Marketing: A Public Relations Discipline

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It caught me off guard for 2.3 seconds. I was just starting a radio interview about something public relations related, I don’t remember what any more. But I do remember the host getting us started by asking me: “First, what’s the difference between PR and marketing?”

I had not expected the question. But I should have. Because people get confused. Some use the terms interchangeably. Even some professional trade publications assert–incorrectly in my view– that “PR is a marketing discipline.” Others talk about work they do as “marketing and public relations” in a way that implies PR is only media relations, another minimizing error.

So what IS the difference? In the radio interview I stated that marketing is about all the activities that are required to bring a product or service to market, whereas public relations is much more broad in terms of developing and maintaining mutual relationships with many publics, not just customers.

I discuss this in my classes. As simplistic graphic above shows, marketing runs deeper in terms of bringing products and services to market, to reach consumers, with the objective of sales. Marketers engage in product development, packaging design, consumer behavior research, channels of distribution, economic analysis, pricing strategy and other aspects of what have been called the 4 Ps.

Public relations overlaps with marketing in terms of one public–consumers–and one of the 4 Ps–promotion. The tactics of both professions overlap in what is often called marketing communications, or MARCOMS.

But professions are not defined by their tactics. A mechanic, carpenter, electrician, and plumber may all use the same tools at one time or another. But they have different objectives.

So, PR has a limited contribution to marketing in terms of promotion. But in terms of objectives and publics it is considerably broader. As the graphic above shows, public relations is concerned with relationships, not only sales. Positive, honest, ethical, mutual relationships lead to good things with many publics, including sales to consumers, but also employee retention, investor confidence, community support, and more.

A fellow public relations professor who works in California said recently on social media that “marketing should report to public relations.” Exactly, for the reasons indicated above. It is broader and inclusive of marketing in terms of publics of interest and overall objectives. Another way of saying that is that marketing is a public relations discipline.

There are lots of opinions on this issue. This is just my take, albeit shared by many PR professionals and faculty with whom I speak regularly. But overall, the two professions need to have a mutual respect for each other, not demonizing or minimizing what the other does. I teach my PR students the basics of business and marketing (as well as addressing nonprofit management and the political landscape), and I am always pleased when marketing programs explain PR as something more than a product news release.

Local Media Ad Slide is Concerning

Earlier today I received an email from the Grand Rapids Business Journal selling its digital sponsored content option.

For $1,100 companies and organizations can place their own stories online, have them pushed as sponsored content on social platforms, and remain in a searchable archive. It’s also called “native advertising” or the old-fashioned “advertorial.”

Previously I wrote an online column/blog for GRBJ. Others continue to do so on topics ranging from media to law. It’s a win-win–local professionals establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry and the publication gets free content.

It’s also a sign of the times.

I subscribe to GRBJ, as I do other local media and trade publications, because I still like the experience of reading print. But also I feel a sort of obligation to patronize local media the way I do other local businesses, so they can stay in business.

Reading this week’s print copy of the GRBJ, after getting the pitch for sponsored content, I was struck by the ads more than the editorial. In a 16-page publication there are 12 total ads, with 9 of them being house ads from GRBJ touting its events, its subscription options, and other sister publications such as Grand Rapids Magazine. In this issue there are 1.75 paid ad pages.

This may be why they’re pitching sponsored content. I mean, even Forbes has been doing that in recent years. And a lot of the media planners are going not just to digital, but to bloggers, podcasts, their own content-driven owned media, and social platforms.

I’m hoping this may all be the result of light ad inventory post-holiday, or that the sponsored content push is just reflective of new ownership and not desperation.

As a public relations professional/professor and just a member of the community, I certainly hope it doesn’t portend the end of a vital contributor of community information. Perhaps the incentive for some of us to buy ads is not just reaching audience but saving the channel.

Evidence That Good Management Depends on Good PR

UnknownA Wall Street Journal article yesterday about the Management Top 250–the most effectively managed companies–reminded me of a fundamental principle.

Good public relations is essentially the same thing as good management.

I learned that years ago reading a book by Peter Drucker, the management guru on whose principles these awards are based.

Public relations academics and seasoned professionals will say that public relations is a “management function.” We stress it in classes, at conferences, and on the job.

It’s important to stress, because the word on the street–and, sadly, even within the ranks of public relations practitioners–is that PR is merely media relations, one-way communication, or worse, purposeful spin and deception.

Public relations, properly understood, IS good management. If public relations is properly practiced, there are tangible management benefits. Practicing good PR means considering ALL publics, striving for mutually beneficial relationships with all of them, and communicating with them strategically through ALL available tactics.

As evidence, consider the five criteria of performance for the Management 250 and the corresponding public relations contribution to each:

  1. Customer satisfactionSome would think immediately this has to do with marketing. But PR involves consumer relations, communication after the sale, reputation, CRM (customer relationship management) and is the basis for concepts like “permission marketing” and “relationship marketing.” Customers do not only derive satisfaction from the product or service, but from the relationship with the brand.
  2. Employee engagement and development. Here, human resources comes to mind naturally. But public relations professionals who specialize in internal or employee relations have much to do with this performance indicator. Communicating beyond benefits and annual performance reviews, being intentional about culture, retention, empowerment, being the ’employer of choice,’ and other objectives are ways PR enhances this aspect of management.
  3. Innovation. As mentioned above, culture is a key objective of internal public relations. And studies have shown that companies that are innovative don’t just hire innovative individuals but work on developing an innovative culture. Culture is based on and perpetuated by communication, the purview of internal PR professionals.
  4. Social responsibility. Corporate social responsibility has been a key aspect of public relations for decades. It relates to the fact that proper PR considers not just reaching but listening to all stakeholders and working toward mutually beneficial relationships. Recent research has shown more PR professionals take on the role of corporate conscience or ethical conscience of their organization. This leads to socially responsible practice.
  5. Financial strength. OK, maybe we leave this one to the accountants and finance experts. However, numbers 1-4 above are key drivers of performance, which is what gets the finances you are able to manage.

So, while public relations is mentioned in articles about bad management and crises, the unseen truth is that the best managed companies have a good public relations person offering strategic counsel on relationships, ethics, culture and more that are well beyond mere proficiency in communication tactics.


Measuring Media Relations: More than ‘Word’ and ‘Awareness’

My colleagues and I cringe and roll our eyes when clients or others speak of their public relations goals as needing to “get the word out” or “raise awareness.” At first blush, those goals sound obvious and appropriate. But the problem is that they are too basic and don’t seek the true value public relations can offer.

The other problem, relative to an earlier post I wrote, (and someone reading that asked  for my perspective on this) is that such a view of publicity or earned media is not a complete view of public relations. The measurement goals of publicity should be consistent with the broader objectives of the big picture PR that goes well beyond getting yourself in the news.

Public relations is all about measuring objectives, and those objectives should be about the whole organization, not just the PR function. The PR industry has worked to derive standards for measurement of PR impact globally, resulting in a set of seven standard evaluation guidelines called the Barcelona Principles. PR measurement guru Katie Paine has a good summary of them on her own blog.

Given that broad background, let’s take a look at the ways to measure the publicity or earned media–again, just one aspect of public relations work–in the enlightened way consistent with measurement standards. In order of importance from least to most meaningful, measuring earned media includes:

  • Production. These are simply the copies of news releases, pitch letters and other media relations tactics produced by the PR professional or team. They show you have done something, but not the result.
  • Exposure. The old-fashioned clip reports, either hard copy or digital, that show actual articles, blog posts or transcripts of broadcast stories that result from the media relations tactics. This shows you got some coverage, and maybe even millions of impressions, but it says nothing about the quality of it.
  • Content analysis. Taking a bit more involved approach, this method looks at sentiment–positive or negative–as well as whether or not intended key messages of objectives were included in the resulting coverage. Negative coverage, contrary to the alleged statements by PT Barnum that “all news is good news,” getting negative media can damage reputational objectives quickly and broadly. Also, you can get lots  of coverage but the focus is not your intent and all that media is a fail. As an example, I once publicized the fact that the governor was speaking at a client event but the media only came to ask her about state budget issues, not at all about her purpose or speech that day for my client.
  • Competitive analysis. CEOs and others in management must grapple with how the organization is doing relative to competition. It’s how THEY are measured. So good media relations measurement should look at the “share of discussion” resulting from your efforts. If you get 50 media mentions in a month in targeted media, that’s good if the next closest competitor in your industry got 20, but bad if one or more competitors are yielding 75 or 100 articles or stories in the same period.
  • Response. Just as digital analytics looks for ‘conversion goals’ (people clicking on and doing things in response to digital PR, media relations measurement should include noting a causal response. This means after information is published or broadcast is there a corresponding increase in requests for information, attendance, voting, sales or other organizational objective?
  • Engagement. In the social media era in particular, media efforts that result in dialogue and conversation with key publics is important. So if media relations move conversations to your own blog, web site, and social platforms, as well as offline interaction, this is an important metric to plan for and measure.
  • Outcome. As the Barcelona principles note, this is the gold standard of all PR measurement and should be for media relations as well. Basically, do the publics  who see your publicity respond the way you intended in your stated objectives? This could mean a positive change in awareness, a depth of understanding, an attitude formed or strengthened and ultimately a specific action taken in response.

There are firms to help with large-scale measurement of media relations, including the PRTrak software by Burrelle’s Luce, Cision, and Meltwater. But much of this can be done by professionals in house with good planning and attention to these details.

Blind Men, Elephants, and Public Relations

UnknownThere’s an old proverb about  blind men describing an elephant. One strokes a leg and says “it’s a tree.” One touches a tusk and says “it’s a spear.’ A third grasps the trunk and declares “it’s a snake.” And so on.

All are offering somewhat correct descriptions of what they experience. But they don’t see the big picture. No one points out they are touching only a part of an elephant.

Such is the nature of describing and defining the field of public relations.

The problem has existed for years, but I’ve noticed it in increasing instances recently:

  • a dialogue with a practitioner on LinkedIn who characterizes public relations as pitching reporters;
  • a New York Times article about Facebook’s “PR firm.” But upon upon careful reading  the firm, Definers Public Affairs, is NOT a PR firm but a political opposition research firm. They do talk about earned media, but even so it’s only a limited aspect of PR.
  • An article in Forbes that purports to predict the future of PR, only to characterize the profession as merely media relations and the future as digital storytelling. Most professionals and academic programs are well into the digital future, and storytelling is one aspect of what PR professionals do.
  • a business publication article characterizes PR as “putting your organization in a positive light,” which is cringe-worthy for its unethical implications and the ability to be synonymous with “spin.”

In short, characterizations of public relations–by the news media and, sadly, even by some who work or claim to work in the profession–either demonize what we do as dishonest or minimize what we do as mere publicity. They are blindly describing the only aspect of something huge, the one thing they touch.

What is really frustrating about all of this is that we are 100 years beyond PR being hucksterism or mere publicity seeking. I wrote a journal article about this some years ago, recounting how early practitioners like Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee, and Arthur W. Page proclaimed they were beyond news releases and focused their time counseling management about their relationships with their publics. This was in the 1920s!

We still have a media-cultivated view of PR. The articles I mentioned above are bereft of any reporting that seeks out a comment from a PR professor or a professional organization such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the Arthur W. Page Society, The PR Council, the Institute for Public Relations, or others. These organizations would provide a much more accurate and complete characterization of the profession of public relations. They would describe the whole elephant, you might say.

So what is PR? It is many things. That’s the point. But here’s the key–don’t define “PR” by a tactic, but by the publics and the objectives. Public relations is essentially about relationships between an organization and ALL of its publics, also called stakeholders. “Stakeholder Theory” is a model taught in many public relations programs to stress the ethical nature of public relations being responsive to all people affected by an organization.

So public relations could be called any of the following focused on specific publics–consumer relations, investor relations, employee relations, donor relations, and yes, media relations–the media are both a public and a channel to other publics.

Public relations also involves all aspects of communication tactics, including but not limited to media relations or ‘earned’ media. Many in PR discuss the PESO model to emphasize that a PR campaign could use any and all tactics available–Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. PR writing classes in the curriculum where I teach cover all of them.

Here are some more body parts of the elephant:

  • PR is a management function, all about counseling the CEO and others in the C-suite about the organization’s relationships with its various publics, all in keeping with organizational  mission and objectives.
  • PR is two-way–it is more than “getting the word out” or “raising awareness.” It involves emphatic and ethical listening to publics and adjusting to maintain mutually beneficial relationships.
  • PR is strategic. See above bullet. Many communication theories are vital to not just informing but developing understanding, positive attitude and motivation to action among publics with whom PR professionals communicate.
  • PR is inherently ethical. There is growing research that asserts that many PR professionals embrace the role of the ethical conscience of their organization, because PR is the one management function that considers ALL publics in terms of mutual relationships.

I could go on. But suffice it to say that PR is–and has been for a century–far more than many journalists and even current practitioners make it out to be. It’s not that hard for self-proclaimed gurus in the industry to take off the blinders of their solitary experience and see the whole elephant. My hope for the future is that people who don’t will be laughed at, or stepped on.