -- is to help facilitate sales"

 

So are they facilitating before or after the sale ?

geoffliving
geoffliving

 @SteelToad I think that's a misnomer. What is the definition of marketing, Ray?  It is the act of selling. Again, tail wagging the dog. Sales drives everything companies are built to do, from product development to HR. Marketing is just an extension of sales.

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @geoffliving My point is that unless you first effectively tell people what you have to offer, they're never going to know that it's something they want or need to purchase from you. "Good" sales people are doing marketing.

SteelToad
SteelToad

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing  @jennwhinnem The phrase "Press Release" needs to go in the dust bin along with other outdated ones like "Videotaping". Just like nobody uses a camera that actually records on tape, news releases are no longer intended for just the "Press". Even if the information is only being released to the traditional press, it's usually composed with the forethought that it's going to be picked up on Twitter, Facebook, Gawker, etc...

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