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.)