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.

Big Data Marketing (or just PR)

I just finished reading a book called “Big  Data Marketing: Engage Your Customers More Effectively and Drive Value.”  Written by Lisa Arthur, the Chief Marketing Officer at a marketing software company, the 160-page volume is a clearly written prescription for how marketing and communication professionals can simply understand and begin to apply big data in their daily work.

As a side note, someone contacted me about the book via the social site Goodreads . They had noticed I added another big data book to my “to read” list, and contact me to let me know that the author of that book had written the forward to Big Data Marketing. They sent me a copy for free to review. (The other book I still have to read is “Big Data @ Work.”)

So big data was at work to promote a book about big data. Are you with me so far?

The central theme of the book is that marketers need to move  from the dark ages to the enlightened age of marketing, embracing the technology and available data to make real-time, strategic decisions. In other words, marketing needs to be more data-driven.

While that seems to make intuitive sense, many organizations have not embraced and used big data. The hurdles Arthur identifies include being trapped in tactical vs strategic marketing, managing marketing manually, data stored in silos vs being shared across an organization, and a simple lack of talent or training in dealing with data.

A big emphasis of the book is that too much data is seen as a “hairball” that is hard to unravel. Arthur predicts that the issue will be handled in four potential structural changes for marketing: unifying the CIO and CMO roles, adding the chief marketing technologist role, creating a chief digital officer to work across the organization, or collaboration with the chief customer experience officer.

The book concludes with a chapter each on the five steps to becoming a data-driven marketing organization: get strategic, tear down silos, untangle the big data hairball, make metrics your mantra, and a new process for  marketing. The latter step of course means a re-naming the traditional “four Ps” of marketing–product, price, place, promotion–to people, processes, performance, and profit.

While I would recommend the book, as a PR professor and practitioner I noticed much in this book touted as “new” for marketing that resonates as rather tried and true PR perspectives. For example, PR people have for years emphasized segmenting publics and not treating all customers the same. Beyond that, PR people don’t see customers as the only public, but consider  employees, community, investors, government and many other groups of people whose relationship with the organization is different than fiduciary.

With regard to breaking down silos, the PR scholarship has a concept called the “boundary spanning role” of public relations. It’s very purpose is to communicate across internal and external organizational boundaries, or to break down silos. PR  folks have been saying this for years, and it is the main argument why the top PR person should be part of senior management, also called  the “dominant coalition,” in order to function in this capacity effectively.

While the volume and variety of data is new in recent years, PR people have for  decades advocated research as a first step for campaigns, following a process known as RACE–research, action plan, communication, and evaluation. Within that process, there are other components that “Big Data Marketing” touts as new. These include measurable objectives (with benchmarks coming from data), defined strategies based on research, and a plan for evaluation, which is what the book stresses as  metrics.

So, the book does have value for anyone trying to get a handle on the buzz about “big data” from a communications perspective. But my reaction to the book was more “of course” than “aha!”

By the way, in my graduate class a book I use is “Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness” by Phil Clampitt. The relevant chapter in this book has a helpful process with which to consider big data. It’s called  DIKA–data, information, knowledge, action. The point is that data on its own is not helpful. Information is data that is relevant. Knowledge is information that has meaning. Action is the application of this knowledge to meet organizational goals. It is the communication manager’s role to find data and move it toward action.

In the end, I hope any of the books I mention are helpful to my blog readers. But I also hope you don’t get blown away by tech jargon about data, and keep in mind the tried and true PR process and perspective are worth applying to the new flood of data and information we all contend with now.