Public Relations Drives Marketing

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!

10 comments
Michelle Michael
Michelle Michael

Hey, Jayme - as I tweeted earlier today, yes, yes, a thousand times YES, PR does drive marketing! (and for those who disagree, how fun to banter ...) Why do I believe this? I think it's because of my perceptions on how we build solid communications strategy in order to achieve our business goals. Also experience. My first job a million years ago was that of a journalist, where we would glean story pitches from the PR people, who (as MHellyar points out above - hey, MH!), drive the message. First comes the messaging, then the marketing packages.

Perhaps dissension occurs when the definitions of marketing and PR are also in contention. Or when you get communications folks together with different backgrounds and experiences - and therefore different points of view on what drives what. Hatfields and McCoys. Red and Blue. Jets and Sharks. Or is it simply the chicken and egg question - and not only which came first, but what nests within what (groan)?

I like, actually love, marketing but I will always believe that PR is the driver. Even if the next guy disagrees, as my son likes to say, "it's all good".

Daryn Teague
Daryn Teague

Thanks for stimulating thought, Jayme. I worked for H&K in the late-80s when Bob was the CEO and feel like that firm got it right -- the best PR practitioners are the ones who establish themselves as strategic counselors, not publicity vendors or special events planners or whatever. I don't know whether PR ever really does drive marketing, but in an ideal structure it would be viewed far more strategically than just a piece of the marketing mix. After all, what other discipline has the potential to elevate or devastate your brand in a single 24-hour news cycle?

Michelle Hellyar
Michelle Hellyar

Great post, Jayme! I know this has been on your mind for a long time! As a PR practitioner who has moved into offering integrated marketing communications counsel and support for clients, I believe firmly in the role of PR as a stand-alone discipline and as it relates to marketing. My two cents are that PR drives the marketing message. The right messaging supports the brand and the right PR tactics advance the brand. The Dilenschneider Group was my first job out of college. And, while I only met Bob a handful of times (a big thrill for a very green PR kid); I can attest to his passion for strategic PR and commitment to messaging and positioning.

Mark W Schaefer
Mark W Schaefer

Even Dilenschneider describes PR as the "glue" not the "driver." To characterize PR as a business driver (unless it is a PR firm) seems extreme. It is a staff support function.

Even you state above that PR feeds off of marketing. That's the appropriate role. Support marketing. If it feeds off of marketing, it's not driving it and that's the right order of things in my estimation! : )

Mark W Schaefer
Mark W Schaefer

Peter Drucker once said that "the only two functions of a company are marketing and innovation -- everything else is overhead."

The point he was trying to make is that a company must create CUSTOMERS or it will not exist. PR may tangentially create customers, but at best the function should play a supporting role in an overall brand and business strategy. Let's face it, if the revenue dries up, PR goes away.

PR should not drive anything, just as HR or accounting shouldn't drive anything. These are all support functions.

I'm hoping you just threw this out there to rile people up? : )

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Love your comments, Michelle! I also appreciate my Twitter nudge encouraged you to get them here. I know we in public relations have a different perspective about this discussion. For years, we were considered the "bastard step child" to marketing and advertising. Having a seat at the table earned after a long haul grants us this profound (to some) statement. Thanks for the support!

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Hey, Daryn! You're dead on. Hope you get a moment to look at today's post on Nestle and Greenpeace. Talk about devastating a brand over several news cycles. As I've been perusing blog posts to get a sense of this topic, I see people speaking to marketers who don't want strategic proposals from PR people; or they don't want proposals that are too tactical. Finding the right balance is certainly important and more than that is our teamwork and respect for one another's expertise. And, I appreciate yours here! Thanks.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! I agree with your assessment, too. Perhaps Mark is right...did I put that header on the post to "rile" folks up? I look forward to more thoughts from you.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

I like your estimation, for sure, Mark. Thanks!

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

There are two camps -- those who agree and those who disagree with the statement I make today, Mark. It's logical to be swayed by Drucker, and logical to believe Harris and Dilenschneider, who are the consummate public relations influencers and thought leaders from my Chicago PR agency world for 18 years.

As I integrate more with marketing practitioners to offer a holistic approach, public relations is in a (not THE) driver seat feeding off marketing's objectives to develop creative and sustainable external campaigns that differentiate and complement the marketing mix.

How people define "drive" in this post sits squarely within the confines of respective readers' expertise, and past and current employment positions. While this wasn't a post intended "to rile people up" or have people comment, I am pleased to already see early response with your excellent commentary. I expected some controversy, but I feel so strong about this statement that I wanted to open it up for professional consumption.

As ever, I value your expertise on the blogosphere and your opinions, too. Thanks for voicing them.

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