PR Commentary: PR Shifts Toward Marketing

I loved the old EF Hutton commercials - when EF Hutton talks, people listen. When I was 9 years old, I played on the Stompers soccer team, sponsored by EF Hutton. The sweatshirts said: when the Stompers play, EF Hutton watches. It was cute, and a nice play on their brand. Okay, the Stompers part of the story has no bearing, but it's nice.

Just like EF Hutton, when Jack O'Dwyer speaks, the PR industry should listen. And, do more than listen - they should take note, and take heed of what he has to say.

In a recent piece on the O'Dwyer site, Jack wrote about the emergence of marketing communications, and that PR needs to adjust(the title of this post is his title from the Website). Since his site is a pay site - and I strongly suggest that if you are in PR, you subscribe to his Website or the newsletter (let them know I sent you) - I am pasting the whole article.

Marketing communications is what clients want and what PR firms should also offer. We're starting a marcom area of this website that will list marcom firms and discuss marcom topics. Firms that position themselves as exclusively or mostly marcom will draw more clients than those that don't.

A goal of PR for many years was to take command of all communications functions, including advertising and marketing.

It didn't happen.

It's far more common these days for PR to report to marketing than vice versa.

In fact, marketing and sales people are flooding into PR, taking many of the top spots and enforcing their agendas.

The term "PR" is almost unheard of in corporate circles.

The shift from PR began at least 30 years ago and has gotten to the point where only seven of the 197 members of PR Seminar use that term in their titles.

This blue-chip corporate group favors "corporate communications" or "communications." These titles are used by 102 of the 197.

"Marketing" is the second most popular term, used in a dozen instances, usually with another term such as communications. Corporate affairs is a poor third with only eight execs using it.

It's about time "PR" firms got on the same page as their clients.

Clients Have a Crisis-Not Enough Sales
Marketing means sales and that's what's on the minds of CEOs these days.

They don't have time for long-range programs that may or may not produce "good will" for the company or win third party endorsements.

They don't have the time or money for "crisis" PR plans for some crisis that may or may not happen.

They're already in a crisis–not enough sales.

The typical promise of PR firms some years ago was that, "You'll hate us for the first six months but love us for the next six months."

PR pros knew it took that long to build the right press relationships and work with the long lead-times of publications. TV/radio PR could be quicker but was also very difficult.

CEOs and their sales departments don't have that six months to play around with anymore.

Marcom Is More Immediate, Practical
PR is identified with longterm, image-molding activities. Marketing communications is identified with sales and activities that can have an immediate impact on sales.

There are numerous things that a marcom firm can do immediately that can help a company in all its communications.

It can assess the quality of all written and electronic communications. It can create or improve the company's website, putting fresh editorial material on the site to win continuing readership.

It can work closely with the marketing and sales departments in finding new markets.

It can create events, affiliations, contests, and other vehicles to draw attention to the company. It can suggest sponsorships.

The emphasis is on the immediate and the practical. Marcom pros speak the language of sales and marketing including such terms as "branding," "brand-centric cultures," "niche markets," "changing channels," "affinity markets," "touchpoints," etc.

Marcom people are quick studies. They come in, make suggestions, and leave to make more plans. They're task-oriented rather than hourly billing-oriented. They talk about things they're going to do, not how many hours it takes.

PR pros who want to switch to marcom should join the local chapter of the American Marketing Assn. or at least take part in its activities. They should read the literature of marketing in order to be able to relate to marketing and sales people. Joining the local Chamber of Commerce is a good bet.

There's no such thing as the Marketing Communications Society of America
but there should be.

We believe an O'Dwyer's Directory of Marketing Communications Firms will attract more clients to the listed firms than the current O'Dwyer's Directory of PR Firms that we have published for 35 years.

Ad Agencies Moving into Marcom
Ad agencies, many of which have only the barest, if any, PR capabilities, are moving into marcom, urged in that direction by the ad trade publication Advertising Age.

Ad Age editorialized Aug. 9 that "Agencies Cannot Live on Ads Alone," telling them to combat the image that they are just "ad factories."

It told the agencies to stop focusing on ads and to embrace the range of communications tools that are now available.

In other words, Ad Age wants ad agencies to move into some of the areas that PR has claimed as its own including detailed exposition of subject matter. PR must move first.

PR excels at editorial-level materials while ad agencies excel at grabbing the momentary attention of target audiences by using a range of creative devices.

PR firms must do more than just say, "We do marketing communications, too." They should identify themselves as marcom agencies right off the bat, eliminating ambiguity. They can't sit around while ad agencies move into their territory.

"PR" mostly means press relations. It's identified with spin and manipulation of images. The term has acquired a lot of negative baggage over the years. It's time for PR to be a subset of what a marcom agency does.

Recently, on a Yahoo! Group that I belong to, someone posted a question: how do you define marketing communications? From what Jack wrote, I simply answered: Marketing Communications is the merging of public relations, advertising and marketing to create salient messaging points that can be used in all materials, ranging from sales brochures to media outreach to ad campaigns, that help meet and beat the sales goals of the company.

It's something that we should think about. In the meantime, though, I'll keep the name POP! Public Relations. It's just too cool not to. Come on, POP! Marketing Communications doesn't have the same whiz bang zoom quality.
  1. Thanks Jeremy. I do not subscribe to O'Dwyer's yet and this is obviously an article I needed to read. Thanks for the marketing joke. I will keep that one in mind for the next time this conversation comes up... and it will. - Jami

  2. Do you know a good PR firm for the children's arena, for educational products?

  3. Hi Anonymous - please use the email to the side, and we can talk.

  4. Do you think online PR is going to have a negative impact on offline pr or do you think the demand will remain? My client is a hospital chairs manufacturer who are interested in launching a pr campaign but i'm unsure of what to recommend.


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